‘The only star you need to follow is your own’
- Germaine Greer, 16 April 2015, MONA, Hobart.
It began well enough, with a complimentary drink at the underground MONA bar and a bit of polite mingling with like-minded feminists. Unsurprisingly, the audience was mostly female, with strong representation from Ms Greer’s age peers – women who had taken the women’s liberation journey with her from the days of the Female Eunuch, and were now eagerly anticipating an audience with its author. A few were clutching battered editions of the seminal tome, and would later approach her to sign them.
After an appropriately convivial hour, we were ushered up the stairs to the Nolan Room – where Sidney Nolan’s fabulous ‘Snake’ is housed – and took our seats. Ms Greer and her three fellow conversationalists were already onstage, and wired for sound, but it took some time to sort technical issues (I assume that was the case) and begin.
An earnest young woman – I believe it was Elizabeth Pearce, MONA’s head writer – delivered an overly long introduction, read self-consciously from a folder on her lap, in the style of a high school class presentation. It was more about her knowledge of Ms Greer than anything else and quite distracting for those of us who had come to hear the great woman speak. To add further insult to the audience, and possibly to Ms Greer, the first question was directed to another conversation member, Myf Warhurst – a knowledgeable, very appealing participant in the proceedings, but arguably not the event’s main attraction.
As Ms Warhurst spoke of the challenges of being a female in the male dominated entertainment industry, Ms Greer interjected to remind her that things would get worse as she got older, and worse still the older she became.
What followed was a mind-numbing esoteric conversation about various female artists, whose names I did not recognise, interspersed with the occasional gem from Ms Greer, some random commentary on his curating style by MONA curator Jarrod Rawlins, and a brave attempt by Ms Warhurst to steer the conversation towards an element of the arts other than traditional painting.
Ms Pearce was slowly warming to the facilitator role, but was still awkward, and any hopes for a robust, entertaining discussion of women’s global role in the arts were fading fast. I can’t speak for everyone there, but whilst I appreciate Ms Greer’s erudite, politely academic knowledge of art, I was expecting, and looking forward to, ballsy, in-your-face Germaine Greer.
Greg Taylor’s ‘Cunts..and other conversations’ ...
And then, suddenly, the evening took a turn for the better. Ms Pearce introduced MONA’s contribution to the feminist movement, Greg Taylor’s ‘Cunts..and other conversations’ – an installation, according to Ms Pearce, that portrays the real vaginas of real women in all their variable glory.
Ms Greer studied the projected images briefly and asked, ‘But where are the clitorises?’ A voice from the middle of the darkened audience replied, ‘They’ve all got clitorises. My wife posed for one of those portraits, and she has a clitoris’. ‘Posed?’, queried Germaine, assuming, I believe, as most of us did, that the plaster vaginas were cast. ‘They’re portraits’, continued the disembodied voice, ‘not casts’. He – the voice – suggested that the women involved were privileged to have had their vaginas recorded for posterity.
Ms Greer was clearly annoyed. Fortunately, Ms Pearce finally hit her straps as a mediator and interrupted, ‘Germaine, I’d like to introduce you to my boss, David Walsh’. The audience laughed and the subject was quickly changed, but not before Ms Greer delivered one of the more memorable observations of the evening - a reference to modern perceptions of the appearance of female genitalia fuelled by a ‘cloud of images of altered, depilated pudenda floating above the earth’.
Then the wind-up began. Ms Greer managed some brief observations on humanity’s role as custodians of our earthly environment, there were three mundane questions, and it was all over.
Ms Greer’s position on the arts – that traditional ‘paint on canvas in frames’ art is essentially the province of men, with success requiring obsession, and a massive dedication of time – was clearly outlined, as was her complementary position that women assume the role of facilitators and appreciators of such art. Fair enough. But I believe the audience wanted more – more discussion of a range of artistic endeavours, like theatre, film, and music, and women’s role therein.
As the lights came up, we spoke briefly to the woman sitting beside us. She was mightily disappointed – pissed off by the brevity and limited scope of the discussion, and looking for somewhere to formally complain. We pointed to Mr Walsh.
Ms Greer remained for a short time to sign volumes of her work, and speak to audience members, one of whom asked about her own experience of being an author and academic, and its impact on her personal relationships – good question! She replied that in relationships, she was a ‘serial bolter’. ‘Everything can be going well’, she said, ‘and then you have one of those mornings’. ‘You wake up and notice the noise he makes when he chews, and it’s all over’.
So true! Some of us stick it out, and live with the annoyance, but bolting seems like a reasonable option as well. And it would have been wonderful to hear more of those personal insights as part of the formal conversation we’d all turned up to hear.