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Kings Artist-Run provides a location for contemporary art practice, supporting distinctive experimental projects by artists at all stages of their careers.
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KINGS Artist Run acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate.

We offer our respect to Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend this offer to all Australian First Nations people

Live Updates From Lock Down: Aaron Claringbold

B e l l M a n t r a B e l l C i t y P r e s t o n

On visibility and the politics of being seen..

This upscale, modern hotel is a 3-minute walk from the closest tram stop, a 10-minute walk from Bell train station, and 11 km from the stalls and shops of the historic 1878 Queen Victoria Market.

The chic, contemporary rooms have flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi access, plus microwaves, minibars and desks. Upgraded rooms and suites have additional kitchenettes, dining tables and sitting areas.

There’s an outdoor pool, a sauna and a fitness centre. Other amenities include a sleek restaurant, a casual poolside diner/bar and a relaxed cafe, plus a games room, a business centre and a BBQ area.

How many men are here, transferred from an off-shore-out-of-sight-out-of-mind ‘processing facility’ to this peri-urban hotel, seemingly frequented by conference attendees and people visiting family or friends in Melbourne’s north (I guess..)? To be quite honest, it looks like a place that is as well suited to a night, or a weekend on the gear as a conference. But I guess business is business…

The answer to the initial question is that there are 65 refugees illegally held by the Australian Government in indefinite detention in a commercial hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston. They are there on the orders of the Australian government, interpreting and interrupting both their legal right to seek asylum under international law (along with our implicit obligation to provide it), and the legislated medical directive to transfer these people to the Australian mainland for the express purpose of receiving medical treatment.

Since Paul Keating’s labour government of 1992 we (as a country, and as its eligible to vote citizens—and then the majority of the high court of Australia in Al-Kateb v Godwin) have enforced a policy of mandatory indefinite detention, enacted on the bodies of those seeking refuge.

In addition to the hyper vigilance with which we police their movement and their access to life, we have added hyper-visibility to the baggage we force them to carry. Jonnie Howard told a big lie. He made a public allegation that asylum-seekers (not yet allowed to wear the descriptor refugees) had thrown their children off the side of the boat they were traveling on, and he managed to get the obliging media to frame this as an attempt to gain safe passage to Australian citizenship. Since then the issue of refugees and asylum seekers — that is people who come to Australia either without a valid travel visa, or overstay one, in an attempt to flee their country of origin (for whatever reason) — has been a dirty rag, much like the idea of crime, with which a political party or operative can smear their opposition, marking them as ‘weak’. To be clear, in both cases this is a matter of calling for harsher and more punitive responses as a way to signify political strength, which has worked time and time again for both sides of Australia’s two party system.

Since then, there has been an inverse relationship between the visibility of distraught refugee bodies, and the ‘compassion’ extended to the people who inhabit those bodies in the form of potential policy changes enabling access to a ‘normal’ life in Australia. That being, one free from punitive visa and working regulations, with access to health care and human rights, and not within the confines of a prison.

At the same time as images of their trauma and suffering have come faster and more regularly to our screens, their actual bodies have become more and more removed from the Australian people. This has happened both through access and visitation restrictions, and through the establishment of a policy known as the ‘pacific solution’—a bipartisan leveraging of Australia’s economic and strategic position within the Pacific to outsource the incarceration of people seeking refuge here, to remote islands with little to no infrastructure. So, as much as we were consuming images of their suffering, we were becoming further removed from actually seeing them. The suffering and victimhood enacted on people we render as ‘other’ and outside is an ontological blow; the very meaning of being a refugee within an Australian context is to have the spectre of your body (that is both the image of it and the idea) projected throughout the media, political, and social landscape while you remain restricted from accessing these spaces, and largely restricted from accessing the land and life to which you fled.

Promoting extensive conferencing facilities, whether you’re holding a small intimate business meeting or you’re hosting a large scale conference, Mantra Bell City’s corporate event centre is a great choice. It’s the largest event facility in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and has everything you need to make your next event successful. With a variety of sleek and stylish conference and event spaces fitted with the latest in technology, Mantra Bell City can accommodate functions of between 2-500 guests in a variety of layouts. Conference venues are spread across 2300 sqm of indoor and outdoor space, allowing you to choose from a range of layouts including an indoor cocktail style event, to seminar or theatre style seating. From all-inclusive conference packages to packages tailored to suit your needs, conference organisers can rest assured their event will go off with a success.

