Sunday, 24 July 2022

Getting feedback on paramontages

It’s been a few days since I stopped taking the medication for the back pain. The pain has gone away but there are some slight remnants of it in muscle memory, just aches in certain regions of my lower back that remind me of what had gone before. 

On Friday evening a friend came over because he was in the area. I made him some food and he gave me some comments about my paramontages, also about the house, which he hadn’t seen. He liked both and I was grateful on both counts, though especially for what he said about my work it’s very useful to get feedback even from someone who knows you well because it validates your efforts but, more importantly, it confirms or counters your intuition about how the general community is going to receive your work.

The last time I posted here I talked about delaying work and about waiting for inspiration to strike. At that time I had ideas about what to do, mental bookmarks having been placed in the diurnal ledger at some stray moment – you might be watching TV or cooking or interrupting a conversation you’re having with someone about food or money – and I’d been saving up the satisfaction of making for another time.

When I talked with my friend I addressed some of these feelings when I said that I am happy when I wake up in the morning. Instead of working for a wage, I said, I was free to indulge a hobby, and when I got out of bed I had tunes in my head I was so content with my life. He said this was good. I told him again, as probably I had done many times over my life, how I’d been living the dream of my father up until April (when I started making paramontages), but in reality what was important to remember about life was that the moment was all that counted.

We both agreed that we aren’t getting any younger. 

Also important to remember is that this conservation of energies, this greedy saving up of happiness (the making) if done when you’re at work will draw the ire of your boss, who just wants you to get down to doing what you’re being paid to do. But I like to feel the moment. I remember when I was young running a race around the school’s athletics track tapping my toes on the ground between steps, which hindered my progress but which was a kind of guarantee against the disappointment of losing despite my best efforts. Each foot had to be tapped in turn, I was careful to distribute the impacts equally on one side or the other, but someone who was watching me (I remember) and who saw the taps called out in an excited voice.

I like to feel the moment however, so in my new project I am writing about my process and chronicling even as I produce new items to get printed. I plan to go to the printer tomorrow as I have some items to pick up, but I also have two items to drop off, items I made in past days during parts of the making.

Both of these paramontages have something important in common because they use the “left side large” system, where I’ve privileged the left-hand side of the work over the right-hand side. The left-hand side is the “past”, and by putting more weight here in the overall scheme of things the final assemblage feels more appropriate because the right-hand side is going to carry more weight in the grand scheme due to our innate bias to favour the right. Like me tapping with my foot while running round the track, privileging the left grounds me in the past so that I can more effectively dream. 

I dream while awake. The paramontage I talked about last Wednesday was the first time I’d used a “left side large” construction and, what’s more, in fact I had a specific poem in mind when I went out in Botany with my cameras to take photos, I knew what I wanted and collected images with them, images specifically designed to accompany the sonnet, which was written on 16, 17, 24 and 29 November, and 9 December, 2020, and on 9, 20 March and 15 September 2021.

So, on eight separate days.

The first draft of a poem is the most important and usually the tone, the subject, and other major structural considerations are locked in place at that time. In this case it was at a time when I’d just read a book of history about the 19th century’s revolutions. I was homeless in those days as the warm weather was returning to the land, because I’d sold my apartment but had to wait until my house was finished and the approval by the certifier had been granted. 

By March 2021 I was living in the new house and the cold weather was returning, a happier time before the disaster of war arrived to prevent me from spending so much time with books. 

War is a man’s activity and the revolutionary movements the book examins was full of stories of the exploits of men. My foray into the streets of Botany was also designed to look at what men do which, today in Australia, is in many cases the building of houses. 

Everybody needs a home but it’s mostly men who build them, the number of women on building sites in this country is very low especially in trades (2 percent) so my survey of the suburb I moved to in 2021 is appropriately matched by a poem about civil discord that paved the way for civil harmony. It’s fitting that the post you’re reading, a post about the process of construction, should focus on a poem and on a paramontage about building, which is mainly the province of men. 

I am a man so I fit in here as well. What struck me about my male friend’s comments was his surprise, and I was happy to feel his delight, which seemed genuine, and especially valued a comment he made about a type-1 paramontage titled ‘Politics’. Here’s the poem:

We harness
the body
of the king

to fit
the steeds
of our desires. 

The image that goes with this poem is a fuzzy one taken with two cameras showing a city street but there are upright elements in it that might be horses and yet they might not, and he pointed at these bright artefacts, these white blobs, and asked, “Are these horses?” I was very excited at this moment as this was precisely the reaction that I’d aimed to inspire in my audience, yet I worried, too, because if you give someone something that they have to use their imagination to complete you might annoy them and they might then react negatively with respect to your work.

‘The trumpets, or, The constitutional risings of the 1820s’, written over eight days in 2020 and 2021 is, in the paramontage, paired with the reality of life in a peaceful country where real estate is the primary subject of BBQ conversations. When I sat down with my friend we didn’t talk about property (though we talked about his job) and on the same day we spoke Nine Entertainment advertised a new season of ‘The Block’.

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