Category Archives: blog

So what has been going on…?

Dear reader, I apologise for the erratic blog-keeping; that is all I have managed lately. I started 2013 by half-leaving Berlin and coming back to Melbourne, mainly to complete my Master of Urban Design. I had an incredible, life-changing trip to Jordan, and a short stop-over in Thailand, on my way back. I arrived to Melbourne, and have since been bogged down in bureaucracy, university, and various small commitments, as small as possible.

One great thing I learned last year was the value of living slowly. I cannot quite live slowly right now – my thesis is due in a month’s time – but I am trying to stay in a low gear. The MUD is due to end in June 2013 – until then, I am in my study&research den.

But, things have been going on, despite how jealously I have been protecting my time.

After much deliberation, I have started another blog, (urban) GS, where I have moved all my spatial writing. This was a momentous decision, because I hardly have time for one blog. However, I have been feeling acutely that I need space to think, think freely, about my actual, paid profession: urbanism. And this blog, however broadly it is defined by its title, guerrilla semiotics, is a theatre blog. It has worked wonders for me, on a totally personal level, being able to ramble about urban planning and design without feeling like I was harassing my readers with a marginal interest.

I am participating in Experiments in site-writing, this year’s program for Architecture + Philosophy, run by the talented and indefatigable Esther Anatolitis and Dr Hélène Frichot, together with Lauren Brown. Very talented company, and I am looking forward to this nice distraction from my more serious work. I am a huge, huge fan of Architecture + Philosophy, and being a part of it is a great honour.

And finally, a disclosure I absolutely need to make: I have been asked to be a member of Malthouse Theatre’s Artistic Counsel in 2013 – which means I will be providing feedback to the theatre on their general programming and so. I don’t generally review Malthouse performances, certainly not in paid capacity, and never for an external publication, so I would say the conflict of interest is minimal, and certainly no bigger than as is inevitable in the Melbourne theatre. However, I have since realised I am likely to write MORE about Malthouse productions now, simply because I will have to see them all. Considering how Cameron Woodhead has been wiping the floor with Alison Croggon for her having the same role in 2005 and 2006, this seems like a situation worth clarifying in advance.

Meanwhile, for my minor thesis I am researching temporary use of space; things like Gap Filler, Renew Newcastle, and other such combinations of place-making, architecture, and what oftens amounts to a kind of site-specific performance. I might be increasingly posting bits here: video clips, thoughts, interviews. I think this is theatre-related enough that everyone will enjoy it.

Thank you for sticking around!

Tagged , ,

Das Weiße Band

Either I am choosing my friends more and more wisely, or men are just getting better in general, but each year more and more of my male friends are making explicit statements against violence against women.

Thank you so much for that. It is some kind of manifest sign that the ratio of violent men in my life is decreasing. It may seem like an abstract thing to some of you, but, when you’re a woman, it’s often very real.


With all the money we need to buy guns…

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car selesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

– Hunter S. Thompson

I was cleaning up my Google Docs, when I found this quote, sitting solitary on an empty page. I no longer know why it was so important to preserve it, however many years ago, and whether it related to some specific US event, or some relationship I felt it had to the aggressive entitlement of Australians to keep comfortable, no matter what harm it did to others. The younger self is another person. Still, it is like getting a message from someone who used to be important to us, even if they no longer are.

I used to be much more personal in my theatre writings.

Then I got real work reviewing, and decided to read a lot of theatre, to get a better sense of what I’m doing.

I’m not sure it has worked out well. I think my best writing on theatre was in 2007, when I just wrote about it the way I would have written about my day.

What to do?

Criticism upcoming

In the next few days, as a part of my summer cleaning, I will be uploading my performance/dance writing published in Real Time since 2008.

It is an unsorted lot, which I will be doing my best to put in some sort of order. I was originally quite lax about keeping an archive (and also a bit shy about airing it), but it has grown to a reasonably large opus, and I would be very sad to lose it – even if just for my own, somewhat sentimental purposes.

I hope you will enjoy it, and won’t find it terribly outdated and irrelevant.

