'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Try out the Punnet Cafe

A week or so ago my daughter and I dropped in for lunch at the Punnet Cafe, on the outskirts of Hamilton.
This is a newly opened cafe.   It is in the style of the urban trendy corrugated-iron, hard-edged, black-decor type, but softened and made very inviting with chunky wooden tables and lots of windows.  But with a difference: this one sits in an area of new lifestyle blocks of land, right in the middle of a strawberry farm.  A delightful country setting and, on the day we visited, a good number of people were also enjoying the brilliant and warm August sunshine slanting in through the windows.

My daughter had eggs benedict which she assured me was very nice indeed and not too tangy as they can be. There were two softly poached eggs on a bed of spinach with salmon, bacon and the addition of New Zealand watercress green garnish  added a pleasant peppery bite. 

I had a salmon egg scramble.  A generous serving of smoked salmon with scrambled egg, capers and feta and some herbs, and again some small delicate watercress leaves.  Very tasty and a nice balance of flavours, although perhaps I would have enjoyed a little more of the herbal tones coming through.

The décor was inviting and themed around the strawberry red / black and green.  I noticed attention had been paid to a common problem with high ceilings - echo and noisiness of chairs on floors.  Black baffles had been discretely added to some parts of the ceiling between the rafters.  There was certainly no excess noise and combining the space and airiness, the cafe has a warm and cosy atmosphere.

An outside courtyard will be a great place to eat once the seasons turn and the temperatures rise.  It will be good to see the large wooden herb planters full and overflowing with culinary herbs for use in the kitchen.  A pleasing, unpretentious touch.  

The prices reflected the boutique nature of this cafe. (Eggs benedict $17, salmon scramble $16).  

The wait staff were approachable and obliging without being over-familiar.   All in all, a fine lunch in most agreeable surroundings.  

Punnet Cafe comes with a story.  It has arisen from the 'ashes' of a disaster, but is worth regular visits in its own right and should prove to be just the right thing for owner Gary McMahon to have done, despite the initial urgent incentive.
Tamahere Forum article

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Phenomenon of YouTube clips going 'Viral'

I have posted many YouTube clips before on this blog.

YouTube clips vary from music videos example: An Unexpected Song - Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
to science videos, example:  Nature by Numbers - Cristobel Vila
to advertisements, examples: Old Spice and Sony
to 'home' videos examples: 'Where the Hell is Matt?' and 'Ninja Cat' and 'Four Seasons River'
to little commercial movies example: 'Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty'.

These days there wouldn't be many inter-netters who had not visited YouTube and watched something that they enjoyed.
There are many wonderful, odd, quirky, weird or just plain delightful clips that have gathered so much momentum, that they have 'gone viral' - or spread throughout the internet world, to the point where people quote extracts from them in conversation, and nearby total strangers laugh.

Example:  Charlie Bit Me.  (as of writing this clip shows 223,505,698 views)

Then you have the related phenomenon of people taking a viral clip and mucking around with it.  This is called a 'remix'.

Example:  A double rainbow.   A double rainbow remix.

And now, an artwork from a viral clip.  This one is simple, but I think there's great potential.

Example: original clip - Mocha's first broccoli.
And here is the art:

Stumbled upon just now:  Granny O'Grimm's short reaction on hearing about 'her' nomination for an Oscar.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Pumpkin Art

Invite a number of people for a roast meal.  Put meat and potatoes in oven to roast.  Put large white pumpkin on chopping block.  Cut a wedge out of the pumpkin.  Commence to cut the skin off.  Get side-tracked by the interesting combination of colours on the pieces of skin.  Arrange pieces in a pleasant arrangement.  Photograph.  Transfer image to computer. Open image in Photoshop and apply 'posterise' filter.

Luckily pumpkins don't take long to roast.

Here's the original:

Friday, 27 August 2010

White-tailed Spider

Now don't get me wrong. I've nothing against Australians in general terms. Except maybe the accent. But I DO NOT LIKE this relatively new Australian that has made its home in New Zealand. Its prey is the little grey house-spiders, and it eats at night, so it's often hiding under the window-sills during the day ... or, having come in the windows to stalk your spiders inside, it has found that pile of clothes on the floor to nap in during the day.

And white-tailed spiders can bite.  Hard.  It REALLY, REALLY hurts.  Imagine the worst wasp-sting conceivable and multiply it to the point where all you can do is sit in the garden, squashing the annuals you've just planted, and rock, moaning, holding onto a place with two minute fang-holes, with tears rolling down your face for ten minutes.  That's what it can be like.*  
The good news is that after about the ten minutes of agony, the pain fades and within another 30 seconds you are up on your feet, feeling slightly foolish, hoping the neighbours didn't hear the moans and trying to resurrect the plants you sat on.