This group of men, along with the 120 others in the same situation in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel, in Queensland, were transferred to the Australian Mainland from Nauru and Manus as a result of the Medivac laws passed in early 2019. These are sick people, so sick that in each individual case two independent treating doctors have submitted that that person is unable to access the medical care they need in PNG or Nauru. Legislation to allow these medical transfers was passed in February 2019 and came into effect in March 2019, when people started being transferred to Australia. We are now in June 2020. Some of these men have been keep locked in a commercial hotel under 24 hour observation for over a year. They are watched and harassed by a very large number of Serco guards/staff on behalf of the Australia Federal Government. There is no outside space accessible to these men. They have still not been able to access the appropriate medical care. This seems partially due to the callousness of the Australian Border Force and their ministerial oversight, partially due to the parliamentary repealing of the legislation that brought them here, and partially due to the reality that the medical needs of these 185 men are complex and being put through a slow moving system not built for their needs.

In a broader and altogether more rational and reasonable sense; the ill physical and mental health of people illegally and indefinitely detained in off-shore and on-shore detention facilities and ‘alternative places of accomodation (detention)’ is rather obviously intertwined in that very state and nature of their indefinite detention. To be more explicit, these people are sick precisely because of the situation we have put them in. A situation that does not meet Australia’s own minimum standards of incarceration as observed in the prison system. This fact might go some way to explain the ominous and dystopian use of terms like ‘reception and processing’, ‘immigration housing’,’ and ‘transit accommodation’ in the names of many detention centres, and the absence of the word ‘prison’ in any.

In order to go for a walk the men detained in the Mantra hotel must submit a formal request. Should it be accepted, they will at some point be transferred under guard to Broadmeadows detention centre (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) which is run by the Australian Border Force in a former military base. Here they will be allowed to walk the perimeter of a multi stage barbed wire fence, set significantly back from the road, under the close watch of more Serco guards/staff. Many of the men suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. The litany of small to large acts of torture and dehumanisation enacted on these people by the Australian government is a large one, and any further attempt at engagement with it here is at this point beyond both my emotional and research capacities.

This blog post, like the others, has been written across time in a way that combined with the turbidity of our present moment, makes it hard to construct meaning that can be interpreted in a sequential and linear fashion.

At the time of writing this particular sentence there has been a multi-day blockade of the Kangaroo Point detention hotel by Meanjin based activists trying to halt the removal of people detained as refugees inside. The Australian government is attempting to move them to the more punitive environment of a custom built detention centre, and possibly manoeuvring towards ‘returning’ them to off shore processing centres (typing and saying that makes me think of livestock).

It is of note that neither in Mantra Bell City or Kangaroo Point Central Hotel is there the capacity to socially isolate, or even maintain physical distancing. This is on top of what is a very high turnover of staff, guards, and surprisingly enough other ‘guests’— including airline crews, within a sealed indoor environment with recycled air.

I write this at the start of Refugee Week 2020…

In December 2019 (just before Australia’s east coast set on fire, just before COVID hit the global population) the Medivac legislation was repealed. Jacqui Lambie cried, centred herself, and told the senate it was a ‘really hard decision’ as she joined One Nation Senators and the Liberal National Coalition Government in supporting the legislations repeal. Additionally, she parroted some lines about people dying at sea, and referenced ‘stopping boats’, before saying she had ‘worked to an outcome in which sick people aren’t dying waiting for treatment’—despite voting to re-institute that exact situation.

These men are locked in a prison of representation and re-presentation. Their visibility, along with their access to the world and the freedoms within it, are granted and restricted by largely unnamed overlords in the executive branch, and legitimised by the legislative power holders, emboldened by the reactive perpetual middle class of Australia.

