un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
un Projects

Conversations with artists



He ate the scone aggressively while his girlfriend viewed the
other installations in the gallery. He was unsure how long she
would take to assemble an appropriate amount of material for
the review she was commissioned to write. As he continued
eating, he barely noticed that there was someone watching him
in the corner; their white slip dress blended into the beige leather
furnishings against the gallery wall making it possible for them
to move between spaces like a silhouette.

‘Excuse me. Does it taste ok? You seem to be enjoying
the scone I baked?’

He quickly turned around, surprised to see someone
by the stove, a little worried that the food accompanying the
installation — that resembled an Ikea display kitchen salvaged
from an abandoned store — was decorative and not for
consumption. He was sure they had seen the work before at
Dark Mofo or Carriageworks or somewhere and thought that
the scones were meant to be eaten. Art gallery experiences were
becoming strangely repetitive. He wasn’t sure why his girlfriend
was still involved, stressing over a range of projects that all felt the same to him. He had stopped making art a long time ago. It was difficult to remember that the two had met studying Fine Arts.

‘Have another one, they’re here to be eaten. I’ve got another batch in the oven and I’m about to start making more dough.’


‘You look familiar.’

‘Really? I think I’ve seen this installation before at a festival. I don’t remember you but maybe you were part of those exhibitions too?’


‘Are you a performance artist?’

He smiled as he asked them the question, a little relieved that he hadn’t broken some invisible rule and continued eating. Sitting at the fake kitchen table, suddenly comfortable enough to enjoy the smell of baking. Their conversation started to push the experience into something that felt relatively enjoyable.
As he watched them prepare the ingredients for the dough,
shifting the white flour in the bowl, he imagined the installation
was some comment on domesticity. Another feminist critique of
labour or misogyny, probably why his girlfriend was interested in
it. He got it, but the cyclic nature of the work seemed cliché.

He preferred to keep chatting; he wanted to know whether they had seen each other before. And the food was decent, more than an aesthetic trope. He watched them adding salt to the mixture, about to ask another question when he noticed them take a collection of small glass objects from a leather bag.

‘What are they for?’

The person started placing small glass vials of red liquid
from the bag onto the table, one by one. They were displayed
elegantly before a few red drops were added to the dough, careful
not to shift the overall colour of the mixture. He thought the
liquid was some sort of pre-fermented alcohol or medicine which
was interesting to him. He was up for something stronger in the
baked goods.

‘So, is that some sort of home brew?’

‘No, it’s actually my blood.’

As they revealed the contents, he immediately started to imagine how they’d made it — red paint and oil maybe? He found the revelation disappointing. An alcoholic concoction or some ancient medicine would have been interesting. But manufacturing red liquid to resemble blood seemed overdone. Was it meant to be a metaphor for pain, death, disease or grief?

The proposition reminded him of his own experiments with performance during his Fine Arts degree. He had wanted to cut away from the obvious narratives and experiments he witnessed. In one tutorial, bored by the cluster of PowerPoint presentations, he decided to perform an act of disobedience instead. He stood in front of the class and took a small razor from his pocket, gently marking the skin across his left forearm, just above the wrist. He wanted to do something real, to feel real and disclose a part of himself that couldn’t be represented in any other way. He was acutely aware that the act lacked originality. But as he held his arm up letting the thin line of blood drizzle down, he felt like he was doing something, even if it was just a reflection of the artists he admired. He looked at the vials of fake blood on the table and felt sorry for the artist, unsure why they would simulate blood given the history of performance work they must be aware of. Could it be real? Falsifying the act seemed thoughtless. But there were no cuts or marks on the artist’s body that indicated that they
had drawn the material from themself. The more he studied
their body through the sheer slip he knew it wasn’t their blood
and felt a little cheated.

‘So, I guess that’s why the scones taste so good, it’s the blood. Would you mind if I just drank it straight?’

He asked the artist bluntly, enjoying the chance to catch their lie. Imagining that there was a small chance that they might confess, stumbling to find the words to explain their actions. But their response was as curt as his questioning.

‘Sure, why not.’

The artist handed over one of the vials. They enjoyed how quickly he drank it, unaware of the legacies he consumed.
Over time it would sour his bloodline, rotting his body from the
inside out, a process that would start as a small lesion on the
inside of his foot that refused to heal. But for the moment the
blood tasted like thick red cordial, confirming his suspicions
that it was fake. And he laughed, mildly amused that he had
exposed the artist while he wondered how much longer his
girlfriend would need before they could leave.


Scene: The Panel.

The artist talk opens by acknowledging the Traditional Owners,
the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung
peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. Professor Ian McArth,
Dr Jennifer Clarke and Dr Kate Jennings drift into a lengthy
discussion about not speaking Woi Wurrung and the settler
responsibilities and privileges that they carry. Tension builds as
the performance artist enters the room and quietly finds their
seat on the stage. The other panellists shuffle slightly, trying to
configure a stance or position in the black leather seats with the
right seriousness, accepting their level in the unspoken hierarchy
but hoping that a certain posture or look will elevate their status
a little closer to the perplexing allure of the performance artist.

