Free Association is a volunteer-run platform for workshops, public programming and publishing through the expanded fields of fiction, poetry, critical theory, philosophy, art and art criticism.

TEAM

Founder, Programming and Development: Anita Spooner
Producer: Chantelle Mitchell
Media and Communications: Jordana Bragg
Adviser: Josephine Mead
Resident Astrologer and Fantasy Worker: Angelita Biscotti
Designer: Alex Margetic
Web developer: Xavier Connelly

CONTACT

hello@freeassociation.com.au

We acknowledge the custodians of the land on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

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Intrusive thoughts: the internal monologue of a stressed singularity led by Sam Leiblich

Techno-futurists believe “The Singularity”—when human and artificial intelligence combines to form a world-spanning super-intelligence—is the inevitable next step in the evolution of life on Earth; but what happens when the worldwide super-mind starts spiralling? And what if the singularity is already here and it’s literally just obsessing over whether we’ve all bought toilet paper this week?

 

This series of workshops will introduce attendees to the thought of John C. Lilley, Ray Kurzweil, and other outsiders and futurists, whom we will read through the work of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud. After establishing a theoretical grounding we will use state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, and a set of especially adapted writing exercises, to learn to listen—to ourselves and to the algorithm—so that we might predict what comes next. What will it be like when the internet scrolls us? Get ready to see Siri stress the fuck out!

Local and international writing and technology enthusiasts are encouraged to apply.

Application deadline: Midnight, April 9, 2021

Supported by Darebin City Council.

Sam Lieblich is a writer, psychiatrist, and neuroscientist interested in how humans orient themselves in the world, in the poetics of brain-based explanations for human Being, and in our algorithmic selves. He has been published in the Lifted Brow, Overland, Tectonic, the British Journal of Psychiatry, The Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Neurology, No More Poetry, and others. He developed an AI chatbot for the recent ACCAopen exhibition with dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi. He has also contributed chapters to neuropsychiatry textbooks and teaches at the University of Melbourne.

Think of a mobile: suspended and unsettled, an ending is a beginning. Digital poetry operates like a mobile, a mobile moves like a gif. When we write digital poetry, we are are constructing something that moves across the screen. We want it to loop back over itself, to spin in circles, to end up where it started. Digital poetry is a mobile is a gif.

 

Making Mobiles is a two-hour gif-making workshop that suspends and loops digital poems. The workshop will equip participants with the skills to bridge poetry and the moving image. The first hour will consist of a presentation on digital mediums, design basics, how to make a gif, and implementing poetry into the moving image. The second hour will put the presentation into practice, asking participants to turn a pre-written poem into a looped gif.

We will present these gif poems across a digital exhibition, inviting you into a room full of mobiles.

Poets from any state or territory in Australia are encouraged to apply.

APPLY

Application deadline: Midnight, Sunday August 9, 2020
Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

Lujayn Hourani is a digital writer, editor and arts worker based in Naarm. Their practice focuses heavily on digital literature – writing it, editing it, and talking about it. Their digital writing has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, Emerging Writers Festival and Going Down Swinging, among others. They are Online Editor at Voiceworks, work at Next Wave and were previous Online Editor at The Lifted Brow.

This workshop will consider the role of critical art writing in the broader political project of imagining the world otherwise. The workshop understands ‘art’ in its most expanded sense, encompassing both cultural texts and the aesthetic dimension of political experience and subjectivity. Taking Ashon Crawley’s phrase ‘otherwise possibilities’ as a departure point, the three sessions will engage in close readings of recent criticism that reads alongside or through a work of art in order to think about how to transform ways of seeing, being, organising, and resisting.

 

The sessions will focus on the how political subjectivity is shaped (by race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, (dis)ability; by access to or distance from networks of care; vulnerability to or protection from the law) and how art is one way of studying the affects and effects associated with becoming a political subject. Close readings will be accompanied by writing exercises that explore different registers and styles and that consider how critical writing can be particularly responsive to the world moment we find ourselves in. The first session will focus on ‘reading’ as an expanded practice that informs writing; the second session will examine ‘writing’ and the process through which an argument emerges through the act of drafting; the final session will look at ‘editing’ and how to edit both one’s own and other people’s writing. Examples of readings include work by Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Evelyn Araluen, Helen Hughes, Andrew Brooks, and Kay Gabriel.

Writers from any state or territory in Australia are encouraged to apply.

APPLY

Application deadline: Midnight, Sunday August 2, 2020.

Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

 

Astrid Lorange is a writer, artist, and editor who lives and works on unceded Wangal land. She lectures in contemporary theory at UNSW Art & Design. She is one-half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate and a member of the publishing collective Rosa Press. Her research examines reading as a critical generative practice that offers transformative possibilities for (re)thinking everyday life. In her scholarly and creative work, she analyses modern and contemporary literature and art, and the relationship between cultural texts and social and political structures (gender and sexuality; settler-colonialism and the nation-state; legal and economic systems; infrastructure; labour). Recent publications include Labour and Other Poems (Cordite Books, 2020) and Homework (forthcoming from Discipline).

In a time marked by rage and mourning over recent tragic deaths and ongoing police and state violence against Black and Indigenous people both at home and abroad, this is a writing program for Indigenous poets of Naarm to take stock and respond through the activism of poetry. It is a time for the language of immediacy and urgency; a time to ask: If not now – then when? And, if not you – then who?

 

The dawn is at hand – Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Three writing workshops will study historical and contemporary examples of poetry of protest and activism ranging from the personal (activism on the home-front, body politics, black bodies, queer bodies and their intersections) to big picture public activism and protest. The curriculum will cover the radical writing of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lionel Fogarty, Romaine Moreton, Jack Davis as well as contemporary poets Ellen van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, Evelyn Araleun, Samuel Wagan Watson and more. In this violent rupture we will draw connections across space and time through a reckoning of history; and deconstruction of the colonial mythscape of peaceful settlement and the united nation through the dismantling of colonial relics and a harbouring of future refusals and resistance. From the storytellers and song-makers of ancestry to contemporary protest language, we will look at how activist poetry is deeply localised, personal and highly political, at once.

Twelve First Nations writers will be paid $300 fees to develop a piece of poetry for digital publication on BLINDSIDE and Free Association’s websites.

The program:
Three poetry workshops led by Jeanine Leane covering theory, discussion and practical workshopping
A meeting with a Wurundjeri Elder
An online residency with BLINDSIDE from 22 July – 8 August with editorial support from Jeanine Leane
An online presentation of readings and work in development

This program will take place on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded – this land is stolen land. We pay respects to Wurundjeri Elders, past, present and emerging, to the Elders from other communities and to any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who might encounter or participate in the program.

First Nations writers and artists from any state or territory are encouraged to apply.

Co-presented by Free Association and BLINDSIDE

The annual BLINDSIDE First Nations Project is supported by the Victorian Government through the City of Melbourne through their Triennial Grants Program. This project is proudly supported by Creative Victoria, the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants and Darebin City Council.

Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri writer, poet, essayist and academic from southwest New South Wales. Her poetry, short stories and essays have been published in Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women’s Liberation, The Journal for the Association European Studies of Australia, Australian Poetry Journal, Antipodes, Sydney Review of Books, Best Australian Poems, Overland and the Australian Book Review. Jeanine has published widely in the area of Aboriginal literature, poetry, writing otherness and creative non-fiction. Her research interests concern the political nature of literary representation, cultural appropriation of minority voices and stories and writing identity and difference.

Time, After Time: A Reenactment Workshop is a free series of lectures, discussions and practical workshops presented by Camila Galaz. Workshop participants will develop new reperformance works to present as part of Channels Festival, the International Biennial of Video Art. Open to emerging artists, writers and filmmakers, participants will consider how reperformance of historical events and reproductions of archival documents can be used to address ideas of cultural memory, inherited trauma, and the complexities of truth-telling.

 

Exploring the techniques and ethics of moving from the archival to the contemporary, the course will examine the theoretical landscape of historical reperformance, discuss works by video and installation artists such as Renata Poljak, Silvia Kolbowski, Yoshua Okón, and Petrit Halilaj, and develop new reperformance works for public presentation.

Camila Galaz is a visual artist whose practice uses video, drawing, and installation to explore intimate connections to history and resistance. Recent exhibitions include you are the magnet and I am the metal (slowly magnitizdat’, C3 Art Space (2018), Reparar Means to Repair, Blindside (2018); and You Transform Everything into a Boat, Kings Artist Run (2017). In 2018 she presented online projects with Sister Gallery and The Digital Writers’ Festival. She is the recipient of the 2018 MECCA M-Power Scholarship from the National Gallery of Victoria and the 2019-2020 Australia Council EMPAC New York Residency. In 2019 she presented a Writing & Concepts lecture at the NGV entitled Questioning Existence with the Subjunctive (Spanish Demystified). She is also a founding member of the performance art collective The Band Presents (TBP), and co-ran the TBPHQ Art Space in Docklands, Melbourne from 2017-19.

