Monday, August 31, 2009

Inclement Weather

It's been great to come across work by friends/fellow painters who have also stayed here...  This poem is for them and for Alison in appreciation of her wonderful hospitality.


- The Portage, Marlborough Sounds


Ah Wayne, your vintage bottles 

and vigorous Torea Bay paintings! I’m not surprised 

to find you’re very present 

here.  As are you, Don, with your rollicking 

clouds and delicate pencil

islands. (I’m pleased to know 

you found the one you’d lost; errant pencil 

and island, both. I see now how their similarly worn 

and whittled shapes might slip easily through

the cracks of the Sounds, your Kowhai

balcony decking.)


And John - of course, you and the shimmer 

of your songs hang in the air here, too. 

My private desires notwithstanding, everything is 

exactly as it should be.


I sleep and eat and write


yet am not without companionship, 

conversation or colour.


Of today’s inclement weather, Alison said

“Would you believe we look

onto lilac water some days lit

by sudden shafts of sunlight. But this

This is grey. Hard, cold 

grey and dirty green… And two

walkers still out in it. Best light

the fire, Mark. They’ll need flames

and food by the time they find us,

welcome strokes the minute

they get in.”


Sunday, 30 August 2009 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nature's hand-writing

I'm writing this from misty, moody Marlborough Sounds - in front of me, deep, dark water, hectares of dense native bush, baches clinging to hills that rise above an intricately curving coastline. We really do live in paradise. 

My Q of B exhibition is up and open and doing what it must at this stage - enjoying being in the company and custodianship of The Arthouse team, finding its own voice and communicating independently of me. The days around the hanging and opening were rich and connected and it's time now to trust in the new conversations that will arise out of this chapter. Some time in the next wee, a podcast of writer Helen Lowe's post-opening interview with me will be posted on Plains FM's website (this was broadcast on yesterday morning's Women on Air.). 

I've been offered the treat of a creative residency (oh, so perfectly timed) out at The Portage, miles away from my usual, familiar things; it's a welcome chance to rest, breathe deeply, recharge my battery and sink into some of the writing that's been waiting patiently in my incubation basket this past while. By the end of next week, I hope to have fine-tuned a bunch of still-somewhat-tatty poems, completed a Residency submission and laid down the bones of an ArtScience essay. Yum. It's a rare experience this, being able to shape my days around writing, reading, resting, a daily walk in the forest (we're right on the edge of the Queen Charlotte track... ). 

The gnarly, black-rock-and-kelp coast road leading up to Kaikoura is one my favourite drives on the South Island. As you can see, the sky was in playful mood when I drove up yesterday - like a boisterous child getting up to a few last-minute tricks before bedtime. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Level with me

QUESTIONS OF BALANCE                                                                

26 August – 13 September 2009

Exhibition statement

Claire Beynon has long been preoccupied with the relationship between apparent opposites. Ever since her first solo show in Johannesburg in 1985, one of her central motivations has been to articulate the creative dynamics between order and spontaneity, reason and intuition, the masculine and feminine, the material and the spiritual… 


“Today’s world is increasingly characterized by chaos, clamour and conflict. It seems to me that in our bid to make ourselves heard, we’re forgetting how to listen. There is much reason to protest, but I believe the way forward calls for a subtler approach; contemplation, poetry and pause are becoming widely appreciated as effective methods of engagement in world issues, rather than the old knee-jerk responses of fear and aggression. History has proven time and again that violence, negativity and neglect only attract more of the same; we have to find other ways to say what needs to be said. One thing is certain: it behoves us as artists – and as human beings - to respond. We cannot ignore the world’s lament.”


Questions of Balance is a visual/poetic response to our planet’s environmental, spiritual, political and ideological imbalances. It uses the dialectic between the builder’s level (with its enigmatic and ethereal spirit bubbles*) and the plumb bob (all weight and materiality) to evoke a dialogue between our physical and metaphysical worlds and to bring current global questions out into the open.

“The metaphorical implications of these tools are fairly obvious; the spirit level and plumb bob are essential instruments in every builder’s toolbox; without them, sound structures are unattainable, dependent as they are on right relationship between the absolute vertical and absolute horizontal. Truth might be relative, complex and multi-faceted, but there can be no arguing with the simple pronouncements of these two fundamentally reliable tools of measurement. For this reason, there is something inherently comforting about them.