This big one has just been dispatched after giving me a big fright as it strolled across my keyboard just now.  Waaaooh!

There have been anecdotal reports of some people needing to be hospitalised after developing necrotic ulcers, but these are unconfirmed. 

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Beauty in Unexpected Places

I captured this image of a dear little robin in the 'Mediterranean' dome at the Eden Project when my daughter and I were visiting in 2005.  What a life, eh?  Mild climate and no snow or predators to battle.  Hopefully plenty to eat.  Only problem might be to find a kindred friend...

You could go to Mr Pudding's post Eden to read an account of this marvelous place.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.

At the beginning of each new academic year, Matt Might explains to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is.  It's hard to describe in words.  So he uses pictures.

 Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish primary or elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a Bachelor's degree, you gain a speciality:

A Master's degree deepens that speciality:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you're at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And that dent you've made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don't forget the bigger picture:

But keep pushing!

By Matt Might.

The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D

Thanks to Flatattack.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Being at Bluff

A couple of weeks ago I was standing on the far edge of mainland New Zealand, under the signpost at Bluff.   Behind me, once you get past Stewart Island, there's nothing left but Antarctica.

Looking at this image, I have just realised it's also the farthest I've ever been from London.  Not that I necessarily constantly orient myself with regard to that city.  But obviously I do a little, to have thought about it.  I do like London.  I feel at home there.  And that is odd, since I've never lived there.  

It was fresh and windy at Bluff.  We walked up to the top of the outlook and watched the rainbow and the bands of rain and sunlight move over the land and sea.  It felt quite magical.

And then, walking back, there was a little bird on the path.  It seemed reluctant to fly, and we were equally reluctant to make it.  It trotted ahead of our slow progress for at least a dozen metres.  I think it might have been a pipit, pihoihoi.  More magic.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Strawberry Kiss

Blend 1 measure white rum, 1 measure Amaretto Disaronno, 1 measure double cream and 4 strawberries, with ice until smooth.  Pour into a tall wine glass and garnish with a strawberry on the rim.

This image is proof that there is a use for chokos after all.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Warning Stickers for Newspapers

Clever Tom Scott has come up with a great idea.
"It seems a bit strange to me that the media carefully warn about and label any content that involves sex, violence or strong language — but there's no similar labelling system for, say, sloppy journalism and other questionable content."

If you go to his website you can print out a sheet of stickers which you can then, he suggests, put them on articles in newspaper left on trains or in other public places. 

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Light Relief

This cartoon post is dedicated to my three amazing techno-literate offspring.  With thanks for all the educating and help you've given me over the years.  I've certainly been dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruit-bat.  (Or is it the century of the Anchovy now?).*


* The Terry Pratchett calendar

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Tove Storch. Illusion and Reaction

Here, reproduced for your interest, is my paper discussing Tove Storch - one of the artists exhibiting at the recent Auckland Triennial (2010).

Fig 1 Untitled Unknown Object #7 (dark)

