eX de Medici and Geoff Osstling | interview by Melissa Delaney

X de Medici and Geoff Osstling [June 1, 2010, In Art and illustration, By st_einar]

This week as I was sorting through my papers, I came across this interview I did with artist eX de Medici as part of a postgraduate research project I was working on around ritual in art. At the time (which was the late 90s) I was working with performance art, blood, ritual and art as process and documenting a lot of these performances via text.

I stumbled across eX’s work when I was at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) visiting an exhibition called Transmissions: archiving HIV/AIDS, Melbourne, 1979-2014 curated by Michael Graf and Russell Walsh in 1994. Having experienced at the time a number of close friends contracting HIV and dying of AIDS, this exhibition was a poignant and raw insight.

It was eX’s work in the show that caught my interest. She was a well known (underground tattooist) in addition to being an artist and her work was a series of cottonwool patches with blood prints of tattoos on them. These were the bandages that she had placed on people following tattooing them, and like a potato cut, the imprint of the bloodied image ghosted onto the cottonwool.

Years later I went to a print symposium at the NGA and she was once of the speakers/exhibitors. She presented a man, a man covered in tattoos on almost the whole of his body excepting his face. He was another component of her life’s work. This standing, breathing work of art presenting to an audience of hundreds of people. I raised my hand and asked, “What will you do with your skin when you die?” The man was happy to answer this as he’d already been working with the Curators at the gallery to ensure that upon his death, his skin would become part of the collection.

I wanted to find her, to talk with her, to have her tattoo me. I never did find her personally, but I tracked down her address and we had a mail exchange and she was happy for me to interview her. Here is that interview.

MD: How Do Your Ideas Come to You?

As tattooing is a collaborative form, the ideas are and must inherently be, those of the individual whose tattoo will (eventually) walk with them for the rest of their days. If there is a requirement for refinement or research of the person’s ideas I will pursue the idea further. I tattoo a lot of artists who have their own drawings and quite often follow those drawings to as close a truthful rendition as possible. I try not to be too influential in the process of choosing unless the person is stuck, or in a quandary about how an idea could be executed.

MD: Once you have an idea, how do you process the ideas and work them through into the ‘art’?

As part of the initial consultation, quite often I will photograph the place on the body where the tattoo will reside, take notes, quite often from word associations, preference in ‘taste’ or specific ideas from the person (the tattooee!).

While designing, I work at home where I can concentrate and live with the design myself. I will quite often want to make changes after I have drawn something up. If the image requires research, I will consult my own resources, which are quite extensive, the National Library can be invaluable at times particularly for Australian flora and botanical references. Very occasionally I use the Internet, as sources are often questionable at best.

When I feel comfortable with the design, it will either be faxed to the tattooee, or they will view the completed drawing to ensure that our ideas and execution are running parallel.

MD: What compels you to a certain medium/process?

I am compelled to ensure that where we go with a tattoo is not a regrettable place. The fact that the image we arrive at will exist with the wearer for their lifetime (a relatively short time by the way!) and that it is true to them makes the consultative process imperative.

MD: If your art involves working with other people, how is this incorporated into your ‘personal’ ritual?

Work itself is the ritual. Whether as process (ie. meeting > preparation > design) or the actual point of application of the tattoo (which comes with its own specific agenda). The rituals associated with executing/performing a tattoo have become part of my practice as an artist, not different or isolated from it.

I tattoo a Murri woman from the Northern Territory who believes that gubbas separate life and ritual, instead of everything being part of a ritualised life, ie. Breath, eating, getting out of bed, preparation of food etc…

MD: What happens once your art is made? Who is it for? What is it for?

When the tattoo is completed, it gets out of the chair and walks away, into its own life.

I maintain my original drawings as a point of reference, and a kind of ‘proof’ that the brief moment of collaboration actually existed.

Each design is for that specific individual, their unique experience, quite often encrypted with layers of meaning. The full implication of those layers known and understood only by the wearer. It is an impossible task to homogenise any of the vast and diverse group are the ‘tattooed’. As to the whys and what fors, it could even be as untested and outrageous to suggest that the desire to be tattooed is inherited through the genes, as much as it is to suggest that the ‘untouchable’ classes of all races are the tattooed class, ie. criminals, bikers etc…

MD: Are you conscious of any ritual taking place in the whole process?

The tattoo act itself is heavily ritualised in both antique and contemporary terms.

The tattoo is recognised as a prehistoric action, by early archaeological finds and data, a nomadic inscription of place, time, food sources etc…It exists through a moment of realisation of the self, of change and of mapping human, cultural experiences, of personal mythmaking. It requires a relinquishing of the body to another’s care (albeit briefly) to discomfort (and at times agony), our most precious inheritance, the blood, is let.

The other aspect, as contemporary ritual is somewhat more banal, but necessary, that of careful and sterile preparation of instruments to ensure a healthy arrival of the mark.