I have always had an interest in the sacredness of everyday objects. My intention in this work is to highlight the symbolic potency of the builder’s level and plumb bob and to invite others to consider them in a wider context as metaphorical tools of change and as a means of re-dressing balance in our 21stCentury. Attributing these humble objects with both intimacy and monumentality gives them a new, larger-than-life presence.  


Elusive as it is, balance is an ideal most of us aspire towards. It is an active, dynamic state, redolent with potential, story and meaning.

Dunedin, 15 August 2009


*The glass spirit vials incorporated in these sculptural pieces were manufactured by Geier & Bluhm, NY. In 2008, during my second research season in Antarctica, a selection of these – and other - vials were frozen into ice before being transported eighty feet below the Explorers Cove sea ice. The primary motivation behind sending them on an underwater journey was (i) to test their resilience in that extreme environment, (ii) to add a layer of history to what would otherwise remain plain, industrialized objects and (iii) to imbue them with metaphorical potency that would ultimately add ballast to this, and future series of sculptures.

Level Best - CB 2009 

Kwila, stainless steel, glass spirit vials, stainless steel cable & bison wax - 1801 x 91 x 91MM (level) and 471 x 579MM (bob)

Sincere thanks to the terrific men without whose input and practical nous I would not have been able to actualize these 3D pieces --- especially Michael Salmon, Peter Leith, Graham Burgess, Alan Stocker and Robin Nyhof. 

Special thanks, too, to Pete at Nevill Framer's, TDC for Leveling conversations & support, Russell Knowles for keeping an eye out for plumb bobs and builders' levels for me (over a period of months, if not years - bless you, Russell!) and Peter Nicholls & Darryl Daniels for saying 'yes' to me living with your precious plumb bobs for all these months. 

Without community, where would we be? 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Spirit Level, Level Spirit

Yesterday, I helped strap fifteen paintings & drawings into the stomach of an absurdly long freight truck. This work - it suddenly looked like such a humble offering, packaged up in plain, homemade corrugated card boxes! - will be offloaded at The Arthouse gallery in Christchurch sometime this afternoon. One final painting on canvas and four 3D sculptural pieces will accompany me in my car as passengers when I drive North on Sunday.  

Whew. I felt a wave of really strong feeling as that truck pulled away. For some reason, this 'arrival' has a different note to it than it has in previous years. Making this work has been a deeply involving and fascinating journey - this part has not been all that different, at least not obviously so - but the Questions of Balance work seems to have drawn together tight and loose threads from so many different times and aspects of my life. I have the strong sense that the particular explorations of this show mark both the end of something and the beginning of a whole new chapter. 

I'll be posting my artist's statement here in the next day or two - meantime, the exhibition is up on the gallery's webpage if you would like to pop in there to have a look-see. 

My patient youngest son is in the process of helping me give my website a major lift ( to coincide with the opening next Wed., 26 August) - over the next wee while, new pages will be up to explore, including a more in-depth Antarctica page and a sound-related 'room' called LISTEN with the sub-titles 'Elemental Antarctica', 'Stories & Musings', 'Native NZ' and 'Conversations'. It'll take a while to get it all properly orchestrated, but I'm quite excited about what he's doing with it. I've got so much material that's been sitting in the 'pending basket' waiting for something to be made of it. A web update seems like a good place to start.  

If any of you happens to be in Christchurch next week, please do come and join us for a celebratory opening... things will be happening at 62 Gloucester Street from 5.30PM till around dinner time. The doors will be wide open - all welcome. (Oh, and the exhibition will be up till 13 September.)

Gathering Momentum - CB 2009
Oil, chinagraph pencil, liquin & pastel on 600gsm Acquarelle

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mouse - mice. House - hice?

We talk about one louse and two lice. Yes. 

But do we say, one slouse and two slice? No, of course not. 

How inconsistent our English language is. 

