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a name by any other rose

Back in South Australia, and the rhythm of the countryside takes over. Chopping firewood and plugging draughts. Protecting the young garden from frost, pruning the fruit trees. Farmers talking about the last days of wheat seeding, anxiously watching the sky. Early nights and plenty of baking. A black-shouldered kite hovers over the paddock next door, searching for mice, looking for all the world like it is stuck. i am feeling a little suspended too, treading air maybe, getting ready to pounce on the next work. i find i am pruning at my desk too: tidying up a few creepy, anxious stories and cutting some stubborn old wood away.

Other projects have been keeping me busy: running workshops in Tennant and Alice over the last couple of weeks, and rescuing my car from the old bush mechanic who was upgrading the gearbox, excruciatingly slowly. By some miracle (which i attribute to her sentience and enthusiasm for road trips) the EH and I made it down the track in two days of solid, pretty insane driving. Iron Maiden was stuck in the stereo for a while, which helped. Now i am saving again to get the old girl in better condition, though she’s doing bloody well for 47. I signed up to become a census collector, out of a charitable feeling toward the mechanical trade (and my creditors). It is great to have my car back after so long. Although it embarrasses me to say this, it’s like a boost to my identity somehow, or maybe just my image. Those are things I’ve been thinking about a fair bit lately. The main reason is this:

About halfway through last year, the visual artist Jennifer Mills wrote me an email. I’d seen her art in my google results and wondered about her before, even thought it would be fun to collaborate on something one day. She told me she was making a portrait series of women named Jennifer Mills and would I like to write something for the show. I said yes! yes! and met up with her in Melbourne last year. I am a fan of the creative blind date, and fortunately it turned out we quite liked each other. I certainly like her work a whole lot, and she likes my books enough to pretend she has written them.

There are now over three hundred of the Jennifers Mills. The show is called ‘What’s in a name’ and it’s opening in Sydney on Friday at Darren Knight Gallery. Although I can’t go, my essay is tucked into the catalogue. It is odd to be a peripheral part of someone else’s art, simply due to nominal coincidence. I quite like it.

I’d never written a catalogue essay before, and wasn’t sure what to expect of the form, but the other JM gave me free rein. I considered responding with fiction for a while – the doppleganger trope is certainly fascinating enough, and very much present in Gone – but I like to have the rare excuse for writing memoir. Although i have a mild allergy to artwank, I really enjoyed thinking about various theories of images, photography, avatars and representation, fictionalised selves, etcetera. The essay (it’s called ‘dear Jennifer’) will also be in the July issue of Art Monthly, so non-Sydney people and those who don’t go to art galleries can find it there in a few weeks. But I urge you to go to the show, and tell the other Jennifer Mills you love her novels.


  1. wrote:

    Been chopping wood myself. Been so cold in the house that I have been sitting out by the old pot belly of a night.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  2. jenjen wrote:

    brr… i have been slow-cooking on the old kitchen stove so i can sit next to it with a book. hard life.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  3. wrote:

    We have open fires in the house, but the chimney’s need cleaning and the cost to get someone out here from clare is more than using our huge split system.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink
  4. wrote:

    err chimneys rather.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  5. wrote:

    This is like a dream of mine. To be wrapped within a series of different, but same-named selves, all of them pretending to be each other. So lucky! A new kind of mirror…

    Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  6. jenjen wrote:

    a dream as in ambition or as in nightmare? it sounds like a matrioshka doll designed by Borges.

    actually that reminds me of a story i heard on 4’33” called ‘nesting dolls’ http://www.fourthirtythree.com/

    Monday, June 20, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  7. wrote:

    not really a nightmare or ambition – but a kind of curiosity about the experience of being amongst the similarly named. When I was young I remember encountering another “Sean Hurley” and for some reason I looked at him as a kind of foreign and unalike twin. Until that moment I thought I was the only “Sean Hurley” on the planet. There was a kind of self looking in that – like hearing your own recorded voice for the first time and not really recognizing it. I’m interested in what sort of breaks down and gets reflected and then built up with such things, even if it’s sort of see-thru and silly – like a bunch of people sharing your name. So – more like an unusual experience. Once upon a time while out running, I stepped on a flying bird – I thought “Well I must be one of only a few people who’ve stepped on flying birds today…” so like that…going to the 4’33 site now

    Friday, June 24, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink
  8. jenjen wrote:

    my wife and i play a travel game of things we have stepped on in foreign lands. neither of us has stepped on a flying bird! i am sure i would have attached some deep personal significance to such an event.

    i agree about the mirror-feeling, i called it a kind of dizziness. i think the fascination with inhabiting other selves is part of what draws us to fiction … perhaps i will send you the essay.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  9. wrote:

    yes, i’d love to read. maybe you could send via the rugged mail? I can’t remember what I thought after the bird stepping. I do remember being very impressed by it – as though it were a rare and unheard of phenomenon – and then none of my friends thought it interesting…It was the sort of story that I would tell twice to the same person within two minutes…the second time I would say “Maybe you didn’t hear me right – but I stepped on a flying bird. A bird that was flying. And I stepped on it. While running. My foot…” Nothing.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 4:44 am | Permalink