The One Eyed Man has cultivated an obsessional quality in us.
It has become the keystone for paradigms of creative practice that are otherwise outside the normalised strictures of two allegedly art-historically trained artists. Through its polyphony of rhythms and basslines and harmonies and dissonances and instruments and players it ruptures and intervenes and makes unclear the present participle, the ‘I’, in our experience of objects and texts. It elaborates us as a contingent collective complicit in the act of our becomings. It locates us, not as coherent points of reference, but as dispersed and confused conglomerations of anachronistic data. And so, we refer to this thing not as an annotated object/ text, but rather that which has annotated us.
The One Eyed Man becomes a threshold from which to locate our understandings of various other points of contended references.
‘Art is not an inert reflection of the world-as-it-is in this sense, but a kind of subjective technology – a fictioning – involved in the production of a different mode of being in the world.’ – ‘Myth-Science and the Fictioning of Reality,’Simon O’Sullivan
In what follows, the subjective and the speculative are cut into a reel of cathartic tragedy; a dialogue that produces the various voices traced in this paper.
The Tennant Creek Brio (TCB) (a troupe of travelling artists) The One Eyed Man (OEM) (An old slot machine remade into an artwork by the TCB exhibited at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, 2020)
Žižek (a court-like philosopher who entertains the guests with a surrealist comic style)
Joseph (a contemporary artist from Tennant Creek) Odysseus (a sailing troubadour-king journeying from a fallen city to his island home)
A passenger on the F3 service (a punter making their wayto an exhibition)
Duchamp (a chess player)
Barad (a physicist-philosopher, surveying difference)
A Chorus of Initiates:
INITIATE ONE (an enthusiastic member of the chorus)
INITIATE TWO (purveyor of palaver)
The various glows of head torches, over- head lamps and reflective stainless-steel surfaces crescendo into a cacophony of harsh cool lights. If it wasn’t for the glare- proof visors covering these figures’ eyes, one might wonder how these various retinas would cope. Each meticulously garbed in plastic surgical scrubs, a wrinkled sterile skin; the choreography of disinfection and barrier-assurance (the fear of contamination).
Trays of instruments punctuated an immeasurable number of figures – a writhing crowd – rippled back from a singular point. What stood at this point of incursion was a swarm of foreign matter.
It looked like a rusted heap, a violently modified console with a single digital eye that fractures time and relative dimensions in space; in this eye, the distorted reflections of these highly trained polemicists-cum- butchers come into focus.
Hendricks, Scotty. ‘10 jokes from philosopher Salvoj Žižek.’ Big Think, 11 June 2020, bigthink.com/thinking/slavoj-zizek-jokes.
Žižek stepped forward, condensation escaping from an improperly worn mask. The bridge of their nose is clouded by smog produced from the arrhythmia of his spluttering breath ...
‘In order to relax after the arduous work of preaching and performing miracles, Jesus decided to take a short break on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. During a game of golf with one of his apostles, there was a difficult shot to be performed; Jesus did it badly and the ball ended up in the water, so he did his usual trick: he walked on the water to the place where the ball was, reached down and picked it up. When Jesus tried the same shot again, the apostle told him that this is a very difficult one – only someone like Tiger Woods can do it; Jesus replied, ‘What the hell, I am the son of God, I can do what Tiger Woods can do!’ and took another strike. The ball again landed in the water, so Jesus again took a walk on the surface of the water to retrieve it. At this point, a group of American tourists walked by and one of them, observing what was going on, turned to the apostle and said: ‘My god, who is this guy there? Does he think he is Jesus or what?’ The apostle replies: ‘No, the jerk thinks he is Tiger Woods!’
According to Žižek, this joke’s value is derived from an allusion to the universal law that everyone, even the lord Jesus Christ, son of God, needs a point of reference.
Tennant Creek Brio. ‘Biennale of Sydney.’
ABC Arts, 29 September 2020 / ‘The living history,’ personal communication, 26 December 2021, instagram.com/yugi657
In contravention of the conventions of the theatre, two members of the chorus chatter noisily as a troupe of travelling artists enter the stage with wooden lances in hand. The artists are the key to this performance, as it was they who first recalled this mythical assemblage of underworld matter. Without pause they descend upon the creation, punctuating it with the points of their sharpened implements.
‘One of our motivations for us artists ...
is to be better represented in galleries and museums, in Captain Cook culture ...We collect objects and materials that come from two different worlds, one is traditional as you can see here with the punishment spears you see through The One Eyed Man, those spears are made from special trees in and around our Country here in Tennant Creek, and [they] hold traditional histories and values, and the other side of the history is the meat hooks, TVs and pokies. These materials tell stories of two worlds crossing over.’