So, what's all this about? Well, the past twenty four hours have found me in a moral/ethical dilemma over a mouse. One's been living in my house, and last night it become apparent that if I didn't 'deal' with it, I could well end up with a tribe of them and then what good would turning a blind eye do? This rather endearing-looking creature took up residency a week or so ago; it liked the studio (warm floors, cold outdoors) and to begin with, I only caught glimpses of it in there, but then I started detecting evidence of sojourns into my kitchen, and  - well, no, I wasn't too happy about that. The thing is, I'm one of those people who's never been able to squash an ant or a snail or a worm... not because I'm squeamish, mind, (I can deal with stubbed toes and pulled nails, etc... ) but because little creatures matter. And what if - as so many of our world religions suggest - the spirit of our ancestors resides in one of them? (I'm not entirely joking here.)

Deciding what to do about the mouse in my house has been a real wrestle. 

Some years ago, during a particularly cold winter, a mouse came inside looking for warmth - and found it - so I went out and bought two black plastic, 'humane' mouse traps - the kind that have a little tunnel that mice are lured down into (you put a smear of peanut butter onto the back wall) and a door that closes after them once they're in there. I would then walk the mouse-in-its-trap several blocks down the road to an empty piece of land, and there release it.

Well, that was then and this is now - I no longer have those traps and do you think I can find them again in any of our local shops? Nope. I even tried a pet shop, but they're nowhere to be seen. SO, off I went to The Warehouse where I asked two uni-student shelf-packers if they could recommend a humane way to trap a mouse. They fell about laughing and pointed me to The Real Deal. 

'This is what you need!' they said. 
"Were you brought up on a farm?" I ventured, "How come you're so comfortable at the idea of killing this poor creature? I actually don't want to kill this mouse; I would just like it to round up any friends and relations it may have and      go     and     live    outside.'

Hah. Easier wished for than achieved. I reluctantly allowed myself to be convinced into buying a pair of traps for $2.79 then headed home to contemplate how I was going to take the next necessary step.

First up, I rang P & R to ask whether instead of the kind, humane person I thought I was, I was in fact a brutal, heartless monster? They reassured me that setting a trap was the right thing to do. I should grit my teeth, do what I must and cut myself some slack. 'But', I protested, 'this is not who I am. A person doesn't just wake up one morning and find herself equipped to kill an animal.'  

What to do? What to do? Kind R offered to come and 'tidy' things up if I'd like him to once they'd been to the Farmer's Market. Would that make it any easier?  

Anyway, I'm at risk of sounding ridiculous, boring or mellow-dramatic about all this, so I'll cut to the chase. 

Suffice to say it was a smart wee mouse, wily in the way of traps. Not so me. The metal bar came down on me three times while I was baiting it - once on each thumb and once on my right forefinger (none of which seemed unreasonable). The mouse, on the other hand, managed to beat the trap a matching three times before finally setting it off at around midnight last night. There was a sharp 'clack', followed - mercifully - by silence. I couldn't bear to go and check it out, so stayed in my bedroom, apologized out loud and sent blessings to it down the passage. There was no avoiding it this morning, though. 

Before my middle son boarded his plane in Madrid last evening, I was talking with him on Skype. He's a patient fellow. Wise, too. When I mentioned my mouse dilemma, he said 'Mum, you do have to do this, you know. We're not supposed to share our domestic spaces with free-roaming mice. Do what you must, and once it's over, give the animal a respectful burial and bless it into the ground. It'll be okay.' 

It was. 

It is. 

But still. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

(Scrap) Metal

About a month ago, a fire razed an old scrap metal yard in our wharf area to the ground. Graders are still clearing the dejected-looking site. When they cut their engines, nothing stirs. Metal in every shape, size and colour huddles up in corners as if reluctant to leave. 

In the building next door, a team of joiners play Salmonella Dub and go about their work. 


My exhibition Questions of Balance opens at The Arthouse in Christchurch on 26 August... I'm expanding my repertoire this time round, showing five wood, aluminium & glass sculptures alongside a sequence of paintings and drawings. This 3D work has only been made possible because of the terrific group of gifted people 'out there' in my home community. Without their patience, generosity, skills and support I would not have been able to actualize my vision. It's been (is still being) a powerful collaborative journey. I've learnt heaps and it's been a wee bit nail-biting at times, but my goodness, excellent people abound... sincere thanks, all.  