Just some house-keeping

When left to my own company – which happens too rarely these days – I naturally gravitate towards slow activities. In the past few weeks, I have been occupying myself with a certain kind of reading: Ubu.web, The Rumpus, Mrs Tsk, and Neojaponisme, plus a bunch of things lying around the house that I hadn’t found time to read during the entire long, busy 2011 – Moomin, Peter Carey’s second-last, Miljenko Jergović, David Foster Wallace.

I have been finding the tempo of journalist cycles (and a lot of blogging, from my vantage point, is resembling journalism all-too-closely) completely incompatible with happiness. Reading and writing long form and depth feels very soothing, as if the high-sugar, low-fat junk of what counts as media (not just in Australia, but more uniformly so in Australia) has been hurting my soul in some profound way. There is junk media everywhere in the world, of course, and in most countries the junk is worse – but there tends to be a much greater range, with much better than average writing also available somewhat more democratically. (As it stands, I have tried to limit my contact with Australian media as much as possible to Ben Eltham’s columns on New Matilda, Crikey and The Drum.)

I am going to Berlin at the end of February, where I will spend at least 5 months studying urbanism, going to the theatre, writing, and enjoying a life in a high-density, well-planned city (urbanism makes you notice and care about such things). I am looking forward to being back on a continent with a more realistic sense of time.

The rest of the month in Melbourne is being half-goodbye, half-recovery.

The art of survival

I do feel a reluctant respect for people who cannot cook. Of course, I think that going past the age of 25 without learning how to feed yourself is inexcusable, and scores the person low on any scale of maturity, general life competence, and desirability as life partner, co-explorer of exotic lands, or friend. But, at the same time, I am filled with awe at the thought that they have survived this long. While their lifestyle must have cost them much in terms of money and health, the very fact that they are not dead yet looks to me like a major achievement.


Swimming pools, Muslims, and the burqini in Dandenong

Very interesting opinion piece by Julie Szego in the weekend’s The Age on a women-only Ramadan event at the Dandenong pool, at which all women aged 10 or up must be covered from knees to neck if they are to attend. The comments are a predictable mix of people saying “Try and ask for a similar concession in a Muslim country”, “THIS IS A WAR”, “Why aren’t they assimilating?”, “Islam is the only religion that wants to take over the world” on the one hand, and “it’s an issue of equity”, “some of these women are isolated” and “so, according to your argument, I should be able to turn up to my daughter’s wedding in the nude” on the other. The article, however, does try to analyse the issues: women’s rights, the requirements of public pools to serve whatever community they have living around them, issues of equity, and tolerance. It’s up online, for anyone to read.

It is, however, interesting to read the discussion if, like me, you come from a slightly different angle: I have spent years trying to find a proper sauna and swimming pool in Melbourne, ie one that doesn’t require a neck-to-thigh cover for women. All the therapeutic benefits of sauna are cancelled out by sports swimwear, especially of the full-torso female type, and it is not just beyond unpleasant to sit in 90 degrees covered in lycra, it is also stressful on the body, and potentially dangerous. I could frame it as a discrimination problem: if men can get away with tiny speedos, why aren’t women allowed in topless? But I think it is more probably a prudishness problem (see, for example, the case of a Brisbane sauna-as-art). It all gets much worse when I raise the question of mixed-sex sauna: the immediate, automatic answer this seems to provoke is ‘EWW’, or ‘why would you want people other than your boyfriend to see you naked’?


Compare and contrast.

Now, two things. First, it must be clear by now that I really cannot see Australia as the land of freedom to show one’s body as one likes. The whole argument of Western secular liberalism which celebrates the body, or even of some Aussie tradition of baring flesh, is simply not correct. There is a reasonable amount of Puritan disavowal of the body going on, or of sexualising all nudity at all times. As the Finnish artists themselves remarked, “there are cultural differences” between Finland and Australia. And, you know, it would be impossible to argue that this prudishness is not in any way connected to religion. The subject of nudity in the Australian society is so touchy that it’s ridiculously hard to even raise it in polite conversation without everyone getting red in the face and starting to crack jokes about paedophiles. (Which is, frankly, ridiculous. As is the oft-made remark about not exposing children to adult nudity. Children, especially toddlers and very young kids, could not care less.) Compare Australia to Scandinavian countries, to Germany, even France or Italy or Croatia, all places in which such scandalous behaviour as topless sunbathing (and swimming) and mixed-sex nude saunas, happens without much drama.

