Kirsty Camerons Dead gowns for a lesbian period drama
In a small keyhole-shaped country at the ends of the earth, there once was a small showing of dresses by Kirsty Cameron. In much the same way that slips happen in language to evoke something dream-like in its unlikely swift sense, as in songs like "Meet me at the Wrecking Ball"1, these dresses, to me, are fictions of that breath-taking sort that only reverie plucks out of the ether. (Sleep knits the ravelled sleeve of care2 and all that.)
Bill Hammond introduced in liner notes to his one and only jug-band record3 the term "the aesthetics of sleep" and his interest in it. I urge you to consider this and consider it well. Back to the dresses now. So what do I have?
Camerons half of the showing she put on (besides the embroidered picked-open gunfighter-posed pants-cum-skirts of Violet Faigan) consisted of three dresses. All based on the Victorian school-marm classic gown design. Real plain and affording maximum flesh coverage. Not even an ankle is to show. And built for statuesque creature or creatures. These are costumes for a Lesbian period drama à la Picnic at Hanging Rock for verily,it is not Mr Darcy who gets the action in this Jane Austen.
One (the "Merchant Gown" ) was made from an age-ed linen Union Jack and declared to be "for no one" (the Union Jack, for no one? Surely it is the dream of any bootgirl to stage such a seduction as to slip that on. Allow hands to run up from under...). Oh dear, Union Jack flashback to Christchurch! And how my best friend in form 2 and I would bunk assembly at Rangi Ruru Girls School by ducking off to the costume store high above the halls stage and lounge around in period costume while the rest of the school, those other junior agents of gentrification, sang "Jerusalem". Very sexy in retrospect.
The next (the "White Diamond Gown") from grimy calico, was replete with rose drawn onto sleeve and quite a few cigarette burns executed to the lap - a veritable drinking dress. (Cigarettes used to be for the Sophia Lorens, now they are for the mentally disturbed. And the resolutely romantic - ever seen women office workers on the footpath smoking under umbrellas in the rain?) It was declared to be "for Emily and Melissa" - Emily as in Emily Dickinson. She was, according to Cameron, an unusual poet who only ever wore white and would not let her doctor touch her. She would just walk past his open door and make him diagnose her remote.
The third, the "Black Sapphire Gown" (for Raven), was made from black satin tagged in silver with S.O.S/save our souls by one MAL1 (who believes firmly in non-transgressive vandalism). Damn. Another flashback. On my way to school, all those years, I passed an ostentatiously columned mansion that sat baldly like a model on its manicured section. I wanted to own it and make it overgrown like something out of Great Expectations. This impulse echoes the aesthetic modification action of taggers to me. And tagging is indeed a fascinating subject, although by my grandmothery tastes (and private schoolery), it is probably ill-advised for me to go further. But there is a word for my condition: cacoethes, a word of Greek extraction meaning an urge to do things that are inadvisable4.
The standard impression would be that tagging is a boys activity. That they do it like boy dogs piss on things. That it is an exclusive activity (one of the 'natural' lines of exclusion being gender5) of a clique. However this is a simplistic view as girls do tag. Ive seen it. One particularly beautiful sighting was recounted to me by Tessa Laird: "I remember waiting for the bus on Karangahape Rd and an Auckland Girls Grammar School girl was staring really intently... almost ferrally at the bus, and then I realised why as she lunged forwards, just as it was moving, to draw her tag in its dust with her finger. It was dope!"
She continued: "I love tagging because I find the combinations of words (when I can read them) startling and unusual and poetic. It's kind of like the runes of our time... You can almost tell your fortune with tags (I remember when I was doing my Elvis impersonations at art school I was particularly taken with a cluster that said Elvis Broke Shorty Suffa...
"And you know the other thing? There's not that much tagging in L.A... Local people are so afraid of gang violence that they will voluntarily white out tags the very next day. So they don't have much of a shelf life. On the other hand I see a hell of a lot of scratched-into-glass tags on the bus windows, which always look a lot more desperate... like a real SOS!"
This indeed begs the question, what is the effect of repeatedly writing the same thing over and over? (Like having a scratch in ones record, it was pointed out to me.) There is a secret feng shui ritual that goes like this: "If you have a wish list, write it down on a piece of paper 49 times, and sign your prosperity signature below it 49 times. Do this for 49 consecutive days."
So there we have it. Perhaps tagging is an aspirational activity. Perhaps taggers (or writers as they apparently call themselves) have an embryonic sense of magic coupled with a subconscious desire for change. I wonder what would happen if the above ritual was conducted as per the instructions without specifying the desire? Will our souls be saved?
Butright now, writing of any sort seems a little retarded to me. A gentrifying act. But gentrification is as inevitable as the entropic break down of anything exclusive. This erosion process is especially swift when things are introduced to art galleries or museums, however small (viz. "Everything art touches, dies"6). And just when I was pondering this I came across a passage in the book I am reading that helpfully said "I can see from glancing at him that becoming a writer holds no interest for him because life is so holy for him theres no need to do anything but live it, writings just an afterthought or a scratching away at the surface..." 7
One nice effect that situation of the first round of Cuckoo at the Archill Gallery (soon to be the new gallery of the Moving Image Centre) was that in the late afternoon summer sun the barred windows cast shadows inside the gallery that made the dresses look like they were in prison, or in transit to the new world aboard a convict ship. I could almost hear Jon English singing "Ill buy you six red ribbons to tie back your hair" or however it went. The bars also reminded me of Donkey Kong Jnr, the best little video game ever.
Gwynneth Porter is just about the sole occupant of a cul-de-sac of on-sold navy houses in Narrow Neck, Auckland.
3. Bill Hammond was the Band of Hope Jug Bands percussionist. Their only record was released in 1968. Jon Bywater discovered this and brought it to my attention in his just published seminar paper on Hammond earlier this year at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.