Although she is young, Danish artist Tove Storch (1981) brings a maturity and depth to her art that belies her years.  In interviews, she speaks softly, yet her work is powerful and engaging, and the concepts that it explores are by no means ‘soft’ in their emotional impact.
Before entering Shed 6, I had only viewed one image of one of Storch’s sculptures, and read nothing about her.  I was totally unprepared for such a visceral reaction to her work when viewed ‘in the flesh’.  I felt afraid of her sculptures.  My fear response seemed almost primal.  Yet there was a great curiosity, too. I was drawn to and simultaneously repelled by her work. “Untitled: Unknown Object #7” and “Untitled: Unknown Object #8” are two large rectangular blocks, not unlike shower cubicles.  In each is a shape: one black, the other white.  These shapes are vague forms, difficult to see through the semi-translucency of the walls.  They look somewhat like draped tall, living entities, but it is impossible to see them properly.  The walls on closer inspection prove to be as insubstantial as the wraith-like figures inside, due to the thin, distorting plastic of which they are made (see figs 1 & 2).
The formality of the structures is surprising, given their emotive-inducing response.  They are large – about 2.5 metres high, and Torch has constructed each beginning with a metal rectangular framework.  Over this frame she has stretched thin plastic sheeting on which she has brushed a coating of liquid plastic.  She has continued adding layers of this coating, drying between coats, to build up patchy thicknesses and directional brush strokes until the final skin’s random thickness creates partial translucency and directional patterns, scattering the light and partially obscuring the object within (see fig 3).  The cubicles have an almost architectural appearance, like miniature tall blocks of homogenous flats or office towers.  Storch gives them no title in order to maintain the ephemeral, uncertain, nature of the work.“… [It] has no title, so it’s really worrying.” -Storch,  interview 1*.
The lighting in Shed 6 did not dramatically highlight the two works.  Yet they elicited a powerful response in me. They emitted an aura of menace, as they stood, still and seemingly innocuous, solid and ordinary, like common shower cubicles, but with a draped or cloaked figure enclosed.  There is a great tension between the ordinariness of the cubicles, and the half-seen, unresolved figures.  For it is very difficult, given our ancient primal need to identify threat, to not be perturbed or scared by the very ‘unidentifiability’ of these figures, except to realise, almost repeatedly, that they are tall, human-like, and, being cloaked and half-seen, appear to be obviously trying to not reveal their identity, or they seem to want to disguise themselves.  At the same time there was a sense that the objects were not solid.  The combination of a ghost-like spirit portrayal plus the still, waiting danger was very powerful. The seeing of something alive yet hidden, lurking, and a sense of threat, is linked in humans to a fear response.  I certainly experienced agitation, apprehension and an elevated breathing rate on first encountering these works.  I felt a need to look away from them, to turn my back, then to have another peek and then rest again from them by averting my eyes.  Yet my intellect, overriding this flight-or-fight response, was powerfully aroused and excited, as I strove to understand what it was about such seemingly simple sculptures that I found so profoundly affecting.  I felt a restless need to move around the boxes to try and see the objects inside more clearly, but this was unproductive.  The appearance of the contents changed but they still could not be identified.  I found out later that this was exactly what Storch intended, and more, besides. “ … so they are very big and black and  then there is something inside that [sic] you will never know what it is …” - Storch, interview 1*.

Fig 2 Untitled Unknown object #8 (light)

When moving between and around the structures, the viewer modifies the light that passes through the work, and, combined with the rippling effect through the plastic membrane, the objects within seem to transform and move; sometimes becoming clearer, sometimes more ghost-like, but never ever fully resolving themselves.  This theme of the illusion of space and motion is one that Storch explores in her other works.  She projects a 3-dimensional image onto another, different 3D form, or induces illusions of three  dimensions through folding and painting paper sheets.  However, unlike her other works where the illusion is able to be determined, these sculptures are not resolved.  And this, she says, is what it is all about.
“It’s not about the mystery, it’s about the aura that they have.  They are mystical, and they are, maybe, a little bit scary … it’s about being, their sense, their poetry around them.”   - Storch Interview 1*
Storch invites viewers to reflect upon their reaction to these pieces.  Specifically to the state of confusion and flux as they try yet fail to determine the contents. In a move further away from the illusionary natures of her previous works, here Storch is pushing not the illusion, but the state of confusion that comes from not knowing, and moreover, not being able to know.
“ … there is an object that you cannot really see, like an unrelieved secret that will not be told.  So you’re in a kind of state of mind where you … there’s something, you tries [sic] to figure out what it is but you will not know and you kind-of stay in this state of not knowing. (my italics)” - Storch. Interview 2*.

fig 3.   Untitled Unknown object #7 (dark) Detail.

