On pressing pause buttons

And on this last evening in Brisbane, it is cool with the kind of rain like feathers falling from the sky. Tonight I walked the Metro Arts Gallery alone, watched a show in the Sue Benner Theatre, and then a dress rehearsal in the Basement. And told another story in the Lift.

When I think of the changes this place has gone through – be it the building, the organisation, or the community around it – I cannot help but think about the changes I’ve gone through because of this place.

The first time I entered this place – it was June 2011. In the lift – the old lift – I made my first performance work here in Australia within a professional context. Down the shaft of the lift, a version of Love You Brisbane by Kim Durant in 1983 wafted hauntingly. In a one-on-one encounter, I shared an autobiographical reflection of time and place, and departures and landing, and home.

At the end of the performance, I gave each audience member a postcard with my Singapore address on it, inviting a correspondence with an artist who didn’t know if she was ever coming back to Australia.

But of course she did come back. You never really leave Brisbane, they say.

Not only did she not leave, in the next year, she found herself back in the Gallery on level 2, pounding chillies and shrimp paste in a durational sambal belacan making performance. She hosted two dinners in there, and she would go on to host more dinners in the building and outside of the building for years to come. For days after, the smell of chilli and shrimp paste lingered all through the stairwell.

In a few months, she would find herself in the office five days a week – up and down that stairwell she went, hosting VIPs and artist talks… Up and down those stairs she went.

Down in the Basement in 2014, she wrote her first full-length solo work, Saltwater. Saltwater would go on to play at Theatre Works in Melbourne, Brisbane Festival, and even in a Chinese restaurant in Southport on the Gold Coast. And almost like a homecoming, Saltwater returned to the Basement in a reimagined steamboat party for 40 people. It would be the last time she performed the work. Saltwater finished where it started.

Outside of the building, Metro Arts sent her on a roadtrip to Central West Queensland, challenging her Singapore-city-kid-mind to expand her heart and love the outback.

To find another place to call home.

To find another way to be a guest on another country.

To find her way as an artist.

And she did.

You never really leave Brisbane, they say.

You never really leave the Old Broad either, do you?

These past few weeks have also caught me off guard. For reasons out of my control, something ended just as I thought it was starting. And I didn’t expect to feel this disappointed.

I hadn’t realised that in the previous six weeks or so, I had begun to unravel into the folds of pleasure and desire and inertia. Whilst I wasn’t in love yet, I now see that I had been ready to fall in love.

And what joy this revelation brings me. How far we have come these past years.

Oh but what heartache!

To once again, continue to grapple with unresolved desire. To grapple with longing. To grapple with unfinished thoughts and unspoken words.

To grapple with missing something you cannot quite grasp.

But you know, there’s no power ballad that cannot soothe the heartache of missing someone, or something. Or some place.

And when that surge of emotions is felt in its entirety, I find I can surrender. And it is in the stillness and the quiet that comes after, that you are comforted.

And you’ll find that the simplicity and gentleness of light streams through a window over the course of a day can bring such peace.

“I won’t fight, let’s just have tonight.” – JiHa Underground

This time, the postcards have no address on them because she knows where she will be. But maybe we can write to the new Metro Arts address, and tell of the time we sang together in the lift.

But we are pressing pause for now. See you across the river.

Image from The Time of Light by Courtney Coombs; Metro Arts, With Love.

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