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In April 2001, a People's Liberation Army Navy fighter jet collided with a US Navy signals intelligence aircraft conducting a photo-reconnaissance overflight, tracing what the US had determined to be the border of international waters south of the island province of Hainan (an area deep in the heart of China’s tongue-shaped territory claim). The details of the collision are unclear. Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei (of the PLA Navy) died after his jet crashed into the sea, and the Americans made an emergency landing on Hainan, where they were incarcerated for ten days. This incident renewed an enmity toward the ‘world police’ most effectively marshalled during hostile demonstrations in Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou after NATO bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade two years prior. And so, during this particular spring, patriotic Beijingers stirred with anti-American sentiment. That most banal and coffee-tableised form of prejudice in Australia, has more performative consequences in China.

Joel arrived in Beijing on 1st May 2001. He was filling the position of another Anglo-Australian, conducting business and management training at the Yizhu Jiayuan Hotel in Shunyi, and teaching English at a middle school in the same district. He had thought that the hotel work had sounded interesting, that the pop-punk band New Pants were local, and that he’d be given carte blanche for his la peau blanche. "American?" a driver asked as Joel attempted to board a taxi outside the hotel. "Yessiree" he replied (in an attempt at humour). The driver sped off shouting in Mandarin and Joel shrunk, oblivious.

Joel Lewis Parsons DipEd, had entered the teaching profession reluctantly, with a Catholic block inside his head. There was much for which he felt guilty: a drug-related arrest in Canberra, two years involved in an extramarital relationship, two years in art school. My favourite of his works from “that time”, one of many noise-punk cassettes, Covers, 1996, saw him version spoken word tracks by the likes of Black Flag and The Doors. In an acerbic voice he intoned the conversational Dance Contest from Frank Zappa's Tinseltown Rebellion: "One of the things that I like best about playing in New York is this particular place, because it has - it has a stage that is conducive to, how you say in the trade, audience participation. Now if there's one thing that I really like, it's, uh, audience participation". I thought this was pretty profound stuff at the time. It was commemorative, and at the same time irreverent, and somehow quite literary. Joel continued to record into the years for which he was decisively "not an artist"—for him, the non-distribution of his work necessitated this disavowal—but he left unfinished a forensic recreation of GG Allin’s Public Animal No.1. "It's gonna be, like, the difference between amateur porn and amateur-filmmaker porn" he discretely explained to my to my fifteen-year-old self.

Stupidity is a serious philosophical problem. If the faculties of imagination and inclination are so very fundamental to human beings, why are so many people unconcerned? During the months for which he worked in Beijing, Joel had never done so little thinking and was never so intensely himself. The college and the hotel were both subpar, but the They paid well and he stayed on, borrowing the car of a friendly colleague (who came to the job with a high-level qualification from the incredible “American College of Arts and Science”) he took weekend drives around Hebei, taking photographs from which he created gauzy ink-jet prints. One arrived in our mail. It was an image of a fisherwoman standing beside what appeared to be a fish in flight, and overside, the word ‘magic’.

According to William Warren Bartley III, Joseph Jastrow appropriated the rabbit/duck illusion from a parlour magician’s show and proffered the image as representing a reversal explained by the then-emerging theory of Gestalt organisation. To call this image ‘magical’ now, seems counter-inductive, although its assured command of human perception is miraculous.

Joel went to lunch one afternoon at the cafeteria beside the hotel. He ate some shredded potato and a plate of smashed cucumber with a friend. Customers were making a lot of noise in response to activity on the TV bracketed above the counter. It was a news report. A plane flew into a building and customers rose from their seats and cheered. Another plane flew into another tower and there was another round of applause. This happened a few times. Joel’s friend told him that it was in New York.

It’s miraculous to come upon a distinct expression of one’s own idea in day-to-day experience. I was re-watching Bomb, the fourth episode of British sitcom The Young Ones. Queuing in the post office, Rick complains to an elderly man: “the only reason you don't understand our music is because you don't like it”. How simply this reversal addresses the alleged cynicism of market-driven art. How wittily it attributes an eloquence to the aesthete and a shrewdness to the dilettante. There’s so much to be said for that oblivion.

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