Viewer involvement is obviously crucial to the artwork.  For it is the state of the viewer rather than the work itself, that she regards as the work, that is the focus:  “I relate to poetic questions about knowing something, or recognising [something] … in this specific work you stay just—it’s like you see something and you try to focus on it but you’ll never, your eyes will never focus.  [But] it’s not interesting to know what it is, [the] interesting thing is not knowing and just trying to see – and then you’re in a certain state of perception I think.” (my italics). - Storch interview 1.*
 As mentioned, this is a move away from Storch’s earlier works that played on illusion and space.  In a review of Storch’s previous work, Helle Brøns, (Brøns Tove Storch. Moiré and Illusion.) Danish art historian compares aspects of the earlier work to mirage, trickery and trompe-l’oeil. She suggests the point is to raise questions about the nature of representation and three-dimensional space.
In these latest works, Storch takes the journey from illusion and perception several steps further and invites direct reflection on the nature of the states of perception – in the case of these untitled ‘cubicles’ – the nature of recognition and identification of the unknown.  It opens up a whole new area in which a sculpture is simply the vehicle for the artwork.
Although the writer of this following press release from the Kirkoff Gallery was referencing an earlier Storch work, it could equally well apply to this work on show at Shed 6, the Auckland Triennial.  “Tove Storch investigates the process of creating shapes … her sculptures lie in a new area between the physical and the imaginary … The discrepancy between what you think you see and what’s actually present … it is the creative process and way of thinking about the sculpture that is fascinating.“ Kirkhoff Gallery, Copenhagen.
My own work, the Godwit Series is more conservative in some ways.  There are strong elements of intended communication in my work.  However on my agenda is the hope to raise questions and promote later reflection on certain issues as a direct result of viewing my work.  Both Storch and I are similar in this way and also in that we wish for an initial disjoint and reaction.  I wish to evoke an initial disorientation by means of my use of seemingly inappropriate visual styles. Each style, based on its previous use, carries with it an embedded predisposition in the viewer,  For example, I will depict a Godwit with an avian predator but in the style of a Hammer Horror movie poster.  Or I will present a “Christmas Godwit” recipe as if from the pages of a glossy magazine. I hope that my re-use of generally familiar visual messages in an unfamiliar new context, will serve to initially confuse viewers, the tension thereby engaging the viewers’ attention and promote questions and reflection.  My work is still however, basically a form of conversation between the viewer and me as an artist.
Storch of course takes the viewer response so much further.  She realises that she is onto something different from most other forms of contemporary conceptual art.  Unlike my work, hers does not tap into learned or conditioned reactions, for example familiarity with the look of movie posters, but taps into a ‘gut reaction’; the adrenaline surge induced by fear of the unknown.  And although the reactions elicited by her sculptures have commonalities, they are unique for each viewer. And the viewer’s responses to his or her own feelings are likely to be even more unique and complex. In this way, her work is not a communication from artist to viewer, nor is it about a conversation between the work and viewer.  It’s more a conversation within the viewer, and is actually a viewer’s personal response to his or her personal reaction.  Storch finds it easier to define what it is not:
“ I wouldn’t, in general, tell (say?) that [my] art is something … you cannot use [my] art in this normal way of having a conversation, because it’s on another level.  You cannot have it like a political concrete conversation about things that the other person knows what you’re talking about.  But you can have it in like, you can maybe establish another level with something is happening.  But it’s not so easy.  Like if people really want opinions from [my] art pieces, it’s turning into a problem.” - Storch Interview 1*
I will be very interested to follow where Storch takes this concept in the future.

1356 Words.


*Interview 1:  “Rethink 09” Interviewer unknown.  6.11.2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5cYrljfUFM

*Interview 2:   Interviewer unknown.  Galleria LEME, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 21.01.2010.  Part of  YouTube clip “Entrevista com Natalia and Tove”

Press Release, writer unknown  Kirkoff Gallery, Copenhagen http://kirkhoff.dk/art/archive/tove_storch/NULL/660/

Tove Storch. Moiré and Illusion.  Helle Brons http://www.krabbesholm.dk/kbh/exhibitions/storch/ToveStorchUK.pdf

Images: The author, Auckland Triennial, Shed 6.  7.4.2010

Monday, 16 August 2010

Dung Beetles



When I am relieving for a teacher who is ill, one of my favourite days is to (with permission) disregard whatever the kids are usually doing, and spend the whole day studying Dung Beetles.  The kids enjoy ewwwing over the name in the introductory talk, but almost always get very interested, very rapidly, in this wonderful and useful species of insect.

I set up 10 or so different teaching stations around the room, covering topics like:

Dung Beetle lifecycle

Dung Beetles in Ancient Egypt (Scarab worship,  hieroglyphics,  lapis lazuli etc.)

Dung Beetle maths (a series of problems involving problems like distance of rolling dung-balls of a certain circumference, given a certain speed etc...)

Dung Beetle Art (colours, iridescence, blending colours and colour mixing, stone door-stop scarab painting etc.)

Dung Beetle physiology (name the parts, what use are the elytra, How can you tell a dung-beetle from other beetles etc.)

English essay: "Why are Dung Beetles so important?"  Or "Why I like/ don't like/am indifferent towards dung beetles"

Dung Beetles Interesting Facts Quiz (Do Dung Beetles have poo preferences?  Where are dung beetles found?   What do dung beetles do with all their dung? Are dung beetles good or bad parents? etc.)


At lunchtimes, I've often had to prise kids away from their projects and banish them outside to have their lunch.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Beauty in Unexpected Places


Seeing a chameleon is on my List.  This one looks as though it has been inlaid with little polished beads of turquoise gemstones, like some kind of odd Fabergé egg...

