Review of Peter Bourke



'Review of Peter Bourke' Like, January, p.22 (2001)

One wet morning I emerged from Flinders Street station with a free tabloid in my hand. This is not unusual. Start-up publications are often fed into the peak hour rush, along with tasty promotions of struggling chocolate bars.

But Commuter News was different. The lead story was about a man who lost a button. I was transfixed.

I recently came across a Russian word to describe that experience—kosmoditseya, the problem of justifying existence. Rather than ponder the creation of earthly wonders, those afflicted with kosmoditseya become absorbed by the existence of a speck of dust, or hamburger wrapper in the gutter.  As its exponent Epshtein asks, 'Can the world survive if even one speck of dust is misplaced, if it turns out to be superfluous and unnecessary?’ Kosmoditseya is a natural hazard for an undisciplined mind.

So who produced this Commuter News? I searched the contents but could find no names, only a Coburg address, to which I addressed an admiring letter. This put me in the loop of a particular north suburban fancy, a series of reality twists along the Upfield line and an unnervingly daggy kind of humour.

I asked the editor, a VCA painting student named Peter Bourke, to adorn the ‘tears before millennium’ exhibition Goodbye Kind World. He produced some headline poetry to decorate the foyer of RMIT Gallery, including MAN TIDES SHED; MAN SWIPES CARD; CARD SWIPES BACK; CHARLES FOR PRESIDENT; E-TAG HATCHES MILLENNIUM BUG; etc. You can still see vestiges of these 20th century posters around the city in neglected sites, such as the Southern Cross and old Herald Sun building. SPIRE CASTS SHADOW clings to the brick wall beside the church down my street.

On the night of the opening, a vaudeville character called Dr Chan turned up with assistants in white coats to distribute the FutureX Millennium Pill. It was similar to damp’s intervention at the 200 Gertrude Street opening, though the RMIT performance was more easily traced to an individual’s line of thought. The show at TCB contained an archive from that period. There is a wall of testimonials, a video of people accosted on the street, fake diplomas and merchandising.

Much of this material was familiar in style and message, but there was an element that pointed in a new direction. Beside a maroon velvet cushion was a pedestal. Doffing shoes, a visitor could ascend the pedestal and put their eye to a viewing aperture on the top of a plinth. Looking down a long tube, and pressing a light button, we to see a solitary pill down near the base of the plinth.

I am always reluctant to take of my shoes for installations. Besides physical inconvenience, there is the embarrassment of exposing yourself to the eyes and noses of others. But it almost always pays off. In the case of FutureX, it returned me to the original mystery of Commuter News— the missing button.

And is Peter Bourke’s rub—to find a monumental setting for something truly insignificant. The comedy of the Millennium Pill is partly that it reduces the drama of calendric change down to one small confection. In the TCB retrospective, Bourke had recruited the display technology of the museum to provide a more lasting version of this experience.

Here, perhaps, lies a future course for Bourke now that he is into the third millennium. The conceptual path of Peter Tyndall is probably too intense for Bourke. Instead, the path ahead may well lead further into the world of flotsam—Patience, dishwashing, Tattslotto and parking. Finding the truly insignificant is much more difficult than it seems. But someone has to do it.