I attended the opening of my work in a textile survey show: the Tamworth Textile Triennial at Melbourne’s RMIT gallery two days ago. First step was getting through the security check at Sydney airport.
To explain briefly: my art practice involves found objects. On a recent shopping expedition I picked up a battered small scissors with broken, black plastic handles. They suggested a calligraphic figure, a question mark, a cancellation gesture, context undecided. It went into the front pocket of my small backpack, which has multiple pockets for pens, etc.
So there at Sydney airport I stood at the counter waiting to reclaim my bag, which had gone through x-ray screening, when one of the security gentlemen, [ironically of middle eastern origin, employed for his language proficiency?] motioned me to a table apart. There he solemnly announced: A suspicious item has been discovered in your bag. I therefore must now search your bag. You must not touch the bag, nor any of its contents during the procedure.
To contextualise briefly: shortly after Sept 11, 2001, I attended my niece’s wedding in Tweed Heads on the Qld border with NSW. I had helped my sister with the reception room decorations and, being the assiduous artist, pocketed the small scissors I was using. Unthinkingly, I packed it among my luggage, when at Brisbane airport the security officer searched the bag, found and displayed the item, told me extremely politely that I might post it to myself. A $2 item, it would cost more to post that it was worth. I declined, apologised for the muddle and thanked him for his courtesy.
Here it was happening again. Do things happen twice for Geminians? As Oscar Wilde said: once is misfortune, twice is carelessness. My companion later told me that as the procedure unfolded three more security staff quietly took their places behind me. I was also under constant scrutiny by the officer who had scanned the bag. The officer conducting the search made several placatory remarks, he removed and scanned my shoes on a plastic tray in case they had been constructed with a supporting tongue of steel. He then began to search the small pockets of the bag’s first zippered compartment. He found a usb stick I had intended to post to a friend, and then forgot weeks ago. Suddenly light dawned, and I directed the officer to examine the other pockets. He soon found the scissors and all was well.
Whilst the procedure was being set up, I had been joined by another passenger whose baggage was also about to be searched. Brown as a berry and of middle eastern origin, his face wore a cheeky grin. He said: I’m always being searched at airports. Clearly he was happy to be joined by another suspect, someone atypical.
I appreciate the civility of these officers and the care that they take on behalf of the safety of flight passengers. At Melbourne the security officer waved a wand around my person and also stuck it inside my bag. Next step, full length screening. Art usually precedes life, this reminds me of a full body-length x-ray that Robert Rauchenberg took of himself, showing his semi-erect penis. Boom Tish.