Friday, December 19, 2008

Ritual Text

The saying of the rosary, the raking of gravel at Ryoan-ji, the chanting of a mantra: all rituals confined to the traditional, sacred world. Ritual text proposes a secular form of meditation, where the perambulations of a medieval monk coincide with the instantaneous, electronic, digital alphabet ... the text from the profane world of pixels, or LEDs, announcing a bus destination, scrolling out the stock exchange updates ... but here the walker paces out the letters on a 'pixel' screen of trees. The regular grid of trees allows the walker to walk their words, forming letters with their feet, disappearing in their wake as they walk, as in the words of Paul Auster (see post below), It was like drawing a picture in the air with your finger. There is no result, no trace to mark what you have done.

No trace, unless you are followed. Textual voyeurs may lurk within the grid of cypresses, surreptitiously recording the secret, personal tracings.

Landscape becomes theatre. Impromptu dances occur as the walkers merge and separate, each engaged in their own world of words.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Solvitur Ambulando

Angelica, traced in the snow by the footsteps of the smitten Persse, in David Lodge's Small World.

Walking the Nazca Lines.


For no particular reason that he was aware of, Quinn turned to a clean page of the red notebook and sketched a little map of the area Stillman had wandered in.
Then, looking carefully through his notes, he began to trace with his pen the movements Stillman had made on a single day – the first day he had kept a full record of the old man’s wanderings. The result was as follows:

It was like drawing a picture in the air with your finger. There is no result, no trace to mark what you have done.

From Paul Auster's City of Glass.

Jeremy Wood writes the word ‘water’ on the water through guiding his GPS with a small dinghy.
"In essence GPS Drawing is about recording lines using one's journey as a mark making medium. The GPS receiver automatically records your journey like a geodesic pencil. Most GPS receivers record your whereabouts as a track, like a dot-to-dot or a digital 'breadcrumb trail'. This is often displayed on liquid crystal display on the device and the track is updated as you move about. When the line is viewed on it's own you have a GPS drawing."
Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor

"Drawing is taking a line for a walk." Paul Klee


Thursday, December 11, 2008


Leonardo da Vinci, Adoration of the Magi, 1481
Johann Sebastian Bach, Erbarme Dich Mein Gott, Aria 39 from St Matthew Passion, 1736

(An experimental video ... my homage to Andrei Tarkovsky ... needs to be watched in state of extreme contemplation ...)

... Season's Greetings to all ...


En route to Auckland today, a mountain precipitates from the cloud, ether to solid, in the blink of an eye.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Very Becoming

On Francesca Woodman and Ray Mortenson

The melding of one into an other. To continue the thinking on shifts of state, water into light, light into solid ... images of decay, decomposition, dissolution. The reduction of architecture to particles. Of self becoming other, becoming wall, floor. Everywhere absence. But still presences linger.

Ray Mortenson, Untitled [The Bronx], 1983

Francesca Woodman, Space 2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975 - 1976

"How could movements of deterritorialization and processes of reterritorialization not be relative, always connected, caught up in one another? The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid's reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing the image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata -- a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further. There is neither imitation nor resemblance, only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying. Remy Chauvin expresses it will: "the APARALLEL EVOLUTION of two beings that have absolutely nothing to do with each other." "
From Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Ray Mortenson, Untitled [The Bronx], 1983

Francesca Woodman, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Water / Light / Aura

On Abelardo Morell and James Casebere

At the points of collection, condensation, the intangibilities of water and light precipitate. In chemistry, certain conditions in a liquid lead to the process of precipitation, and a solid is formed.
This seemingly impossible (al)chemical moment has its parallel in the play of light, shadow, water. And, perhaps if there is a physics and a metaphysics, then there is also a chemistry and a metachemistry, where objectivity is transcended. Chemistry and physics collide at the point of molecular thinking, of the thresholds between the constituents of things and their forming into the real.
The vision of James Hamilton-Paterson's swimmer, opening Seven-Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds, looking up from below the water and seeing that surface of conditions meeting as a 'mirror of air' ..."The swimmer reflects on this mirror, imagining the sky weighing down on the sea and the sea holding up the atmosphere, curious about what exactly can be happening at the interface. If it were possible to magnify the activity, surely a buzzing skin of molecules would be revealed? Water molecules and air molecules so intermixed and saturated with atoms in common it would be undecidable which medium they constituted. At what point did these milling particles become waves?"

