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Art in the Time of Coronavirus

Michael! What am I looking at!?!?! 😂😍
very love!

Thank you, dear.
Wait for the final edits. So many other photos we are going through.
Expressing the shit of this time.

reminds me a bit of this photographer from the 80s / 90s who did black and white stagings
trying to remember his name

Yes!
My friend in the photos took his inspiration from him but I cannot recall his name.
Such powerful works he did.
Crazy dark stuff with people with disabilities, corpses, etc.
Decapitated corpse heads kissing. This guy.

Joel-Peter Witkin
i wish you could see how stunned with the beauty of these i am.

I met Michael Garza in Guangzhou eighteen years ago. He’s still there, still principal bassoon with the orchestra, also with a woodwind quintet, Pan Pacific Ensemble, we see each other every couple of years when he blows (ha ha) through Europe, and he’s my strongest connection to a city I have a deep love for, as well as being one of my dearest friends.

He sent me these photos a few days ago and like I said, I was stunned. Chinese puppet theatre, butoh, Día de Muertos, deep queerness, heavy memories of AIDS in the ’80s, SARS (which we were both in Guangzhou for, the smell of burning vinegar in the damp winter air, and that train ride with Yunna back from Wuhan in the night, getting messages telling us to stay away from the city because there was a plague). Photos by Gustavo Thomas so ya know.

Michael’s orchestra closed a couple of months ago, long before the rest of the world got over their racist fuckery and thought about taking this shit seriously. (Very aside here, I think the disaster underway in Europe and America is substantially because of the nationalist and white supremacist ideology stretching back to the Renaissance – or late-19th century imperialism and colonialism if that’s too long a time for you to grasp.) Every single artist I know or know of woke up some time in the last weeks and found themselves unemployed, all their upcoming work cancelled, and no idea when they might return. The better-off ones have – for the moment – family and friends to rely on, but there’s a lot, a very large lot who were already doing it hard. Not all of them artists either. I already see this for myself, trans, immigrant, neurodiverse (fuck I hate that word), multiethnic, queer, not in a relationship, there’s a marked difference already. I fully expect, like every other time in European history when shit got bad, people like us are going to be the first to get fucked. Art like this, then, arriving across continents and hemispheres in a messaging app convo, feels good, feels necessary, feels like we’re forcing our way into being remembered, holding on to beauty and love when we’re being told, again, to give it up.

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My Turkish-Muslim Granny Judged My Apocalypse Pantry Harshly

“But habibti, there is only enough here for one month. And why you buy rice in one kilo bag? Wallah! Such disappointment.”

For real, tho, this is what I’m always like. Definitely inherited the ‘casually well-stocked cupboards’ habit. A bit light on the beans though, ’cos people who never normally cook beans fucking panic-skived off with them all. Except chickpeas. Jokes on them, I’m making hummus.

Moments Of Waking Up In Dread The Last Decade

  • Brexit
  • Trump
  • Scott Scummo Morrison winning an election Labour ‘couldn’t lose’
  • Boris Johnson
  • Waking up on January 1 as Australia burns

I wrote that this morning after I got up, haven woken twice in the night with that pit in the stomach inescapable dread I’ve had too often in the last ten years. Nothing on that list was a surprise. That doesn’t mean each of them aren’t individually and collectively an avoidable tragedy. It’s far from an exhaustive list as well. Indigenous deaths in custody, trans women being murdered and ‘bathroom bills’, ICE and detention camps everywhere, Muslims being targeted globally, who remembers Christchurch was only last March, on and on and on, all the things that gave me sleepless nights and left me grieving.

And waking up through this night, more of the same is coming: straight white people taking and taking, not giving a shit, destroying the world, and destroying anyone not like them. All that suffering we could have avoided. That’s our past and that’s our future.

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Shit to Steal from Museums

There’s so much I have on my list of “Shit to Steal from Museums.” So much. And while I applaud the thieves who broke into Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden’s Historisches Grünes Gewölbe for their commitment to stacking mad cash, their commitment to aesthetics is lacking, and I do not approve. Unless it’s for reparations.

