This week I spent a day basking in the creative talents of some of Australia’s finest graphic designers, illustrators and photographers at Semi-Permanent Brisbane. The Australian creative conference is a curious beast: it starts out as an auditorium pounding with music that feels like the blood pounding through your excited veins, and quickly slopes off into a mumbled, embarrassed thrown-together job right from the opening video’s slip-up—Semi-Permanent Sydney, ‘Oh, sorry folks, my man didn’t have time to change that, but it doesn’t matter really.’
I had many specifics to ponder—the benefits of having an agent, the evolution of style, the pleasing dissonance of red and blue. The speakers were from a variety of disciplines, and for the most part had forged their own careers, whether out of disillusionment with their previous careers or employers, or by vaguely chipping away at things they loved. Andrew Quilty, having spent some time working for the Financial Review as a photographer took his year without pay to simply shoot rolls and rolls of film exactly as he pleased, refining his style and his skills in the most authentic manner. An interesting critique of the relevance of the law when it impedes public duty was raised and discussed with feeling and with genuine soul-searching. Beci Orpin intimated that there is no secret to her success, only hard work.
Despite the wealth of knowledge, insight, experience and talent, the day felt deflated. A stammering MC talked down to a crowd mostly consisting of students, imploring us to ‘twitter’ and ‘like us on facebook.’ Speakers who ought to have been proud of what they’ve done presented themselves in a self-deprecating manner. It seems that Australians require a crushing humility in their presenters. Brutally honest admissions to squandered time and lack of confidence and fear of public speaking were welcomed by the crowd as admirable, whose nervous laughter punctuated nervous drug-taking anecdotes. Beci Orpin’s assertion that knowledge should be shared, no matter how scary it is to give a talk, was undeniably admirable.
The audience responded to these admissions, because they were authentic and resonated with our own uncertainties, shortcomings and aspirations. But is a little self-esteem so bad? Can one not stand up and say, ‘I’m nervous, but I’ve done a good job’? In Australia, if someone does not exhibit humility, we are suspicious. A good speaker is dubious. We demand honesty over polish. Truth over showmanship. Crudeness over eloquence. I include myself—I was instantly suspicious of the advertising man from Sydney with his wavy hair and deep, self-assured voice and his video networking to New York through which eloquent speakers smoothly presented fully-formed ideas with confidence and gusto, laced in aspirational language. What does it mean when a successful person must publicly lash themselves to be taken seriously?
What it meant for Semi-Permanent Brisbane 2012 was that the predominantly student crowd was reassured not to worry, that you’ll make it, even if you don’t try, or if you screw up—you’ll probably just fall into it. I felt comforted rather than inspired.
Most speakers came from Sydney, leaving the attendee with the feeling that either a) nothing much comes out of Brisbane, or b) the organisers weren’t interested in whatever it is that comes out of Brisbane and just rehashed the southern shows for our inconsequential side-show. In one way it was nice to learn of exciting developments in other parts of the country, to escape the Brisbane bubble momentarily. In another way, I felt overlooked and left behind. I felt perhaps I do need to head south to become anything. Of course, as The Monkeys put it, they thought they were headed for Hollywood but they only ended up in advertising in Sydney. One does not dream big in Australia.
Brisbane is ironically referred to as ‘Brisvegas’—Sydneysiders and Melbournites like to mock our somewhat lacking nightlife, and country Queenslanders like myself who packed up our beat-up old Fords and made off to the Big Smoke really feel like we’ve hit the big time, because there’s higher education and bands here, and the supermarkets are open a little after dark. Its shortcomings notwithstanding, I ardently love Brisbane and have made my true home here over the past six years, because it was the place I was finally afforded full freedom and where I explored my real self and grew into the woman I am today. I love the laid-back, no-bullshit people and the sunshine and the fact that people just do what they do. I love the streets and the houses, and I never tire of our rippling patchwork peppered with little patches of jungle and tropical trees and rusting tin roofs. A sense of place is important to me, and my identity is firmly grounded in this city, though I will move on and find other homes and grow through them.
Similarly proud Briswegians might be interested to know I’ve had some gaudy Brisvegas posters printed, now available in my shop!