Thursday, June 25, 2009


Blogger is not allowing me to upload the pdf file I'd planned on posting here today. It's an invitation to the lunchtime opening - tomorrow, Friday 26 June - of a group show titled SEVEN. It'll all be happening from noon till closing time at The Artists' Room, Dowling Street, Dunedin. 

Contributing artists are Sam Foley, Greg Lewis, Sharon Singer, Alannah Brown, Ro Bradshaw, Michael Tuffery and moi. The show will be up for three + weeks and as far as I know images are already posted up on the gallery website.

It would be great if those of you in the Dunedin area could come along to the opening tomorrow.


The seven small drawings/paintings (plus one 'Curiosity Box' titled Group Dynamic) I've made for this exhibition explore notions of weight and weightlessness, transparency and opacity, poise and balance.

Group Dynamic - A Curiosity Box


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I was scrunching up old newspapers to start a fire last night (reading as I went along, as one does) and came across an article in the ODT with the following opening line - 

The kindness of strangers may be leading to the untimely deaths of some of our native birds... Mixing sugar and water together may not seem like a recipe for disaster but left for several days could be deadly for unsuspecting nectar-feeding tui and bellbirds, Russell Evans of Invercargill said. 'We could be killing them through our kindness...'

I immediately went outside to my bird feeder and brought the sticky-but-empty (yay - the birds know to come daily now) sugar water bowl inside for a good scrub. Over the weekend, a kind, bird-savvy friend gifted my feathered visitors a rather ecclesiastical drinking chalice he'd made out of a coconut shell; I figured out how to unhook that and brought it in for a wash, too. 

I must admit I'm tempted to genuflect and sign myself when I walk past this neat little coconut cup on my way to the bird tray each morning; the way it's bracketed onto the old tree trunk reminds me of the little troughs that carry holy water at the entrance to churches.
Photograph: Gail Bouton

Important to note is that if we don't keep the sugar water good and clean and fresh tra la la, we're at risk of giving our precious native birds a range of potentially fatal infections; aspergillus (respiratory disease caused by a fungus infection), salmonella and candidiasis amongst these. So, let's take care...

Feeding tips: 

* Dissolve one cup of sugar in two cups of water.
* Put out just enough sugar water to last for a day
* Wash the container each day
* Sit back and wait for the birds to take their place 
   at the banquet table.

Friday, June 19, 2009


On Thursday evening, I went down to the Town Hall with a trio of friends to hear Finnish Clarinettest Kari Kriikku playing with the NZSO.  Pietari Inkinen was musical director.   

Here's an excerpt from pre-concert advertising - 

Clarinet Revolution. Musical Revelation.  There's something about Finland. . . In the last two decades this small and remarkable country has been producing great musicians in such continuous waves it has become a source of global wonder. Amongst this catalogue of new musical giants is the clarinettist Kari Kriikku who has firmly established himself as a fearless performer of almost outrageous virtuosity. . .  


Three very different works featured in this concert: (i) Tchaikovsky's Overture 1812, (ii) Tiensuu's Puro for clarinet and orchestra and (iii) Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. 

For me, the concert would have been complete - and I, replete - with the Jukka Tiensuu piece all on its own. It seemed a little irreverent to sandwich this breath-holdingly complex composition between the extravagant pomp of the 1812 Overture and the similarly theatrical Scheherazade. Not that Tiensuu's Puro didn't include certain of these elements; it did, but in such a way that seemed to be more about content and communication than display - which was surprising, given the composition so blatantly called on virtuosity for its rendition. 

And Kari Kriikku? He was so at one with his instrument, he might as well have been inside it - or it inside him. He was earnest, mournful, sexy, playful, respectful, provocative, as engaged with the audience as he was with the conductor and orchestra. There he was, in perfect control of the breath, sustaining notes for what seemed like an eternity - and there I was, perched on the edge of my chair, forgetting at times to breathe! (So much for what I'm supposedly learning in my yoga classes?) Kriikku drew layers and textures from his clarinet that were unlike any I'd heard before. 

It's not my intention to be ungenerous towards the Tchaikovsky or Rimsy-Korsokov pieces, but in the context of this particular concert, Tiensuu's Puro deserved to stand alone. (I confess that at the end of the concert, I was reminded of an old boarding school punishment; if we were caught having a midnight feast, everything would be confiscated and we'd have to eat a pulverized concoction of all the ingredients for breakfast the next day; sardines, jelly babies, vanilla wine biscuits, caramelized condensed milk and the SA equivalent of Twisties are delicious on their own, but being offered them all mushed together in one bowl was not a tummy-calming combination!).