Second, I am always struck by the disingenuousness of packing together “liberal Western values”, “Enlightenment principles”, “feminism” and “women’s dress rules”. Call me bitter, but it is the same as coupling Capitalism with the struggle for workers’ rights; or, not very correct. Sure, there is a geo-historical link, but to say that one of the essentially Western (as opposed to Eastern, Muslim, or less-developed) projects has been equality of sexes is a gross overstatement, conveniently forgetting the fact that the universal suffrage, equal rights, and women’s lib were fights. As Tony Myers writes in the book I’m currently reading:

The [Enlightenment principle of] cogito [ergo sum] is the basis of the centred subject, or, as it is more commonly known, the ‘individual’. The consequences for this model of subjectivity are compelling. For example, until recently, it was generally accepted (by men at least) that only men were masters of themselves. Women, on the other hand, were supposed to be subject to passions and feelings which they could not properly control. That is to say, women were not centred subjects but decentred subjects. They were, therefore, not ‘proper’ individuals and were treated accordingly as second-class citizens, subject to the rule of the masterful men. In fact, the mastery of women formed part of the larger project to dominate the natural world itself (of which women were held to be a part). The results of this project, which is sometimes referred to as the Enlightenment Project, can be witnessed in the devastation wreaked upon the environment. If it seems a little harsh to rebuke a philosophical model with the destruction of the planet, it is perhaps worth remembering that only a subjectivity which thinks it answers exclusively to itself would risk the destruction of nature and not expect to be held accountable for it.

Or, as a great man of Enlightenment said:

Since dependance is a state natural to women, girls feel themselves made to obey; they have, or should have, little freedom… Destined to obey a being as imperfect as man, a woman should learn to suffer – even to suffer injustice – at an early age, and to bear the wrongs of her husband without complaint. You will never reduce boys to the same point; their inner sense of justice rises up and rebels against such injustice, which nature never intended them to tolerate.

(Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, IV: 710-11)

But, the point to make here is that Enlightenment did mark the beginning of a quest for knowledge in which nothing was sacred, nothing was beyond questioning. In particular, tradition. If there is any way in which feminism was Rousseau’s baby, it was in the call to question everything. This is why the ultimate paradox of defending the bikini because of our “recognised tradition of secular freedom” is deeply absurd: if there is anything contrary to the spirit of secular inquiry, it is upholding or banning practices based on how well they fit in with our “tradition”.


I am a little dispirited by the argumentation of both sides in this debate.

On the one hand, I don’t think there is anything particularly logical or reasonable in demanding that women cover from neck to knee in a swimming pool, just like I don’t think there is anything reasonable in having to wear clothes to a sauna. I agree with Szego, it seems to me important to remember that there is a principle at stake here, a principle of the female body not being automatically sexual, not being automatically shameful, and not being required to cover (or bare). Muslim misogyny is misogyny alright. David Gilmore writes, in a sweeping comparative analysis:

Muslim misogyny is really not so much an attack on women as it is a flight from woman “as the source of uncontrollable desires in the male self”. Islamic misogyny, like all others, is a flight from inner conflict over women; misogyny is the psychic consequence to male ambivalance and turmoil. The reification of this struggle that occurs in Islam is similar perhaps to what occurs in Christianity, Hinduim, and Buddhism, except perhaps for the added biographical ingredient of the Prophet’s apotheosis of sexual anxiety into lithurgy. One may say that St Paul and St Augustine played similar roles in forming Christian theology.

