Monday, February 23, 2009

You have come a long way, Sculpture

'... You have come a long way, Sculpture, from those fraught days twenty years back when Ad Reinhardt sadly defined you, Sculpture, as something that a museum-goer trips over when stepping backwards from viewing a painting. And experiences like Waiheke, experiences like Brick Bay, experiences like Bannockburn - and now here - are starting to kick a great big hole in that generic message! 

Find your space, Sculpture. Hold it and share life with us...' *

*Don Binney - opening address, Sculpture in Central Otago, Rippon Vineyard, Wanaka - 6 February 2009 

Waitangi weekend saw the opening of Sculpture in Central Otago, a much-anticipated annual sculpture event in an old, but newly-established venue - beautiful, organically-scrupulous Rippon Vineyard. Visitors to this outdoor exhibition (curated by The Arthouse, Christchurch and the Wanaka Arts Charitable Trust) get to wander amongst the vines, drawn by eye, instinct or a map from one sculptural surprise to the next. Works by seventeen leading NZ artists are on show: Gretchen Albrecht, Graham Bennett, Julie Butler, Jonathan Campbell, Bing Dawe, Regan Gentry, Robert Hague, Mark Hill, Cheryl Lucas, Phil Newbury, Peter Nicholls, Phil Price, Rebecca Rose, Dan Rutherford, Llew Summers and Leon van den Eijkel. 

As Don Binney said in his opening speech, 'I think it is not at all unusual that looking over the scope of art pieces located around this vineyard, we see statements about geology (Dan Rutherford), we see statements about distance and measuring - defining place (Graham Bennett) - we see some pretty lacerating and necessary statements about ecology (Cheryl Lucas). Where did the water go? ... There is another wonderful statement about idiom transition: the magic of stepping from fifty years worth of painting (Gretchen Albrecht) into a highly satisfying and self-defining sculpture. Yes, that transition is there for the taking. The peril of tiny birds - which is a day-to-day talking point, and will be much longer - is in the safe, well-crafted statements that you will find lower down the hill (Bing Dawe) ... The ettricks (sic) of design or accident or incident on solid structure as we all live in times of conflict and stress and ambiguity or, indeed, simply go through the business of growing older are also here, and described with elegance and articulateness - and, the most important self-defining Antipodean practice of just putting up your feet and lounging is writ large, as well it should be! It is a good day... get your feet off the ground! (Regan Gentry)... And there is structure. There is abundant, competent, critically-articulated structure - and there is much colour. There is an angel's wing (Llew Summers). It is hewn out of stone - you can put the colour of an angel's wing there yourself, if you must: its strength is in the seeing. 

These works all exist in this marvelous space, and they seem to have found a space of their own... '

Regan Gentry with his larger-than-life lounger, Recliner Rex - 2005

There was a wonderful sense of generosity and community at this opening, much animated dialogue and open exchange of ideas. I especially enjoyed seeing two of the younger sculptors deep in conversation at the event's notice board, taking turns with the solitary marker pen to draw up possible solutions to a technical challenge one of them is currently facing with a work-in-progress. There was evidence everywhere of mutual respect, support, camaraderie and friendship.  

Here are a few pics I took whilst enjoying the sculpture, the people and the place.  

A Landscape With Too Many Holes - Riroriro (detail) Bing Dawe - 2009

Metallic velvet - detail from Peter Nicholl's Shards # 9 - 2008 

Whose arm is it anyway? 
L - R: Don Binney, Dan Rutherford, Graham Bennett, Julie Butler & Peter Nicholls with Dan's Warm Earth - 2008

You can visit these sculptures at Rippon till 3 May 2009.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cage Piece - a somewhat different take on art & time

I landed in the States late last night - seemed to take an inordinately long time to get here, but apparently a slow, circuitous route was exactly what I needed. Now that I'm here, I feel as though I've just woken from a deeply rejuvenating sleep. For some reason, I spent almost as many hours on the ground in transit at the various airports en-route as I did in the air - and the weirdest thing was that despite the many - and I mean many - hours between take off and final landing, I arrived on the same date I left. Talk about time playing tricks... 

