From far away - and I am far away from the city now, looking back at the tiny skyscrapers of the cbd from a thin spit of sand and scrub and trash that stretches out from the concrete quays and the promenade and the marina restaurants - from far away, even though the individual buildings catch the light from sky in their own unique ways, the flashes of sun that angle from the various mirrored surfaces enter into communication with one another: they speak in a type of code. This is a consequence of repetition. In one sense I think that the only possible communication in this setup is P A R A N O I A - but there are other senses and other ways of interpreting (and this is our great labour and training) and these days I seem to be more and more capable of taking something whole and intelligible from the grandiose plays of light and surface and mirrored glass and steel. I call these sequences special effects.
L is next to me looking off in the other direction, away from the city, out over the water past the quay. She says, I think to herself, that she has become addicted to the light out here. There is so much empty space between us and where the city begins. The air is very clear. There is a type of stability or rigour that I often feel the need these days to gesture backwards at; in the eighties people say we had a functioning welfare state, we were able to house refugees from Europe, university was free. We did not need to protect our shop fronts from the predations of young fanatics. Vehicles back then were not projectiles - this minimal formal consistency meant also a minimal common dignity to Western image sets of urban violence.
You can stop a car from ramming it’s front through a shop front by sinking concrete or steel rods two metres into the ground and allowing them to protrude about a metre up into the street. A row of these sunken pillars will tear the body work of a car into useless units - and unlike tyre spikes that do nothing absorb the inertia of the projectile the faster the car slams into the bollards the more completely destroyed it will be on impact. Large trucks, especially if they have ram bars or other chassis reinforcement, are more problematic, although simply scaling the obstacles up in size works as a deterrent to vehicles even up to military tanks. The problem with these larger heavier projectiles is that tank traps and similar are much more difficult to incorporate into an urban architecture with a relative seamlessness. A car is essentially domestic and deterrents are built to a rough human scale; the sheer size of any barrier built for industrial/military vehicles begins to recode the optics of the street/plaza/agora/market/town hall/wherever that it’s installed in and the whole communication of facade surfaces is infected or interrupted and begins to flash out new informations only tangentially aimed at consumption or desire or with YOU or I or ME.
You could deploy policemen in place of mute architecture - any large truck that enters within a two block radius of a Christmas market is stopped and turned back. There are trustworthy men in high vis at all entrances and they can be relied on to carry out their orders. There are others you could deploy too in dark blue boiler suits who carry machine guns. If you’re in Europe there are soldiers in camouflage. Even the incident response cops in Melbourne with all of their disgusting state pageantry do not yet deploy in camouflage.
Now L is walking off along the concrete promenade. I watch her back, her red high ponytail that is purple in this dusk, the pale patches of skin that show at the nape of her neck and that begin slowly to dissolve in the fading light. The sun has shifted and I am no longer in the exact right position to receive the communications from the mirrored surfaces of the city. L was taking video on her phone but now moves with her head down and her hands in her pockets - she looks back for me to see if I will follow and I cannot find her features with clarity. Her face is simply a smudge of lighter grey framed in shadow. I start to walk along behind. It takes us almost twenty minutes to leave the restaurants and the concrete showers and corner stores of the waterfront behind, and then we are in a long stretch of municipal parkland that separates the row of nice middle-class houses from the thin strip of grey beach. It gets darker as we walk.
So L lights two cigarettes pinched filters in front teeth and hands one to me and we smoke together walking side by side through the dark undergrowth; comrades and academics, each of us deep in thought and humming along at a nice level of energy and companionship. The light effects have changed and are now fully recognisable as theatre; content predictable and domestic/tragicomic; the lights from the houses that we pass each perfectly frame an enormous lounge room or kitchen or observation deck from inside huge full floor to ceiling window panels that open the houses to the waterfront. In every one of these scenes there is a bottle of nice wine placed on a table. I the voyeur take it all in. L smokes and strides impatiently mixing deep breathes with enormous exhalations that halo her head with smoke shot through by the neon streetlight - she a regular Hyde this way I think; she looks dangerous, her hulking form grows sharper and more aggressive as she moves. I am glad to have such an impressive comrade walking along next to me so clearly ready for combat. I realise that she is telling me things about her family. That she cannot rely on an inheritance. That her sisters (both still in high school) are unsure of what to study in university, and that she has taken on a distinctly maternal advisory role here. Mmmmm I nod. Mmmmmm. I am a little distracted and have noticed a slow change creeping into the fixed domestic scenes that we pass as we walk. Also we have left the parkland and entered some strange and ambiguous zone. There are no streetlights here and the surroundings are difficult to properly make out, but I think that I can see huge industrial machines squatting just at the edge of vision, girders stretching over our heads in the empty night, vast disconnected sections of concrete piping. The houses on the other side of this broken ground still pass in series but the interiors are more sparse now, the lights a little harsher, a little more in communication with a poverty that I recognise largely from cinema. L is saying that she has been lonely since her last relationship ended. The moonlight gleams off of the steel-taught muscles in her forearms that look to me as though they may sprout razoring claws any second. She has been writing, but finding it difficult to order her thoughts. There is a sudden flash of light from the skyscrapers off in the distance that stretches behind the row of commission flats, orange light like fire. I know that sometimes the casino that dominates the waterfront shoots jets of flame up around it’s entrance, and it would not be the first time that I have mistaken this flash for the explosions of the war finally come home to us.
Original text commissioned for Melbourne's Living Museum of the West, February 2018