Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Three Cool Launches

Thérèse Lloyd: Other Animals (Wellington: VUP, 2013)
[Image: "Ursus Arctos," by Jane Dodd]

So Bronwyn and I flew down to Wellington last week for the long-awaited launch of her sister Thérèse Lloyd's first full-length book of poems, Other Animals - published by Victoria University Press, and launched by her long-time friend and mentor, poet Bernadette Hall.

[Thérèse & Bernadette waiting to speak]

One of the very first publications from Pania Press, back in 2006, was a chapbook of Thérèse's poems entitled many things happened, so I think it's safe to say that we've been supporters of her work for quite a long time now.

[VUP managing director Fergus Barrowman introduces the book]

There's a dark, haunting quality to her poetry which seems to me quite inimitable. I will admit that it scares me at times, but never in a gratuitous, "Gothic" kind of way - the things that preoccupy Thérèse are the things that should be worrying all of us: environmental catastrophe, social collapse, the chaos and alienation of modern life.

[The crowd in Unity Books]

So, while this was an very joyful occasion - so many friends and well-wishers grouped in one venue I've seldom seen before, while the book positively flew off the shelves! - the poems we were celebrating are anything but "safe." In fact, as she read, I suddenly felt as if a kind of ventriloquism was taking place: the poems sounded as if they had been crafted in some other language, by Rilke or Paul Celan, then somehow transmuted back into English. It was quite uncanny.

[Thérèse signing books]

I really recommend this book. Judging by the audience reaction on the night, it seems to have hit a nerve. Nor do I believe that there's anything flash-in-the-pan about Thérèse's poetry. She's taken the trouble to think it through and arrange the contents with consummate care, and I think you'll agree that it's been worth the effort. We couldn't be happier with her success.

Tessa Laird: Chupacabra Candelabra
[Auckland: Melanie Rogers Gallery (13 Feb-9 March, 2013)]

About a month ago now, we drove over to Ponsonby one fine evening to attend the opening of Tessa Laird's new show in the window of Melanie Rogers Gallery (you can see the trees of Jervois Road reflected in the glass in the picture above). Pania Press is intending to publish a catalogue of the exhibition at some point in the near future, so it was with a certain trepidation that we awaited our first sight of Tessa's strange new set of works.

[Chupacabra Candelabra (1)]

The show is called "Chupacabra Candelabra," and consists of a set of ceramic "books" arranged in alternation with various brightly coloured candlesticks, on five beautiful pink cloud-shaped shelves. Tessa's a writer as well as an artist, and the works she's created for this show build on her wonderful 2012 Objectspace exhibition Reading Room, with Peter Lange.

[Chupacabra Candelabra (2)]

This time the books are mostly South and Central American in inspiration. There are Mayan and Mexican and Aztec motifs all jumbled together in syncretist profusion. I say "profusion" rather than "confusion" because there's a underlying spirit of joyous intensity which seems to combine all these various directions in her work into one colourful whole.

And it's perhaps worth remembering, when you look at this magnificent pyramid of clay books, that the Maya themselves used Toltec motifs in some of their art - and in the post-classic period, even Aztec influences began to appear in the few surviving works of art (mostly codices) from that era ...

Kirstin Carlin / Tessa Laird / Ruth Thomas-Edmond
[Auckland: Melanie Rogers Gallery (13 Feb-9 March, 2013)]

Renee Bevan: The World is a Giant Pearl
(Photograph: Caryline Boreham)

Last (but not least), a few days before we attended the opening of Tessa's show, we went to Renee Bevan's artist talk - with curator Karl Chitham - for her new show "Stream of Thoughts" at the Gus Fisher Gallery, on Saturday 9th February.

I guess what interested me most about it - and what made me think that it might make a nice triad with Thérèse and Tessa - was the largely conceptual nature of the whole show. Renee is a jeweller, but her jewellery practice is beginning to intersect with an almost Duchampian playfulness and wit.

Renee Bevan: A Whole Year's Work
(Photograph: Caryline Boreham)

This image, for instance, takes its significance from the fact that the powder being poured over Renee's head consists, in fact, of the ashes of a whole series of her own visual diaries which she's discarded and burnt.

Renee Bevan: Parting Breath (2012)
(Photograph: Caryline Boreham)

This one, "parting breath," was originally intended to preserve the remnants of her own breath in a collapsed balloon. The first attempt broke while it was being electroplated, though, so this substitute is coloured black in mourning for its lost progenitor.

Renee Bevan: Wearing Myself as a Bracelet (2012)
(Photograph: Caryline Boreham)

This last one, "wearing myself," is perhaps the one which best expresses the spirit of the whole show. Draping herself around her partner as a human necklace, or making a velcro brooch which literally "attaches" you to other people, goes a bit beyond satirical celebration of the ephemeral nature of things. Renee's art is all about emotion, connection, cherishing. The subtlety and humour in her show shouldn't be allowed to distract you from the depth of her convictions on the matter.

