Tag Archives: Action Surreal

Collage—there is no proper translation

fig. 1. ‘there is no proper translation’, by butterhoarder X (aka Anthony Paul Hayes), 1993

The original of this collage is lost to time. I made it in 1993, and made the colour photocopy of what you see, above, the same year, shortly after making the collage. The Chifley Library at the ANU had only recently installed this novelty machine—a colour photocopier—and what better way to test it out than make a copy of my recently dried collage?

The original copy has aged somewhat. The white is more yellow, though it could be my eyes. Who knows.

Framed, the original original I gave to my mother the same year. A foolish 25-year-old who thought his mum would love an example of her son’s, ahem, “art”. Mum promptly packed it away in one of her bedroom drawers, never to display it. I used to see it here over the years that I visited my mum, hidden away from any harm it would do being on display. Then one year it was gone. Thrown out? Most likely. Given away? Less likely. Stolen? One can only hope.

This collage remains important for me. It was the first time I composed out of found material a landscape image with characters inhabiting this flat perspectival space—most likely from the insert magazines of The Sydney Morning Herald of the day, or something like that. Though looking back, it is the prose poem composed in the corner that is the most striking—and derivative. A loving detournement if you will. I was a fan of Barbara Kruger and Helvetica; my two fonts.

fig. 2. Detail of ‘there is no proper translation.’

I publicised a version of this collage in 1993 in my zine Some Songs to Offend By (or is that Songs to Offend Some By?), first put out in September 1993 under the imprint of ‘Fuck Diverse Culture Press’.

fig. 3. Page 8 of ‘Some Songs To Offend By’ (1993).

Here is the cover of the zine in question.

fig. 4. Back and front cover of ‘Some Songs To Offend By’ (1993).

Note the collage on the left. I used a photo of me taken by my brother Jim, most likely, in 1968. The hand in the background is my mum’s, holding Johnson & Johnson talc baby powder over me. Was it full of asbestos? Maybe.

But did I really play in a ‘cult band’?

Sexpol—originally The History of Sexuality Volume Four—had formed the previous year in a loungeroom in Ainslie. I was variously bass player, guitarist, singer, songwriter, all round head splitter. In that warm loungeroom, late at night, Chris Hughes and I wrote our first songs together. I can’t remember which one was the very first, but from these sessions, often recorded on my shitty old tape player gifted to me in the mid-1980s, we composed the Sexpol oeuvre.

Here is a poster for our second gig in February 1993.

fig. 5. One of several collage-posters for Sexpol’s second gig.

Apart from a few copies handed out to friends, the zine Some Songs to Offend By was first distributed en masse at what turned out to be Sexpol’s last live gig, in September or October of 1993.

Shortly before, we had been banned from the ANU Uni Bar (R.I.P., 2018) by the management after performing in a heat of the Battle of the Bands. The same Uni Bar and management that Nirvana had led a trashing of only the year before, early 1992.

At the Battle of the Bands, we decided that this battle itself should be combated. Knowing that the Uni Bar stage was equipped with a video projector, we made a music video to accompany a set-list of Sexpol songs recorded during a jam. Thus armed, we recruited friends to join us onstage as the Sexpol Dancers. Dressed in red and black stockinged heads, tops, bottoms and feet, we hit the stage as the band was announced and the video began to play. Above us, on the electronic altar of the projection screen, images of our daily life flashed by as we danced.

We were mostly ignored by the denizens of the Uni Bar—student or otherwise—though apparently “half the Bar wanted to kill” us (Woroni, 1 September 1993, p. 36). However, a group of about ten or so men, all Forestry students, assembled a half circle of chairs on the dance floor. During the entirety of our performance, they drank and verbally abused us. This only encouraged an even more outlandish display on our part, and almost certainly brought on the relatively graphic miming of sex on stage.

During our last song the performance reached a pinnacle of sorts. A striking image appeared on the projection screen: a close-up of a crotch, the zipper on a pair of jeans. Then a hand undoing the zipper, to reveal… a blinding light! To achieve this rare vision I had stuffed a torch down my pants.

Could this be the pornography the management accused us of? Or the sex mime? Or even the foul-mouthed abuse we received from the Forestry boys? Whatever it was, we were shut down in mid-song and dance.

At the time we walked away, glad that it was over. After all, we’d made our point, hadn’t we?

A few days later we staged a protest. Chris, the ever-dashing lead singer and songwriter of Sexpol, gaffer taped his mouth, and then gaffer taped his feet to the floor directly in front of the bar during a busy Friday arvo & evening. Standing next to him, I briefly and loudly denounced the Uni Bar management, bringing our struggle to the attention of the gathered masses. Few seem to care. “Sexpol… who?”

Around the same time a battle ensured in the pages of the student rag, Woroni. Gerald Keaney came to our rescue, demonstrating the censorship, hypocrisy and stupidities of the Uni Bar manager. To no avail, the ban remained.

So, we organised out own gig on the floor above the Uni Bar, rented through the Student Union’s Clubs and Societies organisation. As you would be reminded at the time by other bar goers, the top floor was where the Uni Bar “originally” was. It’s true the Uni Bar was on the top floor in the 1980s, but it was originally elsewhere, even further back in time, as I discovered two years later.

Sexpol was one of the house bands of Aktion Surreal (The Piltdown Frauds, I Am Spartacus and The Luv Sick Fools were others). In 1993, a fellow Aktion Surrealist, tiM (that’s tiM), gave me one of his collages, for the inside back cover of my zine Some Song To Offend By. Foolishly, I did not use this excellent thing. More’s the pity.

Here it is.

fig. 6. ‘*FINAL STAGE NOW’ by tiM McCann, 1993.

tiM’s collage, mine, my zine, and Sexpol were all part of a larger conspiracy (we conspired, which is to say we breathed the same air, and often), sometimes called Aktion Surreal. Speaking of which, which is to say all of the foregoing, here is a video of me from that golden shit year of 1993 in which I perform a poem from my zine Some Songs to Offend By.

fig. 7.

Stay tuned for more Sexpol, Aktion Surreal and Canberra, Australia in the 1990s.

This has been another Collage Tuesday post.