#5: Parlour Games
Halcyon Macleod and Willoh S Weiland
on Exquisite Corpse
Mike Singe, Nicole Robson, Linda Erceg, David Edgar and Sally Rees
“Cadavre exquis is similar to the old parlour game ‘consequences’ – in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold to conceal what they have written, and pass it on to the next player.” (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/cadavre-exquis-exquisite-corpse). The lines in bold are the folds in the paper – the lines we shared with each other as we played the parlour game. We were strict with the rules and did not look at what each other wrote until the end when the paper was unfolded.
I saw you last night. It was you. I saw you. It was you, late last night. You were out on the street in front of my house and dressed for dinner. I thought you must’ve been out on a date. It was that sparkly black dress I’ve seen you in before, the one with the split up the leg like a movie star. You were pushing a black 4WD up the hill. Who’s car was it? I hadn’t seen it before. I watched you from the window. You, by yourself, stopped the big black car from rolling down the hill.
The woman in the photograph appears to balance the car with her arm alone. In the photograph you can see her ligaments straining from the feat. It’s impossible that she did this. There must be a wedge under the back wheel or another person hidden out of sight of the camera lens, helping her.
In the article however, the photograph is presented as fact. A fact of art.
It is a hand-printed publication titled, Surrealism in Public Spaces, 1920, Austin University Press (Weiland, 2018).
Next to the photograph, someone has scribbled in the margins, “collage by an anonymous artist…or a piece of documentary material?”
Now that arm holds up a straining line through recent history. Is an allegory for the ailing American car
industry, that in 1920 birthed a nation and now props up a suntanned puppet in one of the most powerful
nations on earth. It points to the impossibility of fact when printed and re-produced. It predicts the era of fake-news.
The only thing that can touch us now is the face of a child who has survived a bombing. A little boy, sitting in the back of an ambulance, clutching the edge of the seat, his small face is thick with dirt and blood. He is not crying or howling or making any sound, he merely watches the chaos unfold around him as mutilated bodies are pulled from the rubble. The only movement on his little face are his eyelids, blinking, quietly blinking as paramedics bark orders to one another and a woman screams in the distance.
This image has frozen the trauma within it. Inside it, each person reacts to the proximity of violence, with
violence themselves, except the child.
In this way, it points to something specific about the role of the parlour game, “Consequences”. The game identifies the consequences of our relationship to each other. If you draw my body, if I draw your head, if your write the ending to my sentence, you in essence determine me. It’s not me doing it, it’s something else. We open a door together. We become irrevocably intertwined. It’s claustrophobic, its erotic and above all,
realistic. It points out the idiocy of our own individuality, our self-indulgent insistence on loneliness. When one hand claps in a forest, the whole forest hears, each creature falls, feels. Stop pretending you’re special.
Is it special to foul your own water? Is it special to shit in your nest?
The only way you keep going my darling, is at the expense of the rest.
So pop another bottle of bubbles, we’ll stretch out this last night ‘till dawn.
We’ll drink ‘till our eyes roll back in our heads, and fuck in our filth on the floor.
We’ll dance ‘till our mouths are foaming, we’ll smoke ‘till we forget the abyss.
So blow out the candles my darling, I’ve earned this one last kiss.
Australia I salute you, congratulations sweetheart, pop, pop to your champagne blind destruction.
Everyday I play your parlour games and they destroy me, one ornament after another, broken. Paint me another didgeridoo for my collection Canberra! I am your target, I am grain fed and waiting for your arrow, prawn on the barbie, barbie, barbie.
Did I tell you my dream? Knock knock. Knik Knack.
The abyss of history came to my door and…
I didn’t answer it.
A toast, a toast to us! To our mutual disease. To our good health.
I’ll tell you this for free Australia, you look good from afar and terrible under a microscope.
He sighs, “well that’s it then” and hangs up the phone. So this is your revenge Tony. He’s an unlikely puppet for you. Perhaps just a stepping stone back to the top job? It is as if he is controlled by a higher command. God? If only Malcolm knew that far away on an island in the south, in a small art gallery, an eleven year old girl in an oversized rolling stones t-shirt, and the same pair of cherry docs her mum wore eighteen years
before, raises a shapely, blackened stick and points it at a crude target drawn on the gallery wall. She points the stick to Canberra, her hand is shaking, her stomach makes a loud gurgle and she bites her lip and
narrows her eyes thinking of Malcolm Turnbull sitting at a desk in Canberra and through gritted teeth she
utters three words “Burn, fuckers, burn”. She stays holding the stick for a minute or more. She’s bitten her lip too hard and she tastes blood. Then the moment is gone. She places the stick back with the others and walks straight out the door.