If I was to hit Residenzschloss, I’d go straight to Neues Grünes Gewölbe, having cased out all the museums in mid-2017, and lift the alien madness of Daphne as a Drinking Vessel. And smash Tequila from it (’sup Vass?). And the Basilisk Drinking Vessel. Which would be my German Whip.

Seriously, though? The video of the thieves hacking at the display case with an axe is deeply upsetting both for its relentless violence, and for how fucking incompetent they were.

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2019

It’s been twenty years.

I usually let this day pass, and have done consistently since 2008. I don’t go to any vigils, mourning happens every time I read of another death. Another murder. Over the years, the reasons have changed, but primarily TDOR is a day for my aunties, sisters, siblings and cousins and I don’t want to be around cis people or masc people performing mourning for what is overwhelmingly a list of people murdered for being feminine. Feminine and Black and brown and Indigenous and sex worker.

22 in the States. That we know of. 331 worldwide. Again, that we know of.

We know those numbers do not reflect reality, just like official numbers of how many of us there are. I was reading the report Being Transgender in Belgium yesterday, published in 2009 (and its followup published in 2018), which came up with figures of such rarity, the entire trans population in Belgium would almost be wiped out by those 331 murders. Which proposes two questions: If the incidence of trans people is so staggeringly low, 1 in 10 or 20 or 30,000, why is there so much attention on us from medical reports and legislation and experts having opinions over decades, and the vast corpus of published research, for a few hundred people out of eleven million? And why are cis people — mostly male, but let’s not forget feminist cis women and their history in this — so determined to not just murder us, but erase us from existence and memory?

I say, ‘us’, knowing there is legitimate disapproval and frustration especially from Black and Latina trans feminine people (21 of the 22 murdered in the US were Black) with white-presenting trans people claiming ‘us’, and I know how pale I am. I’ve been writing back into my history recently, spending a lot of time with those aunties and sisters in Aotearoa, back when we were called transsexuals, trannies, shemales, and the only job open to us was sex work. I remember them on K’ Road and Vivian Street, Māori, Pasifika, and a couple of Pakeha women. Women, not trans women or trans feminine or anything else, ’cos that’s what we were and that’s what we aspired to be, no matter how hard the path. I remember fists and guns and knives and iron bars, and the constant fear, or just being hit by the disgust or hate or ridicule. I was lucky. I got out. I have dance to thank for that. But there were a few occasions if things had gone slightly different, a cop car hadn’t cruised past at that moment (on more than one occasion, also ironic, no?), or friends in a car hadn’t, or something to interrupt what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have made it. So, ‘us’.

A difference in recent years is we’re no longer just being remembered and talked about on one day of the year for having gotten ourselves murdered. Every day I see my beautiful sisters and feminine siblings utterly shredding it, and truly, that it’s possible at this moment for them to live their lives so fully and openly and to be loved for all of their selves brings me much joy. And I want to remember my aunties and sisters from whom I learned to live my truth (as we say today), and who burn brighter for me the older I get. Some of them probably made it out, quite a few wouldn’t. The other violences were AIDS and drug addiction, and these ravaged us. Doing the remembering, then. Each one of these deaths hurt. All the deaths that shouldn’t have happened and lives unable to be lived hurt.

(Some of) What I Was Reading So Far in 2019

Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.

New books I did read though:

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!

Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.

Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.

Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.

Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.

The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.

Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.

Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.

The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.

Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.

The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.

The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.

And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.

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六四。三十。

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Stasimuseum Berlin

Michael’s last day in Berlin. We went to the Stasimuseum in Lichtenberg. Michael wondered if China would ever have a similar museum with exhibitions of how they monitored WeChat and ran the Social Credit System. We decided it would be evaluated as, “70% right, 30% bad, left deviationism.”

