Yesterday I spent three hours companionably in the company of crocheted, knitted and otherwise crafted mushrooms. They were poked into a mesh bed, and under the mesh, it was a tangle of white string that made me think of neurons in trouble – the sort of image used to show to illustrate the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The mushrooms were made during a community craft workshop led by Liz Day, and they were part of the Cementa 15 contemporary art festival in Kandos.
The tangled network below the mesh represented what really goes on in in nature. Plants talk to each other via the fungus internet.
I was scheduled to mind these mushrooms for three hours from 1pm to 4pm yesterday afternoon. Before I headed off to the community hall for my shift I picked up a Cementa 15 counted cross-stitch kit. I imagined sitting quietly beside the mushrooms, stitching contemplatively, nodding or chatting to the visitors coming through.
But when I got there it was all as noisy as a PCYC hall in full swing, with children shouting, people shouting at the shouting children and lots of other colour and movement. This was art outside the “white cube” of the art gallery. This was art in amongst it. Would it hold up to the thrashing? My job was to keep the kids off and out of the mushrooms. Two feral children (where the hell were the parents?) spent the afternoon going near, near, near, over, over, around, around but not quite touching. Apparently they’d been there all morning, too. They’d taken up residence near the mushrooms. This was their spot for the day. In a faintly aggressive manner they offered visitors wrapped Starburst lollies. (Lucky they were wrapped, because the fingers were grubby.) Some accepted the gift, others frowned. Eventually the kids spilled half a bottle of no-name Cola over the wooden floor and were sent out.
One of them came back, hovering in the doorway. “Out!” I said, having had more than enough. But he had in his hand a fragrant double delight rose, obviously pinched from a nearby garden, which he handed to me. So I took the rose and let him walk quietly across the floor to the back door.
The room at the back of the hall also contained Christine McMillan‘s great big pile firewood. It looked like an ordinary woodpile except that each piece was nice and smooth on one side, showing off the grain. Men in particular liked this one. Women gravitated towards the mushrooms. For whatever reason – nature or nurture or an interesting combo – that’s what I observed.
There was a robot down the far end of the room that wasn’t working. “Robot’s off,” I’d say as people entered. This box, made out of pallets, the shape of a tardis or phone box, stood silently, unmoving. Some people, having read that it was supposed to follow you around, spent time with it, doing hopeful antics around it. But it stood there, blankly, offering nothing.
Before that, my friend Jacqui and I sat on a pew in the little stone church on the other corner to experience Jason Wing‘s sound installation. The sound was of cockatoos and other birds recorded in Blacktown and Kandos. The piece related to how stolen Aboriginal children and their parents would try to communicate with each other using bird sounds, because the missionaries forbade them to use their own languages. The screeching got louder and louder until we were all completely absorbed in this sound and then, as it tailed off, you heard the monotonous raspy cries of baby birds calling for food, and the beautiful carolling of magpies. Cockatoos speak directly to my soul. “My true church”, I scribbled in pencil as I listened. I looked at the empty wooden holder for HYMNS and listened to the hymns of this country.
And then, after the cockatoos and the mushrooms and feral children, I went back to Karen‘s pom poms planted in the vacant block with the majestic escarpment behind them. Leanne, who lives in the house opposite, had composed a poem about them. She read it out so I could record it on my phone. As she finished reading, a small flock of parrots flew across the sky.