Singing Songs

I love music.  And, from an early age I have loved to sing.  My houses have always resounded with music.  Long before I was thought of, Mum and Dad sang in the church choir.  In fact, that was where they met and fell in love - Dad sending sign-messages to Mum from the men's choir stalls across to the women's choir stalls in St Mathews -  "I-l-o-v-e-y-o-u".
Although they were very careful with money, I think I can just remember when my parents bought a turntable and we had a large collection of LPs and children's story records which we played often, and over and over again.  In our first house, a cosy little white stucco affair just outside the village boundary,  and then later in the little cottage in Lindsay Street, I remember listening to the following:

The Flower Drum Song
Porgy and Bess
The Pirates of Penzance
The Sound of Music
Olivet to Calvary
Fiddler of the Roof
Peter Sellers
West Side Story
The King and I
Harry Secombe
Victor Borge's 'Caught in the Act'
Danny Kaye's 'Hans Christian Andersen' 
My Fair Lady
Under Milkwood
Engelbert Humperdinck
Harry Belafonte
Ivan Rebroff
Peter, Paul and Mary
Cliff Richard's 'Summer Holiday'
The Red Army Ensemble
Holst's 'The Planet Suite'
Grofé's 'The Grand Canyon Suite'
The Four Seasons
The Tucson Arizona Boys' Choir
Grieg's 'Peer Gynt'
and my three favourites:  Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf', Handel's 'Messiah' and 'Carmen Jones'.

I wrote a poem about singing the other day.  In magnets (very limited words), on my fridge.

In case you can't read it, here it is:

On praise by us
Make your splendid sonata.
Liquid tune,
Eddy to whirlpool cascade,
Swirling waterfall of choir and fever of harp.
The tumbling lyrical tempest!
That voice shall inspire Neptune
Under the turquoise green ocean.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

I Got Stones

While we were in Queenstown, we stayed with friends who have a house right on the shore of Lake Wakatipu.  Imagine looking out at this lovely view from your living-room window every day!

 Early in the morning we followed the short track down to the beach and I was amazed to find that the frost was right down on the stones along the shoreline.

Where the water had defrosted them, the wave-worn schist pebbles were the most wondrous shades of white, cream, orange, blue-grey, and green.

I brought some home with me.  Predictably, I like the green one best.  I wetted them to bring out the colours, but I think they would tumble up and polish well.  The layered appearance show that they were originally sedimentary - laid down in stillish water - but the crystaline form (I can see little twinkles of quartzite crystals) and the wavy veins, tell me that these rocks have been under huge pressure and the soft sediments have been compressed so hard they heated up and metamorphosed - changed their molecular structure - into what we call schist (a word that comes from the Greek for 'split').  It's mined locally and when split it is popular house-cladding material around Queenstown.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Morris Mug

I was in town today. I had my annual hearing test in the morning. Then I pleasantly filled in a couple of hours at the library and art gallery before my annual dental clean in the early afternoon. Then, finding myself in a mood of artistic optimism, I popped into the Inland Revenue to make an appointment to ask about how to become self-employed. (Well, you never know).
On my way back to the car I passed by the china shop and was distracted by one of those outside-the-shop bargain tables covered with bone china mugs of the kind that are usually three times my usual price. There were no nice birdie designs, but there was a lovely William Morris one in shades of greens with just a dash of soft scarlet and pale blue. I've just christened it with an ice-cold, creamy Guinness*. Was that wrong, do you think?

* Thank you Thomas and Havi.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Serious Firewood

A friend phoned me up.
"Phone this number" he said. "They are advertising in the paper, $200 for a load of firewood. It's good value, nice and clean and you won't have to chop it to fit in your wood-burner"

So I phoned the number and they came around with a truck that barely got in the gate, took off half the ribbonwood tree and dumped an absolutely humoungous load of joinery offcuts in the drive. My goodness, there's a lot of wood in a truck! We've almost filled up both porches and the chook-house is crammed to the roof. I must have made 1,000,000 trips with my green wheelbarrow. Anyone want some firewood? It's pick-your-own...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A Petrol Station with a View

Queenstown scenery is breath-taking. Everywhere you look there is another mountain covered in snow, or a crystal clear blue lake, or a schist boulder-covered hillside. This pit-stop has a backdrop of the 'Remarkables' range. Remarkable, don't you think? Of course I also took this image because the BP colour is green. There was little of that colour on the trip, so I grabbed it where I could.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Serious Mountains

The last five days I've been down in the Deep South. We flew over the Southern Alps to Queenstown, one of the important ski resorts in New Zealand, and then drove the scenic route to Invercargill and back. On the way we saw some serious snow. And some serious suedes...

...from ground level, and from above. The weather on the flight back was so superb that our (commercial) pilot took the opportunity to fly us around Aoraki Mount Cook (New Zealand's highest mountain at 3764 metres, or 12345 feet), giving all us passengers a fabulous view of the glaciers and the mountain itself. The whole trip was really wonderful.