John Hurrell – 2 September, 2010
My favourite is the third, Temptation of the World. I love the sound of Davis' words visually inserted as a map ‘legend', and all the turbulent allusions to triggers in this small paragraph, blended in with Wordsworth's A Slumber Did Her Spirit Seal, and Rembrandt's Susanna and the Elders. It's a spinning bloody complicated mix that goes perfectly with the concentric circles of the image while also serving as a love poem to his wife, Susan, whose name is written in the flag image:
Flag Poems: Time, Text and Echoes
July 2010 - May 2011
Those of you of keen vision who regularly drive down New North Road may have noticed a new exhibition at Jar, the gallery venue sited in Kingsland on the Westrn Springs road corner. There shows - illuminated only by natural light - are seen through its large plate glass window from a public footpath. Previous exhibitions were by Stephen Bambury and Peter Robinson, each for about two years. The current exhibition is by Leigh Davis, the person who thought up the existence of Jar as an art venue in the first place.
However, this is no vanity-driven enterprise. Though Jar is his ‘invention’ Leigh Davis was a remarkable poet, literary essayist and artist who died tragically last year of a brain tumour. This exhibition though, organised by the other Jar trustees (friends Wystan Curnow and Stephen Bambury, and his wife Susan Davis), is not driven by delirious sentimentally and hand-wringing blind grief. It celebrates a great talent by showcasing a sequence of thirty poem-embroidered flags that Davis once presented in the old Auckland Railway Station as an installation, hung vertically as a set of banners.
Twenty-nine of these flags came from a collaboration with designers Christine Hansen and Stephen Canning, and one with painter John Reynolds. Each flag, attached by nine bulldog clips to a horizontal wire, is presented for ten days. They look terrific suspended in the air as hovering rectangles, and perfectly fit the proportions of the space. The fourth flag in the series, Brown Te Kooti is now up.
Te Kooti Te Arikirangi Te Turuki, the 19th century Maori leader, religious visionary and much feared guerrilla fighter, is a figure who fascinated Davis, partly through his reading of Judith Binney’s very detailed book Redemption Songs, and her discussions of Te Kooti’s scriptural reading habits, writing of waiata and making of flags.
So in the four flags presented so far we often see self-reflective allusions to the pennant’s fabric or wind. The first (hau) refers to breath of wind and to hauhau, the Pakeha term for dangerous Maori; the second to ‘those softly framed’, and the third to a weather map. The fourth has a wonderful pair of sentences about flaunting/taunting military display: Each patrols each. Looking without transport, bares it, gates it, flutters its clothes.
My favourite though is the third, Temptation of the World. I love the sound of Davis’ words visually inserted as a map ‘legend’, and all the turbulent allusions to triggers in this small paragraph, blended in with Wordsworth’s A Slumber Did Her Spirit Seal, and Rembrandt’s Susanna and the Elders. It’s a spinning bloody complicated mix that goes perfectly with the concentric circles of the image while also serving as a love poem to his wife, Susan, whose name is written in the flag image:
All that wells around her turns and turns her, the pistilline fall of buds and triggers, rouge song in the Bird of Christendom. Tumid without child before the Elders and all the mysterious Figura Amoris rhythmically arises echoing roles, in the sweet trigonometry of the blindness and blindness of men.
The trigonometry allusion to surveying brings an ambiguity to the meteorological map, making it topographic and concerned with land disputes and military conflict. It’s cleverly loaded, engaging - though oblique and sprawling - writing.
I live quite close to this 24 hour gallery and shows like Davis’ make my regular visits to the Morningside dairies and train station quite special. A treat in shopping transit.
SCOTT LAWRIE GALLERY
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