Grunge

Adelaide is a grungy, grotty  city with its structure of feeling  of despair, depression, anger, alienation and a contempt of authority. This structure of feeling is associated with the decay of the centrality of the industrial citizen. This grunge structure of feeling incorporates a sense of the vacuity of a boring  existence whose void is filled with  sex, drugs, violence and alcohol. 

Adelaide still is a rustbucket city with the  sense of expectations and entitlements of the industrial citizen and welfare democracy.  It hasn't recovered from the decline of low tech manufacturing (Fordism) in the 1980s, the collapse of the State Bank of South Australia in 1991, the  subsequent debt of the South Australian state government from having to bail out the bank's bad debts. The Australian economy was  shifting from a manufacturing-based economy to services one, and this structural shift was  happening inside cities.

 Adelaide  was bypassed by the post-Fordist global cultural circuit of capital after Australia's economy was deregulated and opened up to the global one. There was little sense of a new future in the emerging services  economy for many whose life is structured on unemployment, low skills  and a poor  public education.

 In the new deregulated financial environment of the 1980s during the Labor decade, with its neo-liberal turn to privatisation, deregulation, and free markets, winding back the welfare state and opening Australia up by removing exchange rate controls.   South Australia missed out on the action  because all the significant financial institutions were based in Melbourne and Sydney,  and they had no interest in South Australia.  What emerged in the provincial bank in the 1980s was a new deal making culture as the bank attempted to develop a presence in interstate and overseas global markets.

Under a neo-liberal mode of governance deregulated  finance capital was going to replace manufacturing as the new driver of economic growth. This free market economics went belly up in South Australia, but the political rationality of neo-liberalism remained. The emphasis was on shaping and influencing the behaviour of citizens, encouraging new forms of self-managing and self-regulating behaviour of individuals, and relying on the disciplinary power of the market to influence citizen behaviour.  

The subject in  grunge culture  stands in contrast, or opposition,  to the healthy, flexible,  productive, open entrepreneurial subjects of neo-liberal rationalities and and techniques of governmental and ethical self-formation. The bodies of  an unemployed  grunge subject outside the world of white male waged worker are wasted, ill, unemployed,  abject, diseased, debased and sensory deranged.  

 A decade and half latter  Adelaide is now trying to reinvent itself as an education, university  or knowledge city, as it tries to link into the global economy and a global culture by seeking to position itself for a stronger role in knowledge-based economies. The dead weight of tradition of old Australia, from the industrial era of protection, tariffs, national building and greater regulation, hangs over this carcity like a dark cloud; and it's conservative current resists change to a knowledge economy. Adelaide is comatose, in an intensive care ward. 

There was grunge  in music (Nirvana) and grunge in Australian literature ( eg., Andrew McGahan's Praise and Christos Tsiolkas' Loaded), but not necessarily grunge in  the visual arts, apart from a stylistic trend  in Sydney in the 1990s.  Grunge, however, can be found as a  visual style in web design-- where its crude, radical and provoking; a dirty look with irregular, nasty, sometimes even ugly and crooked visual elements.  

More relevantly to Adelaide, a grunge visual culture is expressed from within  the underground  graffiti culture and post graffiti  street art, whose practitioners move through the urban and suburban areas of the city at night. Theirs is a space of abjection that is situated outside the culture  of the deregulated market and is subject to punitive action action because it is defined as a crime against property.

This low culture, with its gesture to the carnivalesque,  opens up the possibility for breaking out of the constraints of a law governed symbolic order to create an art that violates conventional rules and dislodges  normal social meanings from their original and habitual contexts.

This dissent was one way of recovering a sense of being in control of events in a society that was rapidly changing due to the effects of globalization and the shortcomings of the deregulated market.    

O'Halloran Street

O'Halloran Street

This yellow building has since been painted over in battleship gray  and it now looks very drab. A lot of Adelaide's pre-modernist  commercial and domestic architecture is drab and ugly and in various states of decay.

These functional warehouse buildings are left over from the old industrial economy that was based on manufactured goods,  and they have yet to be converted  for use in the new informational economy and  its  service  industries. 

The above picture indicates that the only space for people is the footpath as most of the space between the buildings is given over to the road and to the car. There are few attempts to create a piazza for people in Adelaide.  It is not a European city, though it could become one. 

Although Adelaide is a very walkable city, it is not a people friendly one.  The Adelaide City Council's longterm plan is to encourage more people to live in the city and to make it their home,  yet Adelaide is still  an automobile slum, with an urbanscape dominated by carparks, cars, fumes, car noise and roads. Little attempt is being made to roll back the car from the CBD. The local traders oppose any move to roll back the car. It is bad for business. 

This urban design that has modified the grid  system of  the city of Adelaide  for the car now shapes how we live in the city. Though there  is increased demand for inner city living and a preference for urban (as opposed to suburban) lifestyles there is little conversion of offices and warehouses for residential use taking place.

