“I spend my doleful days in dumps and dolors”
Humbert Humbert, Lolita
The first time I met Liam was in Launceston at a BBQ that was at his house. He took photos of me and made sure my gluten free sausages were kept separate from the others. The second time I met him was at Falls Festival, where he also met my mum and we both agreed that we didn’t really know what we were doing there. Later we realised we had both gone to bed alone and miserable on New Year’s Eve and had thought about texting each other but never did. The third time I met him was in Paris at 5 in the morning at a train station in the rain, and when he gave me a hello kiss he grimaced because he had burnt his face red raw on hot tea, and was feeling ugly.
We have different ideas of what is ugly but we always agree on beauty. It is what informs our lives and the point to both of our practices. Liam has always been specifically interested in the beauty of youth, which scares me because I am turning 25 this year and getting little wrinkles. That’s why he went to Paris, to look for France’s version of the unemployed youth that surrounded him at home. We didn’t really meet any, probably because we were together and didn’t speak any French, or maybe because they couldn’t afford to drink at the places we pretended we could. So instead we started dreaming about Australia, and how weird it was that we were from there and that we didn’t know how to talk about it and thank god nobody asked.
Liam and I look good together because we are both blonde. Liam was the Aboriginal youth ambassador at his high school, and when people ask about my name and I tell them it’s a Tasmanian Aboriginal word and that I’m of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent they generally laugh or ask if that affects my Newstart. That’s something Liam hasn’t talked about in his photos yet but I wish he would, because I’m still too scared to know what to say. People get angry when I do. People seem to get angry a lot here. Liam envisages our country as one that celebrates and glorifies violence, racism and sport. I don’t know if we (this pronoun excludes most media) glorify racism, but we are surely obsessed and consumed by it. The Mainland European nations where we spent most of our time have these social struggles too of course, but they also have long, celebrated histories of art and poetry. Their youth know their country’s philosophers.
Liam wrote in his diary of Paris:
“We have Lawson and Patterson.
They have Baudelaire and Rimbaud.
We have Colonialism.
They have Romanticism.”
When can we have a cultural patriotism that is informed, celebrated and frequently re-defined by Art? “Dole/Dolour” confronts Liam and his subjects’ self-conscious search. In it, I wonder if he discovers where we go wrong. If patriotism is a cultural attachment to one’s homeland, these youth are completely despondent. Why? Vanity, uncertainty, these emotional and psychological states are where the subjects appear most authentic, or real at all. The youth are most present in their detachment. Liam does not offer a new Australian patriotism here, nor does he intend to. But the subjects, in both their original and emulated cultural codes, are searching. And I hope they find it, because I have lame knees from being pushed too hard as a kid, and will never win at sports.
There is a painting at the Louvre, the Raft of Medusa, that Liam was really absorbed in. Even if hyperbolic, I get a sense he is worried that the current and limited scope of patriotism could present something metaphorically similar: a raft for the culturally starving, eating away at each other’s flesh. But that’s not a nice image, and not one that we should dwell upon now.
Liam’s images are nearly always comprised completely of subtle beauty. Shimmering in the bright, artificial landscapes, against the softness of a hesitant gaze. In the elaborate and illusive ways we present our selves as subjects to the leering outside world. Liam’s subjects seem to suggest that something isn’t working, that something’s not quite right. And is it, in Australia? Who is going to make the alternative? These are questions I think we all have in our heads, often far too quietly.