As physical access to people held in refugee detention has been steadily withdrawn over the years, artists and collaborators have worked with detained people to produce media telling their stories and reaching out to the Australian and international community. Notable in these pursuits is Behrouz Boochani who authored a multi award winning book from within detention on Manus Island. This is a large and significant act of autonomy and self expression—two of the human faculties that the Australian government seeks to deny those detained as asylum seekers / refugees. A smaller, though perhaps not so much less significant behaviour that flaunts these attempted restrictions is the communication between detainees and the outside community. This is enabled through visits (via navigating the increasingly draconian and punitive bureaucracies of on-shore facilities), letters (observed and filtered), and perhaps most subversively, the use of social media via smart phones to communicate with a potentially unrestricted online audience.

It is notable that the capacity to visit and provide relief to detained people has been steadily reduced, and there is a concerted campaign to ban mobile phones in immigration detention (which has been both successful and successfully over-turned already, but which continues). Further to that, detainees who gain too much attention are clearly punished, with isolation and increased acts of control practiced upon them. Farhad Bandesh, a 38-year-old Kurdish man detained at the Mantra Hotel appeared on ABC’s Q&A COVID-19 special via video link to ask the panelists about the safety of his fellow detainees during the pandemic. In the following days, Farhad was taken by force to MITA detention centre where he remains. There have been similar attempts of punitive removals in Brisbane at the Kangaroo Point hotel, which has lead to a community blockade. Farhad Rahmati was handcuffed and transferred to Brisbane Immigration Transport Accomodation during this blockade due to being an outspoken instigator of detainee protests at the hotel. Neither of these two men were given any offical reason for their forced transfers.

Due to the pandemic, all visits have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. The actions of protestors and community response outside these new detention facilities serves to provide support directly to those detained as well as further the campaign to have them freed. Unfortunately, the state of emergency enacted in Victoria, combined with Victoria Police’s notoriously heavy handed and politicised response (enabled and supported by both Labour and Liberal State governments), has resulted in about $43,000 in public health breach fines for protesters at one event outside the Mantra Hotel. The organiser of that event, and a key organiser involved in the Victorian campaign to end indefinite detention, Chris Breen, was arrested at his house the morning of the protest and has been charged with incitement and had his phone and computers seized. It is worth noting the protest consisted of people driving inside their own vehicles on the roads surrounding the hotel, with signage supporting the detained men.

In immigration detention in Australia, whether in APOA or ITA, there are people sleeping up to 6 or 7 a room, no masks, no hand sanitiser, and a high turn over of staff and guards who also don’t have masks. In the context of state and territory specific public health orders, and the requisite ‘state’s of emergency’ needed to enforce them, the non-enacting of bare minimum precautions (beyond the cessation of visitation rights) constitutes a rather blatant systemic failure in the Australian Government’s duty of care. Hopefully this can be the basis of yet another class action taken against the government and against the immigration department. At the time of writing we are 5 days beyond a recent Federal Court judgement that found ministers Peter Dutton, Alan Tudge, and Jason Wood to be in ongoing contempt of the law resulting from intentionally not complying with the law. This stems from a failure to make a decision on an individuals application for a particular type of visa (Safe Haven Enterprise -Class XE visa) lodged on the 19th of December 2016. The judgement gives these parties until 4pm on the 26th of June to come to a decision on the matter. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly new chapter in Australia’s history of quietly and vigorously defending against and avoiding the judiciaries attempts to hold our governments accountable to both their own and international law and obligations regarding the treatment of people seeking asylum.

I don’t know what more I can say about this and feel I need to try to wrap up this writing somehow. Why I am writing about it? Because it matters an awful lot, because the hidden has come briefly into view (if you know where to look), because for whatever complicated reasons people have seemingly increased their level of — and capacity for — engagement with the world they live in, and across a whole suite of issues people are seeming to become a little more actively aware of their own complicity and perhaps even open to their power to change.

Thanks to Katie Ryan for helping shape this piece.

Some links to refugee organisations. Useful if you are in a place to help, or make contact, and/or follow the progression of events at these APOA.

I’d like to imagine that for the many Quiet Australians this current moment is unprecedented.

Quiet Australians; an amorphous group that can be semi-covertly defined in relation to a nationalist urge or undercurrent and act as a referent to any particular grouping that helps illustrate your point and/ or is the desired recipient of your point.

They are now faced, possibly for the first time, with a more palpable sense of unease than the one provided by the mostly unnamed ontological threat of Indigenous Sovereignty.
Perhaps this could be a time of increased consciousness. Firstly, the destabilising effects of the virus, the very real confrontation of the unknown…

Conscious Brain: Will I be ok? Will my loved ones be ok? What about my investments?

