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Writing writing writing writing writing performance writing enactment lecture performance 1920s 1940 writing pain performance lecture

Spencer Lai

[Intro: The Sims Soundtrack: Buy Mode 1 playing]



Drawing as immediacy --- to render an eye perfectly and upload to DeviantArt. To sketch ideas of freedom within a self imposed bedroom-cell. Drawing as information, drawing as tool for diagnosing patients for Alzheimer's. Drawing as a psychological diagnostic tool. Drawing as schematics for the self, as self sublimation and as total obliteration.

[Slide image: The Sims 3 (Diesel Living expansion pack), date and creator unknown, Fan generated catalogue image no. 1]

Files compress into a pathway, becoming staggered and crossed, like chicken wire, then like argyle print, then like patterned jacquard, then like light refracting through a perfect diamond. Matter has pressure placed upon it, becoming sleuced in long pieces; The Sims building mode, clicking and holding to execute the extrusion of a bedroom wall.

[Slide image: The Sims 3 (Diesel Living expansion pack), date and creator unknown, Fan generated catalogue image no. 2]

You build characters from the limited knowledge of people of your teenage existence: your teacher, a neighbour, your cousin, your best friend, a local restaurant manager, a celebrity from a movie you saw that summer. Ensuring “Free Will” is turned off, you attempt to make the avatars have sex with one another. The figure is built, drawn from pre-determined selections, as if to conjure a blank zombie into sexualised totem, into willful subservience with the guide your hand.


In my early twenties, I met an older man who was a celebrity impersonator, a community theatre type, showing me images of him in bootleg Dame Edna drag. I went back to his hotel room with another young man. We stole drinks from his minibar while he knelt nude on the bed on all fours, like a frozen, sad-eyed Sphinx. We slipped out of the room down the corridors, didn’t fuck him.

Later at Wet on Wellington, I purposely lose the young man’s key. It is attached to a rubber bracelet, vaguely resembling a cheap Livestrong bracelet. I throw the key, along with its Livestrong bracelet, into the corner of some dark room, relishing in my own pointless mean streak. I’m not sure why I did this.


[Slide image: interior of Cy Twombly’s home and large drawing with armchair, 1966]

Cy Twombly’s work is streaked with generous tones of rose, muted grapefruit, flesh. A gorgeous antique armchair seems to stride across the weathered palazzo floor. It is dwarfed by a characteristically mammoth Cy Twombly.

[Slide image: Cy Twombly and wife Tatiana reclining in home, 1966]

These images were originally featured in 1966 by Vogue Living, alongside an article on the artist and his home. The images were then re-circulated in 2003 by nest, then in 2010 by 032c. Taken by German-American photographer Horst P. Horst, there are various images of tasteful interiors, thoughtfully framed by Twombly’s works.

[Slide image: Cy Twombly interior, detail shot, 1966]

Critics have pointed out that Cy Twombly’s Vogue Living feature was released almost exactly at the time of Twombly’s career began to fade. Critics cite his “disastrous” Commodus show at Castelli’s which sold “nothing” two years prior to the release of the article, as if to insinuate that the sharp talents of the ‘grand daddy’ machismo of avant-garde spatial painting-cum gestural drawing can be dulled to that of a blue-balled faggot interior decorator based on sheer proximity to the fated Bermuda Triangle of art, fashion and style - a stylistic hack, a sell-out. Delivering a blow, one critic pejoratively described Twombly’s new works as ‘decorative schema’.



In the field of psychology, a schema is presented as a cognitive framework in which to categorize and order the flow of information. Schemas are useful to retain new information to store in previous categories of understood sets of attributed values or concepts.

[Slide image: Sybil, film still, 1976]

The 1976 TV-movie Sybil is a story of a graduate student undergoing psychotherapy in 1954 with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur after experiencing a series mental blackouts. The film focuses on Sybil’s pre-diagnosis, episodes and subsequent treatment of then titled ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’, now known as ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’.

In the film there is a scene showing a flashback of Sybil as a child locked up in wooden chest by her mother. She scribbles on the inside lid of the box in purple crayon. Later in the film, Sybil dissociates upon seeing a particular shade of purple.

