Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Leather banana

I've just spent an enthralling six days up in Wellington working on a collaborative project with jeweler, Kate Alterio.  Metal + flame = sure-fire delight. At some stage, I'll write up a bit more about our shared process, but for now would like to introduce you to my thirteen-year-old leather banana.

I'm absurdly fond of this object; it first accompanied me to my George Street studio way back in 1996. It was supposed to be lunch, but you know how it goes; one gets immersed in work and forgets about one's stomach; the banana ends up languishing amongst pastels and paints till it's long past eating. Days become weeks, weeks become months and months become years. Thirteen, in this case - almost as many years as I've been living in Dunedin. I quickly became intrigued by the daily metamorphosis taking place in this once green, then yellow, then brown, increasingly reptilian-looking piece of fruit. 

This same - as yet, unnamed - banana has moved with me to three different work spaces. It currently has pride of place on one of my studio work shelves where it lives cheek-by-jowl with various other bits and pieces I've collected over the years - precious things like Katherine's porcelain vessels, metal and wooden type face, spirit levels and rusty old bolts, a ship's lamp and quay-side detritus. 

Pablo Neruda has written extensively on the value of the overlooked object. Here's a favourite excerpt from his piece Towards an Impure Poetry -

'It is well, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coalbins, barrels and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all harassed lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things – all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized.

In them one meets the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artefacts, inside and out.

Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand's obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law or beyond it...' 


  1. Claire, I am utterly charmed, and somehow moved, by your leather banana, and being the literalist I am, wonder exactly what happened to the flesh of this remarkable fruit? Did it simply waste away, or was it eaten by tiny animacules, or has it somehow petrified inside its sac? The excellent (dare I say exquisite?) Neruda quotation recalls the title of a poem by Richard Wilbur, "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World." I am inclined, as I gaze at the parade of wonders around me, to reverse the order of influence, which is how I read Neruda: The Things of This World Call Us to Love.

  2. Claire your eye for the unusual never fails to astonish me!

  3. Aq. Aye, hello. In answer to your question re; what happened to the flesh of the fruit... well, the moisture in it slowly evaporated through what I can only think must be invisible pores in the banana's skin. Today, pressing the fruit lightly between finger and thumb, there's still some elasticity and softness to it. Perhaps, one day (in the unlikely event a need arose for me to have to eat it for survival!), I suspect it might surprise. Who knows. I like to think it's still holding something in distilled form; pure essence- or elixir - of banana? For the time being, I like it for its leather!

    I'm inclined to agree with you when you 'reverse the order of influence' regarding Wilbur's statement and to affirm your take - The Things of This World Call Us to Love.

    Thanks for visiting!

  4. Dear Kay

    Thank you for saying so - we are mirrors for each other, though, wouldn't you agree? You open my sensibilities in countless ways. Your recent 'No' sibling poem for instance - the heartstrings that pulled, released and restored... I will leave you a message on your blog to say as much. ML, C X