Sunday, April 18, 2010

White - or not, as the case may be

I've had cause to reflect this past week on my relationship with Antarctica, remembering again how I sensed her before I saw her; how I found myself drawing her landscapes without even knowing I was doing so, conjuring up her spaces on paper only to find myself standing in them years down the track. It was as though some part of me knew we would meet long before the rest of me had even the vaguest inkling she would be written into my life's script. I do think there are times when our unconscious goes out ahead of us, scanning landscapes, embracing people, entering situations, noting features, atmospheres and coordinates so that when the time is ripe, we are ready to step into a space prepared, without our conscious self having any real awareness that this is what is happening.

When Antarctica's edges first came into view, I was standing with my face pressed up against the porthole of the Hercules airplane. My response to her was a somatic one. A surge of heat rushed through my body; I shivered at the same time. I don't know how else to describe it save to say it was like being seduced and chastened at the same time; pierced, buckled and somehow straightened. It was clear to me that uncharted parts of me were stirring, given a call to wake up and pay attention. This may sound strange and dramatic, but it wasn't. It was quiet and private and something I wasn't able to articulate till much, much later. One thing is certain -something inside me was shaken up and reconfigured on 6 October 2005.

The reason I've been thinking about these things is because this coming Thursday - 22 April (at 2.22PM) - the major collaborative piece I made with polar biologist, Dr Samuel Bowser, is being unveiled as a permanent installation in the foyer of the State Plaza building in Albany NY. Titled InterfaCE V, this work is the culmination of nearly five years' ArtScience exploration with Sam. It carries both our signatures, but rather than the work of two individuals, I see it more as a communal piece. As with most joint endeavours, it carries the energy and input of a great many more people than might at first meet the eye.

This weekend, I received the first few photographs of the mounting process... I confess I shed a tear when I saw them. You will know from previous entries on this blog that I get homesick for Antarctica. My buttons are easily pushed. Mostly, these are tears of gratitude for times, people and a place who together opened me up to 'more' and whose imprint I will always carry.

Positioning the vertical base plinth - Wadsworth Center foyer, Albany NY - April 2010

The photographs I'm posting here show the base template that will eventually hold 127 glass laboratory beakers that will in turn support 127 images (a combination of Scanning Electron Microscope imagery plus interpretative drawings)... From the front, the composition will appear to spin, perhaps even give off hints of sound. The underlying 'blueprint' is mapped out according to sacred geometry; rhythms are set up by prime numbers and phi...

Looking at it side on, people will be able to enter (metaphorically and with the eye, not the body!) the space behind the drawings to meander through the trails of a transparent labyrinth - an unexpected landscape of light and shadow that hints at worlds many of us never get to see; the universe beneath the lens of a microscope and/or the second heaven that hovers below metres and metres of heaving sea ice. The piece documents seven stages of polar biological research, with a specific focus on the motility and morphology of foraminifera. (Foraminifera are ancient uni-cellular aquatic organisms; living fossils underpin our evolutionary pyramid and that date back 650 million years). Rather than go into all the background details here, this link will take you to an explanation of the collaborative process and this one to the installation as it was first mounted at the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs in May 2008.

For many reasons, InterfaCE is a piece dear to my heart.

InterfaCE - behind the frame

My task this weekend has been to put together a 7 min introduction re; this collaborative venture. Sam will be preparing something similar. A dear friend, Jack Harris, will read on my behalf on Thursday. The Director of the center will speak for 5 mins, too, and the brief unveiling ceremony will end with a minute's silence in honour of Earth Day.


Sometimes - often - I wish our seven continents were no more than a stepping stone or three apart.

Her bones - a weekend's silence before fat, cartilage and muscles are added


  1. A wonderful and inspiring post. Surely white is the unmitigated nimbus of creativity/inspiration. I can imagine how that landscape could invade you: white is the colour that converts time into a narcotic.

    I once wrote on Louis Le Brocquy's relationship to white.


  2. i wish i could see the pieces in person. white is an amazing landscape.

