Tuesday 31 July 2012

Farewell, and welcome (soon)

While most of the world was glued to the opening of the Olympics on Sunday, I was keeping an eye on a closing - that of Michael Parekowhai's On First Looking Into Homer's Chapman in Christchurch.

Even just following this installation at a distance has been affecting, and the tweets about it closing made me feel a little weepy - so I gathered together a little record.

In just after a month, the work comes closer to home. Te Papa has acquired one of the central pieces, He Kōrero Pūrākau mo te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river - the elaborately carved, pillar-box red Steinway grand piano. It and the rest of the installation will go on display at Te Papa for a month-long special exhibition on 25 August. The Steinway will be played daily between 12.30pm and 1.30pm.

Alongside the Parekowhai will be three recently acquired sculptures by Jim Allen and four works drawn from the Museum's holdings of Colin McCahon's work, including the recent acquisition Koru 1, 2, 3 (1965). (You can read a post about the show on Te Papa's blog.)

Monday 30 July 2012

Go to it

After going to the opening on Friday night and Marcus Moore's floortalk on Saturday, I'm still wrapping my head around Peripheral Relations: Marcel Duchamp and New Zealand Art 1960-2011 at the Adam Art Gallery.

My first impression is that it is a sophisticated, incredibly considered, and surprisingly (I don't know why 'surprisingly', but it was apparently not what I was expecting) elegant exhibition. My second impression is of nostalgia - not on Moore's part, but my own. I suddenly feel old enough to have history.

Standing between Julian Dashper's Untitled 6-25 on one side of the upper Chartwell Gallery and Giovanni Intra's 365 Days over the void, I felt enveloped in old friends. Both the works themselves (I'm old enough to play 'Remember when we saw that at ...') and the artists. It struck me later in the weekend that although I never met Intra, I have soaked up so many people's strong and fond and sad feelings for him, that I respond to seeing his work in the same way that I do Julian's - appreciation and attention for the art, but also this heart-clench moment for the person. It is a little like seeing Len Lye's Roundhead in the stairwell - slim and delicate and a fist through the heart. That work has always simply said 'Love' to me.
All this makes me wonder how people who don't have these histories and connections perceive a show like this. It is nearly impossible to put myself in their headspace (although increasingly I try).

However. This is beside the point. What I really wanted to do was flag the three-part lecture series by Wystan Curnow that is being staged across Wellington this week. I only found out about it by accident, so just in case you haven't heard:

We’ll Take Manhattan, New Zealand Artists in New York, 1957-1972 

For at least three decades following the end of World War Two, global developments in visual arts were dominated by one city: New York. But not all those developments were the work of native New Yorkers, or Americans. In three lectures, over three nights, in three different venues, Wystan Curnow will examine the New York experience of three artists to ask whether their work belongs to the history of New Zealand art or America’s or to some combination of the two.

Colin McCahon
6.10 – 7.30 pm, Tuesday 31 July
Victoria University of Wellington - Murphy Lecture Theatre MYLT 101

Len Lye
6.10 – 7.30 pm, Wednesday 1 August
City Gallery Wellington - Adam Lecture Theatre

Billy Apple
6.10 – 7.30 pm, Thursday 2 August
Massey University - Te Ara Hihiko, New College of Creative Arts Building

Poking around looking for these event listings, I stumbled over three pieces Curnow wrote in 1977

The New York Scene 1977 
The New York Scene 2
Thinking about Colin McCahon and Barnett Newman

They are so surprising and so fresh. Abstract painting is no stick to beat McCahon with, nor is McCahon a stick with which to beat abstraction. I still have so much history in front of me to dive into.

Friday 27 July 2012

I can't get over / how it all works together

From the occasional reviews files: James Schuyler's Selected Poems.


Did you know that James Schuyler went to Italy with Auden as his typist? No? Me neither. He was also 'curator of circulating exhibitions' at MOMA in the late 1950s, and the 1981 Pultizer Prize winner. He wrote Frank O'Hara's elegy, and he died of a stroke in 1991. These are all things I found out after reading this collection - I try not to learn anything about a poet when I am reading them.

Schuyler's poems traverse countryside and cityscape, illness and joy, gossip and intimacy. He spends most, if not all, of his time firmly in the real world - few flights of fancy, few big questions. The poems range from the fat and prosey (see 'Milk', below) to the slim and delineated - 'Salute'
Past is past, and if one
remembers what one meant
to do and never did, is
not to have thought to do
enough? Like that gather-
ing of one of each I
planned, to gather one
of each kind of clover,
daisy, paintbrush that
grew in that field
the cabin stood in and
study them one afternoon
before they wilted. Past
is past. I salute
that various field.

While the tone and style is usually intimate and loose - the poems don't seem to have an arc, or a beginning and middle and end; instead they seem simply to start at some point and stop at another, wrapping up elements that could be switched about and rearranged - my favourite of Schuyler's poems so far is one of the most structured and formal (if also one of the most oblique):

I do not always understand what you say.
Once, when you said, across, you meant along.
What is, is by its nature, on display. 
Words' meanings count, aside from what they weigh:
poetry, like music, is not just song.
I do not always understand what you say. 
You would hate, when with me, to meet by day
What at night you met and did not think wrong.
What is, is by its nature, on display. 
I sense a heaviness in your light play,
a wish to stand out, admired, from the throng.
I do not always understand what you say. 
I am as shy as you. Try as we may,
only by practice will our talks prolong.
What is, is by its nature, on display. 
We talk together in a common way.
Art, like death, is brief: life and friendship long.
I do not always understand what you say.
What is, is by its nature, on display.
(A word-memory tingled in my head when I just now read that last line out loud to myself. It's iambic pentameter, I think (I'm a rank beginner - don't hold it against me if I get this all wrong) and therefore is going to sound like everything else, but the lines that rose up in my mind actually happen to be Auden's: 'O John I'm in heaven,' I whispered to say: / But he frowned like thunder and he went away.)