To Move Freely, Again

I have a memory of doing this before, but apparently not for blogging. One of my current readings is Victor Mair’s 1994 translation of Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi, 莊子, 庄子), Wandering On The Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. I have a memory also of not reading this ten years ago, and opting for David Hinton’s 1998 translation, Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, possibly influenced by The Useless Tree in that decision. Hinton’s is far more poetic, and takes liberties with translation; Mair’s, regular contributor on Language Log and professor at University of Pennsylvania, is a deeply academic work, striving to make sense of multiple conflicting requirements, which results in some odd choices, like the neologism, tricent, for li, a third of a mile. Mair, though, is one of my long-term favourite writers on Chinese and East-Asian languages, so, obviously I was eventually going to read this.

There’s a passage in Hinton’s translation that I ended up using on my 404 page, which I originally wrote about after a crawl (for me) and enthusiastic spring (for Gala) up Waterfall Gully in Adelaide, ten years ago. This is the comparison I thought I’d blogged. Maybe it was in an email to someone, or notes for a work I was making at the time. Either way, I remember going on a journey down multiple translations of this passage, and comparing to the original (as in the received ‘original’), and doing my own translation. Which I repeated in an abbreviated manner writing this, because there’s nothing like staring at 2400 year old Classic Chinese on a grey Berlin Sunday.

David Hinton’s translation, Ch. II, §12, pp. 23–24:

Sufficient because sufficient. Insufficient because insufficient. Traveling the Way makes it Tao. Naming things makes them real. Why real? Real because real. Why nonreal? Nonreal because nonreal. So the real is originally there in things, and the sufficient is originally there in things. There’s nothing that is not real, and nothing that is not sufficient.

Hence, the blade of grass and the pillar, the leper and the ravishing [beauty] Hsi Shih, the noble, the snivelling, the disingenuous, the strange – in Tao they all move as one and the same. In difference is the whole, in wholeness is the broken. Once they are neither whole nor broken, all things move freely as one and the same again

Only one who has seen through things understands moving freely as one and the same. In this way, rather than relying on you own distinctions, you dwell in the ordinary. To be ordinary is to be self-reliant; to be self-reliant is to move freely; and to move freely is to arrive. That’s almost it, because to arrive is to be complete. But to be complete without understanding how – that is called Tao.

Victor Mair’s translation, Ch 2, §6, p. 16:

Affirmation lies in our affirming; denial lies in our denying. A way comes into being through our walking upon it; a thing is so because people say it is. Why are things so? They are so because we declare them to be so. Why are things not so? They are not so because we declare them to be not so. All things are possessed of that which we may say is so; all things are possessed by that which we may affirm. There is no thing that is not so; there is no thing that is not affirmable.

Thus, whether it be a tiny blade of grass, or a mighty pillar, a hideous leper or beauteous Hsi Shih, no matter how peculiar or fantastic, through the Way they all become one. To split something up is to create something else; to create something is to destroy something else; But for all things in general, there is neither creation nor destruction, for they all revert to join in Unity.

Only the perceptive understand that all things join in Unity. For this reason, they do not use things themselves but lodge in commonality. … It is all a result of their understanding the mutual dependance of “this” and “that.” To have achieved this understanding but not be conscious of why it is so is called “The Way.”

Mair deleted some passages (the ellipsis here), of which he said, “because they are spurious or because they are later commentaries and other types of interpolations that have been mistakenly incorporated into the text.”

In commonality there is use, a kind of use through joining. To join is to attain, and through suitable attainment, they are close to the Way.

And the Chinese text from James Legge translation in The Writings of Chuang Tzu, 1891:

可乎可,不可乎不可。道行之而成,物謂之而然。惡乎然?然於然。惡乎不然?不然於不然。物固有所然,物固有所可。無物不然,無物不可。

故為是舉莛與楹,厲與西施,恢恑憰怪,道通為一。其分也,成也;其成也,毀也。凡物無成與毀,復通為一。

唯達者知通為一,為是不用而寓諸庸。庸也者,用也;用也者,通也;通也者,得也。適得而幾矣。

因是已。已而不知其然,謂之道。