The swirling surfaces of chemistry and physics are momentarily held within the photograph. The phenomenological moment, where the process of condensation, precipitation, and state-shifting takes place. Light becomes solid, auratic...

James Casebere, Maghreb, 2005

Abelardo Morell, Light entering our house, 2004

Water becomes light, and light becomes water ...

James Casebere, Flooded Hallway from Right, 1999

Abelardo Morell, Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North-Summer, 2008

Fessing ...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Garden of Memento Mori[e]s

The Garden of Memories was a topos of artefacts, the uniqueness of which is only revealed by my distance from them - in time and place. Whale bone arches formed a guard of honour along the sandy paths, implying a ghostly skeleton of the whales once hunted off the coast. Wearing the wrath of the wild coast, the ribs became more and more weathered. The bones were re-painted from time to time, standing out starkly for awhile in their whiteness, before regaining their patina. The tri-pots were regularly painted too, a slick glossy enamel black. Memories of whaling were somehow detached from reality, reforming into a mythology of place, as though a gentle mantle was draped over things, obscuring the sharpness into a benign still-life of enigmatic objects.

Memories of war were gathered into the obelisk sitting in the centre of the gardens. The roll of honour for Kaikoura recorded there, like every small town. And like the whale bones it softened gently into the assemblage of elements, each with its own poignant aura. Now missing, and greatly missed, is one of the significant loci of childhood memories. The birdhouse in the shape of a whare nui, a Maori meeting house. Not painted in the conventional Maori strip of red, black, white, brown, it was instead green and white. A green roof and white walls, but with the traditional maihi, or carved 'arms' that decorate the gable on the building's front. It seemed to have been rebuilt on a visit a few years ago, but alas has now disappeared altogether.

The stone in the wall just along from the gardens is cracked and almost hidden. Perhaps I never even noticed it before. The crack intervened in the word 'memories', separating the syllables, and suggesting a re-reading, as not simply remembering, but remembering death. The fractured word hinted at mem[ento] mories, reminders of death. The whales on this very coast, the soldiers in distant lands, silently held in place, below the paper weights which tether memories in the winds of time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Last, Loneliest, Most Lovely

Morphing ...

7.00 am. Again. This time out on the coast, during that alchemical hour during which moments of morphogenesis occur. The sea, the earth and the sky are all in flux. As though it is as yet undecided which will be solid, which gas, and which liquid. During this hour of metamorphosis it is slowly determined, and the three realms separate.
Seagulls, November, J Bowring

It is a place of childhood, of the first 18 years or so. Everywhere this nostalgic placeness ripples through the early morning air. The honeyed fragrance of the flax flowers. And aniseed ... the fennel grows wild all along the coast, invasive, pervasive. Both cut through by the sharp salt air, the sea mist drifts ... onto your lips, eyelashes. Moments of blue open up, and the seagulls reel, squealing. And Charles Brasch's lines come to mind, from The Islands,

Everywhere in light and calm the murmuring
Shadow of departure; distance looks our way;
And none knows where he will lie down at night.

Home, October, J Bowring

All astoundingly breathtaking, time to simply Be.

(Last, Loneliest, Most Lovely, with apologies to E H McCormick, who wrote of New Zealand, "Last, Loneliest, Most Loyal"...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I. Lament

7:00 am. The birdcall on National Radio. But not today. Today it is an imitation of a birdcall, the call of the extinct Huia. Uncannily reincarnated, a whistling ghost, eerie, praeternatural. It is the sound of absolute melancholy. A poignant, distant call. Neither wholly avian, nor human. An aural moment of the ache of loss.