Two headed banner

The Two-Headed Bird: A Surrealist Writing Workshop seeks to unearth the creative potential of the unconscious for the purpose of composition and publication. Presented by Manisha Anjali, the course consists of a series of lectures, discussions and practical exercises on dream work, automatic writing, psychoanalysis and mythology. Students will examine existing surrealist works like William Blake's nightmarish visions, blues folklore, Yoko Ono's instructional pieces, Alejandro Jodorowsky's cinematic lucid dreams and the spiritual revolt of Butoh: a surrealist way to move.

 

Dream control, psychic automatism and cut-up are tools of illumination. By extracting narratives from the unconscious mind, students will not only be able to maintain a continuous state of inspiration but also evade psychological traps that inhibit creativity like writer’s block, self-criticism and creative boundaries established by traditional forms of composition and editing.

Manisha Anjali is a writer and artist. Her practice is rooted in the language of dreams and exile. Manisha is the author of Electric Lotus (Incendium Radical Library Press, 2019). She has been a recipient of BLINDSIDE’s Regional Arts & Research Residency, a Writer-in-Residence at Incendium Radical Library and a Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre. Manisha is the producer of Neptune, an archive of dreams, hallucinations and visions.

Upcoming

Past

Presented by Chantelle Mitchell with readings and performance by Amaara Raheem, Eva Birch and Indiah Money, alongside calligraphy and embroidery tutorials by Angie Pai and family.

Breath Poetics introduces projectvisim as a poetics of embodiment - as a tool for writing the body through the materiality of text. Projective poetry traditions emerged from the Black Mountain School, and were inscribed by Charles Olson in his pamphlet ‘Projective Verse’ from 1951. This public program introduces Projective Verse traditions and practices, and explores the significance of text and language as a poetics of breath, as ‘a high-energy construct and an energy discharge’ and in presenting methodologies to consider and untangle the relation of body to language, and the relation of language to the page.

Seven Sines

Rebecca Harkins-Cross

For seven days of stage four lockdown, I returned to Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967), a 41-minute experimental film that zooms slowly through a room. The resultant text is an experiment in repetition, attention, constraint, digression, boredom. 

1.

time’s creep isn’t seamless          sometimes it jolts 

through windows, the world moves          a frame imposed on time’s passing          arresting time is impossible, even in an empty room          white flashes          we ourselves flash and yearn (john berryman)           celluloid refracted through vhs refracted through vimeo          the limits of vision          inversion          a negative of nothingness          presence seeks an absence           even in an empty room, perception does backflips.

once upon a ____          yearning for narrative’s arc          clutching at the curling helix of a kite tail          now, i slouch into not-knowing          all i want is to pin down the shape of a day                     like bernadette mayer chopping vegetables, how rapt attention is to doing this as if it were a story          an exercise in small powers          to choose one’s frame. 

a man falls to the ground          we cannot bear it          time slouches forward          of course, we bear it          the camera leaves the dead behind          and the sound crests          animal buzz of convenience store neon          the mozzie’s deadly dance          slow waltz of water and air          in a room within a room within a room et al          my dad texts to remind me freedom is a state of mind.

laura mulvey subverted the male gaze by filming a sphinx under sharp skies          michael snow shows zigzags of clouds          ripples on water          film’s flickering skin          like visible pore craters, like death unsloughed          like, the dark side of the moon          pastoral geometry spied from a plane going nowhere          the sirens fall silent.

in park slope c&c learnt to time their lives with the ambulance’s wail. when they clocked off each night, they leant out the window and clapped for the frontline.

2.

I usher my students into virtual galleries and ask them to sit before an artwork. Return each day, I say. Astonishing things happen if one gives oneself over to the process of seeing again and again (T.J. Clark). I find myself asking vague questions that carve silent trenches, like, why do we love what or whom we love? Maggie Nelson says, We just don’t get to choose.

Compared to Michael Snow’s still room, the world beyond the window is a-flurry. Everything looks like Windowswap now, the disembodied voyeurism of another’s frame. I have learnt to resent windchimes tinkling in a Parisian breeze, the depth of German greenery. I begrudge the copper bricks of Carlton North, less than five kilometres away.

I dare not record my apartment block’s concrete car park, the brick wall of the adjacent split-level, against which my loud neighbour bounces a basketball when she’s feeling lonely. Thwack, thwack, thwack. A siren song calling the other loud neighbours to join her. 

The hum of Wavelength merges with my neighbour’s industrial-strength air-conditioner. On the news today, scientists say a summer of working from home with suburban air-conditioning units blasting will blow the grid. 

I’m trying to focus on negative space, but I’m thinking about the fires in California, a ring of flame remapping the forest into territories of life and death. Windowswap keeps returning to images of the Amazon ablaze. Bezos breaks another record for aggregate wealth. 

