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)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Theatre of the Night Mind

Opacity gives way to a very slight translucency.

Vague impressions.

Fragments, barely eidetic.
Figments, lingering, not narrative.

But such as had gathered over the day,
over the past months, years,
accumulating, accruing...
gathering interest ...
waiting for the Theatre of the Night Mind.

Sight becomes touch.
Sensual transgressions take place.
A synaesthetic exchange, this for that.

And all is elusive, liquid, fugitive.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Posted by Picasa

The Mystery of the Visible II

Late Afternoon, J Bowring, September 2008
"... water is singing reality..." Gaston Bachelard

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Reading about a novel, The Melancholy of Resistance, a phrase of Walter Benjamin's comes to mind. He writes how one of the symbols of melancholy is stone, which he derives from a contemplation of Durer's Melencolia I. Stone is inert, and thus the embodiment of inertia and inaction, and for this reason it is also aligned with the negative critique of melancholy: 'Left Melancholy'. Left Melancholy became significant during what was known as the ‘German Autumn’ – 1977-1981, a time of terrorism, murders and hijackings – left-leaning intellectuals found themselves in a state of paralysis. Consumed by a sense of cultural pessimism, an existential crisis of sorts, a feeling of abandonment, they entered a state of melancholy detachment. Wolf Lepenies describes such a position as ‘retreatist’, where there is neither the will to conform, nor the oppositional force to rebel … instead there is a move to stand apart, in melancholy mode. In literary form, Left Melancholy underlies works in the vein of Günter Grass’s From the Diary of a Snail, which explicitly uses the emblem of Dürer’s Melencolia I to evoke the certain brooding quality of this detachment. Grass delivered a lecture in 1971 where he described melancholy as a “substitute for action.”

And then thinking on stone and melancholy, returns one to Rilke, and the poetic formulation of stone and star, that which is "now bounded, now immeasurable, / it is alternately stone in you and star." Which resonates in turn with another flock of words swirling in my head today, also harvested from Wood s lot, in turn from Notes for the Coming Community, a poem by Giorgio Agamben, a full circle ... in my day, and in the greater machinery of space and time ...

An Investigation of the Stone and the Shadow
a poem by Giorgio Agamben

The Lion dreams
and dreams the Rose.
The Rose dreams
and dreams the King.
The King dreams
and dreams the law.
The law dreams
and dreams grace.
Grace dreams
and dreams the circle.
The circle dreams
and dreams the line.
The line dreams
and dreams pain.
Pain dreams
and dreams the scale.
The scale dreams
and dreams the shadow.
The shadow dreams
and dreams Gold.
Gold dreams
and dreams the stone.
The stone dreams
and dreams the serpent.
The serpent dreams
and dreams poison.
Poison dreams
and dreams death.
Death dreams
and dreams destiny.
Destiny dreams
and dreams life.
Life dreams
and dreams the mask.
The mask dreams
and dreams god.
God dreams
and dreams the word.
The word dreams
and dreams the Rose.
The Rose dreams
and dreams man.

Man dreams
and dreams the stone.

[First published forty years ago in the journal Nuovi Argomenti (11), July-September 1968.]

Rene Magritte, Castle in the Pyrenees

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bells / Birds

The Godwits have just arrived back from their winter sojourn in sunny Alaska. Each year they do this, flying 11,000km across the vast Pacific Ocean to spend summer here in the southern lands, until March. They're early this year, by a couple of weeks, but just like evey other year, their arrival is marked with a bell-ringing ritual. The appearance of the first birds on the estuary is announced by the ringing of the bells at Christchurch Cathedral for 30 minutes, a herald of spring, and of ritual of welcome, after their non-stop flight of five to six days, the longest of any bird of passage.

Godwit Bells: Nga Kuaka Hokinga Mai

Mariners of deep space

deep space

feathered with hunger
you all


and fall

with grace
in your blasted flock that faster
and faster

fasted so long//traditional signs of
my NAC DC-3:ah

kuaka! kuaka! kuaka!

potent as Hotere brushing the air
painting the shore

with the landing of feathers
of hair

on blood. & for time
travellers space unravellers hero

they rang the bells
Cathedral bells bells of Old Babel

they rang for you
home! home! brave on the the
estuary shivering

all but
but home.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

Monday, September 8, 2008

Seeing Things

Bernard Lassus, 1965, Un Air Rose (The Tulip Experiment)

Following along from the Blue Flower / Red Flower in the Little Blue Guide, and of the play of light, and of the blue tulip ... thoughts on optics and ambience are swirling about. Contemplating the intersection of phenomenology and metaphysics, and returning to the work of French landscape theorist, Bernard Lassus. An early experiment of delicious simplicity became known as Un Air Rose, of which, unfortunately no colour images appear to exist. Placing a slice of white paper within the red tulip, the colour appeared to bleed across onto the white, to escape its very thingness, its quiddity, and become metaphysically animated. (One could, of course, 'try this at home', and revel in the revelation of defamiliarised optical effects).

Which leads one to Goethe, writer of Werther, and sometime colour theorist. Resisting the objectivity of optics, Goethe developed a subjective theory on the phenomena of colour, one which seems to hold tight to the early sense of 'aesthetics' as being more than simple visuality, but, well, some-thing else. And his observations on the way that colour arises 'at the edges' echoes with Lassus's observation on the Tulip, of the suffusing of colour into that which surrounds the object. Somehow so very much more affective, than the physical theories of optics, and which inform the condensation of colour that is different to that 'observed', as in my current Polaroid experimentation, that there is a haunting of the ether, a spectre in the spectrum ...

Goethe's Colour Wheel

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Mystery of the Visible

Hellebores, Polaroid Photograph, J Bowring, September 2008

The mysteries of the world continue in their gorgeous beauty. Imagery condensing upon a surface, the dark magic of the camera obscura, the remarkable late flowerings of the cremated remains of the insane ... and, now, Polaroid photography. Walter Benjamin warned of the loss of aura in the age of mechanical reproduction, and the Polaroid photograph bypasses this. It is a true original, aura inheres in here, in the photographic surface. The image emerges from nothing, slowly forming upon the surface, first ghostly, then darkening. Bedazzling ...

"Things are never what they appear to be." Abelardo Morell