‘Tennant Creek Brio | We are Really Re-enactments of Before the Christ Ancestral Beings, We are the Living History | Biennale of Sydney,’Joseph Williams
INITIATE ONE: ‘We are the living history’ is a statement made by my co-worker and collaborator and teacher Joseph Williams, who wrote the words on a discarded TV. The phrase became the anchor for the Tennant Creek Brio’s installation staged at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN (a Wiradjuri word for ‘edge’), 2020. At NIRIN, the words invoke an expansive integrated network of experience, wherein the compositional stuff of history – past, present, future experiences, ancestral deeds and memory rebirthed in images, speech, text and performance – represent an indivisible harmony.
INITIATE TWO: The outside is amorously consumed into the inside. They no longer exist as diametrically locatable but rather as entangled in the specific material incursion of their event.
Morford, Mark, Lenardon, Robert J. and Sham, Michael. ‘Views of the Afterlife: The Realm of Hades.’ In Classical Mythology, tenth edition. global.oup.com/us/companion. websites/9780199997329/student/materials/ chapter15/.
Brandishing a hot wooden stake and a lute akimbo, the Ithacan King makes an approach. Ready to sing, ready to play, ready to once more wield the pointed tip of his instruments against Poseidon’s one eyed sons.
I left the city in the year one-thousand-and-eighty, or was it two-thousand-and-nineteen? Endeavours amount to compulsive immersions into the inexorable wave of historical direction. The compulsion to historicise shares a teleos with the figure of a sailing-troubadour, labouring on the edge of truth and action, tuning the historiographic act by process of attending and remembrance. That great monster and I are inextricable; our intra-actions rippling through history, wherein vocalisations of new heroes and new claims upon old icons are tested. One might even ask: are the absolute truths of my documents more monstrous than that drunken one eyed beast?
CHORUS: On the shores of Oceanus,
An unstable Elysium.
The living walk with the dead, all the while
past and present futures compose the living history.
22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, 2020, Port Jackson (an island cave), Cockatoo Island.
Pacing in nervous anticipation along the port, a passenger queuing for the F3 service operating between the theatre and Cockatoo Island stepped forward from the gathering crowd to pay tribute and bear witness ...
CHORUS: The overall effect is disarming. They arrived like a naked Perseus. A witless Odysseus. Underprepared to face and deal with whatever this space let alone this thing, the object of their mission, actually is. No shield of Athena to protect; no helmet of darkness to hide behind; no all-seeing eye to divine. Present and future close in, closer and closer.
Through the biennale context, the curatorium takes care to moderate your approach to The One Eyed Man. Upon arrival
at Cockatoo Island, after disembarking from the ferry, the passenger treads carefully. Their procession takes place in the dark. Literally. After all, the exhibition both opens and opines
at night. The passenger moves to the island’s Turbine Hall, the gnashing winds of Sydney Harbour gnaw at the metal cage that forms a corridor leading into the ‘gallery.’ The atmosphere is post-apocalyptic. In the dark, the corridor feels bottomless but pressing on to its end through a large gloomy room lined with hessian bags that form Ibrahim Mahama’s installation No Friend but the Mountains, you arrive at a group exhibition, We are Really Re-enactments of Before the Christ Ancestral Beings, We are the Living History, cumulating paintings and other objects. One of these objects is The One Eyed Man turned askew so that you do not directly meet its gaze, as if to forestall comment (words) and keep one looking.
CHORUS: In the side entrance, something, or perhaps someone, echoes movement, a betraying sound of coin on concrete. Clack, clonk, clink – a deposed cousin of that which we will soon behold. Instinctively, the visitor pats a pocket just in case there’s a levy to pay – a fee for the ferryman to cross the divide between corridor and the gallery where cast in steel standing tall and still as stone, The One Eyed Man awaits.
Fiennes, Sophie (director) and Žižek, Salvoj (writer). The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. 2006. youtube.com/watch?v=FYuI4SFw4g0.
A familiar fogged visor returns to the helm of this expedition. The figure hesitates momentarily, obfuscated eyes darting between the perceived head and stomach of this thing. Dual wielding a blade and a transcription of some Lacanian lectures, they glance momentarily at their off hand before proceeding to the thing’s midsection.
In my early adolescence my brother introduced me to Slavoj Žižek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006). This was before I knew of Žižek’s notoriety. Žižek muses over libidinal forces and the alien intruder rousing in the deepest chambers of the unconscious mind. Using Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) as an illustration, the ‘foreign intruder’ inside of us desires nothing more than expulsion from the womb-cum-tomb of its mother. The xenomorph bursts the circle of ‘Oneness,’ the stomach of the human host. According to Žižek, this movement represents an emancipatory moment for the ego.
