Dawn/Water Poem, 1986. Ralph Hotere.


Dawn/Water Poem, 1986.
Ralph Hotere.

Language makes arrangements. These might be compared to the behaviour of water, an expression of energetic relations among molecules. There is activity at the meniscus where tensions arise from oppositions juxtaposed.

Understanding the singularity of the present moment, you invent a syntax with materials close to hand. A language evolves. Becoming skilled in it you can modify, rough it up and stretch it by experiment and exploration. Like this? Like this?

Whether canvas, timber, iron, steel, words or light, harmonies arise between materials. Meaning is spun. There are riches: rhyme, assonance, dissonance, melody, harmony, percussion, onomatopoeia and the mighty dimension of metaphor.

The painting puts the poem visually. Synaesthesia allows me to hear the voice in it, pick up nuances. Shapes shift behind the surface. In a certain light, at a certain angle it seems that the surface is permeable, that I have gone through it and look out from within my own reflection.
— from Dark Matter, Ralph Hotere and Language by Cilla McQueen

Language, space, syntax, material, the physical, the spoken, the written, and the felt.

Reflecting on the work of New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere, Cilla McQueen folds each of these elements into the others - searching for a way to describe the manner in which Hotere's work precedes the poem, rewrites the poem, and critiques the poem at once. Words become material for the artwork to be produces from, rhythm for the head-voice of viewers to replay, and their meaning becomes a dimension for the artwork to extend. 

Dawn/Water Poem, an example of such work, was a collaboration between Hotere and poet Bill Manhire. It becomes more than a collaboration -  a criticism, a use, and a production at once. In her reflections in Dark Matter, Ralph Hotere and Language, McQueen transitions the discussion back to language. A conversation between artists, across mediums, and through time exists.

The work is spatial - in many ways, the interplay of voices, thoughts and images defines a kind of artistic site. Its hard not to be drawn in, to want to take part, to want to make physical this place or to enquire as to the physicality(s) of it. From where did Manhire, Hotere and McQueen write, paint, write? And perhaps more interestingly, to where?