Unconscious Brain: This won’t effect me, surely? If they come to the gate I’ll feed the first few, but there has to be a line..

And now, some months on, they are faced with the very real possibility that within their assumed fatherland, one of the primary pillars of (state) control might be on its way out. The police force, and one of its key operational drivers, White Supremacy, is being seriously confronted — collectively, concurrently, and rather comprehensively — by people the world over. One of the many reverberations of this movement is that here in our own country the campaigns lead by First Nations people against deaths in custody and against the deployment of our criminal justice system in the pursuit of their demise are building on significant gains made over the past few years. At the time of writing, the ‘Free Her’ fundraiser organised by Debbie Kilroy on behalf of Sisters Inside has raised just shy of
$40,000 AUD over the 1 Million Dollar mark. This is a fundraiser that has been running for around a year and a half, raising money to pay the fines of Aboriginal Women imprisoned in WA due to their inability to pay said fines. The financial success of this fundraiser is pitted against the unfulfilled promise of the Western Australian government to legislate in such a way that people with no criminal convictions will not be imprisoned for unpaid fines. This seems to be an effective analogy for the effort at large – the gains are significant, largely unprecedented, and very promising. In the meantime, however, the losses continue to be felt.

Thoughts and notes, to explore further or just sit with..

on the difference between saying and doing in politics, political process as Centrelink waiting line, police, police, police – a slow dawning that Small Business and Small Business Owners, ever the poster child for neo-liberalism and late-stage H U S T L E capitalism, are small to medium sized houses of cards (adorned with all the faces of every politician to have served in Australia, or at least enough to fill a few decks)

*in the states they would all be pictures of Trump, who’s
greatest service to his country may just be engendering the greatest of great forgettings.. how did we get here?

**Joan Baez’s cover of Bob Dylans’s ‘I Shall be released’ plays in my head; Rebecca and I have been listening to Any Day Now a lot, it was a very good find

At this point I wanted to include a video of an Instagram advertisement that came up on my feed in May. Unfortunately, I either didn’t take a screen grab or a screen recording of it, or I misplaced them. Either way, the advertisement and any trace of the product it advertised are now gone. It was called FACE FIT and had the sub heading of ‘simply put it in your mouth’. It was, I assume, somewhat of a scam. The product was basically a resistance band for inside your mouth, like a very large malleable mouth guard. Its intended purpose was to work your jaw muscles thereby helping you to attain a more chiseled and defined jaw line. The video included close up, selfie-looking shots of cookie cutter young white men and women (the type who feature heavily in IG advertisements) placing this thing in their mouths and biting down. They also demonstrated the repetitive open close movements used to engage the muscles, as well as sharing information points on the product. It was very weird and felt like an appropriate marker of both this time of heightened social media use, engagement, and presence — and of the associated attempts at capitalising on the massive boost in commerce and screen time. It is a shame I can only describe it for you.

To end this post I thought I’d share with you a small bit of writing. I think it sits somewhere between a poem and my notes (keeping in mind I know little about poetry).

All cricket nets now structures for private gyms
and hanging rings hung not for gymnasts (in the way we mean it)

but for analysts, receptionists, managers, consultants (or so I imagine)

All ovals now dotted with clusters of two adults
writhing close to rhythmically a few feet apart
dressed like some sort of elongated, emancipated seals
while shopping centre and workout music pumps from a
remote speaker beside them, and one instructional voice
competes with all the others;

great job, keep it up, just a few more, your doing amazing’

YouTube yoga in the park

One positive byproduct — no team or spectator
sports meaning no one needs to sit in the bleachers
means the people who need to live in the bleachers
can still live there.

I guess that’s worthy of a thank you, Yarra City Council*

Its a great time to wash your boat

Small teams of yellow fluorescent people meander down Southbank
along the river, and down the main roads, leisurely cruising the
sidewalk and dotting the council infrastructure with little halfhearted
sprays of cleaning solution

signing off their work with a quiet and quick rub here and there

The people who wear uniforms to exercise /          living in Fitzroy North

The people who took a human like kickboxing doll to the park
to hit open palmed in the face
increasing precision with each blow /                    living in Brunswick East

The wind blowing unbearable on this beautiful, clear, still day
along the Yarra river corridor (nee Birrarung)
lined with overburden (waste rock) from a Tasmanian mine
the heavy metal smothering all that came down the river from
upstream already confused by this different route, the lack of banks
and nourishment (where did my swamp go?).