A friend told me recently that I have a 'certain type of poem' - he didn't extend upon the statement, but I'm pretty sure 'Letter Poem #3' is such a piece; lyrical, a little love-lorn, yet anchored to the real world.
The night is quiet
as a kettle drum
the bullfrog basses
tuning up. After
swimming, after sup-
per, a Tarzan movie,
dishes, a smoke. One
planet and I
wish. No need
of words. Just
you, or rather,
us. The stars tonight
in pale dark space
are clover flowers
in a lawn the expanding
universe in which
we love it is
our home. So many
galaxies and you my
bright particular,
my star, my sun, my
other self, my bet-
ter half, my one

My own writing has a weakness for the running and, and, and, so it's not surprising I fall for Schuyler's romantic list-makings.

I have developed a particular fondness for Schuyler's 'month' poems. They are chronicles of the unremarkable, and this in itself is unremarkable: I often feel that with every other piece of art I try to describe I'm looking for a new way to say that the artist has taken something from the everyday world and made it extra-ordinary. But then there are those who try to do this, and those who succeed, and Schuyler for me, in these poems, falls firmly into the second camp.

Books litter the bed,
leaves the lawn. It
lightly rains. Fall has
come: unpatterned, in
the shedding leaves.
The maples ripen. Apples
come home crisp in bags.
This pear tastes good.
It rains lightly on the
random leaf patterns.
The nimbus is spread
above our island. Rain
lightly patters on un-
shed leaves. The books
of fall litter the bed.

The giant Norway spruce from Podunk, its lower branches bound,
this morning was reared into place at Rockefeller Center.
I thought I saw a cold blue dusty light sough in its boughs
the way other years the wind thrashing at the giant ornaments
recalled other years and Christmas trees more homey.
Each December! I always think I hate “the over-commercialized event”
and then bells ring, or tiny light bulbs wink above the entrance
to Bonwit Teller or Katherine going on five wants to look at all
the empty sample gift-wrapped boxes up Fifth Avenue in swank shops
and how can I help falling in love? A calm secret exultation
of the spirit that tastes like Sealtest eggnog, made from milk solids,
Vanillin, artificial rum flavoring; a milky impulse to kiss and be friends
It’s like what George and I were talking about, the East West
Coast divide: Californians need to do a thing to enjoy it.
A smile in the street may be loads! you don’t have to undress everybody.
                                    “You didn’t visit the Alps?”
                                    “No, but I saw from the train they were black
                                    and streaked with snow.”
Having and giving but also catching glimpses
hints that are revelations: to have been so happy is a promise
and if it isn’t kept that doesn’t matter. It may snow
falling softly on lashes of eyes you love and a cold cheek
grow warm next to your own in hushed dark familial December. 

A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can't see
making a bit of pink
I can't quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can't remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we'd gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They're just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She's so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It's getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It's the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It's the shape of a tulip.
It's the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It's a day like any other.
Those last four lines. How can they not leave you undone? How can you not repeat them over and over to yourself (I get shades of the For want of a nail rhythm when I do this), as they gradually grow out from the pollen to the flower to the container to the whole of the world, which is going about its business as a flower sits on your desk, and somehow by looking at it and letting your mind float you connect with that world in a totally unexpected way. And then there's what Schuyler does with colour - he eschews analogy, uses small, plain nouns,  yet makes so much of them. I want to take 'February' and colour it in, in a way that wouldn't be cheesy and awful, but instead would draw out the way we are subtly shuttled between colour and colour and colour - pink to blue to pink, green, green / violet / green / violet, blue looking pink, a gray hush, green, pink, gray gold yellow: 'I can't get over / how it all works together' indeed.

