Brendan Barnett

Brendan Barnett

11 November 2021

Re: Props for an exhibition opening (2015)


To whom it may concern,

Jessie Bullivant has asked me to write this letter of support for their work, Props for an exhibition opening (2015). Jessie’s actual phrasing was they hoped I would, “consider the proposition of being implicated in the project of documentation”. I have considered and accepted the proposition so now it remains for me to do some implying and documenting.

The exhibition referred to in the work’s title took place in a student gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts. I’ve searched my memory and the internet for the name of that gallery but without success. It is (or was) the small one looking onto the internal courtyard there.
At the time Jessie was enrolled in the honours program at VCA and I was seven years past graduating from the acting school.

Jessie’s work for the exhibition involved substituting all the glassware for the bar at the opening with cups, glasses & goblets from the VCA prop store. I guess this takes one step toward ‘implicating’ me in the work. The prop store is a frequent stop over for acting students looking for things to help them construct whatever theatrical illusion they’re currently trying to create. The drinking vessels Jessie assembled for the opening bar all had an air of familiarity. It’s hard to be sure if it was ‘that’ silver goblet or ‘that’ one I used in our Howard Barker scene study; If it was ‘that’ cheap martini glass or ‘that’ one I sipped water out of in Caryl Churchill’s, Hot Fudge, (thinking on it now, playwrights really do like inserting scenes where actors have to drink something on stage). For myself, seeing this reunion of half familiar objects was a bit like someone dragging out an old photo album – a blend of vague recognition, nostalgia and discomfort. Rather than create any particular illusion the jumbled assortment of styles gave the opening an air of cheap pantomime. I also recall feeling vaguely possessive of the cups, these were ‘our’ cups being handled by all these… fine art students. Take whatever implication you want from that last recollection.

As I try to recall something of the process by which this work evolved and came to fruition I’m drawing a blank. Jessie & I lived together as partners at the time and the general way these things came about is that an invitation to do something came along and conversations with Jessie would turn in tighter circles around that opportunity, (moving through various phases of anxiety and possibility), until the date came and the work happened. I recall more of the fictitious scenes connected to the cups than the real conversations or events surrounding their inclusion in this exhibition – which I suppose makes me a poor documentarian for this work.
Then again, perhaps this an honest reflection of how the work has survived in me to the present day – in a lucid, fragmentary way, enmeshed with my memories of drama school and of Jessie.

I want to stop writing here but there is something about this task that feels incomplete. It relates to Jessie naming this a ‘letter of support’. I have ‘implied’ and ‘documented’ but I’m uncertain that I’ve proffered any ‘support’ thus far. Jessie’s request asked me to approach the task –

“from the position/s of [partner, actor]”

There is something about the performance of a relationship here, the roles those in them take on…

Ok, here it is – most of the performances in which I co-starred with those cups weren’t very good, (once, whilst shooting a short film, I forgot how to drink entirely and threw water in my own face). In contrast, I think the scene constructed by Jessie with the cups from the props department offered a little bit of truth and brought the performativity of the event into sharper focus. I am neither an actor or Jessie’s partner anymore but, outside of both those roles, my support for their practice remains.