CHORUS/OEM: I elicits, I disturbs, I fascinates desire, I am totally seduced by myself.
Barad, K. ‘Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart.’ Parallax 20(3): 168–187.
In a blur, the crowd shuffled, feeling a figure gliding between them. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, that a new figure seemed to disappear and reappear only in the space in which another recently stood. After a moment they stood above the mass on the table, brandishing their tools more comfortably than the rest. Their visor bared the added weight of bioptic lenses. Unfurling what looked like a cartographer’s kit, they began to work.
What we emphasise here is neither the artwork nor the text one eulogises in annotations. For these are not impermeable bodies but conduits for lines of thought that emerge from relationships. In other words, these are not interactions but intra-actions.
Not individual bodies engaged in conversations of matter but a dynamic unfolding of things from this dialogical relationship. It is The One Eyed Man as an apparatus that we take as our tool for understanding a genealogy of difference that might be termed a linear experience (although this is not the case):
‘Time is out of joint; it is diffracted, broken apart in different directions, non-contemporaneous with itself. Each moment is an infinite multiplicity. ‘Now’ is not an infinitesimal slice butKaren Barad
an infinitely rich condensed node in a changing field diffracted across spacetime in its ongoing iterative repatterning.’ ‘Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart,’
Said alien is what emerges when these intra-actions derive novelty. What one might locate is a pattern of difference, a domain in which the rhythm of our experience is sufficiently disturbed.
CHORUS: The One Eyed Man becomes a possibility, capable of its own movements. Moving in an unfamiliar time signature, spurring novel combinations characterised by a sudden change in direction at the moment of apprehension. On the run ... a fugitive polyrhythm escaping captivity.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, readymade sculpture.
Dressed in a pallid scrub with little visual appeal,
a matte skin that absorbs rather than reflects the theatre lights, Duchamp appears. Wary of the gambit, one with which he is familiar, he assumes a passive position, perhaps to avoid unwanted attention ... Does he suspect that the anesthetic could soon wane – that the patient might no longer remain a pawn in the operations of this absurd performance?
The One Eyed Man is not quite readymade, sculpture, painting, performance, video, traditional, Western, Indigenous or anything else for that matter. This can be drawn out
from the event of its conception: it appears in-between
the peripheral regional place of making and the Australian artworld (this is probably the first time an ‘artwork’ from Tennant Creek has appeared in the Biennale of Sydney). In-between traditional Warumungu and whatever its future may be. For the moment, it can be described as a hybrid of genealogies with multiple personalities, with no one identifiable system of reference to draw clear relationships and meaning from. However, the viewer can attempt to trace connections to known historical artworks or events that have conceptual and visual similarities. This is mostly futile, for they reveal little meaning, except to demonstrate their secondary significance.
A connection that the viewer might attempt to draw is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), a urinal transformed
into an artwork by the artworld’s acceptance of the claim. This work manufactures art via the cultural power of a particular artist. Fountain belongs to the Western modernist avant-garde tradition, a time in history that is very different from that of NIRIN and The One Eyed Man. The historical avant-garde deserves some recognition for their antagonism to tradition and shifting the coordinates of the forms we accept as art. As a stand- alone object, Duchamp’s urinal was a waste bucket but with the signature of the artist the piss pot was imbued with ‘art power.’ The signature becomes an essential point of reference, signaling the individual’s conceptual mastery of this new art.
Because of The One Eyed Man’s myriad of lineages – five artists, multiple technicians and multiple subjectivities, timelines and personas, the work evades any obvious preconceived genres of art classification. Even objets trouvés (‘readymade art’) is an inadequate point of reference. These preconceived connections yield little. The guise of the artist’s masterful touch relegated by the various authors of The One Eyed Man fore-front the collective action of making. There is no one author, merely a number of indistinguishable voices, adding and redacting.
INITIATE ONE: Did you hear the one about the art historian, painter and conceptual artist who walked into a bar? The art historian orders an imperial pint. The painter orders the bar-girl to hold still. The conceptual artist orders an imperial pint, a bar-girl, a painter and an art-historian, and walks out without paying.
(An alien death drives the disciples of Platonius to drunken Polyphemus.): Tennant Creek Brio, ‘We are the Living History, We are Really Re-enactments of Before the Christ Ancestral Beings,’ 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, 2020.