I promised you fat and prosey at the beginning of this wander through my fancies. Here you go: 'Milk'
Milk used to come in tall glass, heavy and uncrystalline as frozen melted snow. It rose direct and thick as horse-chestnut tree trunks that do not spread out upon the ground even a little: a shaft of white drink narrowing at the cream and rounded off in a thick-lipped grin. Empty and unrinsed, a diluted milk ghost entrapped and dulled light and vision. 
Then things got a little worse: squared, high-shouldered and rounded off in the wrong places, a milk replica of a handmade Danish wooden milk bat. But that was only the beginning. Things got worse than that. 
Milk came in waxed paper that swelled and spilled and oozed flat pieces of milk. It had a little lid that didn’t close properly or resisted when pulled so that when it did give way milk jumped out. 
Things are getting better now. Milk is bigger—half-a-gallon, at least—in thin milky plastic with a handle, a jug founded on an oblong. Pick it up and the milk moves, rising enthusiastically in the neck as it shifts its center of weight. Heavy as a breast, but lighter, shaping itself without much changing shape: like bringing home the milk in a bandana, a neckerchief or a scarf, strong as canvas water wings whose strength was only felt dragged under water. 
On the highway this morning at the go-round, about where you leave New Hampshire, there had been an accident. Milk was sloshed on the gray-blue-black so much like a sheet of early winter ice you drove over it slowly, no matter what the temperature of the weather that eddied in through the shatterproof glass gills. There were milk-skins all around, the way dessert plates look after everyone has left the table in the Concord grape season. Only bigger, unpigmented though pretty opaque, not squashed but no less empty. 
Trembling, milk is coming into its own.
You're still here? Good. Because I've saved two of the best for last. 'The Bluet' has that Why does this poem start here? Because that's as good a place as any other quality I admire in Schuyler's work (it reminds me of Charles Simic, come to think of it, though Simic is more drop-you-into-it, whereas Schuyler feels sometimes like you've come within earshot halfway through a quiet recitation).
And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.
It's a little soppy, I know, but still beautiful. And finally, 'Fauré Second Piano Quartet', which I just discovered today, and which has stolen away with my heart:
On a day like this the rain comes
down in fat and random drops among
the ailanthus leaves—”the tree
of Heaven”—the leaves that on moon-
lit nights shimmer black and blade-
shaped at this third-floor window.
And there are bunches of small green
Knobs, buds, crowded together. The
rapid music fills in the spaces of
the leaves. And the piano comes in,
like an extra heartbeat, dangerous
and lovely. Slower now, less like
the leaves, more like the rain which
almost isn’t rain, more like thawed-
out hail. All this beauty in the
mess of this small apartment on
West Twentieth in Chelsea, New York.
Slowly the notes pour out, slowly,
more slowly still, fat rain falls.

An honest final note. The looooooooooooooong poems defeated me. I flipped through these pages, reading fragments at random, and made my own little poems that way. I'm sure Mr Schuyler wouldn't have minded.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

On the radio

[Moving to past tense]

Today on the radio I talked about ...

Peter Robinson's epic work at the Sydney Biennale 

Rohan Wealleans' equally epic exhibition at City Gallery Wellington  (review by Mark Amery)

This Exquisite Forest by Chris Milk and Aaron Kobin, a new interactive, online, collaborative animation storytelling physical display pretty-pretty-shiny-shiny (phew) at Tate Modern.

It was all a little garbled, but them's the breaks.
  As usual, thanks to the good folks at various institutions and in the RadioNZ web team, there's a great gallery of images up on the programme page. A special thanks to Peter Robinson and Olivia McLeavey for their help.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Thank god they were greedy!

Art collector Herb Vogel died this week, aged 89.

Herb, a postal worker, and his wife Dorothy, a librarian, over decades amassed a giant collection of modern and contemporary American art, much of which was gifted later in their lives to the National Gallery and distributed to art museums throughout the United States. Living off one salary in a one-bedroom apartment, they had three rules for purchasing art: It had to be inexpensive; it had to be small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi; and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom apartment."

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

It sounds daft, but Vogels are personal heroes. In the documentary 'Herb & Dorothy', (and shown in the trailor above) one friend exclaims "What can I say? They were greedy. They were greedy! Thank God they were greedy!". I can empathise with this greed. This acquisitive urge. This desire, when you make a connection with a work, to take it home and live with it. The way that as the things you bring home begin to knit together, begin to create something new through accumulation, that you want to see what will happen if you add here, extend here, go deeper there.

I've been drafting a post lately about why it is I collect art (after a pause earlier this year, last week I found the path again and bought two pieces by artists I truly admire). Perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder, but I've often felt that buying art is seen as the basest way of relating to it. But to me, it's a commitment. It's a commitment to my belief in that work, in that artist, in that dealer, and - as grandiose as this sounds (especially when you look at my supposed yearly 'budget', which always happily overran) - a commitment to the wider context.

Peter Tomory, the second director of the Auckland City Art Gallery and the man I wrote my thesis on, believed that an art gallery's job (or at least that gallery's job, at that moment in time) was less to directly support the contemporary artist (although goodness knows they did a lot of that) and more to educate an audience that then would support artists themselves - through infrastructure like dealer galleries. Likewise, when later in his career he established the art history department at La Trobe University, Tomory's view was that the programme was there less to turn out curators than to create an enthusiastic and informed audience for the visual arts. There was a time that I thought I'd grow up and be a curator. But now I wonder whether being a fan - a fan who puts their money where their mouth is - isn't just as valid a contribution.

Monday 23 July 2012

Adventures in scent

People who know me very well (and certain people on Twitter) know that I have something of an obsession with perfume. Which led me one night last week to wind up at a perfume masterclass at World, being run by the rep for some of the perfume brands World Beauty stocks, including Juliette Has A Gun, Creed, the new-to-store L'Artisan Parfumeur (go on, die a little with me knowing that these fragrances are now stocked in Wellington), and Lubin.

It was, as I fully hoped and expected it would be, both patently ridiculous and wonderful. (I wouldn't call these things poles - I would say they are wrapped around each other like red and white in a candy cane. The conversation veered from an older woman noting that if you're expecting to get lucky, perfuming yourself near your ladybits makes a lot of sense, through to a cleancut young man who explained the molecular structure of aldehydes.)

The evening had a very sensible structure. Using Michael Edwards' fragrance wheel, Lucy took us through 14 perfumes to match each of the categories (a couple with A and B scents). We started off with the florals, and I was predictably not very excited (I don't own anything that could be categorised as floral) until we got into the orientals - at which point I started to fall in love.

