Elyas Alavi,  Mother of Time,    2014-15, video installation, rocks collected Daikundi province, Afghanistan and Adelaide, Australia, 3 mins 8 secs. Photograph of installation in  Home Thought from Abroad  by Matt Barlow.

Elyas Alavi, Mother of Time, 2014-15, video installation, rocks collected Daikundi province, Afghanistan and Adelaide, Australia, 3 mins 8 secs. Photograph of installation in Home Thought from Abroad by Matt Barlow.

Home Thoughts From Abroad

by Matt Barlow


Perhaps it was no strange coincidence that I decided to listen to Borders by Emptyset as I rode my bike to and from the Home Thoughts from Abroad exhibition at praxis ARTSPACE. Perhaps it is no strange coincidence that the time spent riding to and from the exhibition was the exact same length as the album. I get the feeling that this is all very important, but I’m struggling to figure out why. But perhaps this is the point. Home Thoughts from Abroad is a deeply moving collection of paintings, videos, and objects by Elyas Alavi (AFG/AUS), Aida Azin (AUS), and Badiucao (CHN/AUS). The collection is perhaps best summarized by a phrase that came to me during Elyas’ artist talk while he was describing his childhood nanny who is blind in one eye: ‘blind and bright’. Let’s dive in.

I always experience the same melancholy in the presence of dormant water, a very special melancholy whose color is that of a stagnant pond in a humid forest, a melancholy which does not oppress, which is dreamy, slow, and calm. 
Gaston Bachelard (1)

My father slaps me and I see the sun.
Georges Bataille (2)

Somewhere between the militarized pencils of Badiucao’s Meng is a refracted pattern of abuse. A bioinsecurity (3) housed in moiré. This pattern, a series of repetitions made the same through their shared differences, brings forth the abject. A wrenching apart of that which is inseparable. Badiucao follows in the footsteps of Ai Weiwei, by taking the private public. By broadcasting a kind of death drive (4). Repetition in death. Mimesis and alterity (5). History is a process of mistakes that cause excess to become explicit. This is why in Aida Azin’s Feeding Fishes, a colossal encounter with ordinary affects (6), “history is not enough” (Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 188)(7). There is depth in intimate immensity. There are things that cannot be seen, only felt. This is Bachelard’s ancestral forest (8). Forever encased in the recalcitrance of memory, like the howl of a Thylacine, or the many languages of Palawa. Walking through this forest, we are united in our solitude. In the centre of the forest we find Elyas Alavi’s Mother of Time. A well carved from the persistence of melancholia. A spectre filled with the wounded and wonderful waters of deprivation, gesturing toward the nutrients salvaged by the savage (9).

These works have entangled beginnings and entangled ends such that you can’t determine what came first; dislocation, abjection, or resilience. Each shares, despite the vastness of their differences in material and scale, the pressing purpose of breaking through, or becoming resilient within, borders. Borders of a nation-state, borders of memory (or a memory), and borders that signify the limits of what one is comfortable with. Home Thoughts from Abroad sits at the limits of what one can stand, and confronts this violence with a kind of surrealist agonism. It is precisely because these works sit at the limits of memory and experience that they demand patience from the viewer. They are important not because of how I feel when I view them, but because I know that the artist needed to make this work to come to terms with their lived reality, and to extend the sanctuary of their own mind to encompass more of what they already know and will come to experience. It is in this way that they become near and far, in and out of place, familiar yet uncanny. Blind and bright.


Viewing  Feeding Fishes  by Aida Azin. Photograph by Jessica Clark.

Viewing Feeding Fishes by Aida Azin. Photograph by Jessica Clark.


  1. Bachelard G, 1942 (1994), Water and Dreams, 279

  2. Bataille G, 1985, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927 - 1939, 4

  3. Ahuja N, 2017, Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species

  4. Morton T, 2016, Dark Ecology: A Logic for Future Coexistence

  5. Taussig M, 1993, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses

  6. Stewart K, 2007, Ordinary Affects

  7. Bachelard G, 1969, The Poetics of Space, 188

  8. ibid, 189

  9. Tsing A, 2015, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Matt Barlow is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Adelaide, and a multi-disciplinary artist. Matt Barlow is a musician, arts writer and PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Adelaide. He is currently researching the everyday impacts of sanitation infrastructures in urbanising South Asia.