Two pics showing early stages of the 'level-&-bob' process, with more images to come over the coming days... 

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Chef in Chefchaouen

This evening's Skype exchange with my twenty-two year old Cancerian son (who's currently traveling solo around Morocco) went like this -

"So, Dan, what does today hold for you?"

"Well, I've met up with a five-star Moroccan chef who is going to teach me how to make a fish tagine from scratch. We're off to market in a mo. to choose the fish..."

"Wow. That sounds awesome!"

"Yep - I'm pretty stoked. I met him yesterday walking about town with a Canadian guy and we started having a yarn. We ended up having tea and a smoke for about an hour, and did the same thing again in the evening. He's very friendly and hospitable."

"What's his name?" (I love the sound of foreign names.) 

"To be honest, I can't remember! I'll find out while we're cooking..."

"This is so cool - to think of you going to market to buy fresh white fish with a Moroccan chef who'll then be teaching you how to make an authentic local meal... Keep your antennae tuned, won't you, and make a mental image of all the ingredients and instructions so that you can recreate it for us when you get home?!" 

"Ha ha! Yup, it's pretty exciting. He's a head chef who works on contract for six months at a time in Europe, the States and Morocco and then he travels the rest of the year. Hey, Ma, I have to go... I'll look out for you online later in case you're still up, but suspect it'll be way too late. Otherwise, tomorrow?..." 


It's approaching midnight but all I want to do now is Google recipes for Moroccan Fish Tagines and get cooking. The theory is we should eat when we're hungry, right - not when a clock tells us it's dinner time. Well, I more-or-less missed dinner 'proper' this evening because I went to the opening of the Samuel Johnson Tricentennial exhibition at about That Hour (it was  launched by the ebullient Dr. Paul Tankard in the Public Library's Reed Gallery. I encourage you to go and have a look-see; there's a treasure trove of rare material). 

Anyway, I got home at an odd time so ended up having cereal for supper, which explains why my appetite is now roaring (added to which, I'm a Leo and this is our month for roaring).  I feel more than up to an intensely-flavoured midnight feast. Why ever not? There are plenty of lemons, black peppercorns, chillies, coriander, cumin, tumeric, garlic and onions in the kitchen. I even have two fillets of fresh red cod in the fridge. I bought these on my way home from the joiners today; the cod is from our own excellent-if-not-quite-as-romantically-placed fish market, Blue Water Products.) 

Well, I'll be off then, leaving you with this photograph Daniel took of the appropriately-named Chefchaouen, the small, blue, mountain-hugging village he's loving being in.   

If I knew how to, I'd upload the goosebump-inducing recording he sent of the muezzin calling the locals to prayer. 

Photograph - Daniel van Ammers



"Hi Ma, I've just returned from lunch with Mohammed and his brother. Did I mention that he's 52? Which is sweet - makes him more interesting to talk about the world with. Anyway, the tagine was incredible! Made it in a traditional tagine dish which is basically a clay bowl-shaped bottom with a matching clay, inverted cone lid cooked over a flame. We prepared it in the shop/house so that I could watch and smell it cooking. Apparently its pretty common to make up your tagine, take it to the local baker's oven and cook it there... quite a nice communal thing to do, plus the wood fire adds flavour to the rest of the ingredients."

The shop/house where the tagine was prepared. Photograph - Daniel van Ammers
And - bless you, Dan - here's the recipe... 
"So, he layered slices of potato along the bottom, then covered them with slices of tomato. After this he added a herb mixture which was made with lots of powdered red pepper, black pepper, cumin, a bunch of fresh parsley and about a half handful of finely chopped garlic. He mixed this into a wet paste with olive oil and a bit of water, then ladled it over the potato/tomatoes. Next, the other constituents were layered one at a time; fish, tomatoes, sauce, green peppers, jalapenos, more tomato, more fish, the rest of the herb mix, 2 cups of water and then a lid. Here's a photo of the finished product - easily the best meal I've eaten in Morocco."

Mohammed's Chefchaouen Fish Tagine. Photograph - DanvanAm

Monday, August 03, 2009