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Newsletter 328

Published March 13, 2020
Washing your hands. A popular new PhD subject.

Late again, but I’ve got a reasonable excuse. I’m in Paris, in anticipation of the National Gallery of Vitoria’s Pierre Bonnard exhibition that begins in June. I know it’s the worst possible time to be travelling anywhere, but not being by nature a fearful person I’m unconvinced of the need to stay home stockpling toilet paper and pasta. Maybe I’ll blitz Woolworth’s next week.

Australia seems to be reacting in a more hysterical fashion than the French, which is part & parcel of the island mentality we bring to bear on every crisis. If it’s climate change it’s got nothing to do with us. If it’s the coronavirus we’ve got to close our borders quicksmart to avoid infection from the rest of the world. The trouble is, not only do we resist foreign bacteria, but foreign ideas as well.

A side-effect of living in the Time of the Plague is that one becomes very knowledgeable about hygiene and related matters. I had no idea that we touch our faces some 90 times a day. Neither did I know the volume of bacteria we carry around on our hands. Most surprising of all is the number of educational videos telling us how to wash our hands. Is it that complex? Are there people who’ve never washed their hands because they haven’t had instructions? One wonders if it’ll be easy to forget all this stuff later on, or whether we’ll be transformed into a race of obsessive-compulsive handwashers who shun every doorknob and guard rail.

This week’s art column looks at the 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, subtitled Monster Theatres. Curator, Leigh Robb, has hit on a catchy theme and backed it up with an enterprising selection of artists. I can’t endorse all her choices but I accept they were made with sincerity and enthusiasm. Some old, some new, but generally a provocative and entertaining bunch. The Adelaide Biennial has been one of the more consistent Australian exhibitions and this iteration keeps up the standards.

The film under review is Dark Waters, Todd Haynes’s exposé of one of the great American corporate horror stories, namely the poisoning of .. well, the planet, by the DuPont Chemical company. The good news is that it was all done for a higly idealistic reason: profit. I’ve never been super keen on Mark Ruffalo as an actor, but he’s excellent this movie, playing a corporate lawyer driven to take on the big coporation. Dark Waters is a passion project for Ruffalo, who sees it as a prime piece of Hollywood activism.

Away from Australia I don’t feel the same constant political indignation that assails me at home, so I’ll wind this newsletter up quickly. Like everything in life, indignation needs to be given an occasional rest if it’s to remain fresh. It’s only evil and stupidity that never require a break. And rust, as Neil Young has pointed out.