(David D. Gilmore, Misogyny: the Male Malady, p.217)

But this treatment of women does correspond to the same sentiments, fears and neuroses in the Australian culture, however secular it may be on paper. There is a corresponding prudishness on the Australian side, that all the talk about “Western liberal values” and “secular principles” cannot hide. In fact, what complicates the debate to such a large degree is precisely the way in which Australian commentators seem themselves unsure of whether there is or isn’t a principle at stake, or whether we are simply debating degrees of exhibitionism. Szego:

The Brimbank spokeswoman explained that [the swimming pools required that the] ”participants should be dressed appropriately, as is expected of a centre used by children and families”.

It seems to me that, until someone remembers what that principle may be, commentators can go hoarse talking about how the burqini “run[s] counter to the West’s more than 500-year struggle for individual freedom” (Szego). In practice, we are bound to get all confused about who is allowed to see how much skin on whom before we all have to blush and go “ooh”.

Tagged ,

The uncrafty minx

In my mind, I have a very clear image of what this craft blog of mine would look. It would combine the Old World-savoir vivre of French Women Don’t Get Fat with a feminist disavowal of the DIY terror of many a craft blog (because who with a full-time job has time to make quilts, I don’t know), into something like Croatian Women Can’t Be Fucked Crocheting.

It would discuss ‘effortless style’ in terms such as wonderful 4-ingredient meals, 3 clothing items to keep forever, or the best place to live in Melbourne in terms of living convenience.

And, whilst on the topic of 4-ingredient meals, we made mussels for lunch today; the day was beautiful (wasn’t it just?), and later I got taken to see Please Give, a film which passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. A very lovely Saturday.

Sometimes I want to turn this into a craft blog…

…and I wonder how far I could stretch the concept of guerrilla semiotics.

But no, seriously: I’ve spent the evening googling ‘effortless style’, doubtlessly the result of having slept only 3 hours last night, and of being a bit fatigued and under-dressed, in that academic way which unmistakably points out to 15,000-word projects and afternoons of interpretative phenomenology. I’ll be sounding like a broken record, but oh I’ll say it once again: I’m in thesis hell, health purgatory and have had a 12-hour fight with a Trojan on Tuesday. All my clothes are unwashed, I have had an unbroken spell of 3 months without cooking a meal, and bronchitis. I owe a number of reviews, all of very good shows, to a number of very good people, but oh there is the non-theatre side of life too, and it’s taken over.

What I’m about to reveal here, what only a few people have hitherto known (ie, Ian), is that I can run on Heidegger and Peggy Phelan for months, peut-etre, but every so often that lifestyle stops working for me, and then I go on stupid binges (ie, binges of stupid): playing Stardoll dress-ups, or scrolling up and down lookbook, or buying furniture. Also, more auspiciously, cooking or arranging flowers or hand-washing cashmere cardigans – these at least are calming activities. Which brings me to my point: this blog wouldn’t suffer so much neglect if I felt free to post the results of my dress-up games or pictures of my flower arrangements or, godforgive, cake. What if this specialisation was an over-, and a mistake?!


One thing, for example, that I’ve been dying to share with the world in the most unashamedly bloggy way was my fight with my eating habits; they’re niche habits, so stay with me.

You see, despite being almost-Australian, I’ve spent all of my 5 years in this country trying to re-create some kind of Croatian eating routine. Now, we’re not a particularly foodie nation, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as ‘Croatian food routine’ before I left the place. But oh there is!, and it is completely un-Australian. Where here one has a huge breakfast (allegedly; I’ve never seen a breakfast that wasn’t, deep inside, brunch), a sandwich for lunch, and then barely survives until the abundant 6 o’clock dinner, feeling guilty for wanting to snack in between (I know I’m caricaturing, but), in Croatia we eat the whole time. Croatian eating day consists of 5 meals: breakfast, snack, lunch, cake, dinner. The importance and time of each also differs: the eating peaks at lunch, around 1pm, and falls off on both ends. While breakfast can be anything, the 11am snack (which keeps you going until lunch) is usually a sandwich or spanakopita or donut or some such caloric thing. And cake, at 5 or 6pm, with coffee or tea, does half of the dinner’s job, leaving you with only small things to eat at 8pm – bread and cold meats, or soup.