Because you sometimes work with the human body in a highly symbolic and permanent way …

This is a thought which regularly terrifies me, but I take the greatest precautions to ensure that our collaboration is true. It is such a powerful and empowering medium, it indicates our very morality, our humanity, and inner lives. It must be true to the person.

MD: What gives your life/or your art meaning?   Living.

You can find out more about eX here: https://www.sullivanstrumpf.com/artists/ex-de-medici/


Gentrification with Alan Weedon

Alan Weedon is a photographer and writer known to many in the literary and art scenes of both Melbourne and Sydney. Knowing his connection to Melbourne’s western suburbs, we thought it would be pertinent to invite Alan to photograph our Speak Easy at Festival of Live Art event, which took place at Footscray Community Art Centre. Spurred on by the topics of conversation at the Speak Easy table, Alan opened up to us about some of his experiences growing up in Melbourne’s west. Beck Pope revisited these themes with Alan in the interview below.

BP: We recently spoke about your experience of our event as the official photographer and also your impressions of someone who had spent a chunk of their life in Footscray. I was moved by what was coming up for you throughout the event through observing and leaning-in to conversations to capture moments. Can you share some of those big thoughts again?

Whenever stories about Footscray’s gentrification happen in ‘high brow’ contexts such as FOLA or a writers’ festival, the biggest emotion I feel is one of anger. This Speak Easy event was no different. Conversations in these contexts ostensibly happen with its most important voice—the marginalised who are either in the process of being pushed out (usually at a time where the services they’ve sorely needed for years have finally come online).

I can only speak from my experience growing up in Footscray, Tottenham and West Footscray. The City of Maribyrnong services each of these suburbs, and I still find it weird that the council finally has the income to push towards supporting initiatives such as the ‘festival city’ (of which FoLA plays a part). Anyway, I digress.

I feel this sense of anger stems from two contexts: one being completely selfish and growing up in a Footscray which never had the services and cultural events it has now, while the second is directed to those on the table engaging in big-picture conversations, without actually having experienced the impacts of gentrification on a fine grain level.

As a child, I moved between four houses around Footscray as my parents were renting at the time. I then moved a further two times to the outer western suburbs as rental prices gradually pushed them out of the inner west. So from a very early age I was completely immersed in the complex impacts gentrification has on low socio-economic classes.

In all: I would’ve loved to participate and challenge some of the points I heard throughout the night, but of course that isn’t my place as a photographer. As you said, I was simply there to capture photographic moments.

BP: Gentrification was one of the themes at Speak Easy and we spoke more broadly about the topic. You shared a few of your own experiences both personal and work-related. I got the sense that this is a topic that you have thought deeply about before and hold strong values that often can be hard to reconcile in reality. How is this important to you and the way you see the world currently?

It’s really everything to me. As outlined above, I have a deep personal connection and passion about talking about gentrification. As cities like Melbourne and Sydney transcend into unparalleled affluence, I feel this conversation is incredibly pertinent. In the past few years, bourgeois media outlets such as Broadsheet and The Thousands have highlighted a particular subsection of the gentrification that’s hitting our cities. To be clear: I don’t see gentrification as a belligerent force. It’s completely understandable that people wish to move into areas that are well-serviced with amenities (cultural or otherwise). The trouble is when marginalized communities are forced out of these places into areas with little to no amenities where, based off of demographic data, these people need civic/transport/cultural services the most.

At this point I should say I’m privy to Melbourne’s gentrification, too. However, I don’t feel that people should feel guilty about moving into areas which are close to the city, well serviced, and have some semblance of an organic culture—I feel as though these are the reasons why we move to cities in the first place: there’s layers of history (both good and bad).

But in reality, the trouble is when there seems to be choice between one or the other. I feel we wouldn’t be having these conversations if our cities were well serviced from the get-go (obviously that’s a lot easier said than done).

BP: Personally, I was struck by how engaged participants were when discussing  the themes of place, gentrification and environment. There was a genuine openness to pushing past old ideas or embracing new ones. As a photographer, writer and thinker yourself is this something you push yourself to do all of the time? 

Absolutely (though I may not be conscious of it 24/7).

In my writing, I’ve had a particular knack for researching about place and sustainable urbanism. Melbourne’s had its fair share of urban bungles (especially having grown up in the outer west), and as such it’s this personal history (and my passion for looking at our urban landscapes) which constantly make me drawn to looking at new ways to build community. Essentially this is spent looking at broader cultural narratives: Who are we and what does our sense of place tell us about ourselves? Why am I drawn to certain aesthetic aspects of suburbs? How do I ‘feel’ a suburb? And so on.

I also find the term ‘thinker’ a bit curious. Everybody thinks. I feel it’s been given this high-brow sheen in the realm of writers/arts festivals. Personally, if you’re hustling week-to-week you’re always going to be pushing past old ideas to keep you afloat. There’s a certain luxury in relishing in the ability to be a ‘changemaker’—and I fall prey to that given the relative privilege / education that I now possess.