  3. This is an amazing piece! (I'm rather speechless here...perhaps more later.)

  4. FANTASTIC! Oh I would love to see this and you. What a world where I can know and see these things. What a brilliant kind amazing world where I could have found you from way over here on my drizzly green little corner of the Pacific Ocean.

  5. Wondrous stuff Claire. You have an ability to process what has happened / is happening, what you've discovered / are discovering, and then treat us to the result in words and art that manage the delicate and strong all in one breath. It's a wise, strong and tender knowing you have.

  6. Hello LentenStuffe

    I have been so enjoying roaming the pages of your inspiring blog and will return to pick up where I left off.

    You understand white - how deep and fertile a colour it is, the worlds it holds and those those roam across its surfaces. The notion of white being the colour that converts time into a narcotic is a fascinating one... I suspect the opposite might also be true? (i.e. White turns time into a narcotic!)

    Your essay on Louis Le Brocquys' relationship to white was a treat - as were the links that led me to new places.

    Many thanks - Claire

  7. Dear Maggie and T. Clear - thank you! I sense that white resonates with both of you, too.
    L, C x

  8. Hello dear Rebecca
    It is always a joy to know you've popped over to here.
    Stepping stones would make the travel easier, wouldn't they? Great, big, beautiful boulders - no shoes or suitcases necessary!
    For all its drama and oft-times cruelty, our world is a kind & brilliant place, oh yes.
    I hope it's not too long before I get back over to the States. Who knows what's possible. Who knows?
    Love to you - I hope you're feeling chipper again and that your appetite's returned.

  9. Dear Kay, I don't know what to say, save thank you.

    Thank you.

    Thank you.


  10. Hi John

    I'm back with a quiet plea... I do hope you find this.

    I've just tried to log back on to your blog, both to re-read your piece of white and to leave a message for you there. Blogger told me I had to be registered to enter... this didn't happen last time I visited. I would dearly love to come back.. you had written an extraordinary poem on the lens and the eye and the circle. My visit was too short. Would you please consider opening the door one more time? I would be most appreciative - thank you.

  11. The phrase is from Walter Benjamin's essay on Baudelaire, though he used it about gambling.

    I've set up a separate blog for the Tuesday Poem Project and wrote to Mary McCallum about what I ought to do next.

    The blog address is:

  12. Hi John - great to know you're joining it with the Tuesday Poem initiative. Welcome! Mary will be delighted, too. Thanks for the link to your new blog. I'll pop over there now. C

  13. oh, this is so interesting.
    I wish I had a print out because i want to understand the deeper implications of your work/collaboration/thought process...
    But I'll follow the links and read it again, later.
    Not only am I interested in the complex thinking process that you used to create, collaboratively, the work, but in your falling in love with the landscape.
    Thank you

  14. it's another day and I'm reading the blog again and will now follow the links.
    I find this so interesting.
    Thank you

  15. Dear Melissa - I left my country of origin to come and live in New Zealand, not realizing when I arrived here that I would feel as though I'd found my birthplace (I'm not sure how to say this any differently), so familiar were its textures and timbres to me. As an immigrant, people have asked me whether I regret leaving the old country (with all that is integral to a place - its people, smells, sounds, etc...), whether I grieve its absence, or my absence from it. I have thought about this long and hard over the years. The truth is that I believe in what I call an 'accumulative landscape' which makes contentment in the present so much more possible since it implies that we carry the imprint of past places, people and experiences within us in an ever-expanding landscape. We can roam it at any time that a call to do so comes; we can splash in its waters, wear the different light and clothes, speak and hear the different languages. This idea helps me maintain a deep sense of connection, in a way that comes with appreciation than rather than longing. I think I'm saying this because it relates to your mention of falling in love with the landscape. In a way, I think we choose each other - we choose the landscape and it chooses us? (This makes for an unusual and marvelously expansive marriage!).

    Thank you so much for your interest in this InterfaCE project, Melissa, and for coming back to read/explore this subject again. I really appreciate your taking the time to do this.

    Now that my local exhibition is up and just about ready to go, I will have a day or two's breathing space and will be able to catch up on what's happening in the blogosphere. I've not been home much and when I have, have crashed into sleep!

    Take care, L, Claire