PERSPECTIVES ON PLACE
In the lead up to the Fair’s official programming in February 2022, Melbourne Art Fair is introducing a new series of written works, Perspectives On Place. Released periodically, this series will invite a diverse cohort of writers, academics and artists to respond to the Fair’s thematic, offering unique and nuanced thinking on the meaning of place to them.
Haley Millar Baker
Hayley Millar Baker (Gunditjmara) is a research-based artist who uses modes of photography to interrogate the way memories are made through acts of remembering and misremembering. She reflects upon the potential for personal recollections and historical accounts to become improvised and embellished. Millar Baker explores human experiences through a lens that is non-exclusive and non-linear. Her perspective is connected within memory and contemporary storytelling
A tiger was shot
A tiger paced the entry of the home and dad’s father’s uncle shot at it. My dad told me this when I was a child. He said that the windows and doors in their home seldom closed due to the heat, and that the tiger had found its way into the village looking for a snack, unfortunately landing on their doorstep.
Much like a game of ‘telephone’, this event has been passed down from generation to generation, with varying factual disparities from person to person. Nonetheless that day, a tiger was shot at the family home and nobody was harmed.
In my dreams I witness tiger attacks. I see their massively muscular and stealthy physiques mockingly playing cat and mouse with their victims until they become uninterested and consume their prey.
Two weeks after dad’s mother passed away, Rio de Janeiro’s oldest and most important historical and scientific museum was consumed by an uncontrollable fire. A year later, record-breaking fires devastated the ecosystem of the Amazon, and happened to greatly intensify on the one-year anniversary of my dad’s mother’s death.
Logically, there is no connection between the death of my dad’s mother and the devastating events that occurred in her motherland of Brazil, I know that much to be true. But it’s rather comforting to consider the significant synchronicity, a tangible and everlasting connection to her spirit and a place.
When I was a child, my mum told me that she had the ability to astral travel. She said that she was able to leave her body, asleep in bed, while she transported herself outside of the house to any place she desired.
In another plane of existence, I met my mum’s mother’s grandfather in the place of the moment of his untimely death in 1890. Pinned to the road with substantial injuries, he gazed into my eyes and asked me who I was. Explaining to him that I was his descendant, he beamed with fulfilment, knowing that it was certain he would not be forgotten. When our meeting came to an end, his eyes faded, and he was gone. I am grateful to have met him, even if so briefly, and I look forward to the day that he brings himself forward to me once again.
I was not a witness on the day that my mum’s mother’s grandfather died over a hundred years ago, but the non-linear frequencies of time and space that I am able to exist within allowed me permission to be with him.
I was not a witness on the day that the tiger was shot, nor was I convinced that the burning of Brazil did not echo the burn in my heart following the loss of my father’s mother. The events that have occurred within my family carry on into my being, and so I dream of tiger attacks in a place I have not been.
Image: Hayley Millar Baker, I Will Survive 1 (detail), 2020. Courtesy the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery, Naarm/Melbourne.
Nevo Zisin (they/them) is a queer, non-binary Jewish writer, performer, activist, and public speaker based in Naarm/ Birraranga / Melbourne. They run workshops in schools and professional development trainings in workplaces around transgender identities. They authored award-winning Finding Nevo (2017), a memoir on gender transition, and The Pronoun Lowdown (2021), a useful guidebook on all things related to pronouns.
A Sense of Place
I introduce myself
to the mosses as I walk through
I do not know their names but I seek to meet them
the way that they meet me
beyond my name
Names are changeable
assimilated and obscured
I grew up without a connection
to my body or to a place –
a settler on stolen land
My people have been wandering so long
I’m not sure where our homeland lies
I find home in the lands
that nourish me
My home is attached to my mother
just as I once was
I am attached to the land
as my mother and it mothers
I do not belong to this land
And yet –
When I look to the moon I see through the eyes
Of my ancestors
I think of my ancestors as much as I
Think of my descendants
I do it all for them
I am finding connection
To my body
To a place
I do not know where my home is. But my home knows me.
I cannot be misgendered
I am made up of fungi
My gender becomes relative to the rocks
To the strong songs of the winds
To the loud gossip of the cockatoos
I cannot be misgendered
I have built home into my skin
in raised garden beds
Every night I come back to myself
tending to the little parts of me like
a garden in need of my care
The painful prunings give way to the most important of new beginnings
Tender parts need the greatest time to grow
they are the ones I wait for and slowly watch
with the changing of the seasons
I wait for bearing fruits
sometimes they never come
I learn the ecological make-up of my body
What I know is that there will be a lustrous garden
What I know is that it won’t last forever
Just like my healing, my growth
is not linear
There will be times of dormancy
where it feels like nothing is changing
And yet, the growth is happening
in the mycelial networks beneath me
It is not clear from the surface, and then
a bursting fruit grows from the ground up.
Our growth is not incidental
it is not temporal movement
but the tending by all we have encountered in our lives –
by our mother(s) of blood, spirit, ancestry, and soil.
Image: Nevo Zisin, photographed by Norelle Bladon for Otherness.Us
Claire Summers is a writer, editor and photographer. Her work is preoccupied with finding the phenomenal in the ordinary and quietly considering small details to which we assign greater meaning.
A note, unanchored, out of context, found on a friend’s computer: “an expert on imaging the earth’s interior.” I imagine this as a geography of an inner world: invisible, potent. I think of place not as that which is held by borders but as something interior, something in the belly or soul. I picture the stomach, picture it as the centre of memory, most sacred and soft. Staying proximate to memory is how I place myself, how I map the geographies of my own interior.
Which is to say that the memory of talking to my housemate about the shimmer of birdsong being such a mainstay in our world that we no longer notice it makes me feel an anchor, a sense of totality. He says that Australia has a cacophonous symphony of birds, while birdsong in Los Angeles is lighter, moves through you at speed.