We were never meant to live this close to the water, and I don’t
and I can’t.

We all take some solace in knowing the people who can afford
the multimilliondollar waterfront penthouses have a panoramic view
forcing on them the aesthetic wonder of docklands, and the port of

and that no matter how clean their boat is, it will always be
too windy to enjoy a walk in their front yard promenade.

– yes, fuck you.

* They are now empty, fenced off and adorned with backdated signage making it clear no one is to live there. I was informed that Yarra are often proactive in a good way about managing homelessness in their local area, and that it is possible these people were no longer staying safe and hygienic…

 ** Letter from the author **

I was asked to write these posts quite a few weeks ago. At the time I was thinking about how quickly we forgot about the past summer bushfires, now I am thinking about how quickly COVID-19 is being moved aside or moved passed as the most urgent matter.

This seems to be a reflection on Australia’s cultural proximity to the USA, and more broadly on the *distance* between capital ‘W’ Western media and life outside of that web of relations. It is also a reflection, an insight ⁠— and I would say a rather potent indictment ⁠— of the hegemony and normalisation of the 24hr media landscape. News as content, content as drug. Voyeurism as experience… Beyond criticisms on the mediation of this moment, it is one of huge and I hope ongoing significance to all people. Black people in the US and all those who support their struggle are in the midst of an uprising against some of the foundational institutions of AmeriKKKa — and the potential of this moment to positively change peoples access to a happy, healthy and secure life is unprecedented.

The world moves fast, but our comprehension cannot necessarily keep up. Resisting the urge to react as a response is challenging, and there are obviously many situations in which an immediate response or reaction is a necessity. But immediate action (particularly in the form of amplification of compact messaging, and reductive appeals) cannot and should not take the place of ongoing reflection, consideration, and more sustained actions. It’s not necessarily my place to tell people how, or what to do or think, but given I have this platform, and a presumed audience reflective of Melbourne’s arts community, it feels important to offer something.

I will share something of what I was intending to share prior to the massive and unprecedented uprising in Turtle Island, and I will come back to the present in the near future.



The specific project we would like to invite you to contribute to is Live from the Field, a blog-style page to be updated frequently over a two week period, which will be published through the KINGS website and Instagram account. This project is designed as a way to track personal responses to the crisis in a responsive, subjective and critical way. Live From The Field is intended to provide an alternative take on the rolling media style updates regarding the pandemic. We feel that you could provide politically engaged critical feedback on the pandemic and its associated social and economic impacts. This could be in the form of a series of short critical texts or might draw from past works and ongoing concerns within your photographic practice.

My first thought for these blog pieces was to structure them in the same way I make notes for ideas and processes within my art practice, and to a degree, day to day life. These take the form of short, scattered, and abrupt musings, with both an over reliance on, and a misuse of capitalisation and grammar symbols.

Essentially it is a semiprivate lexicon based largely on the organisation of meaning around unwritten feelings, states of mind, habitual processes, and reoccurring ideas. I gave it a go and realised slower than I should have that it was more than a little obstructive to the intended goal of communication. Instead I will have a go at expanding on and reiterating the ideas I notated in a more traditional and verbose style of writing. I generally have a very short attention span, so I may give up on this at various points…

Below are a few thoughts and ideas for my contribution to Live from the Field organised into groupings and reflecting my experience of March, April, and early May 2020.


I have a bad back; multiple herniated disks, a ‘free fragment’ disk, and congenital stenosis of the lumbar spine. This came to prominence in 2009 and has remained a problem for me since. Thankfully, I have lived most of that time with little or no pain and minimum restrictions on movement and lifestyle. However, when it gets bad it can get quite bad. Over this recent summer and new year’s my back flared up significantly and consequently my pain increased and my movement reduced. My regular physiotherapist of the past few years is on maternity leave and I had quite a difficult time finding an appropriate practitioner to help me with this round of rehab. I was starting to make real progress when the clinics, gyms, and pools started closing. This significantly compounded my anxiety about recovery and about the general state of the world.

