Opinion

It’s hard for art world provocateurs these days, especially with all the competition from Canberra. Parliament is so shocking that the populace is evolving to be more shockproof than an old Nokia 3310. So, artists must think of more creative ways in which they can truly disturb our sensibilities. By Sami Shah.

Sami Shah
Bloody dull Mofo

It’s hard for art world provocateurs these days, especially with all the competition from Canberra. Parliament is so shocking that the populace is evolving to be more shockproof than an old Nokia 3310. So, artists must think of more creative ways in which they can truly disturb our sensibilities.

Piss Christ? Done. A self-portrait made from 10 pints of the artist’s own blood? Please, that’s so 1991. A shark preserved in formaldehyde? Damien Hirst got there a few decades ago. Hanging a urinal upside down and calling it a fountain? Even Marcel Duchamp would think it’s passé. An artist could invade Iraq under false pretences tomorrow and we’d yawn.

Which is why, perhaps, Spanish artist and noted edge lord, Santiago Sierra, decided to really push the boundaries of the acceptable and ask First Nations people who’d been colonised by the British Empire to donate their blood so he could drench the Union Jack with it. It’s the kind of thing you come up with when you just really don’t want to take a drawing lesson.

The work, the edginess of which is only trumped by how unimaginative it is, was going to be part of Tasmania’s Dark Mofo arts festival. But upon its announcement, the proposed work was met with outrage from First Nations people, many of whom felt there was nothing metaphorical about their giving literal blood for the British flag.

The artistic director of Dark Mofo, Leigh Carmichael, declared his commitment to bad ideas, then retracted that commitment with the speed of a prime minister realising he’d offended News Corp. Although not before he gave an interview to ABC Radio Hobart in which he claimed the criticisms of the work were “a form of racism in itself”. This display of failing to understand racism was so breathtaking, it actually constitutes a work of art and will now be the centrepiece of Dark Mofo.

Masturgate

In Canberra, a male senior government staffer has been fired after it was revealed he filmed himself masturbating on the desk of a female Liberal MP.

We don’t yet know whether desks are a fetish for this man – and if this extends to all load-bearing work surfaces: kitchen counters, podiums and the like – or if he is only able to achieve full tumescence when degrading the workspace of a female colleague. Either way, his loss will be greatly felt in parliament. At least by Nationals MP Michelle Landry, who described the former staffer as a “really good worker and he loved the place”. Perhaps he loved it a bit too much.

The desk lover was exposed as part of a larger story about sexual assault, bullying, misogyny and bizarre sexual activity in parliament. It turns out that Coalition staffers routinely swap explicit photos of themselves, have sex in the prayer room and film themselves while engaged in sex acts within Parliament House, often with sex workers. You’d think these people are so occupied having sex they’d be too busy to fuck over the rest of the country, and yet.

The prime minister described the behaviour as “disgusting and sickening”, which signals somewhat of a shift from the government’s traditional stance of this being “widespread and quietly accepted”.

The male leadership of the Liberal Party has reacted to the revelations with shock and horror during their regular meeting of the “big swinging dicks” club.

… and Toiletgate

We now know the March 4 Justice earlier this month was not “met with bullets”, because the prime minister was saving them to shoot himself in the foot.

Scott Morrison’s Tuesday press conference began well enough, with the prime minister repeatedly disavowing the revelations of what has been happening in Parliament House. He referenced the case of Brittany Higgins, saying, “I remember that day very well. I was equally shocked and stunned at receiving the news also.”

Unfortunately we’ll never know what day that was, because the inquiry that would’ve formally established a time line of who knew what, when, is now on hold indefinitely.

Morrison went on to list the many injustices and threats experienced by women across Australia and reiterated how offended he is by it all. It was clear the prime minister was done standing on the sidelines and was now willing to take action.

That action, it turned out, was to attack anyone who dared hold him to account, as was made clear during the Q&A portion of the press conference. When asked by a Sky News journalist whether his job was in jeopardy over recent events, the PM shot back that News Corp was dealing with its own complaint of harassment in a women’s toilet, thus confirming that Morrison will be holding Parliament House to about as high a standard as the bathrooms at News Corp.

The prime minister continued: “So let’s not, all of us who sit in glass houses here, start getting into that.” At this point, converting parliament to a glass house may be the only way to guarantee the safety of women inside, and to stop staffers masturbating on the furniture.

The prime minister has since recanted his accusation against News Corp, posting an apology on Facebook. Victims of robo-debt, bushfire communities and the Biloela family are currently hitting refresh on the Morrison Facebook page to see if any more apologies are forthcoming.

Deportation nation

With all of the scandals rocking Canberra, it’s a wonder any work is getting done there. However, our nation’s leaders are not letting all the prayer room sex slow them down. Instead, they are displaying a commitment to efficiency by continuing to make immigrants suffer with a cruelty that might just inspire Santiago Sierra’s next attempt at art.

An Indian family who has been in Australia since 2009 is now facing deportation because their six-year-old son was born with cerebral palsy. The Department of Home Affairs considers this grounds for rejecting their citizenship application. Normally the Disability Discrimination Act would render this kind of discrimination illegal, but its protections are not extended to most visa applicants – yet another quirk of our migration system, which seems intent on reclaiming the power it had at the height of the White Australia Policy.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said, “The current policy does not discriminate against applicants who have a disability or illness.” It is probably safe to assume the spokesperson has not read the current policy and does not know what the word “discriminate” means.

Floods trump pestilence

New South Wales is facing the kind of once-in-a-hundred-year weather disaster that’s becoming as common as a gun massacre in America. Torrential rains have brought flooding to much of the state.

While it’s hard to see the positive in these situations, the rain has brought an end to the mouse plague that had exploded in those parts months ago. However, the mice have been replaced by spiders, which are climbing up legs. And snakes, which are jumping into rescue rafts.

To borrow a headline from the venerable satirical newspaper The Onion: “ ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 27, 2021 as "Bloody dull Mofo".

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Sami Shah is a multi-award-winning comedian, writer and journalist.