On Zoom my therapist looks out his window. He’s having some kind of crisis, confirmed by a Marshall Mathers peroxide job. I say, Someone went iso-blonde. He says, I’m having a crisis. I say, Well, the crisis is working out for you aesthetically.

The sound of breaking glass brings me back. Again, the body collapses. Again, I’m denied plot’s pleasures. Who is he? How did he die? Who loves him and who will be sad he’s gone? When he slept, what did he see?

I tell my therapist about my incandescent dreams and he says I need to find a productive outlet for my anger. And I say, sure, but where do I put it when I’m trapped in a box? My bedroom is my office, my gym, your office. Can I get a revenge body if there’s nobody around to see it? He says, New York would’ve solved everything, huh, and looks out his window again.

The first time I went to New York I saw Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s short films at the New Museum while a fever set in. I can only remember dust motes floating in light. In the Q&A Apitchatpong affirmed the somnolent viewer, who teeters between sleep and wake. 

Despite all the emptiness Michael Snow leaves no space for dreaming, or what Anne Carson calls decreation: leaving the centre empty for God.

3. 

Wavelength is a 1967 film by Michael Snow.
Wavelength is a pioneering work of “structural cinema”.
Wavelength is the refusal of narrative release.
Wavelength is the suspended reality of a fever dream.
Wavelength is a waking nightmare.
Wavelength is a gentle barrage.
Wavelength is the brutality that can be inflicted by four walls.
Wavelength is architecture divested of the practices of everyday life (Michel de Certeau).
Wavelength is a distraction from my own four walls.
Wavelength is a film about time’s slow passing.
Wavelength is the kind of film my younger self had no time for.
Wavelength is an experiment in endurance.
Wavelength is an experiment of perception’s limits.
Wavelength is an experiment in how much a viewing body can take.
Wavelength is an experiment in denaturalising sound and image.
Wavelength is an orchestra of cicadas at dusk.
Wavelength is the symphony of our machines.
Wavelength is aural sadism.
Wavelength is violence wrenched from its referent.
Wavelength is the dullest murder mystery in the history of cinema.
Wavelength is an anathema to the machine gun cuts of Michael Bay.
Wavelength is a treatise on the illusion of the real.
Wavelength is the pain of the real.
Wavelength is a comment on the zoom’s promise of vision.
Wavelength is the thwarted hope that something might happen.
Wavelength is the distillation of an idea to its pure core.
Wavelength is a cinematic drishti, an arbitrary point of focus that stills eyes and mind.
Wavelength is the possibility of a yellow chair in a white room.
Wavelength is an exercise in a male gaze denying the pleasure of the female body.
Wavelength is the everyday stripped of poetics.
Wavelength is the oceanic made geometric.
Wavelength is the ocean rendered static by the machine.
Wavelength is a climate change film, if you want it to be.
Wavelength is a siren distended.
Wavelength is an augur of what is to come.
Wavelength is a slow death.
Wavelength is silent, finally.

4.

When I close my eyes it’s just footsteps in an empty room. They retreat for the roar of traffic, near then far. The whir of celluloid, dust on the reel, the threat of immolation. 

Behind my eyes the film’s palette flickers. Cars passing blur into faraway waves. For the past seven years I lived by a freeway, the traffic sea rocking me to sleep. I moved just before the curfew started, but my old neighbour said at 8pm the dark finally fell silent. For the first few nights, sleep evaded them.

I grew up by the ocean and can confirm midwinter waves are louder than any freeway. 

My mind, it makes sound synaesthetic. Vibrations flicker. Visions of planes rushing through the air, artificial wind created by a body hurtling towards the infinity of the pavement, Wonka’s glass elevator shuttling into the sky. Yves Klein leaping into the blue without a safety net, another illusion, erasing the scaffolding that catches the great artist if they fall. This is the sound of suspended animation, an ending that doesn’t come, a body hurtling through time and space forever. If you jump from high enough, don’t you lose consciousness anyway? 

I’ve been doing this thing in yoga called ujjayi breath, where you constrict your throat and your exhale sounds like the ocean. Maternal cradle, place o’ plenty, soft wet dark, self and other together forever. No yearning. No lack. But this breath is just the ocean inside a shell.

My friend’s sister disembarked a cruise ship and the world never stopped rocking – a middle-ear malady where she feels permanently suspended between land and sea. Some retirees with the condition spend the rest of their lives on cruises, matching their world to their dis-ease. 

Even as a child the seashell seemed a cheap trick, the folly that you could take infinity home with you. Summon it whenever you pleased. The shell just echoed my wet blood pulsing, none of the violence of waves crashing just beyond the window. 