I have tried Lubin's Idole before - the only reason I haven't taken it home already is that it sits so firmly between the two perfumes I already wear most frequently at night, Guerlain's Shalimar and Frapin's Terres de Sarment. Idole got everyone in the room going, but it was the next perfume that blew me away.

I've been wanting an oud for a while (oud or aoud or oudh or agarwood is a resinous heartwood that forms in certain evergreen South East Asian trees when they are infected with a kind of mold). I have a sample of Montale's Oud Cuir d'Arabie, which wraps leather around this dark, resinous note, but I haven't figured out how to get my hands on a bottle of that yet. What I have managed to snag though is one of the six bottles of Midnight Oud by Romano Ricci for Juliette Has A Gun that have been brought into New Zealand, which was the stand-out for me of the evening.

This isn't just my first oud - it's also my first rose. (I have my eye on Guerlain's Nahema, but not until I'm a frightening old lady). I have the heavy bottle next to me as I write this, and I keep easing off the lid and taking another deep breath. The warm, milky scent of the saffron in the top notes plays off against the clean yet heady rose, which veers into geranium, and underlying it all is the darkly transparent note of the oud. It is divine.

I wore this for the first time on Friday, and I could still smell it in the crook of my elbows when I woke up the next morning. I attribute this to three things:

  1. Not going dancing on Friday night, and thus not sweating it off
  2. That it's an EdP, and not an EdT, like most of my perfumes
  3. That we got some good advice about how to apply perfume. First: apply straight after you shower, while your pores are open - don't wait until after you've dressed. Second, apply wherever the blood runs close to the skin: nape of the neck, wrists, inside of the elbow, back of the knees (I drew the line here, given I was in jeans and no-one was going to be nosing around my legs). Whether you perfume your hair is a personal preference (this is a terrible habit of mine, and why some days I leave the house smelling like I've bathed in Vetyver). And third - avoid spraying on the décolletage, especially anything with bergamot, as it will discolour the skin in contact with sunshine. You're welcome.

The other perfume that was an unexpected hit with me was Creed's Taberome. (Luca Turin is so sniffy about Creed that I've never bothered to try them). Taberome is a completely delicious, if very pricey, aromatic/citrus - a beautiful bright cologne with some smoky depths that made me wish I had someone young, male and impressionable whose life I could change by giving him a bottle.

A sidenote. I am bemused that more men don't wear cologne (or even more adventurous perfumes). I met a man at the evening who has 50 or 60 perfumes and - asides from being immaculately groomed, successful, and very personable - he seemed pretty normal. If you're sitting there now feeling like you're letting the side down, here are a few to try:

  • Chanel's Pour Monsieur. Readily available. Diehard classic cologne. Good staying power. 
  • Davidoff's Cool Water. Available everywhere. You might scoff, but it smells fucking fantastic, especially on younger men.
  • Dior's Eau Sauvage. Also easy to get hold of. A citrusy cologne just made for rolling around on bearskin rugs, if you happen to have one handy.
  • Guerlain's Vetyver. A head-clearing green with a cold spice note and a bit of dirty grunt in there. This is my douse-yourself-in-it summer perfume, so please bear that in mind if we're ever likely to intersect.
  • Guerlain's Habit Rouge. This is one of my go-to winter perfumes, so the same applies. Luca Turin describes it as 'sweet dust', and that won't make any sense until you spray it on your wrist, hold it to your nose, and then say ohhhhhh, now I get it.
  • L'Artisan Parfumeur's Timbuktu. I have just started wearing this on occasion. Like Midnight Oud, it has terrific radiance - it doesn't reach out and strangle you, Poison or Opium style, but it does float around you like a bright cloud of warm, pinkish pepper, underlaid with vetiver and sweet woods. The most unusual on the list by far - but who wants to be normal?
(In case you're wondering, I just did a bottle count. A few months ago I threw out some perfumes I no longer wear. Now I'm down to - or up to - nine, three or four of which I wear with regularity, the others of which I pull out when the mood strikes me. I'm not anywhere near reaching the level of the lady I meet last week who has a purpose-built cupboard for her collection. But I thought she was fabulous.)

Saturday 21 July 2012


I think I may have nearly, just about, almost, written my first short story.

Friday 20 July 2012

Friday poem

I don't usually do this. But I have been so very taken with Hera Lindsay Bird's The most beautiful love poem of all time this year that I can't help but share.


The most beautiful love poem of all time The most beautiful love poem of all time starts like this. The most beautiful love poem of all time has no entrance and no exit. The most beautiful love poem of all time has won many awards and commendations. The most beautiful love poem of all time goes; All I want is to be followed around by a brass band, so that everyone is constantly aware my presence. The most beautiful love poem of all time should be read fast.

The most beautiful love poem of all time is looking for a subject. The most beautiful love poem of all time has a recurring motif of clouds. The most beautiful love poem of all time is teaching you how to become the kind of person that when lost in the mountains, would prompt a search party. The most beautiful love poem of all time feels like a hand moving steadily up your thigh.

