Problems and Solutions
“Are you OK?” Rachel asked.
“Tired. Six hours driving and nearly three in Milbrodale. Plus lunch.”
“I’ll get something ready for dinner.”
“How was your day?”
“Somewhat troubling. I was at the Gallery. I went to get another look at Emily Floyd’s installation. Really to walk around in it. The pieces are quite large.”
“Is that what troubled you?”
“No. It was the whole thing. Remember last week we were talking about cultural appropriation?”
“Well, I no longer know what it is. I mean, I know that a wooden boomerang that’s been painted but made in Japan is an imitation of an Aboriginal implement. Are Williams’ later paintings appropriation? Or are they artistic uses? Like Lichtenstein’s ‘Lady in a Flowered Hat’ or Pettibone’s ‘Lichtenstein’s Picasso’? But Floyd’s work is aluminum and epoxy and looks like works by Norman Ives or Frank Stella, but it’s her realization of work by Ursula Le Guin. And Le Guin’s work derives from her father’s work among the American indians.” She ran out of breath.
“That’s very complex. I’m not sure I follow you. Could you try telling me the other way round?”
“Begin with Le Guin’s father.”
“I get it! OK. Ursula Le Guin’s father was A.L. Kroeber, a famous American anthropologist. Among a lot of other things he published a Handbook of the Indians of California (1925). Le Guin wrote a lot of science fiction with political, social and anthropological content. She said ‘The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in, a means of thinking about reality, a method.’ Anyway, she wrote Always coming home, it’s part novel, part textbook, part anthropologist’s record, describing the life and culture of the Kesh people. At the end of the book, Le Guin has an infographic of the Kesh alphabet and a glossary of invented words. What Floyd has done is instantiate the letters. ‘Kesh alphabet’ spells out the Kesh noun banhe, which translates into English as ‘inclusion’, ‘insight’ and ‘female orgasm’.”
“OK. Now I get part of what you’re saying. Floyd has constructed blocks representing a word in Le Guin’s invented alphabet.”
“Right. But Norman Ives and Frank Stella made works of art using letters or parts of letters forty or more years ago. Saul Steinberg first publishedsome of his work in 1936, and his first in The New Yorker in 1941. So, I don’t know where Floyd’s work falls.”
“Right. I’m going to wash my face. You see if there’s anything to eat. And then we’ll talk.”
Rachel had changed into a kimono and had put out several cheeses, some bread, a sliced tomato, crackers, and two whites, each under a half-bottle.
“Aha! All the crumbs and dregs.”
“And fragments, morsels and orts, too.”
“Well, I’ve thought about Floyd.”
“Let me ask a question. If I were to paint a picture of a strip of land with a stretch of water and several sailboats on the water and I labelled it ‘First Fleet’, would that be OK?”
“Sure. But imitative, not original.”
“Excellent. Now, if I painted a large galvanized washtub outdoors and a small dark-skinned boy with a few pieces of wood, and labelled it ‘First Fleet’... ?”
“And if I made a model with an aircraft carrier, several destroyers and cruisers?”
“I see. Many different instances of the same model.”
“Right. Remember how many Dreamtime stories, Aesop’s fables, Germanic myths, and whatever share properties? How crow and raven, fox and coyote are tricksters?”
“Theft? Imitation? Human story-telling?”
“You win! So Floyd is expressing her impression of Le Guin’s book utilizing her synthetic alphabet in a similar fashion to the ways Ives and Stella employed the Roman alphabet.”
“There’s no winning.”
“And she’s chosen that word to indicate feminism.”
“I suppose so.”
“I think I’ll write that up for the SMH.”
“Fine. But you should think about Dr. Garshin’s ‘assignment’.”
“I’ll get plates and silver.”
“I’m going to send a report to the Minister. I’ll copy it to Jason. But, as I said to the bloke near the cave, technically it’s now federal, not state. If I’m lucky, she’ll offer to pay for fuel.”
“What will happen?”
“In the short run? Nothing, just as with the mob in Sturt. The governments are happiest with nothing in the paper or on the telly. In the long run, the Aborigines will get some small pieces of land. Look at the Noongar settlement. Some land, some dosh, and a hand-shake.”
“Give it time.”
“Right! Next year it’ll be 230 years. The government has a perfect score: no promise nor agreement kept.”
After breakfast, Rachel re-wrote/re-edited her proposal for Dr. Garshin at UNSW; Patrick worked on a report for Mme. Minister, went to his “pamphlet” for a while, and then stared at his laptop. A bit before noon, Rachel said: “Time for a real break.”
“You’re right. Let’s go out for lunch; shop for dinner; and then come back. I want to get this off before 1600.”
Patrick sent his (brief) report several hours later.
cc: Jason Ardler
Dear Mme. Minister:
On Sunday evening I received a phone call alerting me to a situation at the Baiami Cave near Milbrodale. A group of Wonnarua, tired of waiting for the Federal Court to make a “determination” on a claim filed in 2013 and adjudicated in 2015, took possession of the cave and environs. On Saturday they were threatened with forcible eviction by an OEH employee. I drove up early on Monday and found under a dozen Wonnarua. A bit before noon, four men arrived in two Land Cruisers. One shouted: “Right. You nigs get movin’!”
I introduced myself and, despite rude and obscene language, asked his name, which was ‘Haskins.’ One of the other men called him ‘Andy’. I explained that as the site was awaiting a Federal Court determination, the state OEH no longer had jurisdiction. Haskins responded: “Bullshit!” After some exchange, he and his fellows got back into their vehicles and departed.
I spoke with the Wonnarua, who were well-behaved under threat and rude speech, and told them that I would report to the Ministry. I told them that I had no authority. I believe that, at the least, you might have Mr. Haskins reprimanded and attempt to have the Court terminate its deliberations.
Patrick S. Hollister, Esq.