Monday, 24 November 2008

In Z Block's final hour a man spilled red soda into my shoes

Spencer finished art, last night. He did it with guitars, two drummers, an occasional accordion and the raising of his right arm but right now I’m in Penrith RSL watching a big band. The women are dancing together, men all dead.

I avoided Z Block for a while, a year or two, feeling that it belonged to all the things I left behind when the great tide moved me East and away from this RSL with big band afternoons, shopping malls and heat haze. I came back for the last hurrah, the night the University of Western Sydney shut its art school doors.

Most of the time I think of Western Sydney in the frame of mind I reserve for being stung by bees, undergoing chemotherapy or being pulled out to sea in a rip but I have to tell you this big band is very good.

Z Block is a rat maze warehouse with toilets and one kind of ceiling higher than ladders. Whole glass walls fold and raise like sails with insides worse than weather like, greenhouse, submarine, Western Sydney maybe that’s why they’re shutting it down.

It is important to note that the trombone section just spelled out a giant letter ‘E’ using four trombones, this made the audience clap.

I cut beats with tennis balls in some sort of miniature satellite dish, the balls tracked by cameras, projected onto walls and generating sounds. I drank wine from a popular interactive fountain, saw brains floating in tanks, stood on a platform wearing headphones and a vest heavier than lead. I walked in spirals through diaphanous curtains, a jelly fish forest and the space where once there was a giant walk through vagina. Student art is always precisely what it should be but this is isn’t about the art its about the artists.

We all went, all except Boli who was tired from Jazzercise, the long haul west to where we first came across each other, in Z Block, O Building or the Swamp Bar or on the hills in Werro. The catering at the last ever Grad Show defied the temptation to go out with a bang and instead supplied us with baskets of sandwiches and two bath tubs full of beer. The big band is now playing Jump by Van Halen.

The woman who fell out the window with Spencer, Mona and Mr Hunter made some noises. Freddie Mercury Guy took to the stage with his band Numea, he was breaking for cigarettes in the middle of his set, rolling on the floor and screaming like Damo Suzuki.

It is difficult to define the feeling of a university exhaling, memory confined to memory.

I might have been eight years old when they opened the University of Western Sydney. My father took us, my brother and I, to the grand opening. There were free balloons, sausage sandwiches and the biggest library I had ever seen. Dad stood above us on the big set of stairs with the light looming behind him. He told us about the necessity of this university, the great hope for the future, access to education for everyone no matter where you live. He talked about the tyranny of distance and explained the concept of elitism then looked up at the ceilings with a kind of reverence muttering about brutalist architecture. I stood three steps down clutching my balloon and staring about with a sort of wonder.

Fourteen years later I walked down those same set of steps and took my place in the queue outside the co-op bookshop, clutching my first ever compulsory book list, a small sense of hope and a free balloon. Nine years after that I stood there holding half a sandwich, a free can of beer and a mobile phone.

The problem is that this university is mine, I belong to it. I have belonged to it since that day on the stairs but it is very difficult to define the feeling of a university exhaling. At the end of the night a man pulled down the folding glass wall, the lights went off and there was nothing left to do but leave.

(article about shutting down Z Block)

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