The most beautiful love poem of all time is like shaking hands with the world. The most beautiful love poem of all time is like introducing basketball to the moon. The most beautiful love poem of all time is like a really awesome burrito. The most beautiful love poem of all time says all the things you are unable to, like ‘I want to have sex with you,’ or ‘come back or I’ll punch your stupid face.’ The most beautiful love poem of all time is what the wind feels like to running dogs. The most beautiful love poem of all time takes you to your first school disco, and tries to feel you up in the cloakroom. The most beautiful love poem of all time is about as subtle as a brick to the head.

The most beautiful love poem of all time is going through your drawers and pretending to use your deodorant. The most beautiful love poem of all time is actually kind of creepy. The most beautiful love poem of all time tells you that you should have more calcium to improve your overall bone density. The most beautiful love poem of all time is a face reflected in the helmet of an astronaut.

The most beautiful love poem of all time is telling you that this time, things will be different. The most beautiful love poem of all time is not telling you the whole story. The most beautiful love poem of all time is a beautiful girl rowing a boat over a beautiful lake. The most beautiful love poem of all time is full of talking animals and the animals say ‘hey, how’s it going?’ The most beautiful love poem of all time isn’t actually all that much about love.

The most beautiful love poem of all time winds down the window of its car and yells something dirty at you out the window. The most beautiful love poem of all time is a place of burying. The most beautiful love poem of all time could be worse. The most beautiful love poem of all time is on fire, and all the animals are in danger, except for the horse in the far paddock, sadly eating the flowers from your hat. The most beautiful love poem of all time is the feeling of looking out the window of a train. The most beautiful love poem of all time painted your face on the back of its eyelids. The most beautiful love poem of all time has a huge boner for you. The most beautiful love poem of all time is either scary or romantic. The most beautiful love poem of all time should be read over and over in a loud chanting voice, until the audience gets tired and leaves.

The most beautiful love poem of all time is thought by some people to be an ironic commentary on the most beautiful love poem of all time, but it’s actually totally sincere. The most beautiful love poem of all time has never felt like this before. The most beautiful love poem of all time is like a giant invisible dog, watching over you while you sleep. The most beautiful love poem of all time is falling around us like the beards of ancient kings.

The most beautiful love poem of all time will defeat you with karate. The most beautiful love poem of all time looks a bit like your mother. The most beautiful love poem of all time says things like ‘hey there!’ and ‘I’m running to your heart, so don’t be afraid now,’ which in any other context would be embarrassing. The most beautiful love poem of all time will grow old and then die. The most beautiful love poem of all time is always getting drunk at parties and playing sad songs on the piano. The most beautiful love poem of all time is a parachute, made of empty gloves sewn together. The most beautiful love poem goes floating down over the fields, like thousands of empty hands.

The most beautiful love poem of all time is what scissors feel like to the hair. The most beautiful love poem of all time is what astronauts feel like to the moon. The most beautiful love poem of all time is what sheep feel like to themselves. The most beautiful love poem of all time put your face between its hands. The most beautiful love poem of all time turned into a sad canoe and paddled away.

Originally published in Turbine 2011

Paper sun, paper moon, paper girl, paper world

If I was an artist, I would bring these photographs to life.

This is the story I would tell

Balsa model of Forest Service buildings, Wellington. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 :Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-4287-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22355002
A little papery woman in a papery sunfrock, with spaghetti straps and a slim sash and a full skirt, wearing a papery wide-brimmed hat and carrying a papery wicker basket wanders down the slope.

She lays out her papery blanket under one of the perfect trees, and spreads out her papery picnic: her papery thermos, her teacup, her paper-wrapped sandwich, her papery apple.

The papery sun arcs above the scene as she quietly eats her meal, and then hangs overhead, casting lancing shadows over the hills, as she reads her paperback novel.

Time passes.

Balsa model of Forest Service buildings, Wellington. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 :Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-4288-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22499242
Slowly, then more quickly, the papery sun begins moving again. The shadows grow longer, and a papery crescent moon rises over the edge of the scene. For a few, exquisite, breathless moments, the papery sun and the papery moon hang in tandem over the papery woman’s head. Then the sun drops away, the papery woman picks up her papery blanket, and shakes it out …

Balsa model of Forest Service buildings, Wellington. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 :Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-4289-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22890803
 … and she and her picnic and her paperback novel burst into a swirling shower of shadowy papery shards, blow across the scene, and disappear from sight.

Friday reading

Two pieces on semi-colons (I am a frantic over-punctuater, and have begun in some correspondence to use square brackets inside my normal brackets in order to arrange my nested thoughts -- and I am not averse to the dangling hyphen, en- or em-dash either. It is salutary then to be reminded of what these little marks are actually there to do ...)

'Semicolons: A love story', Ben Dolnick, New York Times

'Semicolons; So tricky', Mary Norris, The New Yorker

And in a completely different vein, MIT economist Abhishek Nagaraj has used the digitisation of 70 years' worth of the Baseball Digest to analyse the re-use of this material in articles on baseball players in Wikipedia, finding that "the full benefit of the digitization process accrues only to players who played before 1964, and therefore more likely to feature in an issue of Baseball Digest that is out of copyright. Further copyright seems to impede the process of democratization that digital books engender through which less well-known pages become more popular." 

'MIT Economist: Here's how copyright laws impoverish Wikipedia', Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Nagaraj's proposal for Wikimania 2012

Wednesday 18 July 2012

A little bit of a love letter to Patrick Lundberg

Patrick Lundberg's work does not photograph well. It photographs well enough to reach out of my monitor and make me go visit anything of his I can see in the flesh immediately, but it doesn't photograph well enough to give you any idea of what that in-the-flesh experience is like.

