Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 15 - the X issue
Log 15 - the X issue

Sydney: Transfixed: Chris Chapman


A few weeks ago it was the bruised purple sky that made me think twice about this place: surprisingly tropical. In the early evenings the air is redolent with the scent of jasmine. In the midst of brown-bodied girls sunbathing topless, and boys with tattoos over their shoulderblades, I went for my first swim of the season, diving into the emerald water at Balmoral Beach.

Last weekend I wanted to finish reading Peter Carey’s book ‘30 days in Sydney’ and I drove down to Balmoral. Although it was a Sunday afternoon, I thought the beach was sparsely populated, until I settled on the north side of the ‘island’, which was protected from the sandspray. As comfortable as this was, the sun became too hot after a while. Also, I couldn’t concentrate because this Italian? guy was trying to chat up a pair of sexy German tourists.

After listening to the guy philosophise about life ("It’s like riding a motorbike, sometimes you come off. You can either get back on or stand there.") the girls spoke to each other, in English, about feeling hungry. "I always make more food than I need, I’ve got some chicken stirfry at home, we could all go there," says the Versace-trunks-clad guy.

Anyway. After thinking through some options I drove back through Mosman, down past Taronga Zoo, and pulled into the carpark of the Bradley’s Head reserve. A nice woman even gave me her day-ticket because she was just leaving. So I walked not very far at all and came upon a small beach, backtracked a bit and sat on a benchseat under some trees with a clear view out across the harbour to the city, facing the Harbour Bridge at ninety degrees (the centre bridge supports were perfectly aligned). Also in clear view was the Opera House on Bennelong Point, where, as Peter Carey notes, there once were middens of shells twelve metres high, on the Eora people’s land. The middens were there when the First Fleet arrived in 1788.

The weekend before last I had dinner with T and C at this great restaurant called XO (it used to be Neil Perry’s ‘Wokpool’, the Asian fusion version of his legendary ‘Rockpool’). The Hunter Valley chardonnay was like butter (that’s good) and the food was great too but we ordered too much: Thai beef salad, pipis in XO sauce, then a great tofu & mushroom dish, a steamed fish of subtle flavour, duck in blackbean, and pork with lime and caramel. Because the restaurant is in Victoria Street in the Cross, it has views across Woolloomooloo Bay to the city, all pretty lights, through those groovy glass louvres.

After dinner T and C retired but I had the urge, and so I headed out. Well, I’d wanted to go to Soho Bar but it’s being renovated into the new Yu club, so I went to the Peppermint Lounge up the road. (Note: when I was sitting on the Opera House steps waiting for my friend J, it appeared from reading the streetmag ‘3D World’ that this city runs on doof clubs that serve expensive drinks.)

So Peppermint Lounge was dullish, even though some nice girls talked to me. But before I know it I’ve made a new Canadian friend at the Stonewall bar on Oxford Street.

Trick number two of the evening was talking our way into Middle Bar on Taylor Square - I lied to the doorchick about working for a glossy magazine. After spending $33 on two excellent martinis (well, I was almost in the zone), I took the liberty of saying Hi to Joel Edgerton from the tv series ‘The Secret Life of Us’ (he’s also in ‘Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones.’) He was nice about it.

Sydney is very multicultural, and I’m not talking about some cruisebar at 7.30am. My mate J and I drove out to Bankstown so he could buy a phonecard to make cheap calls to Ho Chi Minh City where his girlfriend is working. We had a yummy pork roll and I had a coconut icecream and some of J’s tapioca and bean dessert. I know it’s a droll observation to make, but the longer I’ve been back here, the more significant this becomes. Sydney is, as John Birmingham notes in his book ‘Leviathan: the unauthorised biography of Sydney’, a city created by migrants.

I was born here, grew up in the Western suburbs, and left at 24. Before then I spent a lot of time on the harbour and at harbour beaches on various boats my parents and their friends owned. Even today, some of the harbour beaches are only really accessible by water, surrounded as they are by Government or Military land. I’m reminded of something that translates into an interest in harbour navigational buoys, and Port and Starboard lights (airplanes have them too), which were manifest in some work I made a few years ago.

Lately I’ve been interested in this image of a performance work by the American artist Chris Burden. It’s called ‘Transfixed’ and Burden lay over the back of a VW Beetle, wearing sneakers and black pants. His feet rested on the rear bumper and his hands were actually nailed to the car’s roof. For a while on April 23rd 1974, the Beetle was reversed out of a garage in Los Angeles with the motor running and Burden ‘crucified’ over its rear curve. Significantly, in addition to the uniquely accommodating curve of the rear of the VW chassis, with your classic VW bug, the motor is in the back. So there Chris was, right there with all that energy.

I was searching the web for a particular image of Chris Burden’s performance ‘Shoot’ and found the image of ‘Transfixed’. I printed it out for J who says that the image of Burden stretched out over the Beetle reminded him of that Salvador Dali painting where a human skull is made up of human figures. I’d never noticed that, I said, truly surprised, because there it is. He said he only made the connection at that moment too.


Chris Chapman is a writer, curator and cultural producer based in Sydney. He recently wrote about Chris Burden for the exhibition catalogue to AUDIT, at the Casino Luxembourg Forum d’art contemporain.

Chris Burden, Transfixed, 23 April 1974 (net image)

(If you would like to read a further X piece by Chris Chapman, this time a short disseration on his name, please visit the Log website on http://www.physicsroom.org.nz and do so.)


Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room