what is your country?
On the walk to the container yard there’s a guy in his tent with the radio blasting (it seems to be a thing here, listening to the news too loud whenever you can) and a woman, her voice slightly warped in that radio way saying “there’s a wounded bird quality to it” which seemed appropriate with this man and his nylon nest, collecting pieces of the city and gathering them up, trying to survive.
I sat for a while in the same public garden with the mums, dads, kids, gods, and watched the way people talk to chickens (making ourselves stupid) while following the shade around desperately cause the heat was dripping that day and stuck to everything.
This family came in and the two girls and their mother had their dad take a photo of them and one of the girls said “we’re on a slope, we’re like AT&T bars.” And I liked this idea, of people like cellphone reception signifiers, like with the three of them, in height order, they pick up better signal.
The dad said, “It’s times like this I wish I smoked cigarettes.”
The usual small talk at the container yard, all of us backed up against it in the shade and Karina said she could love LA today, because it felt like there was more air.
We sat on the floor of the architecture and design museum for our first congress meeting with the hot air shifting and rolling around us (but at least it was moving) and this guy let us in because the museum was “basically free” which seemed like a good motto for the free school in its entirety. And trying to get anything happening in a big group, with too many voices and Patrice (who has such a nice temperament, thank god for Patrice) suggesting we all just talk more about ourselves, so we did, and Ash saying that it’s her name for now cause she’s trying to work out who she is, and this guy called Nikolas who just sort of came out of nowhere (I think he was Peter’s spy) with this big diatribe about how we can do anything and find the gap of missingness (and fill it) but I kept getting distracted by his shoes which had these silver lines on them like slug tracks and it took me right back (like those things tend to do) to waking up and discovering the leftover slime of the night slugs on my clothes and the merino wool shoes mum had spare cause she bought too many pairs and my thoughts and my breath kept getting stuck on those damn silver lines, because why on earth would you choose to put that on a pair of shoes?
We got asked to leave the museum because admission was $2 and we were not supposed to be there. It was basically free.
Our first lecturer was Australian architect James Russell and I was totally sold by his dimples and impressive ability to have four kids and still survive as an architect and design and build his own projects.
This admiration was quickly usurped by Kevin O’Brien, an aboriginal architect who spoke of architecture not as place making but as settings in places. The place is already there, and always has been.
In Australia there are over 500 different countries.
The country is not a thing you own but a place you belong to, the settings within a place that have defined you, and helped you grow. To begin a project you must first understand the country you are in. You must find out the things about a place that have defined the people who call it theirs. And then you must find your own country. You must locate yourself within a series of things and places which have made you into yourself.
Kevin mentioned that he had done a bit of work with Rewi Thompson and it’s funny how saying someone’s name can make a point of their absence, that whole hollow space they used to occupy in the world.
There seemed to be three main aspects to Kevin’s work, and to Kevin’s country: Burning, erasure, scarring. And all three are about putting a mark on something and then making space for the next thing. Sometimes permanence is a thing, and sometimes permanence is an action.
In his country the house of a person is burned after they die, and the spirit is carried to the sky with the smoke. You burn to make space for something else, you burn to release spirits into the sky. I guess it’s also about people needing the physical absence of something to understand that it is gone – the ritual of it. When Rewi died people posted photos of him around the school. In that moment someone needed a piece of him in the place where he once was to understand that he had left, that he wouldn’t be there anymore.
So now I am trying to understand my country. My country used to be
beach trips to forestry (pines and salt water and that long stretched shoreline), the smell of a certain flower in autumn (which always reminds me of halloween), pink sunsets bursting over a lacy cloud membrane, slow rides over the harbour bridge in the mornings (sometimes the city smothered by fog) or slow walks down queen street, Rangitoto seeming to get further away as everything grew around it.
My country now is walking through big wide white streets, reading while walking, the LA sunset like fanta – which always makes me think of Aiden in Portugal saying “it’s FANTAstic” whenever he drank it (no doubt to help release the grip of whatever hangover we were facing that day), the June gloom, my country on Saturday night, going to a South American Party in Chinatown which was playing a mix of salsa music and house, $12 G&Ts (but at least it was double shot), leaving early cause I was afraid to be the only terrible dancer left (even though Miriam said she would teach me how to dance), pancake parties with art on every surface possible, with a lot of stylised celebrities watching us move around the room, spending Sundays writing and watching the big flat layered city change with the colour of the sky from my bedroom window.
This is my country and it’s fantastic.