This isn't the work's fault, of course. In fact, inversely, it's the success of the work. Lundberg's mixture of subtlety and strength is one that doesn't translate to camera: it has to be felt to be understood.

I'm a unabashed fan. (I feel I should be upfront and say I've bought a number of Lundberg's pieces - why this feels like a slightly dirty thing to admit, I don't know - there's such a pleasure to be had in committing to the work of an artist who you admire.) I'd be hard pushed to explain Lundberg's work to anyone, although I'm sure that if I had a better grasp on the aftereffects of modernism and the contemporary abstract painting scene, I'd do a better job.

Take the current show at Robert Heald Gallery in Wellington, for example. 'Points, planes, eddies, regresses' contains three installations made up of scattered marble-sized balls of gesso, beautifully painted and floating on the skin of the wall, anchored by two of his signature 'shoelace' works. And I use the word 'anchored' pointedly. As the globes range along, up, and across their respective walls - like tiny planets or magnified microbes - the shoelaces hang with a weightiness completely disproportionate to their size. The strips of darker colour are a solid resting point for your eyes between each of the paler, more delicate installations - a strong vertical pause between each of the colour-scatters that your eyes have to work harder to move around and pull together. And while I use words like beautiful, exquisite, and delicate to describe this show, there's nothing weak or reticent about it. Lundberg holds that space - makes the space a part of the work and makes it apparent to you as a viewer - as surely as if these were swaggering statement works. There is something deft, considered, and effortless here that made me, when I walked into the gallery on one of those lost-in-space days, feel like the world had fallen back into its proper alignment again.

In contrast, looking back at the collaborative work Lundberg produced with Roman Mitchell for Prospect 2012 at City Gallery Wellington, that installation now looks positively tough and rough - although at the same time, a large space was effortlessly held by a small number of quiet works. In that case, Lundberg's incised and painted pieces of found material were bound together with a slim, sprawling pencilled wall drawing. A single hanging work drew out the installation into three dimensions. Like 'Points, planes, eddies, regresses', this installation was so much more than the sum of its parts - it reached out and colonised the space. And like the current show, there was a lightness of touch; a sense that the artists had walked away at exactly the point when the effort returned just the experience they wanted to create, without undershooting or overcooking. I doubt it was a crowd favourite, but it was definitely one of mine. 

I think 'Some broken lines' at Robert Heald Gallery early last year was the first time I saw the 'shoelace' works. I've come to view these works - rightly or wrongly, and it doesn't really matter - as experiments or discoveries. I like to imagine Lundberg taking this very limited canvas, and then seeing what he can do to it, without overstepping some mysterious self-imposed boundaries. (I guess this is abstract painting in a nutshell, right? In this case, a long, slim nutshell that is soaked or tinted with colour and then marked out with dividing lines.)

'No Longer Exactly the Same (as Before)' - Robert Heald's opening show in April 2010 - was my first in-the-flesh experience of Lundberg's work. I can remember wandering around this brand new space (brightly white against the dinge and grime of Cuba Street's Left Bank mall) and through these mysterious hanging objects (each piece of rough-edged, incised, marked-up material suspended from a satisfyingly thick piece of cord) and thinking Wow. I don't know exactly what's going on here, but I really, really like it. Sure - finding a piece of wood, doing something to it, and putting it in a gallery is hardly an earthshattering act of innovation. But there were the first signs of what I've come to look for in Lundberg's work - a mastery both of material and space - that I really responded to. 

These first encounters are something I am thinking a lot about now. When I recall walking into that first show and this most recent one, I have the sensation of taking a deep breath and then slowly letting it out, and with that act, surrendering myself to the moment. Of having something impressed on me ... and being impressed in return.

Images, from top 
Three installation views and details of 'No title (5)', 2012, from the exhibition 'Points, planes, eddies, regresses' at Robert Heald Gallery, Wellington.
Installation and detail from Roman Mitch and Patrick Lundberg's collaborative work for 'Prospect 2012' at City Gallery Wellington.
Installation view and details of 'No title (7)', 2010, from the exhibition 'Some broken lines' at Robert Heald Gallery.
Installation view and 'No title (1)', 2010, from the exhibition 'No Longer Exactly the Same (as Before)' at Robert Heald Gallery.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Poem of the day

As I slowly try to tune my ear into poetry, I'm collecting pieces I like into a Google doc. (Where would life be without Google docs, dear readers?) And every week day I try to share one of these through Google+. (Life without Google+, on the other hand, would be extremely close to life with Google+, only with less moaning on the tech blogs.)

Anyway. This is the poem I am sharing today - it came to me via a friend from Jolisa Gracewood, in return for the review(ish) I wrote last week.

A Contribution to Statistics

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better-- fifty-two

doubting every step-- nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a handif it doesn't take too long-- as high as forty-nine,

always goodbecause they can't be otherwise-- four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy-- eighteen,

suffering illusionsinduced by fleeting youth-- sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly-- forty and four,

living in constant fearof someone or something-- seventy-seven,

capable of happiness-- twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds-- half at least,

cruelwhen forced by circumstances-- better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact-- just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life-- thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark-- eighty-three
sooner or later,

righteous-- thirty-five, which is a lot,

righteousand understanding-- three,

worthy of compassion-- ninety-nine,

mortal-- a hundred out of a hundred.Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

Wislawa Szymborska

If you fancy more daily doses (and the odd weird insight into my internal working) feel free to come find me in the depths of Google+.

