Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tasmanian Devils & full-breasted women

I didn't come face-to-face with any Tasmanian Devils whilst in Hobart, but I did come across this group of lissom mermaids. . .

Four aspects of the same woman?

On a late evening walk around picturesque Battery Point, this mysterious image caught my attention - tar calligraphy? I'm absolutely certain it wasn't there the morning before.

The things roads get up to when the rest of the world is sleeping?

I wish I knew how to animate these kinds of 'found' gestures. Imagine these lines choreographed into a 3D dance. Lisa Roberts would know just what to do. . . I especially love this piece, her lyrical observation of Southern Ocean krill (with a spoken commentary by biologist and krill expert, Steve Nicholls) and this one that illustrates their life cycle. . .

The day following the Antarctic Visions conference, three of us took a taxi out to the Antarctic Division (about twenty minutes drive from the centre of Hobart) and spent the day in conversation with various scientists there, and too, drawing Euphausia superba in the krill nursery - what ephemeral, balletic little creatures they are. Exciting research is being done on krill's relationship with whales - theirs is an intricate and vital dance - and we'll be looking for ways to visually represent an important new piece of data on this subject. This collaboration is likely to include dance, animation, painting, poetry and music. (Geologist Rupert Summerson brought his shakuhachi along to play to them!)


This is all a bit disjointed, perhaps because I'm sitting cross-legged on the hard floor of Auckland airport (beside the only power outlet I could find in the domestic departure lounge). I ought to be in Christchurch but last night's flight from Melbourne was delayed, first by mechanical problems, then - when one of the aircraft's air conditioning units failed - by our having to take a longer, coastal route South. About half an hour away from Christchurch we were told we'd have to turn back to Auckland because heavy fog in Chch made landing there impossible. That was at about 2.45AM. It must have been about 3.45AM when we landed and 4.45AM by the time we'd all been herded into buses and off to a hotel in town to sleep what was left of the night away.

The first Auck-Chch flight I've been able to get onto leaves here at 8.00PM this evening, so guess where I've been all day? Actually, it's been fine; peaceful even. I've savoured (a good number of the) 100 Poems from the Japanese, surrendered again to the place and characters of Penelope's potent Island and been transported into new landscapes by Gretchen Legler's stirring essays, All the Powerful Invisible Things. (Gretchen was a co-presenter at the conference. I intend to write more about her book once I have absorbed more of it...)

Essential things, places of pause.


  1. Well done, Claire, on the airport floor after such a fraught flight. You've given us a feast to chomp through — and I look forward to seeing your drawings of Euphasia superba ('superbly well-spoken'?) preparing to dance with (through?) whales. Glad you're almost home.

  2. Your travels and your eye for unexpected beauty astound me. The mer holding her tail up is the logo for Starbucks coffee.

  3. Andrea, a Facebook friend, left a message after seeing these mermaids. She wrote 'Very heraldic! I think the artist was paging through a book of coats of arms. I recognize the mermaid with the sword and shield; she's from the arms of the city of Warsaw. (She's called a syrenka.)'

    I looked up syrenka (great word!) and came across all manner of interesting bits and pieces, including the suggestion that these are fresh-water mermaids.

  4. Hi Pen - home again, home again. And very good it is to be back. (I feel as though I'm arriving back from some far distant planet; everything here both familiar and foreign.)

    Superbly well-spoken krill indeed... and yes, the little creatures' dance with the whales is quietly extraordinary and involves the element iron... it reminds me of the tiny wee foraminiferan that lines its delicate shell with titanium. How do they do this? And why? These little animals def. know things we do not.

    C u sn xx

  5. Hi Rebecca - thank you for the info about the mer. And, too, for seeing in me what I see in you.
    L, C xx

  6. On Lisa Roberts' site, her setting of Bill Manhire's "Erebus Voices" is beautiful and haunting. I had to do some research, not being from NZ, to understand what the poem is about (it seems at first an unspeakably sad love lament, and becomes even sadder once you understand the occasion for which it was written), but no background is required to feel the full effect of the artist's (s') feeling.

  7. No bleeding feet for those Mers.

    Yours for delight! And safe return,


  8. Timoth, I agree Bill Manhire's poem 'Erebus Voices' is profoundly stirring. When I was in Antarctica, there was a memorial service in the Chapel of Snows for the victims of that plane crash. I wasn't able to go unfortunately but felt the energy of the ongoing lament from where I was miles away in the field. Lisa's rendition of the poem is haunting. (Nice to know you've explored her site... she and I will be working together in the near future.)

  9. Dear Mim, you are ever-succinct! I wonder whether you'd consider making 'No bleeding feet for those mers' the closing line of a poem? L, C x

  10. These mythical creatures do come alive in these artful masterpieces. Why did you make the mermaids the inspiration of your creation? Do you have a particular reason for that?

    Geoffrey Lelia

  11. Hi Geoffrey - thanks for coming by and for leaving a comment here. To answer your question re; why these mermaids became my prompt for this post. . . no rhyme or reason, really. They - the mermaids - just happened to be 'there' in the pub off the Inn I was staying in. They seemed at once congruous and unexpected and provided me with a kind of coat-hanger on which to peg some of what I observed during my short stay in Tasmania. The title to this post is just a playful entree! So saying, I am interested in the way our worlds' mythologies intertwine with each other showing us again and again how interconnected everything is, from the most obvious things to the least likely.

    Best wishes to you, Geoffrey - I hope you will come by again. . .