By Zoe Theodore
In 1940, a boat carrying collaborators and confidants, novelist John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts, travelled down the coast of California in trail of the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. Part scientific expedition, part leisurely adventure, the voyage soulfully searched for the reason behind why one man will compulsively write poetry, whilst the other will tiresomely examine organisms through a microscope. The pair justified their questionably gratuitous journey with the title “expedition” and “let it form itself” free from boundaries, limits and reservations. The result was a Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, a work that combined the companions’ respected intellectual products as one.
More Politely than Shaking Hands, an installation by Jacqui Shelton, as part of the ACCA’s 2015 Startups Program, adopts the same sentiment as Steinbeck and Ricketts’ voyage – the unapologetic acceptance of a futile floating between reading, mind mapping and conversations as a form of professional practice. The installation questions the preconceived binary of work and laziness by interrogating the capitalist notion of work. Shelton reformulates laziness as, not the antithesis of work, but instead a fertile space necessary for work. She explores the possibility of movement without direction, similarly to Ricketts and Steinbeck’s journey, meandering from place to place, conversation to conversation and thought to thought.
Interested in the “meandering unfixed position of art in our thoughts and conversations”[i] Shelton presents multiple narratives that contribute to a larger conversation about alternative realities – the land and the sea, the known and the unknown, the Sea of Cortez and the Maribyrnong, and work as opposed to laziness. More Politely than Shaking Hands presents us with two converging narratives both with multiple narrators. One narrative follows Shelton through her investigation into lazy gestures on the banks on the Maribyrnong accompanied by her confidant, Therese Keogh. Whilst also alluding to a paralleled journey down the coast of America with Ricketts and Steinbeck.
The installation includes an eight-minute long video that presents the text of the introduction of the Sea of Cortez over a continuous shot of a body of water’s shoreline. Influenced by the potential for ideas to shift from one person to another through conversations, Shelton explores the possibility of thoughts passing from one temporality to another as she presents Steinbeck and Ricketts narrative superimposed with the details of her own meandering journey – a MFA research candidature at Monash University. The narrative is also read aloud by a teleprompter, which enables the narrative to remain in virtual space and questions whether a physical journey has actually taken place. Shelton frames her journey as a process of meandering aimlessly through research as a resistance to both productivity and laziness but arguably still research. Included in the installation is also a text by Keogh, which declares the Sea of Cortez and the Maribyrnong are joined by “a chain of water bodies that stretch across the globe.”[ii]
An expedition or journey is predicated on a beginning, a general direction, stops along the way and an end. By framing her research project as a journey, Shelton remodels the project into something more solid – something with a beginning, middle and end. Through this reframing, Shelton fundamentally questions the structure of a postgraduate research degree and the potential benefits of an artistic practice framed a research project. The installation questions what can be taken from the journey and what is left behind, whilst continuously critiquing the underlying point of the journey.
Zoe Theodore is an emerging writer, producer and curator. She is ACCA’s intern on the Startups project.