The loss of the Huia is part of a lamentable legacy, an extinction which was predicted. They saw it coming. Sir Walter Buller wrote of the Huia in 1870 that “Erelong it will exist only in our museums and other collections.” And so, because extinction was imminent, Huia were killed in order to make them into the specimens for museums and private collections. Anticipation of their end only hastened it, a rush to get the remaining birds.

The Huia was like a fetch – the ghost of one living who is about to die, lingering at the edge of things. Buller’s belief in the impending demise of New Zealand’s native avifauna was fatalistic. The birds, it was said, couldn’t be expected to compete against the more robust species being imported from the northern hemisphere. In the chilling logic of the survival of the fittest, the loss of Heteralocha acutirostrisa, et alia, was inevitable. Buller’s Birds of New Zealand, published in 1888, was already conceived of as an archive of all native birds, recording them in readiness for their inevitable extinction. He painted them, like still lifes, in that French sense – they who call still life painting ‘nature morte’. Nature dead. As many Huia as possible were shot and stuffed for sale as curiosities to the Victorian English. For their trophy cabinets. Or maybe atrophy cabinets, containing disturbing representations of a species wasting away.

Later, it’s 1902. T.V. Saunders is bush-bashing up the back of Lake Wairarapa, up ahead of him are Heta Te Miha and Aporo Hare. They’re hunting Huia. For three days they crept through the bush, whistling, waiting for the response. And then, an answer, the flutter of wings and the distinctive, otherworldly call of the Huia, whistling back. It took them a week, to find and kill six Huia. These half dozen Huia weren’t for the taxidermist, the hunters only wanted only the tail feathers. These were the taonga, the headdress for the rangitira.

Seven years later, and Henare Hamana is up in the Ruahines. Gregor McGregor and Augustus Hamilton, the director of the Dominion Museum, are leading the search party. Henare Hamana, who they called Harry Salmon, has done this before. He knows how to call the Huia. This time the hunt is not for specimens for curiosity cabinets. Nor tail feathers. They are looking to see if there are any left. They thought they heard them calling, but they found no signs. The eerie whistling was still reported in years to come. In 1910 at National Park. In 1924 up the Mohaka, and there again in 1930. People said they saw them. In 1950 someone in Te Kuiti said they’d shot one. They thought it was crow. But, the official date of extinction remains: 1907.

Fifty years after the 1909 expedition in the Ruahines, Henare Hamana made his recording of the call of the Huia. The same one that haunts the radio waves this morning. This sorrowful whistling, the ghost of the bird which was said to resemble “the nightingale entirely clothed in black”. This bird which, when its partner died, would pine to death from grief. A mournful descendent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nightingale, his ‘Most musical, most melancholy’ bird. An echo of the call of Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, Nevermore, nevermore. Poe asked himself when he wrote The Raven, “what is the most melancholy thing?” Death was his reply.

“Once more, farewell,
Sweet Nightingale! once more, my friends! Farewell”

(Henare Hamana's whistling to accompany the above Huia image obtained from DOC)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On Beauty

