Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A week or so ago in the mail I received a guide to the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art which begins at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane on the 5th of December. I received the guide as part of my Queensland Art Gallery membership, the benefits of which I don't use nearly as much as I would like.

The guide was a 'Preview/Cinefile special edition' and while perusing its pages I came across a still from a Sri Lankan film, The Forsaken Land (Jayasundar 2005), a film that I saw at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

Click to view full image

The production still in the guide is not cropped to the extent this picture from the APT6 site is. The trunks of the trees in the surrounding bush and the bleached sky beyond them extend out of this frame to convey a sense of isolation and claustrophobia all at once.

The recent news of Australian-bound asylum seekers from Sri Lanka had already made me think of The Forsaken Land and, in particular, I recalled two things. The first was the mood or tone of the film. It is masterful film-making, conveying life as it goes on while waiting for random, unannounced explosions of military violence. It was very affective; utterly devastating.

The second recollection is about the question and answer session with the director, Vimukthi Jayasundara, after the screening. It was an odd Q & A session to the extent that it was so forcefully chaired by the representative from the film festival. The chair was determined that the audience not read the film as political. Or, if that isn't quite correct then we were, according to his instructions, to acknowledge that it was political, but then recognise that it was 'so much more'.

In this he appeared to be fulfilling the wishes of Jayasundara, who seemed to be well and truly tired of discussing the political situation in Sri Lanka instead of the merits of his film. Part of me has some sympathy for the director's schedule here, but I wonder at the assertion of the existence of a clear distinction between content and form that such a forceful request is premised upon. For me, it was precisely the various aesthetic components of the film that so effectively conveyed the weight of living under such conditions.

I think this is an important film, one that Australians must see, and especially now. I urge you to view it as political.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Water Survey

dogpossum just posed a question over on Twitter. Weeks running she's been watching her neighbour spend a long time hosing his balcony, watching the water run off and go nowhere.

For anyone who's lived with Level 6 water restrictions such a blatant waste of water is shocking, especially when there are clear alternatives for cleaning one's balcony. Sweeping comes to mind. And maybe you could even use a mop and bucket if you're concerned about dust.

There are by-laws against such blatant wastage, so it's not exaggerating too much to dub such behaviour criminal. One can be fined if a council inspector happens to be passing by.

Of course, council inspectors have many things to occupy them, so those in authority rely on citizens to survey other citizens to keep us all in order. For this they offer hotlines and websites where you can provide details of any breach one might witness.

dogpossum clearly went to the effort of looking up the option to report her neighbour, perhaps at my prompting, I don't know. At any rate, she decided against reporting her neighbour for breaching Sydney's Water Wise rules, and is going to try the 'one-on-one guilt' approach.

Anecdotal evidence convinces me that people who can stand and water concrete slabs for hours aren't likely to be very receptive to such tactics, but I won't attempt to talk dogpossum out of her chosen course of action.

What does interest me, however, is her characterisation of herself as 'anal' should she fill in the anonymous report.

Immediately upon reading this I thought of all those Foucault-informed arguments about discipline and governance and the surveillance society. If we were talking about those television ads where we're all encouraged to watch our neighbours for suspicious, potentially terrorist activities, I'd be critical of the constant exhortation to report people of Middle-Eastern appearance who carry backpacks. In this particular instance, however, I wonder if there is some merit in surveillance.

Is reporting your neighbour for wasting water the thin end of the surveillance society wedge, only undertaken by the paranoid, or is it a legitimate thing to watch out for anyone who would squander a precious resource that many in the world don't have ready access to? Is it 'anal' or responsible? Or is it something you only resort to after your water wasting neighbour has told you to fuck off and mind your own business?

Your thoughts are welcome.