Last week, Fee Plumley took over the Queen’s Theatre for OpenSourceHome, a three day event talking about her project reallybigroadtrip, “an experiment in nomadic creative digital culture”, and invited me in to respond to the event. Here is that response.
When we were children, my sister and I had a fight over who would inherit our parents’ house when they died. She took a piece of chalk, wrote her name on the red brick, and declared I wouldn’t want it now she had written on it.
More than anything, OpenSourceHome seemed to be caught up in definitions. What is a home? What makes a home?
When you think of home, what do you think of?
A house? A city?
Fee’s current attempt to answer the question stood red and proud in Queen’s, a converted bus called homeJames, named for her friend James Mellor, who passed away just as Fee was getting started on her journey. For Fee, this bus is her home. But it’s also impossible to not acknowledge the name as a directive: “Home, James,” called to an imaginary driver, imagining there is some home to which the bus can deliver her passenger.
When I was in year eight, my English class went to see Rabbit Proof Fence. One component of our assignment was to draw the home the children were taken from. I painted an abstract picture with symbols enclosed in a gold heart.
I did this because I knew I could manipulate a better grade if the teacher thought I was thinking metaphorically.
It paid off. I got very good marks for that piece.
Fee applied to NAVA, the National Association of Visual Artists. They rejected her application. You are not an artist, they told her.
What makes an artist? Fee discussed this incident with Vicki Sowry and Lubi Thomas, as they tried to drill down into what reallybigroadtrip is.
Do you get to choose to call yourself an artist, or is that something only other people can bestow on you? Is there a certain type of work you need to make to be considered an artist? A certain volume? A certain documentation?
They discussed needing to leave an ‘artifact’ from work for it to be art. There must be something that can be seen to exist after the fact, even if the work itself is ephemeral.
Fee, is this an artifact?
I remember very clearly using the word ‘writer’ to describe myself for the first time. It tumbled out of my mouth without me even thinking about it, without realising it was the primary action I had begun to define my life by. I don’t remember where it sits chronologically; was it before or after I started writing professionally? But I remember the emotions, and the unexpected relief in claiming that word to define myself.
This word allows me to think of the internet and the community I have on there as a strong component of any ‘home’ I could define.
Around the corner from homeJames stood the beach truck from Open Space. As people around me sipped champagne, I slipped off my shoes and my socks and stepped into the truck and onto the sand.
“Are you home?” asked the sheet of paper I held in my hands. I sat awkwardly looking at the two other people in the truck with me, them playing with the sand and me smiling in that way I do when invited into an art project but I haven’t quite yet figured out the ‘rules’.
I was invited to stand up at the microphones pointed out over this beach.
“What does the piece of paper you were given say?” asked Dario Vacirca.
“Are you home?” I said.
“I’m not sure where ‘home’ is right now.”
And so we talked about home: about houses, and cities, and countries. Of parents and of communities and of wars.
And I wondered what it means to call Australia my home when I’ve never given another country a chance. I feel like there should be more of an active choice involved.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Fee trying to find a new home on a bus is she’s already found a new home in Australia.
And if she’d done reallybigroadtrip in Wales she could have driven from country to country to country. But now homeJames is stuck on this one.
My career is pulling me ever closer to the east coast. But if I pick another place to call home, I’m worried about what parts of Adelaide I’ll loose and I’ll miss.
My relationship with Adelaide as my home feels a lot more tenuous – a lot more painful – since my sister died last year.
Elliott Bledsoe isn’t from Adelaide. But still, he took us on a walking tour of the city. We started at Queen’s, which is branded as the oldest theatre on mainland Australia.
Elliott spoke about how there is no such thing as ‘public land’ in Australia. All land must be designated to belong to someone. For Fee, this means there is nowhere she can freely park – someone owns everywhere, and she needs to play by their rules. Which are probably ‘no parking.’
Until recently, there was a clause which said anyone could temporary camp on crown land if they were travelling to or from the gold fields, and Elliott and Fee tried to figure out how homeJames could always be travelling to the gold fields.
This clause was struck down recently.
The Queen’s Theatre opened in 1841. It closed in 1842. For most of its life it was a car park; it’s now a gutted shed.
Calling it the oldest theatre on mainland Australia is taking the definition of theatre a tad too far.
The week we were in Queen’s, 157 asylum seekers were being held on a ship by the Australian government.
Where is home when you’re in the process of leaving one country to find safety in another?
I played two games of tug-of-war at OpenSourceHome.
Art v life.
Past v future.
Some people hedged their bets and stood in the middle. I don’t think that’s fair. Pick a side.
I chose art and the past.
Most people chose life and the future.
I think people only joined my end when they saw how uneven the odds were.
Art beat life because the rules hadn’t been sufficiently discussed. Life thought it had won, and stopped pulling. Art kept pulling, and won because of life’s mistakes.
The future beat the past. Everyone was aware of the rules by this point.
The week we were in Queen’s, hundreds of people lost their lives and their homes in Gaza.
What is home when you might receive a text message saying your house will be destroyed in ten minutes?
The dress I wore on Thursday had a hole at the waist, but I wore it anyway because I knew it would be too cold to take off my jumper.
Sayraphim Lothian invited us to join her in visible mending – not hiding the holes we patch up, but claiming them proudly as documentation of a life well lived.
I wasn’t brave enough to visibly wear these notions of a life. I sewed up my blue dress with blue thread.
It’s not a perfect mend, because I mended it while I was wearing it. Perhaps this slightly lumpy documentation is enough.
The week we were in Queen’s, the world was dealing with the aftermath of Flight MH17 being shot down over the Ukraine.
What is home for the families of these people, when they know their roofs will never again shelter those they love?
Winter has properly hit Adelaide now. Queen’s, shed that it is, was home to people wearing winter coats and scarves and gloves. When the rain fell on the tin rood it echoed through the space, and kept some away. Better to eat lunch at your desk then go outside and get wet.
It kept me in the Queen’s. There was a bar, there were food trucks, there were good conversations, there were heaters.
That is enough.
I have a playlist on my computer called “Home”. It contains exactly the songs you’d expect. I’m not sure why or when I made it.
I’m not sure when I stopped making playlists.