Now, as a person who has never learned to eat breakfast, this worked very well for me, because I had plenty of opportunity to re-fuel, and lunch happened so soon anyway. But in Australia my eating routine immediately collapsed (this due to us Europeans being social eaters, unlike you funny Anglos – without company, I simply skipped all meals) into an unhealthy starving until 6pm, when I had to eat for the whole day, go to bed feeling unwell, and repeat. And imagine my confusion at the idea of having a sandwich (a snack in my books) have to stretch over a whole lunch! And at 12pm too, a time which was neither snack nor lunch, and which I was expected to do alone, in 30 minutes – very different from the big-deal-meal I was used to, with multiple courses and table conversation and plans for the afternoon (people don’t work afternoons in the post-socialist Europe).

I totally posted this, then I remembered that all craft blogs
have lots of pictures: hereby I attach an additional image of
cake. When I say ‘cake’, you see, I mean something as big
as 4 macarons, not some huge sticky date slice or one of
those atrocities called ‘mars bar cake’. Ew.

Anyway, earlier this year I’ve started having cake again. It just so happened. Around 5ish or 6ish, I’ve been finishing work and getting a biscuit or hedgehog slice or tartlet with tea, to re-fuel on my way to cooking dinner (this was before I went on cooking strike). And I’ve realised that cake is my favourite meal of the day. It makes perfect sense exactly where and how it is: you’ve already digested lunch, you’re a bit hungry and a bit tired, work is over, you need an indulgence, you may be doing all kinds of things in the evening, for which you need energy, but it’s not quite the time for a big meal. Ta-daan: have a hedgehog slice! Life immediately improves by a factor of 10.

So I started making time for the 5pm cake. It will sound terribly melodramatic when I say it changed my life, but, look: multi-tasking perfectionists like me spend not inconsiderable energy identifying habits that improve their well-being, and this was definitely one. My dinners became light and dispensable: I could eat before the theater, or after. I could graze on finger food for dinner, and it no longer mattered. I would wake up hungry, and so I started eating breakfast (or a snack, technically). Even lunches started happening, somehow! After 5 years of misery and undesired weight loss due to starvation, I could live happily again.

The only drawback is that this is all still hellishly difficult to explain to Australians. First, people think it’s immoral to plan to eat cake. Late at night, alone in the kitchen, stealthily, with much guilt, sure. But make a decision to eat cake every day! God forbid. So cake remains a lonely meal. The only equivalent after-work meal that Australians practice is called ‘beer’, but unfortunately there’s no way to reconcile cake and beer, not in Australia where establishments inevitably specialise in only one out of the two. And beer is much healthier (?).

Then, the whole business of eating so many times a day: certainly it’s fattening and unhealthy and spoils appetite. Yes, well, it does! That’s the point! It keeps you sated, but it also timetables what would otherwise be disorderly snacking. In 2006 or so, when I was googling food blogs, trying to figure out how to have lunch in Melbourne, I kept finding forums in which people discussed something called ‘4 o’clock slump‘. In my world, that’s your body telling you to finish work, sit down and have a slice of cake. In the world of Australian foodie blogs, ‘4 o’clock slump’ was a chance to starve your body and then feel frustrated, but virtuous. It was not allowed to happen, and they were not going to feed it. Ah, but if you only have a sandwich for lunch..? What else are you going to feel at 4pm if not hunger?

But the rest has been reasonably OK. Big lunch, small dinner, and what I call a snack is generally nobody’s business. Being borderline underweight, people generally don’t give me shit for eating things they think are unhealthy (butter, bread, whatever). I have even come up with a working day that allows a big lunch, from 1 till 3 o’clock. It gives me an hour less to work, but I would have been slumping for an hour anyway…

I do find it remarkable, though, that something as simple as cake at 6pm can result in so much happiness, structure, and overall wellbeing. By which I mean, I’ve spent years trying to restructure my Australian daily life. It took an accident to realise that this one piece of cake was the key to it all.