Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Unplanned Masterpiece

[Gabriel White, dir.: The Unplanned Masterpiece.
Produced by Amelia Harris.
Graphics by Marcus Hofko.
Music by James McCarthy
(Auckland: Film Archive / ACC, 2009)]

So I went to see a preview of Gabriel White's new film about Auckland, The Unplanned Masterpiece, last Saturday.

I suppose you could say I'm prejudiced. After all, I am in the film - albeit very briefly, as one of the more than thirty talking heads delivering views on various aspects of the city's history, life and culture - and of course Gabriel and I are old friends and collaborators. But you know, even despite all that, I was worried that he wouldn't be able to pull it off - that the film would come across as quirky or incoherent, or just insufficiently representative.

But it didn't (or didn't in my view, at any rate). I found the film continuously fascinating throughout. I'd actually thought I knew something about Auckland before watching it, but I have to say that there was a great deal there which was news to me. I find it hard to imagine the person who could say that they were already au fait with all the vital, strange pieces of information Gabriel's interlocutors unearth. Their very shrugs and gestures become laden with implication at times as they stare down helplessly at Spaghetti Junction, the Harbour Bridge, or the Ports of Auckland wasteland.

Gabriel allows his thirty-odd speakers to speak for themselves. At times one will supplement or contradict the one directly before them - it's not that the editing isn't artful; just that it doesn't seem intrusive. From the opening description of Auckland as a endlessly fought-over, contended-for space (Tamaki-desired-by-many) to the closing description of its curiously temporary (time-bound - literally) architectural spaces, what comes across most strongly is passion: love for a city which at times can seem anything but loveable.

Balzac's famous story Le chef-d'oeuvre inconnu, the unknown masterpiece, tells of a painter who so elaborated his work that it finally dissolved into incoherence, an immense blur with nothing discernible in it but a single foot. Gabriel's title subtly puns on that. If Auckland is a masterpiece, it must be because there was something at work there beyond the makers' intentions (as in the final passages of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, where Charles Ryder concludes that the "fierce little human drama" he had participated in might have been justified simply by the fact that it left behind a consecrated chapel for his soldiers to use ...).

Like any city, it is - or should be - the sum of the aspirations of its inhabitants. That's an easy thing to say, but until you hear Gabriel's chosen speakers talk, it's easy to forget or overlook the richness and strange beauty of our own "wasp-waisted isthmus."

Gabriel comments in his work journal that "it was a little deflating to hear the film described by one member of the audience as 'left wing'", going on to say that "one political agenda of the film is to render such Jurassic categories obsolete." It's a punchy film, certainly - one designed (as he himself said at the launch) to get people talking and disputing - but I also think he's right that it eschews any particular rigid reading of the city's history in favour of a kaleidoscopic (but never incoherent) vision of promises broken and betrayed which ended up (perhaps), somehow, with some of them being kept after all.

So, in any case, the main purpose of this post is to advertise the fact that:

Free Screenings
of Gabriel White's new film about Auckland

The Unplanned Masterpiece

are on in Auckland Art Gallery's Art Lounge
(on the corner of Lorne St & Wellesley St)
on Sunday 4th October
at 11 am & 2 pm.

It really is worth a look if you have the slightest curiosity about this city.

And if you haven't, and you live here, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

2 Events in 1 Night

[Bronwyn Lloyd: Tui (after Anne McCahon) (2009)]

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to let you know that three of my
School Journal birds (images attached) will be on display in a group textile exhibition curated by Judy Rae that opens at Waiheke Art Gallery next Friday, 25 Sept. at 6pm.

The birds will be accompanied by many beautiful textile pieces ranging from soft furnishings, jewellery, articles of attire and sculptural works, created by a range of contemporary textile artists including Rosemary McLeod, Rona Ngahuia Osborne, Merrilyn George, Miranda Brown, Paula Coulthard, and Margaret Chapman.

All of the works in the exhibition are available for sale.

I hope you can make it along to the show.

All the very best,

Bronwyn Lloyd

Hi Everyone,

As an attachment is your invitation to the launching of
On the Eve of Never Departing, a collection of prose works by Richard von Sturmer.

The launch will be at Fordes Bar, 122 Anzac Avenue, Auckland City, at 6:30 pm on Friday, September 25th. Also launched will be
Free Fall, by Rogelio Guedea, a Mexican writer. Both books are being published by Titus Books. Live music will be provided by Otis Mace.

