Black Flags

July 19 — August 19 2016, Trish Clark Gallery

It’s violent suburb.  The children are restless, with a sense of loss, as if they had truly been children of the native forest which, like a father, has abandoned them by dying.  Blenheim has a higher proportion of suicides than the marine suburbs; more robberies, car conversions, civil and supreme court cases, more arson, bounced cheques.  Yet it also has the skilled workers, the plumbers, carpenters, potters, mechanics, french polishers.  It has dancers, a taxidermist, florists, a ventriloquist… And from recent years there has been the ghost of the famous poet who collapsed in the street and died… And now they say that whenever a black fantail appears at your back door, it brings the ghost of the poet to you. Perhaps you may feed the fantail and then watch it flutter and dance away to the Hastings Domain where all that is left of the native forest is allowed to grow among the macrocarpa trees and the pampas grass and the half-buried car bodies.

Janet Frame
Living in the Maniototo, p. 39
New York, Braziller, 1979

The exhibition is in three parts.  Black Flags, hanging banners with text, locate and memorialise. They are signs creating a square, a perimeter of mirrored words. The twelve panels are strung together by the logic of a walk: through the Glenfield/ Birkenhead Cemetery, along Glenfield Road, past number 276, where Janet Frame lived, past the shopping mall she described in its infancy, the walk terminating at the house where poet James K Baxter died.  It is a road of cars and few pedestrians, passing through what was once farmland, then nappy valley, a suburbia now leapfrogged by the sprawl that continues far up the coast.

Smelling scorched, Black Flags delineate a space, an inside and an outside to the text. The banners’ texts are simultaneous, scrolling not across a screen, but hanging, waiting for the viewer to move.  They are dark thoughts hanging in space, the light cutting through them, the words burnt out.  They have memories of Hotere with his gas torch and McCahon with his poems climbing into heaven.

The adjacent ink drawings on silk paper fold and bleed.  Evoking the architecture of the book and the intimacy of reading, they are inspired by both the calligraphic tradition and the physicality of the page. The drawings, though wordless, reference the forms of language that allow James K. Baxter, Janet Frame and Jacqueline Sturm to speak now, here, to tell their stories in the present.

Baxter and Sturm is part of an ongoing series of works inspired by Kintsugi, a Japanese tradition of mending, with its redemptive possibility of repair.  These twin vases were found at different times and in different places, brought back together here – repaired in more ways than one. Baxter and Sturm is dedicated to two writers, linked and separate, with enduring, complex, connections.

Black Flags is an interrogation of time and place.  These moments form layers of a complex geology,  of historical and tribal memories scraped back like the topsoil. Stories for the amnesiac city of glass and asphalt, clay and water.