From Andrei Tarkovksy's Stalker, soundtrack Edward Artemiev

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Fragility and Humility

In a world of muscular posturing the quiet and gentle speak loudest of all, and the invisible presences burn most strongly into the retina. This recent conversation which swirls around the work of Mantegna amplifies that which is threatened and lost within this age. Michael Tweed's paraphrasing of Michel Henry evokes the very real crisis of contemporary subjectivity, that of the "detrimental effects that the dominance of Galilean science has had due to suppressing our subjective lives, our lived experiences and feelings, reducing the profoundest of emotions and actions to nothing more than chemical reactions and the mere interaction of molecules." These words resonate profoundly with those of Giorgio Agamben, in his warning words on the 'destruction of experience', "Nothing can convey the extent of the change that has taken place in the meaning of experience so much as the resulting reversal of the status of the imagination. For Antiquity, the imagination, which is now expunged from knowledge as ‘unreal,’ was the supreme medium of knowledge."
The recognition of the suffocation of subjectivity and that imperative to reclaim the self, the emotional repertoire which is submerged beneath the might of objectivity, the cachet of capital, is evoked within the calls for 'fragility' in architecture. While the term might suggest the negative connotation of frailty and impotence, instead there is, as Juhani Pallasmaa puts it, a "power of weakness." Pointing to such fragmentary modes as the nouvelle roman, which sets out to defy or resist closer, objectivity, linearity -- or the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky which subvert the monolithic nature of narrative to achieve instead a "field of clustered images" -- Pallasmaa describes how such fragile structures embrace the participation of the viewer. He speaks of the "humbled gaze" and the "listening eye" as the conduits for emotion. The aesthetics of erosion, abandonment and decay in architecture parallel this, in proposing a weakness of structure that might be colonised by emotion.
It is the eye which has driven this notion of strength in architecture, in art, and it is within the haptic that the counter must be found. The visual is complicit in the instantaneous, the immediate ... to get beyond this we must return to our other senses, re-engage them with humility. To listen for silence, succumb to the telluric push of gravity, to become fully engaged in our existence.

Steps, Sydney, J Bowring

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


From Library of Dust, David Maisel

Atmosphere, alchemy, presences. The remarkable changes that occur within the phenomenal realm. State-shifters. Encrustation, transformation, immolation. Embodied in these changes are signs of presence, the pure magic of patina. The recent project by Roger Hiorns, Seizure, sees the metamorphosis of a starkly ordinary apartment into something stunning, shimmering, crystalline. Reminiscent of the ash urns captured in the photographs of David Maisel, the entire interior of the apartment is transfigured, seemingly changing state, in a ephemeral efflorescence ... copper sulphate coats the surfaces, triggering memories of 'magic trees' and 'gardens' grown from the lapis lazuli hued crystals ...

From Seizure, Roger Hiorns, 2008

Walking through Seizure, Roger Hiorns

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Yves Klein, Wall and Fire Sculpture

"Atmosphere is my style." JMW Turner to John Ruskin, 1844

Late spring still brings the odd misty morning, the presence of the phenomenal moment. "Water as phenomenal lens," as Steven Holl put it, writing more about bodies of water as liquid than in its vaporous form ... drifting, capturing light, imbuing the sense of atmosphere ... water, fire, earth, air.
Yves Klein's wall of fire, Michael Van Valkenburgh's walls of ice, Diller + Scofidio's 'Blur' -- a nuance of a building shrouded in mist ... the dematerialised, the immaterial ... aura inheres within the truly phenomenal, and seems to subvert mediation.
Like onomatopoeia in language - that which is directly channelled through sound, the sound one must make to imitate that thing, a swish, a clunk. Might that be the way in which phenomena are experienced? How might that frisson of immersion within phenomena be possible, without mediation, without recourse to symbol, language, explanation -- without the tiresome this=that that hijacks art and design relentlessly ... can there be an onomatopoeia of experience? Can we become atmosphere?

Yves Klein, Fire Wall

Diller + Scofidio, Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland

Michael Van Valkenburgh, Ice Walls, Radcliffe, Cambridge MA

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Form

Arum Lilies, Nov 08, JB
Formalism as a freedom from “the traditional idea of form as an envelope, a vessel into which one pours a liquid (the content).” There is a need, therefore, to show that “the perception of form results from special artistic techniques which force the reader [viewer] to experience form.”
Boris Eichenbaum, (1927). The Theory of the “Formal Method”.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Alchemy of the Quotidian

What Pipes Dream of , November 2008, J Bowring
I drew a line,
I drew a line for you,
Oh what a thing to do,
And it was all yellow.
(From 'Yellow', Coldplay, 2000)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Photographic Memory

Venice, December 1992, J Bowring

It was like trying to lay a negative over a printed photograph so that they coincided, so that there were no gaps -- of white and black -- and she just couldn't manage it. It was like trying to do it in a dream.