There is little in the way of inner city development that converts the alleyways in the CBD  into  bars enhancing the opportunities for venues serving the arts and live music scene, supporting the  wine industry and generally making the  city and high streets stay awake past 5PM.

living in the Adelaide parklands

One of the central aspects of Adelaide for me is the Adelaide parklands that surround, and stand in contrast to, the grid of the CBD on all  its sides.  Though we live in a townhouse in the lawyer precinct of the CBD near the Central Market,  we are just two blocks away from the southern parklands that contain Veale Gardens (Walyo Yerta).

We  frequent them  daily because  it is where we habitually  walk our standard poodles in the morning and the evening. I don't know much of the history of the parklands but from lived experience  we have a good sense of the environmental health  and  the life--animal and human-- of the parklands from its  multiple use. 

Most of those parklands have been retained over the last 170 years, whereas most other cities have suffered significantly greater alienation of their parklands over the same period.  At long last the south western corner, which  had been  a barren wasteland with a few trees is being extensively replanted. It---Minno Wirra--- is beginning to  become an urban forest.

The parklands are a site of resistance as there is  strong and widespread  public support against various attempts to encroach on them-- alienate the land---and to develop them.  South Australians see them as fundamental to the character and ambience of the city.

The temporary  or transient aboriginal camps remind you that Adelaide, as a post colonial settler society,  is built on the land of the displaced Kaurna people and is haunted by the dead, both black and white. 

The different sections of the parkland have recently  been given their original aboriginal names  by the Adelaide City Council as part of the reconicliation process. The area continues to be a contemporary meeting place for some Aboriginal people.

Introduction: my Adelaide

I decided to start a book on Adelaide, my hometown,  because I  had became tired of just taking lots of photos and posting them to Flickr,  to  Rhizomes1, my photoblog, or to Facebook.  I needed to shift from being an enthusiast taking snap shots  to working on a project that required some thinking about what I was doing. I thought, why not produce a DIY Blurb book?  

How would I organize the material?  I though that the Posterous  micro-publishing software could help me produce a draft of the book---postcards from, or impressions of,  Adelaide, rather than a history of the city?

So I began to start selecting the pictures that I'd been taking in and around the city of Adelaide over the last couple of years into a computer file;  and then started posting them into a Posterous blog. This process, I reasoned,  would then force me to start to think about, research, and  write some text to go  with the photos.

From this process would  a rough draft  or text would emerge and I would have have abody of body that could be worked on, and shaped,  into a book.  I could  to think of the DIY book as a book, as opposed to a portfolio of photographs, or a series of blog posts.  

The basic idea  of the book is that it is a  personal interpretation --my Adelaide,  as it were. This is the Adelaide that emerges out of  my urban exploration as a photographer walking its grid-like streets. The body is important here as I walk the streets, since it is the body that initially responds to the architecture, public mood,  urban light and the  flow of the street.

This approach has affinities to the New South Books series on Australian capital cities in which well-known writers reflect on their home town. So far we have  Peter Timms’s Hobart, Matthew Condon’s Brisbane, Delia Falconer’s Sydney,  Sophie Cunningam’s Melbourne and  Kerryn  Goldsworthy’s Adelaide. Books on Perth, Darwin and Canberra will follow in 2012. 

I haven't read any of these texts so I don't know how they've critically reflected on their hometowns. The exception is Goldsworthy’s Adelaide, which  rummages through the personal past of  her  lived life in  Adelaide.  This  review  of the text in the mainstream press doesn't really come to grips with what this book is doing. 

Stephanie Hester says that Goldsworthy's Adelaide is along the lines of: 

a palimpsest, or  a layering of sense memory , mood a layering of sense-memory, mood-memory, and the vivid recollection of images, emotions and events ... a text  in which  layers of history and myth and memory have been placed upon each other to form the most illustrative of “maps”. 

It is a literary vision of bodily memories  from which Goldsworthy constructs a complex map of narratives and sensibilities that lie beneath the simple geometry of Adelaide's urban grid; or the self-image of Adelaide as a  comfortable, small  provincal town with a friendly-at-home atmosphere. 

My Adelaide has its roots in Bowden, an old industrial suburb,  where I lived in an old working class cottage (now demolished)  when I first came to Adelaide from Melbourne. I converted the shed into a darkroom and I started taking photos in and around the area.

That  working class Bowden has gone.

My Adelaide also has its roots in Port Adelaide. I used to go down there with Fichte, my standard poodle, the Kombi and a large format camera. I was attracted by the wastelands on the edge of the city: 

Bodily memories, and the embodied knowledge emerging from my photowalks,   also provides a link to William Klein's photographic books about cities – New York, Rome, Moscow and Tokyo. These were filled with raw, grainy, black-and-white photographs that caught the energy and movement of modern urban life with scant regard for traditional composition.

The New York book---Life is Good & Good For You in New York: Trance Witness Revels.  (1956) is a  kind of impressionistic diary of Klein's wanderings on the streets of a squalid New York,  and  it is widely recognized in photographic culture for its  iconoclastic graphic design.