Something About Harry

Text: Liz Ashburne, Sydney, Australia

Fiendish Man Woman
Dominique Hindmarsh and Susannah Thorne are two artists, who work collaboratively under the title of Mills and Morte, which evokes their individual interests in issues of love and death. They have chosen to focus this installation Something about ‘Harry: Secrets and Sins’ on the life of Eugenia Fallini. As Harry Crawford, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife Annie Birkett in 1920 three years after her burnt body had been discovered in Lane Cove. Despite declaring that he was a “respectably married man”, the truth about Harry was revealed, when he was physically examined and found to be a woman. Fallini had earlier given birth to a daughter Josephine and whether to avoid the stigma of an illegitimate birth or simply to earn more money as a man she had chosen to live as a man.

Closeup of the installation 'Something about Harry: Secrets and Sins' by Mills & Morte

Closeup of the installation ‘Something about Harry: Secrets and Sins’ by Mills & Morte, 2010.

Fallini’s desire to be considered male confounded the strong need that human societies feel to distinguish between male and female. Many women have chosen to dress as men such as Joan of Arc, Ann Bonny and Mary Read who were seventeenth century pirates, and soldiers such as Hannah Snell and Ann Mills. Cross-dressing has been part of the theatre for centuries and is usually for comic effect. However, in order to maintain gender distinctions within society, norms have been set, which have even been maintained by laws, defining what kind of clothing is appropriate to each gender. By not matching their “assigned sex” based on their physical or genetic characteristics, individuals who cross dress have been seen as manifesting a form of transgressive behaviour, which can disturb the “natural” order.

Installation view of 'Something about Harry: Secrets and Sins' by Mills & Morte, 2010

Installation view of ’Something about Harry: Secrets and Sins’ by Mills & Morte, 2010.

While the death of Annie Birkett appeared to be the result of a brutal attack the newspapers of the day focussed on the unconventional aspects of Fallini’s life, calling her a “fiendish man woman, murderess.” She was labelled a “sex fraud” for wearing male clothing and living her life as a man as she had successfully passed as a sailor and pub worker. Eugenia was also regarded as a pervert, as she successfully courted and married two women. Harry wore male attire for the first day of her trail, but then dressed as a woman. While she pleaded not guilty at her trial, she was sensationalised and presented as an immoral monster, and when released after eleven years in jail was required to continue wearing female clothing as a condition of parole.

Even today transgender performance in everyday life has a promise of exploding cultural expectations. By installing their mixed media works at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum [Sydney, Australia, 2010] Harry’s life is again placed under surveillance in a cell.  Through photographs her male and female personas regard images of her early life in Florence and her later incarceration at Long Bay. Remnants of intimate clothing evoke erotic and amorous moments alongside unsmiling male portraits of Harry. There is no attempt by the artists to judge Eugenia, but rather they issue an invitation to viewers to enter the now remote world of the 1920’s through the choices made by one woman.

About The Author
Liz Ashburn is an artist, academic and writer based in Sydney Australia and has been writing about lesbian art since the mid 1990’s. Among her publications is the book ‘Lesbian Art: An Encounter with Power’ (Craftsman House, 1996). Liz Ashburne’s online portfolio.

Tina Fiveash a Queer Photomedia Artist

Text: Liz Ashburne, Sydney, Australia

When Birthe Havmøller asked me to write about what is happening in the lesbian art scene in Sydney, I immediately thought of Tina Fiveash. Tina Fiveash is a photomedia artist living in Sydney. You may be familiar with her work as she has been represented in several group shows in Europe – ‘Normal Love’, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, 2007, ‘Islomania’, The Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, Nicosia 2008 and ‘Terra Nullius’, ACC Galerie Weimar, Weimar 2009. She has been exhibiting since 1992.

Her collaborative public art project with Deborah Kelly, ‘Hey, hetero!’ Originally appeared in spaces ranging from billboards to printed media and online in Sydney during the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2001 and has traveled to Scotland, Germany and India. These images include texts such as “Have a baby: No national debate” referring to the homophobic debate over the unsuitability of lesbians as mothers. Other images invite heterosexuals to get married, because you can and ’Hey, hetero, when they say family they mean you.” The staging is floridly camp and wittily points out the privileges that are given to heteros worldwide. By making the  “hetero” visible in such public arenas the sexual privileges of heterosexuality are revealed as are the restrictions placed on those who are seen as other. There is a cheeky and subversive insolence in these works, which are both strongly political but also surprisingly humorous.

A later collaborative work with Deborah Kelly for the 2009 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was the giant Big Butch Billboard a wry homage to the 1989 Maria Kozic’s Butch billboard. Tina’s latest work involves animated lenticular photography. This complex process produces images, which change as the viewer alters the position of her head.

Tina will be presenting a lecture about her photography at the International Lesbian Studies Conference – part of the Spring Festival will runs from 8-13 April in Toulouse, France.


Tina Fiveash’s website

About The Author

Liz Ashburn is an artist, academic and writer based in Sydney Australia and has been writing about lesbian art since the mid 1990′s.  Liz Ashburne’s online portfolio