I suppose, finally, that the reason I like these three shows so much is that they seem to me to be saying many of the same things in their very different ways. It's not so much hope they offer us as companionship. "There never really was much hope," as Gandalf tells Pippin when things are at their worst in the middle film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy: "Just a fool's hope."

Even a fool's hope is better than none, though. Renee, Tessa and Thérèse may not be able to set things right for us once and for all - the crooked made straight, the rough places smooth (Luke 3: 5) - but the wit and compassion they show in these three bodies of work at least show us that they're not going to allow us to give in to despair too easily.

They've given us three gifts, and I for one would like to express my gratitude to all of them.

Postscript (Friday, 15th March):

We've just heard that Tazey's book has entered the official Nielsen Weekly Bestsellers List (for the week ending 9th March) at Number One! There are three categories: NZ Fiction for Adults; NZ Non-fiction for Adults & NZ Children & Teens (as well as international listings for each). Other Animals is at the top of the first list, ahead of titles by Janet Frame, Witi Ihimaera and Fiona Kidman. Fantastic! It sure must have hit a nerve ...
Nielsen Weekly Bestsellers List: week ending 9 March 2013
The Bestseller Charts represent the bestselling books in New Zealand for the week up to the date given. The Bestseller Charts are compiled by Nielsen BookScan and comprise data supplied from the New Zealand panel of participating booksellers. Please note these charts are subject to copyright and may not be reproduced. Books are categorised according to country of publication.

& check out Hamesh Wyatt's review in the Otago Daily Times Online:
Therese Lloyd's poems have appeared in a number of places. Other Animals is her debut collection of poems. Lloyd certainly has spark. Like Smither, her poems are simple, spare and beautiful. But rather than hitting on the soft things, Lloyd develops a lyrical pathway through some thorny issues.

She uses everyday lives in her poems. People rummage through rubbish and compost. Mice, rats and flies make regular appearances in these 38 short poems.

'Proof'': ...You trapped the mouse in the wall by nailing a
square over the hole. For days afterwards I thought I heard
it desperately scraping, its claws worn down to stumps. As we
slept cramp seized your leg. You leapt out of bed clutching
your thigh. You looked enormous in the strange morning half-
light. The way things morph - shapes forming imagined shapes
- I thought I saw the mouse squeezing through a gap and you
reaching down to carefully, slowly, crush him in your hands.

It is impossible not to enjoy this new work from the get-go. Lloyd adds bile, bite and a few surprise twists. She tells us what is on her mind. Other Animals will intoxicate the reader.

... She has produced a little book that is watchful, armed with warning and observations of people who are sometimes totally out of their depth. I like how this is new and exciting.

Cool bikkies, eh?

& now there's another great review (by Siobhan Harvey) on Beattie's Book Blog (2/4/13) ...


Richard said...

Quite extraordinary work by these artists - Tessa Laird has done innovative work for some time now. She also put out some small booklets and sometimes read at Poetry Live about 1994 etc and did video work so the various forms of Art are connected.

I don't know Bronwyn's sister's work but I would be interested in getting a copy of her book.

Renee Bevan's work looks exciting also. Ideas. She has many ideas.

There may not be hope but humans keep hoping regardless. We will muddle on. All these doomsday worries are there as challenge. Something will turn up.

It's not QUITE time to kiss our rear ends good-bye!

Good post as usual.

Where are all the appreciative and brilliant commentators / recipients of your benificence?

Richard said...

"There's a dark, haunting quality to her poetry which seems to me quite inimitable. I will admit that it scares me at times, but never in a gratuitous, "Gothic" kind of way - the things that preoccupy Thérèse are the things that should be worrying all of us: environmental catastrophe, social collapse, the chaos and alienation of modern life."

Good - I like "dark haunting" - but I don't think we "should be worried" (not because I don't think they matter), but the expression has become a cliche. Dr Wayne Dyer in 'Your Erroneous Zones' expatiates that there are two useless emotions i.e. Guilt, and Worry. Worry as this concerns things in the future and it is stupid as mostly there is nothing one can do. [This doesn't exclude intelligent concern, planning etc] and Guilt as that is re something that has already happened.[We are not talking about if your are say a Caryl Chessman on Death Row! So don't go to the extreme counter examples. By and large these ideas I have found good.

In many cases e.g. politics I simply switch off. Mostly it passes. I'm now 65 and there has not really been any fundamental changes in my life int the world...since 20,000 years!!

That said:

1) The white background to your Blog suits what you are doing. Great! [De-Gothhicises it a bit!]

2) I will buy one of Therese(?)'s books (if not sold out), not so I can worry! But to read and see what she has done.

2a) This will mean I will have a book by both sisters!

3) Great news for Therese!

On Gothic, I think it has a place (as does the surreal). Clearly in your EMO and (large range of writing) but I like the kind of dark but often comic of say Flannery O'Connor ('Wise Blood') than say Edgar Allen Poe. But to digress further I think she is the greater writer. NZ has a "tradition" of the Gothic also.

This general lack of humour is my only criticism of many of the Post Modernist theorists and the Langpos although that doesn't apply to say Bruce Andrews...

Or is it all a matter of life and death?