Nina Berberova, The Book of Happiness

Returning to places, to people, is always fraught. Anticipation. Expectation. The elusiveness of times past. Nostalgia and melancholy circle the impossibility of return. But places are seductive. Their call rings out over the years. And this particular siren, Serenissima ... the most serene ... Venice. And again the call comes to visit in the time of darkness, dampness, dankness. Memories remain of the last visit, low light, diffusion, imprecision. The water of the lagoon covered the Piazza San Marco and the squares navigated on raised boardwalks, as on a stage, dancing with others making their way through the city. And the water was knee deep in the Basilica, and while the visitors glided in on the board walk, elevated, in a moment of micro-transcendence, the attendants stood about in their waders - thigh-high gumboots. Profane footwear for a sacred site. The return ... the photographic memories still insistent ... but soon to float like negatives over a newly processed scene ...
Venice - The Lido, December 1992
(click images to enlarge)

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Book in the Hand...

Winging its way in today, from the far side of the planet ... the first copy! Now published, A Field Guide to Melancholy, featuring the photographs of Laurence Aberhart, the master of melancholy.

A profound experience. The journey into print, thrilling, daunting. And now, here it is, complete with 'new book' smell, divine.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Birds

They'd been there for a long time, haunting the subconscious. Decades. A favourite book from childhood, line drawings of New Zealand native species. Page after page. Seals and shells, fish and flies, wetas and katipos ... and birds. The descriptions as eidetic as the drawings. The Wandering Albatross (top), "is one of nine magnificent species found in New Zealand waters. These birds range the vast turbulent southern ocean, but at least seven of them nest regularly on selected breeding grounds either among the southern islands of New Zealand or at the Chatham Islands." Seeing them again, in daylight as it were, is startling. Remembering them from the dreamed flock in the night, the flock of many species. Realising, in a small epiphany, where they came from. That book. Which sits there in the sediments of memory, settling in the subconscious. To form that flock that fluttered through a dream, the heavy wing beats of the fully palpable chunky birds.
Perhaps one should not 'pluck at the heart of mystery', yet, there is certain delight in discovery, reunion.

"The ibis is splendid. The owl working over the trout with its talons has a proper ferocity, and I'd recommend that you put birds into action more often -- have them doing something." Isaac Sprague to Fabian Vas. Howard Norman, The Bird Artist.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Return

Back to the beach. The subconscious is such a powerful force. However much the conscious self asserts itself, dancing around places, memories, thoughts, avoiding them, we are at the mercy of our dreaming selves. Like Freud's 'inbox' - that the dream works to empty the accumulation of things not dealt with - the dream created a surreal landscape that coalesced the fragments of place and space. Here but not [t]here. On the beach a swarm of mayflies form a perfect sphere. They do this around the beach and along the lake edges - not in spheres, in general - but in huge pulsing dark forms that appear and disappear as they dart from side-on to front-on. But here they were, forming a perfect globe, hovering above the stony shore. Each time I raised my camera, they flew to the four winds. Then, up in the sky, more mirabilia ... a flock of birds swoop low, revealing their strong, muscular forms. Yet each bird in the flock was of a different species ... all large and chunky ... an albatross, a black-backed gull, a paradise duck, a kereru, one of the lake's black swans ...

The haunting continues, as the birds fly with certain menace, meanness, meaning business...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A view into the sublime heart of things, flying today ... (click for large view)...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Sun is Singing

Then, on the higher ground, up in the mountains, the beach finally fades, and the stars come forwards, not only are they palpably clear ... but you can hear them ... the singing of the sun, its electromagnetic humming, is an arcane acoustic event. One must be attuned to the drumming, which, it is said (by the scientists) to be doing the opposite of a drum skin. It's becoming higher in pitch over time, the sun's tune is morphing slowly from its early bass days, and now moving up the scale, a solar baritone. And perhaps, if that's the sun one can hear, our closest star, then what of the vast cosmic chorus, and the song of the spheres ... and even our very own moon, the words of the Spanish poet with the perfectly lunar name come to mind, "The moon is silently singing - / one should hear it with one's eyes; / a white and lulling song, / a song of secret love." (Miguel de Unamuno)

