Part IV: Some smiles for the Economic Frown

Eleanor Ivory Weber

A story of some Sydney art people who recently found themselves in Brussels for one night only. The Australian characters include curator Susan Gibb (who will appear in an interview on this blog in the near future), artist Matthew P. Hopkins (featured in this issue of Runway), and musicians Lucy Phelan (AKA Lucy Cliché) and Nic de Jong, plus myself. What a gangly group to find in the European capital!

Matthew and Lucy have been touring around Europe for a few weeks for both Half High and Matthew’s solo stuff, with stops in London, Turin, Milan, Antwerp and Brussels (not necessarily in that order). The Brussels show, held at TAG City at 28a rue de Brabant, near metro Rogier, was on Sunday 19 October 2014 and started at 8pm. Susan and I decided to meet in Brussels, arriving the day of the gig and departing the next day (Monday).

A couple of weeks before, I had made a call-out on social media to see if anyone I knew had friends in Brussels that Susan and I could stay with, so to avoid paying for a hotel or AirBnB. A few people I know (mainly art-related) responded saying they had friends in Brussels, and put me in touch. I sent several emails to different potential hosts I’d never met. Some replied with maybes, some ignored, some said ‘it should be fine, I just have to check with my housemates’, etc…. After some messing around, one of the contacts given by an artist acquaintance in Paris proved a gem. Juliette Cazalic (artist) had initially written saying we could stay at her place, but closer to the time she wrote saying some friends needed her lounge unexpectedly. Remarkably, this person I’d never met then arranged for us to stay with another friend of hers, Morgan Dulong (graphic designer).

Susan and I had arrived around noon from Amsterdam and Paris respectively that Sunday (my bus ticket: 38€ return), and after some technological hurdles managed to find each other and slowly make our way to WIELS to see the Mark Leckey retrospective (very good). Afterwards we went to meet Juliette, who had even offered to show us to Morgan’s apartment and introduce us to him, his housemates, their mutual friends. Morgan was more than hospitable, and as it turned out this whole group of young creative people were planning to go to the gig Matthew was playing at, too.

After coffee with Juliette, Morgan and the others, Susan and I decided to go for a walk and find some dinner before going to TAG City; we guessed it wouldn’t start on time and someone said Matthew was playing second. After getting lost on a failed attempt to find the African quarter that had been recommended to us for delicious cheap eats, we ordered at a sweet-smelling Indian joint. Unfortunately, this charming restaurant was tragically over-popular and understaffed that evening and they forgot our order! When it finally came (it was super tasty), we’d been waiting an hour. We ate quickly (more from hunger than haste), finished off our rosé, paid 38€ and made our way to the metro.

Arriving at Rogier, we exited to an enormous construction zone right in the middle of a commercial and hotel district in central Brussels. Disoriented, we saw two other disoriented people who seemed like the types to be searching for an experimental music concert. I asked them if they knew the place: not really. So the four of us started the hunt together, using a combination of bad memories, hunches and dodgy phone photos of a map. Finally, suspicious that these two new friends were going the wrong way, Susan called Nic. Turning back we finally came to the place, Nic striding out from the glass door under a tunnel through a large group of people standing outside drinking and smoking; we striding towards him – all grinning at the incongruity of the situation.

What Nic had just informed Susan on the phone was that Matthew had literally just finished playing. Not sure whether to laugh or cry, we tried to explain the story of getting lost, of the restaurant, of the two Israelis from the metro (who had followed us and were also at the club by now). Tail between legs, I tried to justify that we had really thought that the other group (called France) were playing first and that anyway nothing starts on time! Never mind! Said Nic. Then Matthew and Lucy came outside and the five of us greeted properly, all with this sense of incredulity that is perhaps particularly Australian, when you see a group of people you know from your city on the other side of the world. What are the odds!

Apologising profusely to Matthew and Lucy (who of course didn’t mind), and exclaiming the absurdity of the situation, we eventually decided to go in and buy something to drink. Entrance was 5€ each, but the security guard stopped me as I went to walk in and said in French that the gig was sold out. Shocked (and gullible), I turned to the others and said we couldn’t enter. We were really doing well. Slap stick. Fortunately, the guard started laughing with his co-worker and it became clear he was joking (this endeared me wholly to Belgian security guards, it’s a pretty funny joke). We went in paid our 5’s to a smiling man smoking at the till, next to the desk where at some point later I stood admiring Matthew’s merchandise.

The night proceeded with drinking and dancing and catching up, the second outfit were amazing and the DJ after them, too. You could smoke everywhere (everything) inside, and people danced like crazy. It was cheap drinks and we all caught up on what had been going on in Amsterdam, Sydney, Paris and London. Plus, as friends of the performers, we all got privileged access to the ‘green room’ (which I think was actually red?), where there was free beer and where we sat in a booth with vinyl benches. Towards the end of the night, Matthew disappeared and came back with a small publication for both Susan and I (one of the things I had been admiring amongst the merch, though at 15€, I had hesitated). What a gift!

Self-published this year (and, rumour has it, spat out by some rebellious printers at the poet’s place of work…), Economic Frown is a humble A5, bound in grey cardboard with a red gaffa tape spine. The cover text is written in Matthew’s signature handwritten scrawl. What’s more, the dedication reads: “For Bababa and their ‘investment’”. For those who don’t remember, Bababa International’s project Investing (2010-) consisted of the group writing $1000 cheques for each of the 15 artists involved in the exhibition ‘Friends’, held at TCB Art Inc in Melbourne (thereby getting themselves into $15,000 debt, which I’m not sure they have yet paid off).

Themed around coins and cash, the sounds they make and their wild adventures, the humorous and subtly dark poems are to be read accompanied by the ‘spins, groans, tones’ of the CD, with its disturbing vocal gurgling and electronic whirs. Critical of the economic rule of life, the texts also recall Hopkins’ paintings; they conjure images of smoking pipes and grumpy human exchanges, but all with rounded edges. A grin, somewhere. This poetry would perfectly accompany the place we had all found ourselves together for one night. This room, its colours, intoxication, chance, and the no-place of night, where money doesn’t matter except for the taxi driver.

Matthew read us two of his poems out loud. Sitting at this funny bench, the hanging light swinging above us casting moving shadows on animated faces. The empty glasses and cigarette packets, the beer bottles and full ashtrays, the DJ beating beyond, spoke all together, with us, of a kind of expenditure that we could call wealth.

Check out Economic Frown in this, the ‘money’ issue of Runway:

‘The perfect accompaniment to the Megabus experience. Thanks for the great words, Matthew Philip Hopkins.’ Photo: posted by Susan Gibb on Facebook, 20 October 2014.

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