Best wishes,

Richard von Sturmer

I hope you can sympathise with my dilemma. On the one hand, here's a book launch by the sublime Richard von Sturmer, whose work continues to be an inspiration to all us alternative types up here in Auckland.

On the other hand, here's the opening of Bronwyn's textile exhibition on Waiheke: 2 events in 1 night (to paraphrase the title of Janet Charman's first solo book of poems).

Go to both! you say. After all, they're bound to be boozing till pretty late on at Forde's Bar ... You can check out the exhibition, then hurry back to Parnell.

Well, you know, I would - but Waiheke? I just don't feel the logistics are on my side . So (of course) the choice is clear. I've just got to see those birds in situ, having watched them gradually come to squawking life around the house over the past couple of months.

I'm definitely going to be picking up a copy of Richard's book from Brett Cross at Titus Books asap after Friday night, though - and Rogelio's, too, for that matter.

So, for the record:

[Richard von Sturmer: On the Eve of Never Departing (2009)]

The booklaunch is on:

from 6.30 pm

at Forde's Bar
122 Anzac Avenue
Auckland City

And here are the two culprits in question, decked out in their best plumage:

[Bronwyn Lloyd: Red Bird (after Jill McDonald) (2009)]

The exhibition:

(25 September - 19 October 2009}

opens on
from 6.O0 pm

at Waiheke Art Gallery
2 Korora Road
Waiheke Island

For sales enquiries or further information,
please contact Linda Chalmers
Waiheke Art Gallery

I should just remark parenthetically that Bronwyn's recent honours include being selected for:

Best philosophical stand-off in a public space:
Wystan Curnow and Bronwyn Lloyd at the Rita Angus symposium

by Courtney Johnston on her blog best-of-3.

If you'd like to know more about that epoch-making stoush, check out the post here.

In the meantime, here's looking forward to fewer fisticuffs and more celebrations on Friday night!

And if you're curious to see the inspiration for Bronwyn's own nest of singing birds, check out the following images by (respectively) Jill McDonald and Anne McCahon:

[Gregory O'Brien: A Nest of Singing Birds (2007)]

[Anne McCahon: School Journal cover design (1954)]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I love chapbooks

The Return of the Vanishing New Zealander.
Dunedin: Kilmog Press, 2009. 20 pp.

There's something distinctly satisfying about a chapbook. They're so bite-sized, so approachable. I think a lot of people who feel daunted by a full-length, buttoned-up slim volume of verse (let along a Collected - or even Selected - Poems) feel somehow reassured by the lack of fanfare accompanying a self-confessed poetry pamphlet.

Design, too. There's more of a sense of genuine collaboration about chapbooks - book-designers choosing a text more for their own purposes than to serve some author's plan for world domination.

Dean Havard at Kilmog Press has been making a name for himself for his robust sense of design and unflagging industry. I'm not sure just how many books he's brought out to date, but it must be quite a few. He's published poetry books by Jeanne Bernhardt, Peter Olds, Bob Orr, Mark Pirie, Michael Steven - in some cases more than one by the same author - but his list also includes art catalogues and even an edition of the (so-called) Lost Journal of Edward Jerningham Wakefield!

A website is coming soon, apparently, so we'll soon be able to see a list of all his publications to date (though I gather that many of them have sold out already, so you'll have to be in fast). In the meantime, there's also a blog that you can visit.

In the meantime, the books are available from Parsons in Wellesley Street, or directly from the publisher (Kilmog Press, PO Box 1562, Dunedin). They retail for $35.

Here's the sample poem from my own book which Dean put up on Facebook (which enables me to claim a lack of egotism in reproducing it). It comes from the poem "Journey to the West":

III – Countdown

Is it high?
It touches heaven.
It reaches hell.

White clouds surround the mountain
black mists swim
red-blushing plums / jade bamboo
dark-green cypresses / blue pines

Ten-mile pavilion: no travellers leave
nine-faced heaven: stars have set
on eight harbours: boats are docked
in seven thousand cities: gates shut
six palaces: officials gone
five departments: ledgers closed
four seas: fishing lines sink
three rivers: waves subside
two towers: bells resound
one moon lights earth and sky