Thomas Cole, Expulsion: Moon and Firelight, c. 1828

Friday, October 3, 2008

High Ground

Looking back out to sea, from the plains, brings a shiver ... just yesterday there was tsunami warning. The fishermen out at the river mouth saw it coming, they're adamant, it was there in the water, a huge wave coming towards them. A big dark shape, they said, a line, getting wider and wider, coming in from the horizon. Everyone tried to leave - and the police issued a reassuring broadcast. The authorities decided it couldn't have been a hoax since there were reports from all over. So what was it? Where did it go...?
And still the smoke is rising ... while moving further inland, away from the plains, and upwards, to the mountains, fleeing the sinister scene below ... and here the landscape closes in, claustrophobic. The shingle slides on the mountainsides are unnerving, it seems that the whole place is always on the move, it grinds away like the gravelly beach far off in the distance. The orogeny grumbles like an ogre ... and there is suddenly an intense loneliness, here in the high mountain pass ... like Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, from around 1818 ... but then in the shadow of the high cliff, another figure, suddenly coming forwards, looks like Jacques Derrida, that shock of hair, and I'm remembering the description of him by Hélène Cixous ...

The first time I saw Jacques Derrida (it must have been in 1962) he was walking fast and sure along a mountain's crest, from left to right, I was at Arachon, I was reading (it must have been Force et signification), from where I was i could see him clearly advancing black on the clear sky, feet on a tightrope, the crest was terribly sharp, he was walking along the peak, from far away I saw it, his hike along the line between mountain and sky which were melting into each other, he had to travel a path no wider than a pencil stroke.

He wasn't running, fast, he was making his way all the way along the crests. Going from left to right, according to the (incarnate) pace of writing. Landscape without any border other than, at each instant, displacing him from his pace. Before him, nothing but the great standing air. I had never seen someone from our century write like this, on the world's cutting edge, the air had the air of a transparent door, so entirely open one had to search for the stiles [...]

And further, Mark Tansey's painting appeared, the image, Derrida Queries de Man from 1990, of him seemingly wrestling with Paul de Man on a high mountain pass, or am I seeing things ...

To the In-land

Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal

And then, inland from the lake, are the vast plains. Built from gravel, they're like a stony sponge. The water held within in them, artesian. Overlaid with an enormous grid, Cartesian. Ordered. Plain, indeed. Visitors, from Overseasia, marvel at the plains. They are like a garden! they exclaim. Look at the hedges.

But the hedges are sinister. Dark, macrocarpa. A peculiar plant, blessed with a toxic halo effect, such that everything around it always seems to die, or at least to never grow. Driving across the plains, the macrocarpa hedges ebb and flow, dancing in parallax, creating spaces, rooms. Theatrical. Absurd. And on, still fleeing the haunted beach, the smoke still ascending from the pyre, an arabesque into the air, the curlicue as question mark, hanging above the distant sea.

Michael Kenna, Avenue of the Three Fountains, Versailles, France 1996

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Beyond

The long stretch of haunted beach is, in fact, a spit - an attenuated gravel bar which contains a large lake. The lake is fairly shallow, but it's still possible to row across it, although it isn't advised. Over the years the lake has become a very dark place, filled with dead fish, decaying eels, the carcasses of cattle, a place to dispose of things ... the edges are marshy, ill-defined, it's easy to sink down into them, down, down ... the miasma that lingers creates unease, dis-ease, hovering above the mire. The vaporous atmosphere plays games, a liquid sky which refracts the light, creating all manner of effects ... reminding one of the difference between the Venetians and the Florentines, and how the misty atmosphere of Venice ripples through the art of that luscious lacustrine city, a place of optical illusion, atmospheric legerdemain ... And then here, in the light, on the lake, there are apparitions. Boats, figures, presences, then melting into that strange nothingness that hovers over the lake. Another image in mind, Bocklin's Isle of the Dead, from 1880, the first of his five incarnations of this same scene, itself an evocation of another place ... and now hanging here, in the air, fantastic, phantasmatic ...