Since watching the film as a child, I have repeatedly imagined an anonymous set designer smearing purple Crayola onto wooden boxes systematically until the desired outcome is achieved. Purple, as colour, as traumatic event, as gesture, as narrative device for viewer, as motif,, as shade and hue. Drawing as schema, as schematic, as traces of falsified information.


It could be suggested that young children scribble on objects and their surroundings as if to understand the physicality of their own environment. For infants, subject, surrounds and the self are not easy to differentiate. The projection of the self can be seen as an important gesture of externalisation, to gain a sense of understanding of what it is they are, the self and their surrounds: an immediate result of direct ‘cause and effect’.

Alex Vivian presents a sculptural installation titled ‘This is… (information)’ at ACCA’s NEW15.

[Slide Image: Installation view of ‘This is… (information)’, 2015,
Alex Vivian at ACCA New15]

Vivian’s install presents a scenario of dejection, faintly accented by themes of domesticity and youth culture: a former stage is flipped upright into semi-circle, rancid food items and utensils are laid out on the floor. A handwritten document is projected faintly onto the gallery wall from an overhead projector which rests upon a depressing plinth.

After seeing the show, I later asked Alex how descriptive language plays a role in his work. He replied that he is interested in information and the many ways that information can be transmitted, or transcribed, to another person. I am nodding, and I offer my own perspective, filling in the blanks - prescribed methods and delivery of information, paired with societal and occupational roles, infers a power dynamic between parties.

[Slide image: Clothing idea…, Alex Vivian, 2011, Tristian Koenig]

Alex later quoted Richard Hawkins as an influence, citing his earlier works as a reference point.


[Slide image: (Untitled) Taizo in City, 1995, Richard Hawkins, Table with collage elements]


I had met artist Richard Hawkins after the opening night of Charlemagne Palestine’s show at the now de-funct 356 Mission gallery, at a bar that I cannot remember the name of in Los Angeles in 2017. Upon first impression I gathered that he was a man with some vague capital, some sort of established nature, judging by his arrogant airs and sycophantic hangers-ons. When he revealed his identity to me, I complimented his work while he looks over my shoulder, nodding.

We spoke mostly of art, other artists, other writers, about his lecturing gig at UCLA, about the small nature of Melbourne’s art scene. I noted that I liked Morag Keil’s show I had just seen at Jenny’s in Silverlake a few days earlier and that I had liked the writing of Dennis Cooper. Richard makes sure that I know that they are friends and I nod and smile.


As the evening progresses, Richard becomes drunk, his inflated ego and sardonic tone irritates me. He fetishises my tall, handsome friend for his Australian-ness, then calls him stupid and provincial within a matter of seconds. He rolls his eyes when I talk, looks through me. He makes racist remarks about Latino people, Asian people.

[Slide image: Edogawa Ranpo 2, Richard Hawkins, 2010, Acrylic, pencil and collage on paper]

Handsome asian males and ‘Chinoiserie’ artefacts feature heavily in Hawkins’ work, functioning as some sort of vague ‘male gaze’ yellow fever bullshit. Haunted traditional dollhouse pagodas, cut-outs of handsome Asian men are glued onto a drawing of a gloomy derelict interior, floating like gorgeous spectres.


Later, we are all at a young painter’s apartment. People are doing drugs, looking at paintings we are told are are for upcoming show. They are scattered around the apartment. I don’t like the paintings I decide months later as I view them on Contemporary Art Daily.


Richard becomes belligerent, passing a comment about “wet backs” and in a sudden rush someone grabs Richard by the scruff of his neck and threatens to push him out of the window which he is smoking out of.

The man says, “I can fucking push you out of this window if I wanted to”. Jenny, who runs the eponymous Jenny’s, holds Richard back from the window ledge, steadying him, placing herself between the two. It becomes clear that we need to leave the apartment.


As we leave the room Richard Hawkins calls out to me, “Good luck at your shitty art school in Melbourne that no one cares about” even though I had told Richard that I long finished art school at VCA in 2014. The others in the room mildly reprimand Richard.


I call him a washed up old hack and other things that I cannot recall.

[Outro - play: Ruth Etting - I'm Nobody's Baby (1927)]

Sims 2.jpg
Cy Twombly Vogue 1.jpg
Sybil Drawing.jpg
ACCA - Alex Vivian.jpg
Richard Hawkins.jpg
Richard Hawkins - Edogawa Ranpo.jpg
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