Since the concert, I've found myself wondering whether the nature of performance might be changing? I like to think of performers as being amongst us, and of performances (whether music, poetry readings, art exhibitions, etc...) as being less about the individual musician, writer or artist and more about the content and its potential to prompt dialogue, forge connections and invite community engagement.

My wish for 'just' the Tiensuu piece that night very likely relates to the fact that I'm increasingly content in the company of silence these days; when I do work with music, I tend to choose composers like Faure, Arvo Part, John Cage, Philip Glass, Pat Metheny (who stays up late and plays his guitar to the 'Quiet Night' in his garage at home), Zbigniew Preisner and, sometimes, early Keith Jarrett (how could one tire of his Koln Concert?). 

It's just occurred to me - where are all the women? I almost omitted one of the contemporary musicians I admire most - and yes, she's a woman; cellist Zoe Keating.  Meet her and tune in to her music here.

Anyway, getting back to where I was. . . Each of these composers has spoken about the importance of working as consciously or deliberately with silence and the space between notes as with the notes themselves; a method I deeply appreciate. To be honest, I find densely jam-packed, heavily-scored (every-instrument-must-be-in) music slightly alarming. While I can respect its cleverness, the 'too-muchness' of it can feel like an assault and knocks my ions around. 

Restraint, measure and distillation I find far more alluring. When there's less rather than more, we as listeners are offered time, space and permission to enter the music differently and to participate. When this happens, we're less separated out from the music and the musicians and for a time are free to roam the landscape of staves and airwaves together - the experience becomes less 'them' & 'us' and more 'thus'; i.e. a community in it together. This has to be a good thing.  

John Cage has plenty of insightful things to say about music, sound and listening - and for an astonishing and moving performance of his 4'33" piece, click here.  

When it comes down to it, music, dance, research, plumbing, writing, anaesthetizing, diving, brick-laying, teaching, painting, etc... are all pretty much one and the same thing; each is a balancing act, an outward expression of our combined humanity. Rising out of everything and nothing, each activity pays attention to the weight of a particular note (or notes) and its relationship to what happens to be on either side of it.  

The ear asks for resting places every bit as much as the eye, the feet, the hand, the mind and the heart do.  


PS. I've just been browsing the web and... well, I'll say no more, but please treat yourselves to this (Zoe Keating improvising with violinist Paul Mercer) and this  (May 2009 performance of 'Escape Artist', a track from her forthcoming new album).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Something I didn't know about cabbage trees

They not only can, but do, draw their own snow angels - ?!

And there's something else to get excited about this morning. The neighbourhood birds have finally discovered the bird feeder - I'm not sure why it's taken them as long as it has, but no matter; there's a crowd of them out there this morning - wax-eyes, tuis, finches and a bellbird - all fluffed-up together around a big bowl of warm sugar water and a scatter-platter of seeds, breadcrumbs and grated granny-smith apples. 

A day that offers up snow, expressive cabbage trees and a flurry of happily-feeding birds is most definitely one to dance about in. 

Monday, June 08, 2009


He takes his place on the metal-legged chair
back to the fire, face to the still-sleeping 

mountains. Dawn and a weeping wall of windows* blur 
the outlines of silence and speech, a naked

silver gum. I wonder - are years of unyielding 
weather or the passing glissandi of solemnity 

and mirth accountable for truth
in an older man's bones? 


Moved by snow, a rising squall, the magician 
shifts in his chair; with a click
of his fingers, he ushers harbour, sky and volcanic hills 
in. Trickster! Ah, but window cleaner, too; he rubs sleep 

from our eyes, tenderly mops the brow 
of the staunch old school room, shows us how 

a soggy tea-towel authoritatively wielded can be 
more useful by far than top-hat, incense or wand; with a flick
of his wrist - thwick, thwick - he renders the horizon free 
of streaks, the gum tree light, no longer leaning in 

or out of focus; of subtler consequence now the hidden veins 
of dark, the unnamed worlds beyond the glass.  

Banks Peninsula - June 2009

*In NZ, the term 'weeping windows' (or 'crying windows') refers to a situation in which excessive condensation trapped inside a building results in water running down the panes of glass thereby obscuring the occupants' vision.     