It is getting dark in the real world, the wind is blowing hard in the real world, the real world is pulsing and grinding with its real world problems. Cars spewing into the atmosphere, sirens announcing disaster after
disaster. She walks down to the dock, and into a bar. She buys a drink for the same amount of money that the waitress earns per hour and eats some lead filled oysters. The television in the bar is on screaming
reality- a man with plumped up biceps pumps the air with plumped up advice, recommending another DIY solution for middle class longing. She closes her eyes, the moment is still singing in her down deep, her hand still burns from the stick, the tears pour out from under her lids in streams.
In Canberra the spell arrives with the usual swish and sparkle, it falls gently down through the acid atmosphere and into the politician’s ears. They begin to sweat and thrash. They dream of liquid pouring out of a woman’s eyes, towers crumbling, they dream of themselves as saviours. They must stand up. They must save the people from themselves. In the morning the spill begins.
It is an overflowing of narcissism and small minded politics that results in the naming of Australia’s 30th prime minister. The girl who started it all, the child who picked up a stick and pointed it to Canberra, has slept badly. She dreamed that she was trapped at a party, blowing out the candles for the end of the world. Everyone was there, her family, her parents and all their stupid friends in slow motion poses of fun, their heads thrown back laughing hysterically, holding aloft glasses of pinot, their voices warped by the dream, or huddled together groaning in despair at the fucked up world they’ve created, like they do. Her head is full of it, a lake of black blood that rises up through her body, a once empty vessel, filling her up and up, up to her neck, then spilling out of her ears, tickling as it trickles down her earlobes and drips onto her shoulders.
God it’s over the top isn’t it?
The surreal an affront to us. How dare we be so free. How dare we ignore the rules.
It’s nonsense. It’s only a dream. It has no meaning, ambition, no affect.
In response, the absurd cackles.
It takes off its clothes. It smells of witch’s brew, it reeks of dark alleys and huge ideas…things we are afraid of.
It sends an arrow to Canberra, flings us into our own abyss, stifles us with our own toxic waste, our kitsch paraphernalia, our excess.
It tells us both that we have agency and that we are unable to cope with that simple fact. Otherwise why would a stick frighten us so?
Halcyon Macleod is a writer and theatre-maker and was a founding member and Co-Artistic Director of performance ensemble My Darling Patricia from 2004 to 2014. A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Halcyon’s work has been presented by Australia’s leading festivals and venues including Sydney
Festival, Performance Space, Sydney Theatre Company, The Arts Centre Melbourne, Malthouse Theatre and Arts House. In 2018 Halcyon co-created Crawl Me Blood with Willoh S Weiland (Aphids) – an audio work for Botanical Gardens setting presented in Hobart and Melbourne. Later this year Halcyon directs “The Falls” for The Unconformity festival in Queenstown.
Willoh S Weiland is an artist, writer, curator and the Artistic Director of Aphids. In 2017 she was awarded an Australia Council fellowship to begin a two year residency at the Microsoft Centre for SocialNUI at Melbourne University, researching consent through virtual reality experiments. In 2015, Willoh won the prestigious
International Prize for Live Art awarded by the Saastamoinen Foundation and the ANTI Contemporary Art Festival, Finland. The selection committee described her projects as “deeply serious and deeply humorous in equal measure. They are also spectacular, epic and impossible to ignore”. As part of the prize, she created Artefact, a funeral for obsolete technology, which premiered at the 2016 ANTI Contemporary Arts Festival, and will be screened in 2017 in film format at Kuopio City Theatre (Finland) and at ACMI, as part of its ART + FILM series.
JOURNAL is edited by CAT Engagement Co-ordinator, Lisa Campbell-Smith.
The project commissions writers to create new text-based works that engage with the CAT exhibition program. The platform provides an opportunity for writers to develop work outside the structures of critique and criticism prevalent in art writing.