BY EMMA SOWTER AND LUBNA SHERIEFF
Though he has created over sixty plays, performances and dance works featured across Australia, won the Woodford Poetry Slam in 2011, qualified for the Australian Nimbin Poetry World Cup in 2011 and 2012, and released three EPs of storytelling, spoken word and music, most only recognise Tom Hogan as the guy who writes the ‘emails.’
Most of the 10,000 students who receive the School of Arts and Media weekly newsletter might find them strange or hilarious, or may ignore it entirely. Yet even those who do read them would never know that the figure behind them is not a computer generated-bot, but a guy who leads a double life reminiscent of a certain Disney Channel figure, minus the blonde hair.
A multidisciplinary artist currently working in composition, installations and sound design, Tom Hogan’s bright voice pings from the Skype screen. Behind him is the hotel room in Hobart where he is currently lives as he tours for his show The Epic, which mixes old myths from around the world with absurdist comedy.
The thirty-two year old was raised in Bankstown, Sydney and found that he wanted to be an artist quite late. Up until the age of sixteen, he wanted to be a paleontologist, “which is too late to be obsessed with dinosaurs,” he jokes.
Flash-forward ten years and Hogan has a stream of credentials to his name, including his video work being featured across galleries in Europe and releasing a poetry biography called Music Begins Where The Possibilities of Language End, which was shortlisted for The Lifted Brow’s Experimental Nonfiction Writing Award in 2015.
On why he pursues art when society discourages millennials against it he said he does it “just because it’s fun.”
“It’s incredibly selfish, making art,” he went on, “The more you think about it, even if you have some altruistic message, you do it to make yourself feel good, to collaborate with other people, to meet new people.”
“It’s a mixture of social life and performance. You’re dealing with issues you want to sort out, that you think other people need to sort out, that you have an answer for.”
Like most young artists, Hogan’s journey has not been cheap, saying “It’s not easy, really. It just sort of takes time – like doing a lot of work for free.”
Under a third identity, ‘Scott Sandwich’, Hogan also presents written, spoken and performative work that mixes absurd comedy and storytelling.
He chose the name initially as a joke to make fun of a radio host friend, recalling how he once wrote “a very silly poem” and then sent it in.
Hogan said she eventually discovered it was him, and as part of her revenge, she entered him into a poetry slam competition.
He said: “Then I won the competition and next thing I know I’m performing at the Australian Poetry Slam championships and I’m like, ‘wow this is a real career now.’ Jump ahead seven years and I’m touring the country with a show.”
“Most of my art things are a joke that spiral out of control.”
On top of his art career, Hogan also works at UNSW as the Communications and Technical Assistant, and drives the faculty newsletter in an manner unique to his eccentric personality.
Hogan said: “There is this kind of joke within the Creative Practice Lab that maybe I don’t exist, that the newsletter kind of writes itself. But I feel like the newsletter is its own little beast.”
“I just provide it’s voice to liaise between the students and the university, which I’m very proud about.”
Overseeing Tom sits Su Goldfish, the Manager and Producer of the Creative Practice Lab.
Having known Tom for 16 years, Goldfish said that he “works consistently and never lets go of it. He’s always seen himself as an artist and he thinks up a thousand ways to pay for his art. I love the way that his writing, his music and his sound work all kind of come together.”
“He’s going to get a big head” she sighed, shaking her head at one point.
She said: “Tom developed this particular type of writing that overtime just got more and more absurd. But you realise how successful it was, people didn’t drop off the newsletter, students actually read it. Random people would come up to me and be like ‘Who writes your newsletter?’”
“I love the reverence of it, the absurdity of it,” Goldfish said.
Hogan said he often gets hilarious responses in his inbox from the newsletters, saying “people will be discussing issues or laughing at funny jokes, or sending me very weird things.”
He recalled how a giveaway the CPL was running once fell through, so he spent the next few weeks hastily trying to find things to send the winners. The winners ended up receiving things from his desk, like a piece of string, which resulted in a ten-week conversation with a student.
Hogan says he also found someone who had the same last name as him.
He explains that the whole pitch of the newsletter is to encourage students to “see things that not just their classes, to know there’s art happening, or that art can be relevant, or to know that someone is listening.”
Hogan often attends the performances he advertises in the newsletter, and based on those and his own artistic experiences, he sees hope in the future of the Australian art scene but is not exactly sure what it will look like.
“What happens next has to be an explosion or something. It has to be some sort of culmination.”
He said: “We’re going to have to figure out ‘do we just keep telling personal stories – are we talking about universality – or do we just keep spreading and getting more diverse? I think the future of art is collaboration. I think we’re getting sick of solo art. Collaborations mean something new, fresh and joyful.”
Hogan is currently working on his first show in Sydney with a fellow artist and friend. Called Love Song Dedications Without Richard Mercer, it explores finding the best, objective love song in the world.
We heard Hogan perform and discussed his work in more detail and his thoughts on the current Australian art scene.