Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In which the fish has a brief moment in the bush

By way of exploring the materiality of objects, of paintings,
I was able to be led into the innards of the National Gallery Victoria, down to the conservation department.

I sat, among a small group, in a circle, and listened to the head of the department explained concepts regarding patina, aging, removal and other such things.
He talked about Damar varnish, something I love to make: chunks of resin dissolved , suspended in muslin, into pure gum turpentine. The scent is wonderful but harming to the nose.

I stared at the painting on the easel, one of my favourite painters, who has become so quite recently. Von Guerard, right there on the easel. Naked, unframed. The conservator continued about ways to remove erroneously applied filler.

As i stared, the room seemed to silence itself beneath noises of the valley, the moist breath rising from beneath eucalypts , cleanly rotting gumleaves and the expanding green of ferns. Currawongs called, a whipbird was almost unheard, a crack of sticks distantly.
Small tang of smoke: forgotten things, making music.

It all radiated out into the room, louder and louder.

I elbowed my new friend, hey, I said

can you hear the soundtrack of that, coming out?

and nodded at the painting. She raised an eyebrow, and gave me a look.

I went back to my listening and sniffing until it was time to leave.

There was soil, and birds, and the wind in the bushy heads of trees which haven't known fourty four degrees to shrivel their heads into brown burnt bacon.

Time to go, says our host
We walk the corridors. Return to the clatter of the gallery.

It was a symphony, she said, that noise. An orchestra.

The painting had sung her a different song.

It was sunny outside on the street. Tram bells rang.


jellyhead said...

Oh fifi.... what an amazing post. When you described the 'soundtrack' of the painting, I felt like I could hear it, smell it, feel it, too.

Your mind works in wonderful ways.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to the Louise Bourgeois this weekend and I will be sure to listen carefully. Great post.


fifi said...

jelly, thankyou, I think you would have heard it also.

Ha ha: i am sure some of those Louise B pieces will be saying quite a lot. And very loudly!

Lucky you got there...just in time!

Pod said...

and please please read miranda july if you haven't already, and see her film 'you me and everybody we know'

meggie said...

Glorious evocative post!

I do believe we hear what we want to hear.

Some people hear only silence, or the sound of their own thoughts...

meli said...

beautiful! reminds me of a hans heyson i used to visit in adelaide art gallery - i could smell it. as long as i held my breath. the art gallery smelled rather stale afterwards.

Isabelle said...

I shall look at pictures differently in future.

I love those mountains.

Arcturus said...

I was in an art museum yesterday ... the National Gallery here in D.C. The exhibit was by the American "realist" painter Edward Hopper. What do you think of him? I don't know if he used pure gum turpentine for his paintings, but all those women were unbelievably ghost white pale.

This was a beautifully lyrically written entry, as you so often do. But who was naked and unframed on the easel?? And what's a currawong?

fifi said...

pod, I am hunting down miranda july. definitely.

Meggie, I hear often enough my scrambled and odd thoughts, luckily I often have my special ears on.

Arc, the painting itself was naked and unframed. So odd to see it without its gilded "window".

Currawongs are birds, typically of eucalypt forests, but have spread all over since the drought. they make a call which says
culla wong, culla wong, culla woooooo.

Isabelle I think you would love those mountains, and Meli,

if you go up close to the picture and have a good snort they usually smell pretty nice in reality. Just watch out for those alarms.