Prior to the announcement of a State of Emergency in Victoria, and the enforcement of the associated ‘lockdown’, I was in an in-between place regarding employment. I am a sole-trader who works as a photographer in a few different capacities. I have also begun to turn over some money through artistic practice. During the last few years my main source of income has been sub-contracting for a booking agency; shooting the final (public facing) stages of outdoor advertising campaigns. That means basically driving around and photographing audiences passing by advertising on bus shelters, roadside billboards, inside shopping centres and train stations. This has been ongoing and mostly reliable work. However, the volume of work has been steadily declining and at the start of this year it became clear I wouldn’t be able to rely on it long term.

My partner and regular artistic collaborator Rebecca McCauley and I have/had been working towards a large project that was going to be shown as part of Next Wave 2020. The festival was launched on a Thursday and by Sunday it had become clear it wouldn’t be going ahead in its intended form. This was obviously hard for everyone involved, and mirrors the interruptions to life, work, art, health etc. experienced the world over. At the time I really didn’t care that much, it felt like a drop in the ocean. Not the biggest problem, and not a direct threat to my health or those around me.

The political dimension of the COVID-19 crisis is huge, amorphous, and hard to recall. Even focusing in on Victoria, an analysis of flows of power, support, and state/federal responses requires much more knowledge and capacity than I have. I am happy to share my observations, with the caveat that they are both personal and partial. It is important to note that the way this has played out in Australia is such that the lockdown, economic downturn and governmental response has had, and likely will continue to have a more significant effect on the population that the virus itself. I do not mean that in a careless or callous way, but the loss of life, and other health effects of this crisis are not going to necessarily be the primary drivers of suffering throughout this period, at least not in a direct sense.

We imagined that in line with the concerns of your ongoing practice you might want to address the political, social and environmental impacts of the pandemic. This could include the response of our current liberal government, use of surveillance technology, increased police powers and the many changes to unemployment payments and conditions. The blog is aimed at providing a sense of support and community, while also helping to cut through the overload of information and statistics available about the progression of the pandemic. As we are all experiencing the effects of the pandemic in an immediate and personal fashion, an autobiographical approach has seemed appropriate, however, the tone and content of each participant takes is totally up to them.

Despite my initial anxiety and concern, I have actually fared very well physically during these past few months. Having little creative drive, basically no social interaction and almost no work meant that I had lots of time to undertake exercise, stretching routines, and general rehab. Given that this was a requirement in order to limit my pain and increase my mobility, it actually became quite easy to dedicate the necessary time and effort to it. So, like many other inner city, upper middle class, yo-pros, my life became structured around physical exertion. As my mobility increased, I had to undertake longer and longer walks, and eventually bike rides. I quite quickly became fed up with my surroundings ⁠—and legitimately concerned about the spread of a potential outbreak due to the proximity between, and density of runners and walkers throughout the inner north of Melbourne. I started driving a little out of the city and taking regular long walks in semi-forested areas with a good friend. We spent a lot of time picking mushrooms on these walks, which served as such a sweet respite from the problems of the world delivered direct via media saturation on small computers you sit down at, and even smaller ones you hold onto.

I have acted as a photographer documenting many different creative activities, and pre-COVID I was hoping to move into more regular work shooting theatre, live art, and performances. Obviously this move had to have the brakes slammed on it. One benefit I derived from my subcontracted ‘advertising’ work was the painfully slow invoice and payment cycle. I would often wait 6 weeks from working to getting paid ⁠—it used to be quite annoying. As lock down set in, however, this meant that I was able to weather the original period of no work and no government support with some financial certainty. Interestingly, my art practice became my primary income earner for the first time ever during this period. It was great to have things to work towards (even if I didn’t actually want to do them at that point) and to have organisations making funds available to artists.

By the time this post goes up online, I would have been nearing the end of a residency in Bodø, inside the arctic circle in Norway. This has a weird feeling associated with it, filtered through a lack of urgency or immediacy ⁠—a kind of diffuse, almost unfelt disappointment. What strikes me most about these unrealised artistic endeavours now, is the sheer amount of effort and time that would have been dedicated to making them happen. It feels very hard trying to imagine going through those motions.

More soon..