Which is to say that when Joni Mitchell, California beloved, sings sweet bird, you are briefer than a falling star, she is singing of love fading, of time passing, of her place in it all shifting beneath her feet.
Which is to say that while watching my ex-lover’s heart beat in his neck after we had sex one afternoon, his skin softly shuddering, I hear the birdsong outside the window above our heads and I think of Los Angeles, feel the anchor, the sense of totality.
I think of nostalgia as a fault line of memory, a desire to steep everything in a layer of sentiment, to obscure that which is brittle.
I watch a woman in a singlet order coffee on one of the first hot days of spring, see the muscles in her back move, watch her warm skin stretch and retreat. I wonder how you would have looked at her, wonder if you might have imagined running your fingers along the fault line where her shoulder curves downwards from her neck. I picture your mouth, see it against her mouth. I wonder how you might use your hands, if you would use them as if you were reading her.
The sun gives shape to everything it touches, just as hands do. The hot air starts to rise as the seasons roll ever on and through. If you are scorched earth, I’ll be warm rain. The memory of walking with you to find a purple jacaranda to sit beneath is a memory of light, of how it came down in sheets–physical, even without a form to fall on.
We mistake the past for something unchangeable, something finite. Viewed always from an ever-shifting present, the past undulates, tilts, distorts.
Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.
The place I was in when I started writing this piece is completely different to the one I am in as I finish it. The memory of you, the memory of light, is now scorched, soured. I have no desire to cradle that memory, to stay proximate. I have tried to keep you at a fixed distance and maybe some distances have now been fixed.
I have sometimes found myself wondering […] if seeing a particularly astonishing shade of blue, for example, or letting a particularly potent person inside you, could alter you irrevocably, just to have seen or felt it. In which case, how does one know when, or how, to refuse? How to recover?
The light creeps through the interstices in fractured sentiment, gives new shape to a changed geography. The seasons, still, roll ever on and through. The potency of blue dilutes. The question of how to refuse? how to recover? becomes irrelevant.
I am in communion with new memory, staying bound to something boundless: an expert on imaging my own interior.
 A description of French geophysicist Barbara Romanowicz on Wikipedia
 Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
 Joan Didion, Blue Nights
 Maggie Nelson, Bluets
Image: Claire Summers photographed by Nadeemy Betros
MARIAM ARCILLA IS AN ARTSWORKER WHO OSCILLATES BETWEEN WRITING, PRODUCING, AND ARTS COMMUNICATIONS. BORN TO AN ARTIST AND FLIGHT STEWARDESS, ARCILLA SPENT HER CHILDHOOD ZIGZAGGED BETWEEN STUDIOS, AIRPORTS, AND MAKE-SHIFT HOMES. TODAY, ARCILLA COLLABORATES WITH ARTISTS AND LEADING INSTITUTIONS TO TURN RADIANT IDEAS INTO PROJECTS, PUBLICATIONS, AND RESOURCES.
‘Body in transit (in the place between my Chinese mother’s marbled hands)’
Your skin moves like soft terrazzo
as melanin slow feasts on your skin.
Vitiligo, a co-conspirator of the sun,
becomes a zapping force, a strike that glows.
At first, it arrives on your left eyelid: a ghost-white dollop
the size of a Mentos candy.
Soon, your coal-black eyelashes evolve into fibre-optic straws,
A contrasting curtain for your shuttering eyes.
While I take shape inside your belly,
a system of erasure forms outside of you,
effacing your caramel birth-tone with invader hues.
You licked my nose when you were born, you tell me.
You thought my skin was splashed with milk.
Using your body, you teach me how to count.
One, two…now three diffused orbs form behind your ears.
On the collarbone five more,
settling like snow that never melts.
As the years grow, my counting on your body
graduates to dozens, then hundreds.
Your pigment becomes soft flashlights
that guide me across your morphing body,
a galactic swirl of
The immediate surface indicators
of your identity, your selfhood,
become murky as you attempt
to renegotiate your place in the world as it moves
and as you move through it.
Doreen Massey says:
It is a sense of place, an understanding of ‘its character’,
which can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond.
But what happens when one moves
between places and beyond places for a living?
You walk the skies as a Cathay Pacific stewardess,
traversing between countries, streets, hotels,
between cultures, crowds, transit lounges.
Comfort curls you into a liminal space
between Departure and Arrivals,
in that crampy airplane toilet cubicle,
that place beyond, up in the clouds
you choose to become someone else,
you choose to be from somewhere else.
You become skilled at camouflaging,
Make-up bag jingling with
tonal rainbows of foundation creams
Ready to blend, you assimilate your skinswatch
according to the weather:
fairer during winter (Ivory),
darker during summer and autumn (½ Almond, ½ Honey).
You buy coal-black hair dye,
try permanent eyebrow tattooing.
For you, these acts are not simply cosmetic;
but a reclamation of your shifting complexion.
Within that sticky limbo, we begin to create places beyond.
We create scenarios for your vitiligo.
…a floating archipelago on skin.
…materialised perfume sprayed on the temples and wrists.
…tiny moons that orbit your moles and shoulder.
…a web of sparkling-silver hair that spins strings through sunset light.
COVID keeps us apart, so we don’t see each other for almost two years.
This month, we reunite.
I roll out of the plane and into the squeeze of your hugs.
You take my hands and place them within yours.
Both our hands now rest on your heart,
so I feel its booming beats.
Only then do I register a new information:
Buried between your tone-marbled hands,
on your collarbone, just above your heart
are new brown sunspots, three dots
in the shape of an ellipsis.
 Doreen Massey, A Global Sense Of Place, Marxism Today, 1991