Dr Kate Jennings
For me the work is situated in a First
Nations economy, transcending what we
have come to expect from contemporary
First Nations art of the last 10–15 years.

Professor Ian McArth
Exactly, the choice to work in performance
or live art is a refusal to be bought or sold.
And the work cleverly avoids classification.

Yes, what makes it Aboriginal is that it’s not
about money; it’s being created outside of

Dr Jennifer Clarke
It’s why I focused on them in my survey
of performance. Their work is critical as
it shows us that Aboriginal people think
about money differently.

That’s why performance art is so attractive
to them. It is a vehicle to express culture and
ancestral patterns in a form that can’t be
bought or sold.

The performance artist
[Remains silent but there is a slight grin
which occasionally emerges from the
corners of their mouth.]

I meant emotionally. Or metaphorically.

I think we would all be healthier as a
Nation if we all started to think about
money or devalue money like they do.
We can learn from them.

The performance artist
[Turns in their seat as if they are about to
say something important. Their mouth
partly opens, taunting the audience and
fellow panellists as they move to a more
comfortable position, maintaining their
steely silence.]

The performance artist usually begins to tire around the
17-minute mark at these events. Their resolute silence requires
a focus that is often difficult to maintain but intrinsic to their act. The current assertion that they don’t need or like money is slightly comical and certainly not as offensive as other experiences. But the constant negotiations and polite smiles required is disorientating. It’s tempting for them to speak. To explain that what artists want is to be remunerated for their practice. It might not be the primary motivation, but it’s part of the system imposed on them and part of survival. Yet there is a persistent desire to deny it, to pretend that it is separate from what they do.

Obviously it’s important to be paid. I guess
I’m speaking about the politics of refusal.

But what about the body itself? It deserves
focus too. I feel like we’re circulating
around the actual work, which is a body.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so
many marginalised bodies gravitate towards
performance practice.

The performance artist
[Finds it difficult to contain their laughter
but manages to hold silence.]

Performance offers physical proximity to
the artist’s body that makes some audience
members uncomfortable. I think that’s why
marginalised bodies utilise performance
art so often.

The performance artist
[Starts to unpack the concept of the
‘marginalised body’ in the era of diversity
capitalism and is almost tempted to speak.]

But it is also about blood, which is
something I relate to. When I was
developing the performance Unbirth,
I wanted to show the audience intimate
processes that are hidden but are also
political. Pregnancy is hidden, we give
birth privately. We separate the blood. But
there is power in forcing the audience to
consume blood, which they achieved by
inviting audiences to eat the scones. I want
to learn from this, in my own practice.

The performance artist
[Wonders whether their silence is enough to
undermine the irksome misinterpretation
of their work. If they chose to speak, would
they just be spoken over? Would any hint
of anger or grievance satisfy the audience’s
desire for conflict rather than asserting their
position and power.]

And it’s not explicitly Aboriginal either,
in the sense of what we have come to expect.
But it fuses a colonial act with their own bloodline.

Do we need to talk about whether work
made by an Aboriginal artist, that is not
explicitly Aboriginal, can still be called
‘Aboriginal Art?’ Is that something that
the performance artist would like to respond
to? Even just gesturally?

The performance artist is humoured by their idea of Aboriginal
Art, aware that most First Nation art from the last ten years
evades clear definition.

The performance artist
[Pours another glass of water from the
jug provided. They sip the water slowly
admiring the shape of the glass, assuming
that the weight reflects its cost.

And of course, it is worth mentioning
something about your leather boots or your
style in general. I think it is ok to talk about
fashion or how an artist appears when their
art or practice is essentially their body?

Yes, those iconic leather boots
large, confrontational bikie boots.
Aggressive but also appealing!

Distinctively domineering, coupled with other
leather clothing items and a quasi goth look.

They do appear to have ‘a look’, that is
undeniable and arguably worth discussing,
which is of course not to distract from the
deeper themes of their work.

Yes, a body that’s been erased. An unruly
body that doesn’t fit comfortably in our
current social structures, adorned with
thick, chunky leather boots that ride up
their calves. It is like a right to become
something else, to escape what might have
been expected from them.

The performance artist enjoys the discussions about their ‘look’
and assumes it is what the audience and other panellists expected
from them; a ‘look’ which is as valuable as their ‘practice’. As
the panel closes, they start to question their decision to wear
RM Williams instead of their regular Dr. Martens lace ups at
a photoshoot which their gallerist had arranged earlier. Would
the shift in style disappoint the people who fill these rooms? Or
would a new image provoke excitement rather than suspicion,
as the public salivated over their new look, generating the type
of public attention that would mean they remained a silhouette.
Continuing the work that mattered without being caught
because everyone was too busy admiring their boots.

Timmah Ball is a writer, artist and curator of Ballardong Noongar heritage. She was an Arts House Makeshift Publics artist and facilitator 2021-2023, where she developed the publication Do Planners Dream of Electric Trees? In 2020 she created an audio work for the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s exhibition Who’s Afraid of Public Space called Exploding the Maribyrnong. In 2018 she co-curated Wild Tongue zine for Next Wave festival with Azja Kulpinska, which interrogated wage and labour inequality in the arts industry.

Filed under Article Timmah Ball