The Wire

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In Writing

Malcy Duff’s Portal

October 2013

Comic artist and musician Malcy Duff, featured in The Wire 356, takes us on a journey through places that have inspired him and affected his work, from magic tricks to a Wisconsin mustard museum.

Electric Brae
Gravity hills pull us up and guide us down in magical ways. This is old magic, like the long arm trick, where you are the wand and the cardboard galaxy inside it. I have taken the handbrake off on this very hill, not for very long because a car was trying to get past, but long enough to go up when I should be going down. A gravity hill a day keeps the doctor away. Let’s start our journey here.

The Museum Of Jurassic Technology
We parked outside a small vine-clothed building, and walked through the vines. The rooms were cosy and warm, with no dust in sight, just skin sparkling in cases of glass like little exploding dreams and eyes fizzing like lightbulbs. Can you see the reflection in the glass case? Can you see the dogs in space? Each exhibit will take you further on this path, walking across invisible bridges, while looking up and writing letters to the sky. This museum is like a cat’s ear reaching. It is a museum for the imagination, like when they used to moor Noah’s ark to study.

St Peter’s Seminary
I have only seen the bones, dry broken skin and ripped clothes of this building. Nevertheless, it once was more of an elegant manicured fingernail sitting on one of God fingers, hands holding up living quarters of priests. Built in 1966 by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, and designed by architects Izi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, it fell into disrepair in the 1980s, and now after years of neglect, it shows its teeth in a cage in a wood. The building was introduced to me by Tom Worthington and made a huge impact on me. I saw the sadness of the building as the sadness of breast implants and the two main characters in my comic A Lone Still (2005) hold each other inside the seminary’s priest’s quarters, talking about hair and silicone.

A+Lone+Still+-+Malcy+Duff A Lone Still (2005)

The Mustard Museum
I was told of a place where the people looked like the land they lived on, the cows around them and the food they ate. In 2009 I visited Wisconsin. Thoughts of ‘you are what you eat’ hung heavy as the steam rose to sweat my jowling face over a bowl of cheese and beer soup. On the same trip I visited the mustard museum, a museum solely dedicated to all things mustard. Jars, jars, jars, banners, jars…The same year I exhibited my comic Posture (2009) at the Colour Out Of Space Festival, and a Wisconsin barn appeared. Exhibiting is a strange thing to do. Especially in a mustard museum. A mustard museum, where every exhibit looks like you.

Posture+-+Malcy+Duff Posture (2009)

Coney Island
A handball court lies under the train tracks to and from Coney Island. The wall on the court is a gravestone in denial, its rubber marks shrugging off the past. This is where Topsy the elephant was electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1903. A six line description of her horrible exit inspired my comic A 52 Second Silence For Topsy (2008). Coney Island is my favourite place to visit in New York. I love the creaking Wonder Wheel, the screaming polar bears and the wrinkled drink skin at Ruby’s. If you breathe deep enough you can still smell fire smoke from the Wooden Elephant Hotels and some cigar smoke too. Make sure Coney keeps breathing, and make new rubber marks spelling out ‘TOPSY’ on the boardwalk.

A+52+Second+Silence+For+Topsy+-+Malcy+Duff Cover of Malcy Duff's A 52 Second Silence For Topsy (2008)

Natural History Museum, Tring
How do you stuff a fish? It can’t be done. But you can dress a flea. I made it a mission around ten years ago to visit Walter Rothschild’s museum in Tring after seeing a postcard with a picture of two dressed fleas. These fleas, dressed in sugar beet by a Mexican woman in 1905, had to be met. I suppose I expected a house the size of a hand, so when I arrived to find five floors of stuffed dead animals, some with hands bigger than my whole self, I felt a little queasy. I remember passion birds, lots of birds, a giraffe, and a butterfly box next to a box that said ‘Fleas.’ And there they were, one wearing its hat and the other holding its umbrella, too small for a postcard.

Kynsilaukka Garlic
This is the restaurant where I spent my birthday in 2010. On a Usurper residency at Ptarmigan, with my girlfriend Louise Donoghue, and my brother Ali Robertson. I have often thought of eating only one food forever, like wearing the same clothes, but have never been able to decide on what the food would be. Maybe here is a solution. Garlic might be this ingredient. After all ‘garlic is as good as ten mothers.’ After your meal, and your journey has ended, write a postcard home.