Blackmore Park Leichhardt 29 August 2004
It seems somehow appropriate that Jane Naylor staged her latest games performance on the day that John Howard announced the 2004 Federal Election. Indeed at the very hour the Prime Minister drove into Yarralumla to meet the Governor General, the Weapons of Mass Destruction and other objects of the Terror were marching past field.
In recent years Australia has been moving through a strange time warp. The combative political and moral sensibilities of Howard in government has to a certain degree taken the country back to the strange certainty of the 1950s. But at the same time moral outrage at political oppression has unleashed some of the best political protest art seen since the 1960s. Artists and writers are now filled with the same mordant humour tinged with righteous anger that gave rise to Oz magazine in the early 1960s. The Liberal party, especially Alexander Downer, have inspired a new golden age of political cartoons, while the new medium of the World Wide Web has led the way with creative political commentary.
The Winter (of our Discontent) Games is however part of an older tradition – the medieval tradition of the carnivalesque. This is the way the weak and powerless critique the follies of the strong. The weapons are ridicule, exaggeration and a scatalogical sense of humour. Naylor's art is important in that she also revives the use of participation, a novelty in the sense that our society is one of consumers and observers rather than participants. She provided the structure for the games, with Shane Forrest as ringmaster, but all who came were there to join in the act of creation. Indeed, all who entered were given a cardboard dummy with a photographic head of a politician, as well as paints so that they could 'sex up' the boring image. There was a certain risqué humour in the size of the various appendages, as well as some gender bending – all of this of course is in the tradition of the carnivalesque.
The Games took the format of mock Olympics, with participants as individual weapons of mass destruction rather than countries. One street in Leichhardt entered into the spirit with some gusto, coming as flour-coated Anthrax (which did have an interesting visual effect in the more energetic events). The events were named in honour of recent political events or policies (the Baby Bonus Relay, the Evergreening Relay, the Terrorathlon), but as Naylor is a visual artist, the site gags were the most effective. As the real Olympics opened with a burning torch, so the Discontented Games had a Burning Bush (leaves made of newspaper). While the many children who participate especially enjoyed throwing the babies in the water (dolls provided), the adults preferred old-fashioned mud slinging (throwing mud at images of politicians). All ages participated in 'The Man of Steel Triathalon' where the participants had to 'crawl up an arsehole, kiss some arseholes and kick some poor arseholes'. The crawling holes, all stamped 'Made in China' were individually named, with the choice titles being 'Bushole', 'Merdedoch' and 'Blaiarse'. The kicking holes were made with soccer balls stuffed into tights, but resembled Naylor's more conventional sculpture in their suggestive pale pink. There was no kissing, but instead the participants had to throw hoops on George W Bush's Pinnochio-like nose.
The other visual highlight was the Lightfoot Wedding performed by Monsignor Porcamaddonna, with a multitude of brides, dogs and even toys. The political origin of this wedding was Senator Ross Lightfoot's enlightened observation that 'If a bloke is allowed to marry a bloke, what's to stop a man marrying his E-type Jaguar?' No cars were involved, but there were families, dogs, toys, and even a bottle of wine to be wed, and in the true spirit of the event, Osama Bin Laden was a bride for the day.
Other than the pleasure principle, and the satisfaction of the weak in mocking the strong, there is a certain 1960s innocence associated with The Winter (of Our Discontent) Games. It may have been publicised on the Web (http://home.exetel.com.au/thewintergames/) but in its enthusiasm for participation and change through games and other interventions, the whole event recalls Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant with his plea for all to join in so that 'friends, they may thinks it's a movement.' (http://www.arlo.net/lyrics/alices.shtml)