On Beverley Farmer: Writers on Writers
by Josephine Rowe
Black Inc., $17.99 hb, 108 pp
In her essay On Beverley Farmer, Josephine Rowe recounts a 2013 visit to Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art to see an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’s Late Works. Among the drawings and sculptures on display was The Waiting Hours, described by Rowe as ‘a series of twelve small oceanscapes’ each of which shifts fluidly, a ‘darkening whorl around the small white axis of a singular source of light shrunk to a pinhole … at once a pivot point and a vanishing point’. The effect on Rowe of this encounter was ‘one of powerful undercurrent. I felt not much and then, abruptly, disconsolate. Swept out of depth. A plunge, a plummet: the inrush towards that oceanic sense of recognition experienced most commonly in dreams, but sometimes spilling over into waking life – encounters in art and music, in nature or, more rarely, in meeting (as though hello, again).’
Skip ahead to 2018. Rowe is in Rome, making a temporary home for herself at the Australia Council’s BR Whiting Studio. Beverley Farmer has been here before her, although Rowe hasn’t yet read her work. In the studio’s library, among ‘the curios and books left by past fellows’, she comes across Farmer’s 2005 collection of essays, The Bone House. ‘I became enthralled by the acuity of her attention,’ Rowe writes. ‘And I went out into the Eternal City each day feeling equipped with some indefinable new apparatus for appreciating the hereto overlooked or undervalued.’ Then, in April 2018, Farmer died, and Rowe – so inured to solitude, so in need of it – experienced a ‘surreal plunge of loneliness, loss’.