I think I've mentioned before that I don't wear a watch (nope, not even whilst traveling). This is doubly liberating when you're needing to unhook and are simultaneously zig-zagging across time zones and lines of latitude and longitude. It didn't matter a jot whether it was light or dark, early or late... I could lol about in my suspended, time-defying 'hammock' and (rare for me) do nothing but read, sleep, nibble on the odd snack, and - surprise - anchor the ideas that found startling clarity as I moved away from the busyness of the past few weeks and into this refreshing transition space. 

The image above shows one corner of an exhibition that's currently on at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. (I've been searching and bookmarking shows I'd like to get to whilst over here).  Provocatively titled 'A Year in a Cage: A Life Shrunk to Expand Art.'  I was drawn to a review article written by Roberta Smith in today's New York Times (the on-line version).

An admirer of John Cage's work (when his composition 4' 33" was first performed in 1952, it was considered one of the most controversial works of the century), I will visit anything that looks as though it might have something to do with him. (Jumping sideways for a moment, if you go to his website you will find the following, wonderfully-worded invitation 'Subscribe to silence by filling out the following form...' Filling out said form allows list members access to discussions on Cage's music.) 

To get back to where I was... in the case of the New York Times article, the title statement seemed too 'confining' to have anything to do with Cage, the composer. Indeed, what I found was a fascinating account of a piece of performance art (one of five conducted over a year) by Taiwanese-born artist, Tehching Hsiesh (pronounced dur-ching shay). The concepts behind his work are compelling and they raise a raft of questions for me: the same, recurrent ones that I find myself engaged with in regard to my own creative practice (and yes, even - nay, often - re; this environment - that of the blog-o-sphere) - questions to do with integrity & indulgence, communication with others & internal monologue, content & decoration, universal-/community-oriented vs solo, ego-driven work, private voyage & communal conversation... and so on, and so on...    

Referring again to the title of the article, A Year in a Cage: A life shrunk to Expand Art, I found myself feeling immediately indignant. How can anyone advocate that life should be - or indeed infer that it can beshrunk down to expand or accommodate anything, especially life or art? It's a contradiction in terms, surely? The article's worth reading, that's for sure. Anything that stimulates discussion, raises eyebrows, provokes ire (or subtlest discomfort) has to have something to tell us. Part of me admires this kind of performance and part of me shakes my head. (That's an odd sentence, but I'm not sure how else to put it.) It wears the clothes of 'private, meaningful process for the purpose of personal discovery', and yet at the same time is so obviously hollering out for public attention and reaction (hollering for attention is not the same thing as testing the waters for affirmation? Neither is reaction the same - by a long stretch - as response. Or is it?).

I don't propose to have the answers - far from it: my own creative journey is characterized so much more by questions, than it is by answers. I'd say I regard 'not knowing' as one of the prompts that keeps me working, that it is 'not knowing' that hints at the elusive 'other' that's everything to do with mystery? I'd welcome your thoughts on this subject - the oddly private-public nature of blog-writing suggests we might have some thoughts in common? 


In my next post, I will be writing about Sculpture in Central Otago.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lines from Mr Lightman

"Suppose time is a circle bending back on itself. The world repeats itself , precisely, endlessly. For the most part, people do not know that they will live their lives over...'' (pg 8)

"There is a place where time stands still. Raindrops hang motionless in air. Pendulums of clocks float mid-swing. Dogs raise their muzzles in silent howls..."  (pg 70)

"A mushy brown peach is lifted from the garbage and placed on the table to pinken. It pinkens, it turns hard, it is carried in a shopping sack to the grocer's, put on a shelf, removed and crated, returned to the tree with pink blossoms. In this world, time flows backwards... " (pg 102) 

These are various lines that open the succinct, time-defining (time-questioning) chapters in Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman.

One of the popular global themes at the moment is 'living in the present.' The ideal is that by living in the present, one can still assimilate and integrate the past (without getting stuck there) and trust that - with a healthy dollop of proactivity on our parts - the future will unfold as it must. Lightman addresses time from a number of different angles. In each chapter, time is introduced as a unique concept with a peculiarly different set of characteristics. In one chapter, time is a sense. In another, a memory. He wanders and muses, opening the subject up rather than drawing any conclusions. 

