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Trethowan, Blair - 2009.52

Blair Trethowan

Change 2005
neon tubing, electrical components
40 x 220 cm
Donated by Wendy Foard and Peter Bate in memory of Blair Trethowan through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program 2009

Thresholds are spaces that we move through. Michael Taussig has suggested that events, such as the ‘space of death’, act as thresholds that can help to create meaning and consciousness. For Taussig, the space of death is a physical space and an ideological space where conflicts, such as between the colonised and coloniser, might occur. It is a wide space, he writes, the breadth of which offers positions of advance as well as of extinction.[1]

This suggests that the threshold is something that we enter, possibly from many angles, perhaps without knowledge. The consciousness is attached to the idea of movement rather than direction, where a destination is less the object and rather the experience. The experience of the threshold is as such transformative. Blair Trethowan’s Change was initially installed over the second doorway into Studio 5 at Gertrude Contemporary, when the space was located in Fitzroy. This second doorway demarcated the entry to the studio; between it and the hallway of the Gertrude Street warehouse was a threshold space. A neon sign, the white glow of the lower-case sans serif type, hung melancholically like a question to those with the courage to enter. For Blair, perhaps the neon was a provocation – can you cut it? Can you make it through? Ironically, sighting the sign was a reward granted only after you had walked through the threshold and were able to turn back and see the path travelled.

To be able to look back into the threshold, after the space of death, implies a knowledge gained in afterlife. Included in Mark Feary’s 2008 three-part exhibition Life Death Afterlife, Trethowan’s Change cast a cool neon glow, as if a signpost for a void. Made not long after Germaine Greer’s essay Whitefella Jump Up was published (Blair made me read it at the time), the neon hanging at the exit of a threshold conjures her words when she writes:

… there is only one way to escape from an impasse, that is, to turn back to the point where you went wrong …[2]

The threshold of change is an escape from an impasse.



The afterlife as threshold, a space of death, has its despondent glow of change.

Ironically, Trethowan’s neon Change is a pause that proposes a reversal. Slavoj Žižek remembers Jean-Luc Godard’s motto, ‘Ne change rien pour que tout soit différent’ (Change nothing so that everything will be different). This is a reversal of ‘Some things must change so that everything remains the same’.[3] As Žižek observes, perhaps when only constant self-revolutionising can maintain the system, it is those who refuse to change anything who are effectively the agents of true change.[4] Pause.

On 3 March 2006, Blair Trethowan died after attempting to take his own life a few days prior. For whatever reason, death was the only escape from an impasse for Blair. I am not sure he would like what I have written above, perhaps it seems too serious. But such is the space of death, his death, marked by the threshold that is Change.

Financially, change is the balance returned after deducting the price of a purchase from the sum paid, marking the threshold of an exchange where there remains no debit or credit.

Lisa Radford is an artist and lectures in painting at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.

[1] Michael Taussig, ‘Culture of terror – space of death. Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the explanation of torture’, Comparative Studies inSociety and History, vol. 26, no. 3, 1984, pp.467–68.

[2] Germaine Greer, Whitefella Jump Up: The Shortest Way to Nationhood, Quarterly Essay, no. 11, 2003, p.2.

[3] Slavoj Žižek, Like a Thief in Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity, Penguin, London, 2018, p.11.

[4] ibid.