5.

In 2003 Michael Snow made a 15-minute edit of the film called WVLNT (Wavelength for Those Who Don’t Have the Time). 

An edit for shorter attention spans seems to betray the point. I imagine streaming instalments on Netflix, the only escape from our boredom, from the trauma of time passing. An endless feed of kitchen-sink realism. Four-wall realism. Nothing-ever-happens realism. Watching-through-the-window realism. 

A canted angle on the pile of clothes in the corner of my bedroom. A slow zoom into the mould that’s infiltrated the shower sealant and can’t be bleached clean. A tracking shot following the vacuum cleaner sucking up detritus of small days. The soundtrack to all that emptiness would be this same buzz, adrenal and thrumming. 

I played my students this interview with Eileen Myles where they talked about how all writing needed to be utopian. That they get to create the terms of their world. And I wonder why, when I could’ve written myself into something bigger, I chose another prism?

If I watched the cut for busy people I’d be done by now. 

What I’m fumbling for is the possibility of an everyday critical art writing, where sitting before an artwork each day we might accidentally open a channel to sublimity, or at least find a way to acknowledge that the criticism we produce today is the product of four walls creeping in, encroaching on the space of the mind, and what might it mean if we splayed that bare rather than burying it deep? 

Do I owe Michael Snow anything, or can I use him as I please? 

Bad critics always froth over films about time, when we all know that if the filmmaker succeeded, we’d be bored to death. In the end the marks time leaves on the body are the only trace. Our lives are made bearable by our ability to forget.

I would like to say that memory crested like a wave, a neat loop as the sirens set in, but it’s nothing like that. 

6.

early abstractions          one week mutterings          a summation of time          pure illusion          a total glissando of memory          own it 

name lost compositions          I did          everything I could think of          I made          some significance          things          were happening 

a photograph of waves          a photograph of myself using photographs of waves          the body is the photograph of waves          total continuity          

that motion          yeses and nos          a metronome          a year in the making.

7.

Today I force my students to watch Wavelength as an exercise in durational writing. Today we’re talking about time, about what it means to pay attention. 

Earlier I made them read the chapter in Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day about coming home and being a mother and chopping vegetables and how the intensity of your attention can turn one thing into these infinitely smaller things. I want them to see that artmaking can be prosaic, that reading a picture book to a child might be a critical act, but they’re still young enough that the domestic probably repels them. 

How does time move when you’re 21 and you have no idea what’s coming? I read that they’re taking lockdown hardest, that the less peaks and troughs you’ve weathered the more pandemic-time feels endless. What I’m trying to tell them is that their attention should be given wisely, but I sound like a father insisting virginity is a sacred present to be bestowed. 

I am trying to pay attention to how my 18-month-old goddaughter moves through the world. She stops to inspect each flower as if it were the first. We turn childhood into a truism about inhabiting the present, resisting perceived wisdoms, of seeing each bloom anew. She doesn’t just want to see the flower though, she wants to possess it. She tears off buds with her fat fingers, worrying the petals into paste. Once her object of desire is destroyed, she abandons it without thought and moves on to the next.

She is happy to play the same game over-and-over. The rabbit has found his hat, the rabbit has lost his hat, ad infinitum. At the park she scorns the slide and swing for ‘sitting’. Sitting! she yells as we move from one log to another. She perches her hands on her knees – a picture of properness. And didn’t Freud say that these repetitions, the over-and-again-ness of fort da, was a way of steeling us against loss? To learn that the moment when our mother abandons us will not last forever? 

Tarkovsky said if the regular length of a shot is increased, one becomes bored, but if you keep on making it longer, it piques your interest, and if you make it even longer, a new quality emerges, a special intensity of attention. 

Watching Wavelength is an exercise in giving up control, accepting you won’t get what you want. How should we occupy our unfreedom? 

I imagine my students’ tortured faces on the other side of their screens as the camera creeps toward the photograph of infinity. What I want to tell them is that I think magic is possible when we are all here together, directing shared attention toward a shared aim, which I’m pretty sure is also the magical thinking of The Secret, that we might possess endless abundance if only we believe hard enough, but what about when the classroom becomes a body of water without a frame, where our shared attention buoys us like salt to float outside our shared alienation for just a second.  

When the film ends I will say to them, attention is a kind of prayer (Chi Tranh). 

Or I will say, attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity (Simone Weil). 

Or I will say, the rabbit will find his hat again.

Rebecca Harkins-Cross is a Naarm-based writer and cultural critic. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University, which she will complete as a 2021 Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University’s Writing Program. Her book The Headless Woman is out with Fireflies Press in 2023.