I reckon time is a gift, not a commodity and yet, we think (in our so-called civilized communities) that we can trade it, save it, promote it, bottle it, consume it... Not so! Apparently 'time' is one of the most frequently used words in the English language. It is also one of the most elusive and un-pin-down-able of subjects. I don't intend to go into it too much here - for now, I'll simply type up one of my favourite chapters in Lightman's book and leave it at that.  

"In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay. The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along.

Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist. When they pass the giant clock on the Kramgasse they do not see it; nor do they hear its chimes while sending packages on Postgasse or strolling between flowers on the Rosengarten. They wear watches on their wrists, but only as ornaments or as courtesies to those who would give timepieces as gifts. They do not keep clocks in their houses. Instead they listen to their heartbeats. They feel the rhythm of their moods and desires. Such people eat when they are hungry, go to their jobs at the millinery or chemist's whenever they wake from their sleep, make love all hours of the day. Such people laugh at the thought of mechanical time. They know that time struggles forward with a weight on its back when they are rushing an injured child to the hospital or bearing the gaze of a neighbour wronged. And they know too that time darts across the field of vision when they are eating well with friends or receiving praise or lying in the arms of a secret lover. 

Then there are those who think their bodies don't exist. They live by mechanical time. They rise at seven o'clock in the morning. They eat their lunch at noon and their supper at six. They arrive at their appointments on time, precisely by the clock. They make love between eight and ten at night. They work forty hours a week, read the Sunday paper on Sunday, play chess on Tuesday nights. When their stomach growls, they look at their watch to see if it is time to eat. When they begin to lose themselves in a concert, they look at the clock above the stage to see when it will be time to go home. They know that the body is not a thing of wild magic, but a collection of chemicals, tissues, and nerve impulses. Thoughts are no more than electrical surges in the brain. Sexual arousal is no more than a flow of chemicals to certain nerve endings. Sadness is no more than a bit of acid transfixed in the cerebellum. In short, the body is a machine, subject to the same laws of electricity and mechanics as an electron or clock. As such, the body must be addressed in the language of physics. And if the body speaks, it is speaking only of so many levers and forces. The body is a thing to be ordered, not obeyed.

"Taking the night air along the river Aare, one sees evidence for two worlds in one. A boatman gauges his position on the dark but counting seconds drifted in the water's current. 'One, three metres. Two, six metres. Three, nine metres.' His voice cuts through the black in clean and certain syllables. Beneath a lamppost on the Nydegg Bridge, two brothers who have not seen each other for a year stand and drink and laugh. The bell of St. Vincent's cathedral sings ten times. In seconds, lights in the apartments lining Schifflaube wink out, in a perfect mechanized response, like the deductions of Euclid's geometry. Lying on the riverbank, two lovers look up lazily, awakened from a timeless sleep by the distant church bells, surprised to find that the night has come.

Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. For, miraculously, a barrister, a nurse, a baker can make a world in either time, but not in both times. Each time is true, but the truths are not the same." 


Oh, and HAPPY 200th BIRTHDAY, Charles Darwin!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


My heart is with the people of Victoria who are suffering devastating losses as a result of the bush-fires. 

This evening, dear friends told me they'd found out that their son ('unaccounted for' for 36 hours) is safe. He chose to stay inside as the fire approached: miraculously, it jumped over his house and left him unscathed. His neighbour's house was burned down and further up the road, two people died in their car whilst trying to get away.  

There are times when words are inadequate. This is one of them.  

May rain come soon as balm. 


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The companionship of silence

Why is it that the more we come to understand the imperative for stillness, the more determinedly this ideal seems to elude us?

