Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weights & balances

My sons, reunited this morning in faraway Cairo, must have talked the hind legs off a dozen camels by now! I wobbled my way a little wonkily through Friday, which was fine - possibly even helpful - as it meant seeing Daniel onto his plane in the early hours of yesterday morning could be the strong, clear-eyed send-off we all wanted it to be. And what a joy it is now, to think of the two brothers on the same patch of soil again, exchanging five months'-worth of stories and a fresh appetite for adventure.

Today is Sunday in NZ, but it's Saturday still in most places West of here. I've had to set my computer 'dashboard' up with seven different clocks so that I can work out with a glance whether family in the UK are up yet for breakfast; whether friends, offspring and sibs in the US, South Africa, Europe (i.e here, there and everywhere) are at work, at play, awake, asleep, etc... 

I was saying to my friend Jackie the other day that I'd much prefer to live by 'spirit level and plumb bob' than be governed by clocks and calendars. (She has a fondness for the former that matches my own.) The thing is - given the hugely regimented world we live in - this way of being would probably only be tolerable to a rare few beyond the immediate orbit of home?

Plumb bobs

Over the past couple of months, I've alluded every so often to the fact that spirit levels and plumb bobs have become the foundation pieces for my current work; I keep saying I'll post more about them and the various explorations that are taking shape in my studio. Today, by way of an introduction, here are two photographs showing the objects I've long been entranced by and that I can't imagine ever coming close to de-mystifying or 'reaching the bottom of'. It seems to me that there's nothing that will not be able to find expression via these two marvelously-related, yet distinctly different 'objects of balance and measure.' 

They hold it all, are at once heavy and light with possibilities. . .  

Circular spirit vial 


  1. Hi Claire. Thanks for telling us more about your bobs and bubbles project. It looks exciting, and a whole new direction in your work. You are surely being pulled by elemental forces. Did you know that the liquid inside a spirit level has traditionally been ethanol, i.e., grain alcohol, spirits--hence the name? Brings to mind the long tradition of ecstatic poets (Rumi, Li Po, Charles Bukowski) who've sung of drunkenness as a gateway to inspiration. That bubble staggering under its dome, seeking the enlightenment of the center. There's something rich, don't you think, in the notion that an instrument of Apollonian order has a Dionysian alter-ego? But that's not what I meant to ask: What I'd really like to know is, what is that fascinating contraption you've suspended your plummets from in the photo?

  2. Well, the way it looks from here Claire ...

    A bob is controlled by gravity ... is horizontally constrained, less so vertically.

    A bubble opposes gravity ... is vertically constrained, less so horizontally.

    One is linear and inevitable, the other holistic and less predictable!

    So your fascination with plumb-bobs and spirit-levels look like metaphors for mindpoles ... but then, that's daleks for you! ;)

    All The Best!

  3. ... and continuing with my interpretation, it occurs to me that the way to 'reconcile' these two poles would be to create a bubble on the end of a piece of string - a tethered helium-filled balloon would seem satisfactory.

    (interestingly, the alternative - placing a bob in a fluid-filled chamber, seems antagonstic rather than reconcilatory, in that the bob would be imprisoned by it's own susceptability to gravity.)

    Anyway, having successfully reconciled the two poles in this way, the only thing remaining is to *pop!* the balloon ... thus creating the Quality of True Freedom for the contents of the bubble.

  4. Aq. Aye - hello! You raise some interesting thoughts and questions here, thank you.

    I suspected this plumbs & bobs work might come across as new, but actually, it's almost as old as my work is! I think we tend to visit and revisit the same themes over years, turning them over and around and exploring them from this way and that. The notion of balance and integrating 'apparent opposites' has been one such preoccupation; certainly, this was probably more overtly so in my earlier work (1980 & 90's back in S.Africa), so I do understand where you're coming from.

    I feel as though I'm looping back, netting the past and reeling it into the present, interpreting those old ideas in a whole new way. This is about the fourth series I've made using plumbs, plummets or plumb lines. The bubbles are new, though - and I have to say they thrill me!

    I wonder whether the ecstatic poets you name were wholly pure and ascetic in their own practices? I imagine they would have to have been, wouldn't you? Although having said that, I recall the remarkable movie "Spring, SUmmer, Autumn, Winter, Spring' that expresses the idea that we find true compassion by first going through the fire ourselves. What do you think?

    I do like the idea of the spirit vial being an instrument of 'Apollonian order with a Dionysian alter-ego': it brings to mind images of nymphs and satyrs! Ideally, would not the masculine and the feminine reside in all of us in about equal measure?

    You asked about the contraption the plumb bobs are suspended from -- it's an old mangle-cum-printing press that lives in my studio.

    Which Li Po collection would you recommend I hunt out as a first-timer?

  5. Hi bluemoon - well, you and your daleks have done it again. You've *pop!*ed the opposites making way for Reconciliation and Quality. Our separate worlds (the human one and the dalek's i-Magi-Nation) are not all that far apart... at least not in terms of preoccupation and intention.

    I recommend readers visit bluemoon's site to read his latest entry 'Introduction to pole *pop!*ing':

    The idea of a helium-filled bubble 'tethered for release' is a marvelous one. I would also love to make a glass plumb bob that contains a bubble in its top hemisphere - i.e a transparent, relatively weightless object demonstrating at one and the same time, the quality of the vertically constrained plumb and the horizontally-expressive spirit vial.

    Glass is an amazing material for its fragility, fluidity, clarity, flexibility and strength. Cast iron, on the other hand, offers a whole 'other' palette... different materials offer different possibilities. It's always fun - and revealing - when one turns the expected on its head.

    Thank Q! for your comments.

  6. Well hello again,

    Thanks for your wonderful reply. I'd like to see some of the earlier work you evoke as a way of understanding how you are dealing with similar themes over decades. That would be most interesting. I'm not entirely sure I understand why the ecstatic poets would have been "pure and ascetic" in their practice. I know Bukowski was anything but pure or ascetic, and what I learned of Li Po, he was every bit the wine lover he portrays in his poems. (I have an anthology a friend from Taiwan gave me called "300 T'ang Poets," which is quite good, as is the anthology "Sunflower Splendor," which is easier to find). I'm not sure how Apollo might have looked on the nymphs and satyrs of old; in their freest state, ecstatic and orgiastic, their bubbles would have been decidedly tilted toward Dionysus. It's oft-debated whether the two energies stand in irreconcilable opposition, or represent the poles of a dialectic. I tend to lean toward the latter. Hope the work goes well. Cheers, AA

  7. Aq.Aye - I found a book on Li Po and his 'working life' today; it was more of a biography than a poetry collection and I only had ten minutes browse time in the bookshop before it closed. On the fly cover, the author confirmed that Li Po was indeed a 'drunkard'; of the ecstatic poets, he claimed that those of Buddhist or Taoist persuasion were alcohol-free, and that - as you suggested - Sufi mystics considered alcohol as 'a gateway to inspiration.' I've set the book aside for possible future purchase. You might enjoy browsing the website for Scribes, Dunedin's favourite second-hand bookshop.

    I go along +/- with your 'dialectic idea', by the way, and I'm not sure there's such a thing as irreconcilable opposites?