Monday, September 29, 2008

On the edge

The witches are frequent visitors to this stretch of shoreline. At this place where the huge arc of the gravel beach seems to bow inwards, away from the sea, to yield to the force of the Pacific relentlessly pounding in. Not a beach you'd go swimming on. The undertow had grabbed people, dogs, and pulled them out to sea. And as though to assert its menace, the beach constantly makes a low grumbling sound, as the gravel all moves about. A sound of constant, seething anxiety, like grinding teeth. One late summer's evening when I visited with friends for a bonfire, we found the remains of the witches' rituals. There under the vast dome of a southern twilight lay the curious bits of animal, arrangements of sticks, stones, bones. Perhaps a solstice ceremony, the longest day marked by some sacrificial event.

But this day there was a haunting by something else. Always an elemental place, where the plains meet the sea, a minor subduction, it becomes even more eerie on foggy days. The long line of the coast disappearing in the fog, like this is truly the end of the world. And today, amidst the fog, there's a smouldering heap on the shore. Just up from the high tide line. The smell of the driftwood burning is sweetish, but there's something else. A smell of unease. In my mind there is a painting. It's by Louis Fournier, from 1849, and shows the funeral pyre of Percy Bysshe Shelley who drowned in 1822 after a shipwreck ... an image which lingers, brooding ...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rain ... Tears ...

To be moved to silence, complete silence, is something phenomenal. And there, at the end of the film, a collective silence which spoke volumes, with only the hushed emotional ambience, an outpouring of breath after the intensity of this two hour moment. Vincent Ward's new film, Rain of the Children, is remarkably affective. As the director of one of the films which most endures in my mind, for over 20 years, Vigil, my expectations of him were high. And were exceeded. Ward tells the story, literally, of a tale that drifts in layers through time, of his own time, that of Puhi who is the hub of the film, and then time out of mind, another time beyond. The narration is charged with emotion, of Ward's journey in trying to explore the ineffable, in another culture, in another realm, that of the metaphysical. The ambiguous zone of mental illness and the spirit world, of the Patupairehe or 'fairies' - perhaps voices in the head, or visits from the world beyond. Evoking this moving between worlds, of curses, of prayer, and the question of what 'death' represents. Ward's voice crackles in his final line, the profundity of the journey is laid bare ...

From Rain of the Children, the round meeting house, Hiona, in the background ... built as part of the vision of the prophet Rua Kenana .. amidst the swirling mist of the Ureweras.

Hiona (Zion), c.1902

Thursday, September 25, 2008


"This feeling is that of an absence: I would say that it is the feeling of atheism, not as a positive affirmation of a world consisting of nothing but itself -- precisely because here, in this "here" of the landscape, it does not consist of itself but of its opening -- but rather as an affirmation that the divine, if it presents itself in some way, certainly does not present itself as a presence or as a representation, nor as an absence hidden behind or within the depths of nature (another form of presence), but as the withdrawal of the divine itself." Jean-Luc Nancy Uncanny Landscape (in the Ground of the Image, 2005).

"I don't believe in God, but I do miss him." Julian Barnes, Nothing to be Frightened of (2008).

Venice, The Lido, December 1992, J Bowring

"I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and thus effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by a tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and return to share our life."
Marcel Proust, The Remembrance of Things Past (1913)

"And these things that live,slipping away, understand that you praise them;transitory themselves, they trust us for rescue,us, the most transient of all. They wish us to transmute them in our invisible heart--oh, infinitely into us! Whoever we are."
Rainer Maria Rilke (C. F. MacIntyre, translation) "The Ninth Elegy" Duino Elegies (1911-1922)

"They are not outside us, nor even entirely within, but flow back and foth between us and the objects we have made, the landscape we have shaped and move in .
We have dreamed all these things in our deepest lives and they are ourselves. It is our self that we are making out there, and when the landscape is complete we shall have become the gods who are intended to fill it."

David Malouf, An Imaginary Life (1978)