Replenished - Pastel on paper, 2003 - CB

I speak for myself here, of course - and, yes, situations are always of our own making. BBS (Buzzy Brain Syndrome) is no longer entertaining. Frankly, I'm feeling frazzled and fried, which is ridiculous, when you think we're only four days into February. The year is yet young and there's much to make, do, and (perhaps, more wisely) not do during the coming months... My head is constantly engaged with ideas, projects, schemes, images... no sooner is one set down than another pops its head up. I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to slow down, still down, be quiet, contemplative, mindful, measured... Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Suffice to say, it's an ongoing conversation. Right now, all the signs are here that I need to pace things more sensibly, pare things back, top the cup up.

Breaksea Chalice II - Pastel on paper, 2008 - CB

The other day, my rickety old mailbox delivered up a speeding fine - hmmm. I was not pleased. But, admittedly, it was perfect: a cautionary message sent to pounce on me at just the right time. In all honesty, I've had this fine coming for some weeks now, and not just because I happened to be driving too fast out near Broad Bay on a magnificent Sunday afternoon. Clearly, I need to put my foot on the proverbial brake. No one else can do it - after all, 'tis I who is sitting in the driver's seat. The thing is, I do know this - stillness and quiet are right up there when it comes to ideals I aspire to. Apparently, though, I sometimes need a remotely-operated speed gizmo to spell it out -  'S  l  o  w     d  o  w  n,  C  l  a  i  r  e.'   From time to time, one's internal authority figure gets nonchalant or forgetful or just plain tired. 

As a way of countering busyness, I work. This may sound like a contradiction, but actually, it's not: when I'm in 'right relationship' with my work, then my work is my play. It's also my battery charger, my raging tiger, my wise counsel; my lap, my staff, my yardstick, my still point and compass. I depend a lot on drawing - the smudge of black on my hands, the smatter of dust at my feet - and my dream life for poise, discernment, balance. Another paradoxical element of creative - predominantly solitary - work is that it does not separate us from a sense of connection with our community. Solitude is diligent... it works in mysterious, intangible ways, connecting us all, despite the vagaries of life, time and place. It can be a companionable journey that leads us all, via our marvelously different routes, to the common wellspring.  I wonder, is this your experience, too?
Bearings IV - Pastel on paper, 2002 - CB

I find that when I'm tired, I get thirsty. And when I'm thirsty, that's my reminder that it's time to make my way back to the water. I'm never fully at ease when away from it... neither literally, nor metaphorically. With this in mind, I've soaked my next big stash of paper, taped the patient white sails onto boards. My notebooks are fat, my hands and heart ready. Tomorrow, I hope, hope, hope the day will be uninterrupted so that I can jump in and make another big splash. Having said that, the images that keep floating to the top are spare: they have names like seven minutes silence/shimmer/still point/resound.  

In August 2006, my South African printmaker friend Lyn Smuts, wrote 'Visual images are compelling exactly because they are multi-faceted objects. That which is visible, always implies all that is invisible.' (From the catalogue for SOUND STILL, Cape Town - curated by Katherine Glenday.)

In my bid to resist busyness, I've been trying to stay in the present, focused only on what is immediately in front of me. I've also been reflecting on the joys of collaborative partnerships, and the fact that distance need not be an obstacle when it comes to working collaboratively with others. To the contrary, distance contributes something unique and unexpected. 

Back in 2006, I was fortunate to participate in  SOUND STILL , an exciting cross-gender, cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary exhibition in which a group of nine artists, dancers and musicians (from South Africa, Austria and New Zealand) explored sound, movement and stasis, applying the characteristics of these complimentary states to the solo journey and to that of the group. It's been interesting to note how insistent certain of our preoccupations can be. Here's another excerpt from the same catalogue in which I was quoted as saying,   
'Silence suggests an experience of absence or aloneness, whereas in fact, it can be one of presence and oneness. Stillness and silence are dynamic. They are potent spaces - ways of being that resonate with energy. Silence contains and emanates all the fullness of sound. Similarly, stillness is anything but static. It reveals our connectedness with - and separation from - our environment. It exposes memory, challenges reality and the imagined, highlights knowledge and ignorance of self and other. It accompanies us through life and death, teaches patience, protects innocence, encourages community.'

'At the still point of the turning world, is the dance,' wrote the brilliant Mr. T. S Eliot.