Friday, February 29, 2008

Gut Feelings

I'm pretty sure the first book I ever made as an edition was Dislocation*. It's an accordion fold with simple pop-up panels for the text, illustrated with line drawings with bit of collaged colour. It was laser printed (I was years away from access to letterpress) and since I had no idea of how to make a decent book cover back then, its the simple folded card cover that makes me cringe when I look at it now. But the content of the book is still as strong as it ever was.

Dislocation is a longish poem about travel and homecoming, in particular it's about jetlag, and the profound effects it can have. I included excerpts from the poem in this post, written almost exactly one year ago. A year ago, six months ago, I was still in my profoundly anti-travel state of mind. I really should know better than to ever say never! With my recent trip to Queensland I have done one of my famous about-face total attitude shifts. My own unpredictability is, as usual, keeping my friends endlessly entertained.

In the first day or two back from my January trip, I wrote this little poem with a very different (to Dislocation's) interpretation of the meaning of my jet lag feelings.

Gut Feeling

I left my juice and my heart behind in the tropics.

Vital fluids trailing my obligations by three hours,

I can see them back there, a languid puddle in the heat

With the sea lapping up warm and salty,

saying belong belong belong


Yes my guts are hardly missing me, this empty shell of self

whithering dry and itchy,

All the moisture in me has been cried out.

I work carelessly, distracted

by my chest aching a hole where my heart should be.

And yet I don’t want to call my heart home.

I want to pack up my shell and return to

my centre, my passion, my guts.

* I still have copies of Dislocation available, discounted to $100 because I don't like the cover. Email me at the address on the right.

The beautiful photographs of Dislocation are by Katrina Ching

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New Lumix

Inspired by my pleasurable photographic experiences in the Daintree, I finally, after about a million years of procrastination, bought my very own, very good, digital camera (Panasonic Lumix FZ8). Readers who have tolerated the evils of my cellphone's camera (and worse) will be relieved. Friends and family who have generously loaned their cameras or acted as guest photographers will be even more relieved.

Yesterday was the first day when I had time to really have a proper play with my new toy, studying the manual and experimenting with the controls beyond the point and shoot function. Now of course I feel an overwhelming need for a tripod, but more so an acute awareness of how much there is to learn. But, as usual, I am looking forward to learning. Depth of field here I come...

Unfortunately, the reason I had time to play was because a big storm scuppered my travel plans and I was stuck at home for a long, grey, rainy day. Though I was somewhat limited in subject matter, and variations on natural light beyond overcast, but I made the most of the rain on the window panes.

But I reckon the view of the conservatory through a spray bottle was my best picture of the day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rainforest Rain

It is cool and rainy and windy here in Whangarei.
Back in Northern Queensland it is hot wet monsoon.
I left before the Wet Season really started, but I remember the rain in the rainforest:

Beyond the rainforest's edge
the rain falls in a dense veil
heavy and steady.
But on the forest floor
beneath the triple canopy
the rain meanders distractedly earthwards:
dribbling down palm trunks
plopping from leaf to leaf, layer to layer
dissolving into a heady, warm mist
floating between the trees,
with a scent of moist greenness, oxygen rich,
chlorophyll and ozone made tangible.
And a golden green light
flashes off the mirror surfaces of wet leaves.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Creative Composing

Composing is the term letterpress printers use for selecting and placing the moveable type in order to print some text. I like the way it distinguishes that unique activity from the typesetting that is done with a keyboard. I like the pun with composing music. I have posted before about the pleasure I take in the pace and physicality of choosing each lead letter and jigsawing together the white space between the text.

Lately I have been composing with type the way I will use a keyboard or pen and paper to compose new thoughts. I don't know quite what I'm going to say before I start pulling letters from their compartments. Last week I spent a whole afternoon composing and recomposing four phrases that I was making up as I went along. I finally took some proofs (some on paper bags, thanks to E's South Island foraging) to see how it all looked and then got distracted by the quality of the print. Letting the proofs lie scattered on a much used tabletop all week I have come to believe I must start again almost from scratch and change the words, the type size and the layout. This is not a disappointing thing to anticipate and I am looking forward to it with pleasure.

This is, of course, a terribly inefficient way to work, but then I am not terribly interested in efficiency when I am nurturing new inspiration. Efficiency is desirable when one is creating an edition, pursuing a deadline, or trying to make money. But my goal at the moment is coax the tiny sparks of creative thought into flickering flames, to allow the space and time for ideas to become fully themselves without being shaped by market forces. Having attempted that nurturing with keyboard and pen, I am now seeing what emerges when I dip these nascent ideas straight in the founts.