Friday 13 July 2012


The highlight of a trip to the Auckland Art Gallery at the beginning of the week (aside from a scintillating interpretation of the first room of the contemporary collection hang by my visiting-buddy) was getting to see for the first time since 2005 a group of Allen Maddox's paintings.

Maddox's works are up as part of 'Made Active', the latest exhibition drawing on the Chartwell Collection. By and large, the exhibition - featuring works by Alicia Frankovich, Nick Austin and Daniel Malone - was causing some seriously puzzled and incredulous visitor expressions. I was rather taken by the ruined beauty and delicacy of the Stephen Birch installation, but it was the Maddoxes that really stood out for me, perhaps precisely because they didn't fit smoothly with all the other pieces brought together on the general theme of 'artworks that activate everyday materials'.

It's impossible for me to look at a work like Maddox's Untitled Painting and not think of Julian Dashper's extraordinary velvet paintings, like my adored Purple Rain at Glorit - and to not be a little stunned that the two were painted only five years apart. (This is what happens when you missed the 1980s. You're surprised by things that make other people go duh.) 

Of course, you're taught to see Maddox's abstract expressionism as sincere (and substance-fuelled) and Dashper's as ironic (was Julian ever more sincere than when he was being ironic?). And indeed, standing there in the gallery, one of Julian's immortal quotes popped into mind ...

they were all made by holding the tube and squeezing it. So I never touched or embraced the painting. I could have made them wearing three piece suits. They were like lies in terms of artistic expression or angst.

But now I badly want to bring some of these works together - later Maddox and Fomison, perhaps,  with earlier Reynolds and Dashper - and just see what happens.

After the visit, I talked about how I feel the lack of small, swift shows that let us revisit our recent art historical past. I want to see more than the odd Don Driver or Allen Maddox in a collection hang. I don't want to wait for a MA student to write a thesis that slowly leads to a show. I just want eight or ten paintings and a few prep drawings hung well in a big enough space for a month so I can spend some time with them. I want to stage visual experiments rather than textual ones - ask questions with art and answer them with my eyes.

(I've made a set of all the Maddoxes available on DigitalNZ - contributions from Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery only. This is a much larger selection of Dashper's work, also largely from Te Papa and the AAG. And dear Auckland Art Gallery. It would make me so happy if you would start feeding large thumbnails through to DigitalNZ. Consider it the only thing I am asking for this year.) (UPDATE: Hooray for people who listen and respond - see the comment from the AAG's online coordinator below. Next on my list: Christchurch Art Gallery. Luscious big images, folks. It's all I ask for.)

 llen Maddox, Untitled painting, 1980. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1985. 
Julian Dashper, Purple Rain at Glorit, 1986. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, purchased 1986 with Ellen Eames Collection funds.

Thursday 12 July 2012

On the radio

Yesterday on Nine to Noon I got a whole, luxurious 15 minutes - no ferry sinking, High Court announcement or long-running lawyer to make me chop material on the fly to fit into half the time I'd prepared for.

I talked about Michael Parekowhai in Christchurch, the Circuit website, and (very briefly) an Italian conservation project. You can get all the links and an image gallery on the Radio New Zealand site.

Wednesday 11 July 2012


Reading comes hard at the moment. Poetry is easiest. Hardest to talk about, easiest to read.

I have fallen head over heels for Wislawa Szymborska (and am even now able to spell her name without looking). 'View with a grain of sand' , translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, brings together a handful of poems from each of a number of collections published between 1957 and 1993. The poems are remarkably consistent in tone and approach - Syzmbroska seems to have landed her mixture of playness and elegant skewering early, and maintained it. Her poems are both wide-ranging and narrowly focused; the intimacy of Syzmbroska's voice carries you through wry observations on love, the aftermath of war, loss, and joyful observations on the unending, unfolding world.

My favourite in the collection is 'Could Have' --

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.
You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck -- a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . . 
So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.

The urgency, the gratitude mixed with disbelief, that piercing, thankful, visceral last line ...

The image of a world in a raindrop in 'Water' captures the simultaneous scope and intimacy of these poems for me --

A drop of water fell on my hand,
Blood-let from the Ganges and the Nile, 
from the Ascension-day voyage off a seal’s whiskers to heaven,
from water out of the shattered pitchers in the cities of Ys and Tyre. 
On my index finger
the Caspian Sea is open 
and the Pacific meekly joins the Rudawa,
that same stream that floated as a little cloud over Paris 
in the year seven hundred and sixty-four
on the seventh of May at three in the morning. 
There are not enough mouths to utter
all your fleeting names, O water. 
I would have to name you in all tongues,
pronouncing all the vowels at once 
while also keeping silent–for the sake of the lake
that waits to be named 
and doesn’t exist on this earth, just as the star
reflected in it is not in heaven. 
Somebody drowned, someone dying was
crying out for you. It was long ago and it was yesterday. 
You have saved houses from fire, you have carried off houses
as you did trees, forests as cities. 
You’ve been in christening fonts and courtesan’s baths.
In kisses and coffins. 
Gnawing stone, nourishing rainbows,
in the sweat and the dew of the pyramids, the lilacs. 
How light is all this in the raindrop.
How gently the world touches me. 
Whatever, whenever, wherever has happened
Is written down on the waters of Babel.

