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)