Such luxury! Such indulgence! I feel extraordinarily lucky that I have the freedom for such pleasurable play. There are other projects and circumstances on my horizon which will require efficient composing and printing and I will enjoy working within those constraints when the time comes. But right now I am loitering with delight in a backwater of creative composition.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Travelling Journal Returns Home

To celebrate the long awaited return of my travel journal from its extended sojourn at the Grand Chancellor near Auckland Airport, here are some night-themed snippets from its pages. These words take me back to the sultry heat of my twelve nights in Northern Queensland.

The cicadas rise and fall like breath, like tide,
like a pounding pulse filling my ears with organic white noise.

Dusk falls like mist to the rainforest floor
Night rises up to the canopy like a dark sea dense with life.

We are floating on a warm night sea
an undulating mercury and cobalt membrane.
Overhead, bats flap purposefully, silently
from sleep towards a dark night full of fruit.

Quickly the strange sounds of the rainforest at night
become familiar and I hear the chuckchuckchuck of the gecko,
the cluck and gobble of the Bush Turkey,
the soft hoot of owls,
the rustle of wallabies
as if eavesdropping on the gossip of new neighbours.

The frogs have finally fallen silent after their great night chorus
and the birds take up the aural space.
Cicadas continue unabated
as does the rain in plops, drips, drizzles and distant rushing along a stream bed.
Trees tower in a green cloud
dense, complex, ancient and alive.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Whangarei Walk

Saturday afternoon I reached a point I sometimes get to in a burst of new thinking when the energy generated is too great to be released simply by writing it down. I have to move my whole body- walking or dancing or cleaning. So I slipped pen and paper into my bag along with the water bottle and set off on foot, first to the Quarry to check out Sue Forward's new exhibition, Arcadia.
This is the same gallery where I had my Domestic Pilgrimage show last year. Look how she has transformed the space into a beautiful woodland in which to show her ceramic garden sculptures. I liked her big centaur and the bell, both partially visible in the right of the photo, but I was most impressed by the arrangements of bark, plants, and vessels of water all evoking an Arcadia inside.

I carried on walking up the track from the Quarry into the bush. My mind still boiling with new ideas I stopped to write them down at a lookout point near the pa site. On the wooden seat there I found this poignant exchange:

I carried on up the hill and had a strange encounter with a very cool tree:
My goal was to visit the Quarry Gardens for the first time, but the signage on the bush tracks is sparse so I took a much more roundabout route than necessary, but it was a pleasant journey and when I did finally reach the Quarry Gardens via the front gate I was stunned at what I saw. I'd heard the subtropical Gardens were a volunteer project only started a few years ago so I was expecting something pretty unsophisticated.

What I found was a work in progress, to be sure, but one fairly well progressed and obviously with professional landscaping design and resources poured into it. Numerous well formed tracks and bridges; varied, lush, unusual plantings; lots of seats and lookouts; waterfalls and a lovely little lake... it was all quite impressive. I wandered about for a while, only encountering one group of visitors, but I didn't see all there was to explore in my acute awareness that I'd already been walking for 2 hours and I still had to find my way back over the hills to home.

Whangarei readers, if you haven't seen the Quarry Gardens yet, or recently, get yourself along! It's a cracker of a public park and a great place to take a picnic (but be warned there are no dogs allowed and no public toilets available). I saw lots of intriguing plants there, but these magnificent leaves really resonated with my current passion for tropical foliage.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Daintree Calling

I have come back from the Daintree with a tantalising sense that, only as I was leaving, did I start to understand a glimmer of what the rainforest has to say to me. I got a hint of what I might learn, but no chance to learn it before I had to come home. I feel a very strong pull to to go back and let the language of the leaves seep more thoroughly into my imagination.

I very much want to express my incipient awareness of the rainforest story (and I've already started playing with colour and form) but I fear that I can't offer much more than a superficial description from afar. Truly, I don't think that I dreamed of the Daintree for 20 years only to dishonour it by making a pretty postcard or a nice souvenir of my short visit.

I still haven't got my travel journal back from the hotel where I left it by the bed (five phone calls later they assure me -again- that it is in the post) so I can't work with the words and images I produced while I was in the rainforest. But before I went over there I was writing this kind of thing in anticipation, and now in retrospect, it is only more true:

Twenty years ago
a flickering glimpse of Bliss
imprinted on my eyelids
the one place I felt I had to go,
in indelible, shadowy, sap green.

At night I dream
of the wise child in a forest
of towering old souls
standing and falling
dying and growing.

Daintree, you reverberate in my imagination
like a choir singing ancient cradle songs in fresh voices.
No other forest can match my desires,
my mouth waters imagining the smell of hot misty life,
I am ready to be tangled in your veins.
I hear you calling me home to Eden
and finally, I'm coming.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Almost the last thing I did before catching the plane to Queensland in mid-January was drop off the elaborately packaged New Shroud for King Tutankhamun with Kate. As the Shroud was made specially for the NZ Art Guild Art Awards and the Awards organisers would only accept delivery on three days during which I would be in Australia, I asked Kate, my most reliable friend to courier it on my behalf. On the day of the sending I was out of cellphone range, deep in the Daintree, thinking of the Shroud only as a technique I could develop to capture the amazing quality of light filtered through the triple canopy of the rainforest.