There's a touch of Cummings' word-acrobatics to 'Allegro Ma Non Troppo', and that opening stanza just slays me --

Life, you're beautiful (I say)
you just couldn't get more fecund,
more befrogged or nightingaily,
more anthillful or sproutspouting. 
I'm trying to court life's favor,
to get into its good graces,
to anticipate its whims.
I'm always the first to bow 
always there where it can see me
with my humble, reverent face,
soaring on the wings of rapture,
falling under waves of wonder. 
Oh how grassy is this hopper,
how this berry ripely rasps.
I would never have conceived it
if I weren't conceived myself! 
Life (I say) I've no idea
what I could compare you to.
No one else can make a pine cone
and then make the pine cone's clone. 
I praise your inventiveness,
bounty, sweep, exactitude,
sense of order – gifts that border
on witchcraft and wizardry. 
I just don't want to upset you,
tease or anger, vex or rile.
For millennia, I've been trying
to appease you with my smile. 
I tug at life by its leaf hem:
will it stop for me, just once,
momentarily forgetting
to what end it runs and runs?

This is how I feel about life right now - close to overwhelmed by its bounty, clinging to the crest of the wave.

I loved 'Pi' - again, that dancing tone;

The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also initial
five nine two because it never ends.
It can't be comprehended, six five three five, at a glance,
eight nine, by calculation,
seven nine, or imagination,
not even three two three eight by wit, that is, by comparison
four six to anything else
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth calls it quits at about forty feet.
Likewise, snakes of myth and legend, though they may hold out a bit longer.
The pageant of digits comprising the number pi
doesn't stop at the page's edge.
It goes on across the table, through the air,
over a wall, a leaf, a bird's nest, clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bottomless, bloated heavens.
Oh, how brief -- a mouse's tail, a pigtail -- is the tail of a comet!
How feeble the star's ray, bent by bumping up against space!
While here we have two three fifteen three hundred nineteenmy phone number your shirt sizethe year nineteen hundred and seventy-three the sixth floorthe number of inhabitants sixty-five centship measurement two fingers a charade, a code,
in which we find hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert
alongside ladies and gentlemen, no cause for alarm,
as well as heaven and earth shall pass away,but not the number pi, oh no, nothing doing.
it keeps right on with its rather remarkable five,
its uncommonly fine eight,
its far from final sevennudging, always nudging a sluggish eternity
to continue.

(And I am fascinated by how other translations I have read change the tone)

 ...The caravan of digits that is pi
does not stop at the edge of the page,
but runs off the table and into the air,
over the wall, a leaf, a bird's nest, the clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bloatedness and bottomlessness.

And finally, a work that is not in the collection, but which I found online, and can sympathise with so much: the effort to maintain normality, the saying of things and refusing to hear them, the hearing of things and refusing to say them - the saying and the hearing that you perform, but that never touches you ...


It’s good you came—she says.
You heard a plane crashed on Thursday?
Well so they came to see me
about it.
The story is he was on the passenger list.
So what, he might have changed his mind.
They gave me some pills so I wouldn’t fall apart.
Then they showed me I don’t know who.
All black, burned except one hand.
A scrap of shirt, a watch, a wedding ring.
I got furious, that can’t be him.
He wouldn’t do that to me, look like that.
The stores are bursting with those shirts.
The watch is just a regular old watch.
And our names on that ring,
they’re only the most ordinary names.
It’s good you came. Sit here beside me.
He really was supposed to get back Thursday.
But we’ve got so many Thursdays left this year.
I’ll put the kettle on for tea.
I’ll wash my hair, then what,
try to wake up from all this.
It’s good you came, since it was cold there,
and him just in some rubber sleeping bag,
him, I mean, you know, that unlucky man.
I’ll put the Thursday on, wash the tea,
since our names are completely ordinary

Tuesday 10 July 2012

This week on the radio

Tomorrow (flights permitting) at about 11.45am on National Radio's Nine to Non programme, I'll be talking about:

Michael Parekowhai’s ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ in Christchurch (see also
Donna Robertson’s terrific photos of the installation)

An Italian conservation project that's winding up after 34 years

The Circuit website for New Zealand's moving image and film artists (see also here)

(You know, I would kill for suggestions of things to talk about. If an idea or request ever comes to you, please let me know.)

Monday 9 July 2012


I am still terribly obsessed by Digital New Zealand's set making functionality. Over the past three months I have really discovered my love of art - there is something about having been broken open that has let art flow back into me. I find myself rediscovering and lingering over all the things I have seen in the past 15 years, falling in love over and over again, surprised and surprised and surprised.

As part of this, I have found myself diving through the DigitalNZ site, pulling together collections of artists who are well represented. As part of this, a massive shoutout must be made to Te Papa, for their rigorous clearance process and also their willingness to put up luscious big images (Auckland Art Gallery please take note - I don't add you to my set because you are only providing dinky little thumbnails. Art was made to be looked at. Big.)

Photography is particularly well-served. Perhaps because it is easily digitised; perhaps because institutions tend to collect in series or bulk, rather than large one-off purchases. Whatever the reason, it's been a delight reacquainting myself with decades of practice. Here are some of the things I have gathered together:

Anne Noble