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Up, up & away

I'll be away for the next couple of days, retreating to a place where a welcoming temple built of stone, timber, copper and glass sits patiently on an eyebrow of the Banks Peninsula hills; very different indeed to the dusty streets of Jerusalem my sons Daniel and Tomas are walking at the moment... 

Christ College of Trans-Himalayan Wisdom is a school of philosophy with a particular emphasis on meditation and esoteric psychology and astrology. Opening to students for formal training on 21 June 2009, the school will create a synthesis of all spiritual traditions found in New Zealand. It will be a point of inspiration for the global community, linked to six other similarly-focussed schools located around the world. 

For further information, please visit the website or contact Lawson Bracewell at

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

One & many

A bit of musing about work things today. This follows on from an interesting 'comments' conversation I had with Aquarian Aye and Bluemoon the other day. Aq. Aye suggested my work might be moving into a whole new territory. 'Well', I said, 'it is and it isn't.' 

'I suspected this plumbs & bobs work might come across as new, but actually, it's almost as old as my oldest work is. I think we tend to visit and revisit the same themes over years, turning them over and around and exploring them from this way and that. The notion of balance and of integrating 'apparent opposites' has been one such preoccupation; certainly, this was probably more overtly so in my earlier work (1980s & 90s back when I was living in S.Africa), so I do understand where you're coming from.

I feel as though I'm looping back, netting the past and reeling it into the present, interpreting those old ideas in a whole new way. This is about the fourth series I've made using plumbs, plummets or plumb lines. The bubbles are new, though - and I have to say that as objects, the glass vials with their enigmatic bubbles thrill me...' 

Is this the way of most - or all - creative processes? I wonder - do you also find you keep returning to the same themes, trying each time to come up with a new slant on the old familiar internal dialogues and external attractions (and distractions)?

I don't imagine I'll ever tire of 'listening in' to these dynamics. In the end, so much seems to boil down to the generative tension between masculine and feminine energies, between intuition and reason, knowledge and mystery (each one as elusive as the other), the material and the spiritual, the physical and the metaphysical, the scientific and the esoteric, the concrete and conceptual, ideas opaque and transparent, weighty and weightless... There's more material here than one could possibly work one's way to the end of, besides which they're notions relevant to every available situation, whether political, domestic, philosophical, relational, environmental, etc, etc... We inhabit a world that is endlessly surprising; it can be puzzling and glorious, tangible and intangible, stirring and confounding, shocking and soothing - and all of this is in continual motion, taking its place side by side by side... 

Once up on a time (oh, naive and susceptible Claire), I confess I considered Walt Whitman's Song of Myself a precociously male, ego-driven, self-indulgent monologue. Now, I understand better his preoccupation with his many, diverse 'parts' and admire his capacity not only to name and acknowledge them all, but also to celebrate them and the complex, sometimes contradictory relationships between them - and, too, between them and the outside world. I think what he's saying is that 'all is welcome here' - not in a way that speaks of blind permissiveness or lack of compassion towards others - but rather in the manner of needing to come to grips with our personal toolbox as best we can, and to then find ways to work effectively with the sharp and smooth potentials we find in there. 

Rumi suggested the same when he wrote -

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them all at the door laughing,
and invite them in...

Stepping out into the wilderness - Pastel on paper, CB 2007/2009

So, when Walt Whitman boldly states 
Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am huge. I contain multitudes... 

I no longer hear him as arrogant; I hear him as honest - humble, even. I owe him an apology; something tells me he was a person who knew what he was talking about.

Monday, June 01, 2009

White rabbits

Yes. White rabbits, Everyone. (A hundred years ago, whilst still a young thing at boarding school, we were superstition-bound to make 'white rabbits' the first words uttered on the 1st of each month. Old habits die hard.).  

I've spent this evening rustling and came across this slightly unexpected fragment-of-a-poem, written in December 1999. It seems so diametrically/hemispherically/atmospherically at odds with the winter chill we're experiencing in Dunedin right now, but never mind. Flux is a constant, no matter where or when our feet are planted. 

Funny the things we keep - or that keep us?

A Question of Balance (detail) - Oil, medium & oil stick on paper 2009

I suspect that
it is possible
if we half-open 
our half-closed eyes
to see 
that there is no such thing
as things 
in suspension. 

I more than suspect.
I know, for I have seen 
pollen threading itself
into light, light crackling 
and bursting on the inside
of pollen: swarms 
of yellow and orange 
crazily, determinedly
in flight.