A moment passes, after the parlances of the Frenchman have washed away. An insistent thud, thud, thud echoes throughout the theatre. The door slides slowly open hindering this figure, late to the party, who squeezes through as soon as the space between door and frame allows, hurriedly donning the necessary vestiges. Few recognise this figure, although some suspect this was a member of the gallery, looming above moments ago ...
Echoing within the gallery space of Cockatoo Island’s Turbine Hall, voices emanate from The One Eyed Man. In the moment they speak, the voices run into the future but as recordings they curiously recede into the past. This movement can be likened to the absent white walls of the gallery that appear only in memory, evoked by the exhibition of The One Eyed Man. The memory of institutional exhibition space exists only in reference because of the way The One Eyed Man is presented to the viewer as a work in an exhibition; the absent bodies of the recorded voices are spectres invoked by the audio track playing inside The One Eyed Man. They sing to the viewer’s imagination; a relative memory of distant relations from another space/time. The exhibition space and the artwork’s architecture produce a ghostly prologue to the TCB’s NIRIN presentation: We are Really Re-enactments of Before the Christ Ancestral Being, We are the Living History.
Without the language of the artists, the viewer must resign themselves to the fate that they will not clearly understand the chorus of this performance. In fact, the same is true for me, the technician responsible for producing the video emanating within. And even more so for the punter who is given no directives: no direct political or theoretical instruction. They must resort to the visually apprehensible. A mute image, like that reproduced in the NIRIN catalogue or in this paper; a pantheon of pastiches. In its first instance – notwithstanding its assembly of mineralised compounds and raw material fabricated into steel – the object once operated as a gambling device; a slot machine otherwise referred to as a ‘one-armed bandit.’ There is no mistaking the old ‘gamble responsibly’ sticker, the push buttons and the kitsch slogan 'GREAT WALL' written on its façade, or the red and yellow paint, trademark colours of junk advertisement.
By continuous deferral to the deeply knowable, the viewer is offered a way out of stalemate. The eyes recourse toward the artwork’s narrative. In this case a political statement inscribed into the work by written words and visual reference (gambling device) to compensate for what cannot be translated by the ear. It is as if the artists welcome their monopoly upon meaning. They seize you. The TCB stand the viewer to attention, forcing them to attend the exhibition statement, which reads: ‘In ‘We are the living history’ protagonists’ posture and pit their weapons and curses in counterpoint. Dismembering and remembering ...’ 2
CHORUS: All for one (I) and One (eye) for all
You become implicated in the allegory the TCB have created through The One Eyed Man to realise their political objectives. Political and symbolic carnage resurrected in this janus-facing found object turned symbol.
The audio, a fugue of Warumungu voices rises
in volume. The viewer’s attention stumbles, interpolation staggers. Meaning is wedged between the comprehensible and the incomprehensible. Allegorically, the artists intend for the viewer to experience this exhibition – which is for them a form of catharsis – as a psycho-dramatic re-enactment of an anarchic assemblage. The One Eyed Man is stitched together from partial objects and recalled from waste into fine-art, reassembled by
the TCB to face judgment for its past-life transgressions. In this episode of contemporary art, tradition triumphs over modernity.
The The One Eyed Man’s bored dichotomies – subject and object, text and image, linear and nonlinear, fiction and nonfiction, insider and outsider, producer and consumer, present and non-present – cut through one another with all the grace of a blind surgeon, reordering space time connective tissue to reconstruct a deeper order of entanglement. Fugitive future rhythms that do not run away but ricochet between the unknown and the nearly known.
P2. A SURGICAL THEATRE
A series of voices performing varying degrees of resonance and dissonance echoed around the impermeable room, its impenetrable walls caked with the detritus of their incisions and sutures. It was only when a voice towards the back of the room, able to momentarily pull their gaze away from the throbbing and writhing mess, realised that blood, bile, thrombotic tissue, wooden spears, wires were emerging from underneath their no longer pristine scrubs.
A shrill cry signalled the ensuing madness as this lecherous matter burst through. Osmosis became penetration, as skin pulled apart and reattached to new and different matter. The once impermeable walls became floors became roofs became limbs. The gallery now tendonously attached to the bloody heap that sat upon a plane ...
Lévi McLean is a researcher, writer, artist and art centre manager working in the Northern Territory. He is undertaking an Honours in Art History at University of Western Australia. He has worked in a variety of roles with the TCB and is also a part of the experimental art collective mg.g.M.Mg.MG.
Chandler Abrahams is an artist and writer working in Boorloo. Their research engages with ideas of world building, spatial narrative, and power in contemporary systems of control. They are also a part of the experimental art collective mg.g.M.Mg.MG.