In fact, the next time I thought about the Awards was when I got off the plane from Cairns in Auckland, and switched on my cell phone. A voice mail message was waiting from Sophia, the organiser of the NZ Art Guild Art Awards, telling me that the Shroud had been selected as one of 16 finalists, out of over 200 entries! That exciting news did much to ease the wrench of leaving the rainforest. The voice mail reminded me that the opening/awards ceremony would take place two days later at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna.

So Friday night, with a friend from work, I found myself in Auckland sipping punch and looking at all the different ways that artists had interpreted the challenge terms for the Awards. While I was making the Shroud it was hard for me to imagine any other thing I could have done with 'cool blue', 'circular,' stamp' and 'equality'. My equal blue circles stamped out of watercoloured paper seemed inevitable to me... and then I saw so many other possibilities. My favourite was Sheryl O'Gorman's Cause and Effect, a watery blue abstract with amazing depth and subtle texture- which won third prize.

I'm honoured to have been selected as a finalist in the Awards and am inspired that this recognition comes for a piece so very different from my usual books (insofar as anything much I've done in the past six months could be considered usual). The Shroud was my first real two-dimensional piece and, more importantly, one of my rare works without text. Sometimes I feel a tyranny of expectation that I will always provide poetry. Sometimes I just want to let form speak for itself. Shroud being selected as a finalist was an affirmation that even my wordless work has value for people besides myself.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Labyrinth at Emmegen

A compulsive maker like myself can't go on holiday and just do nothing constructive. That wouldn't be as relaxing or fun as it was to weave creative expression into my vacation.

I was filling my journal prolifically of course: poetry, observations, sketches, doodles of labyrinths and collages of tourist ephemera. Unfortunately in the mad rush from the final hotel room to the airport yesterday morning I left my journal by the bed and so I'm waiting impatiently for it to arrive in the post with its store of words and images.

I also made a Treasure Hunt book which I left as a gift for Santo, filled with little things I wasn't sure would be allowed back into NZ, including a cuttlefish and a beautiful big smooth disc shaped seed found in a fibrous husk on the beach.

Then there was the pistachio shell poem (one letter on each little creamy shell) which I left in situ on a coffee table (the text is also in my journal so I'll update this when I can).

I particularly liked this spontaneous poem written in ochre on river stone in the Emmegen Creek swimming hole. (All this life- And so much joy).

But my most significant, albeit most temporary, work was made later the same day at Emmegen Beach, Cape Tribulation. Emmegen Beach is a perfect crescent of golden sand lying between the rainforest fringe and the Great Barrier Reef (reef visible as the indigo shadows in the turquoise sea in the photo below, rainforest visible as the dappled shadows of coconut palms falling across the labyrinth).
I'm not exactly sure why labyrinths were such a persistent motif for this holiday. I read a book about labyrinths in the week before I left, and I learned how to draw a 'classic 7 layer labyrinth'. My journal is full of pages of various labyrinths in different coloured gel pens, drawn as meditation and experimentation as I allowed the labyrinth to occupy my imagination, without trying to make sense of it. Drawing little labyrinths and tracing them with my finger is all very well, but eventually I found myself wanting to walk one. So when Santo and I were alone on a brochure-perfect tropical beach I picked a smooth shady area to layout a simple 3 layer labyrinth big enough to walk.

Santo provided the frisbee digging tools and much of the hard labour of scooping sand to establish the basic structure. I crawled round and round from the centre outwards making low walls to walk between. It was a lot of work to do on a hot day, even in the evening shade, so I didn't get too fancy or precious about the finishing of it. When it was done enough, Santo headed off for a stroll down the beach and a close encounter with a stingray (shades of Steve Irwin), and I began to walk my labyrinth.

I found it impossible to walk quickly: as soon as I entered the labyrinth my pace slowed, and I found that even the relative simplicity of my labyrinth provided a satisfyingly long and complex journey. A labyrinth like mine leads you near the centre when you first enter, allowing a good look at the goal and the illusion that it will be easily accessible. Then the path spirals out and you find yourself tracing the perimeter, a long detour circling away and around the outside before you return for another glimpse of the centre and finally the spiralling inwards in lazy loops to arrive at last. The walk out again allows the journey to be experienced in a mirror image, leading you ultimately to the an exit beyond which the sea beckons. Between each circuit of the labyrinth I went down to water's edge and let the warm water lap my feet (despite my paranoia about stranding jellyfish attacks).

I can't tell you (yet) what the labyrinth means exactly, I just know it matters that I made one where no one but us and the crabs would walk it, and where it would be wiped away by the tide by morning.

NB Now that I am home and can post photos here, I have updated my earlier Aussie posts with some pictures. Scroll down and have a look.