Our brand-new event series, the Saturday Soirees, continued in March with the launching by Kay Lawrence of Stephanie Radok’s Becoming a Bird: Untold stories about art.
Our laneway was once again filled with eager punters and supporters of Stephanie’s collection of meditative stories. And, as a special treat, our bookshop was also graced with a small collection of Stephanie’s Spend More Time Listening to Birds Suite. One of the etchings from the collection features as the cover for this beautiful new collection.
Today, we are thrilled to be publishing launcher Kay Lawrence’s speech for all to enjoy.
Last week my friend, Olga Sankey sent me a glossary of terms that enable you to decipher book blurbs. The glossary begins:
Enchanting – there’s a dog in it
Heart-warming – a dog and a child
Moving – child dies
Heart-rending – dog dies
‘lateral and personal and rich with ideas’.
I breathed a sigh of relief. If there was a dog in it, it didn’t die.
In fact, Mike Ladd’s blurb is very accurate. Stephanie’s book is ‘lateral and personal and rich with ideas’.
I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve reached a ‘certain age’ but I found so much in it that resonated with my own experience.
It’s a book that defies categorisation ranging across so many topics; across space and time, home and family, encounters with art and literature, tending a garden, walking and thinking, and what you can learn from dogs or birds.
Early in the book she writes:
In the early morning I walk in the garden around the edges of the known world. I observe each tree, shrub and plant and their relation to each other, their health and happiness.
Thinking about ‘the edges of the known world’ reminded me of a set of tapestries I made forty years ago in as a response to an exhibition at the Contemporary Art Association called ‘Artists Walks’. I’d wanted to walk the hills where I lived but with two small children this was impossible. Then I remembered a Zen tale I’d once been told about two brothers who sought enlightenment. One walked the world, the other his own back yard. So, I made a work called ’A walk around on the inside looking out’, a walk through the house looking out through the windows of the bedrooms the bathroom, the kitchen. Strangely what began with frustration ended as a meditation on possibilities.
Stephanie’s book takes you along both these ‘paths to enlightenment’, her travels to encounter art in cities across the world, Venice, Ottawa, New York and walking around her garden in Erindale with her dog, absorbing the sentient world around her, journeys into the unknown and known worlds.
She applies the same attentiveness and thoughtful reflection to all she encounters, whether the art of Joseph Beuys or Emily Carr or Walter de Maria. It’s a book full of interesting bits of knowledge a bit like some of the museums she encounters like the Pitt Rivers Museum in Cambridge, full of disparate objects, each with their own story, and, as she says,
a real time warp, a time capsule an actual slice of a past way of thinking and ordering human culture.
At times the text meanders along like thinking; something is noticed that triggers a memory or a bit of information before returning to the path. For example, she tells us about the introduction of olive trees to the suburb of Beaumont in 1844, then discusses olive presses and the symbolic significance of olives in the bible before ending with paintings of olive groves in the Adelaide foothills by painter Dorrit Black. As she notes,
Worlds of meaning open out from examining one small thing.
Time is encountered in many ways in in this book. The text is structured around the twelve months of the year, the time it takes for the planet to sweep around the sun.
But in every chapter, historical time in enfolded into the present, fragments of history or memory grounded in the present moment. It’s a structure that encourages the kind of reading that slows into reverie. She talks of standing with the dog looking at the stars and the companionability of that simple act, the companionability of art, of encounters that stay with you, that you can think about, whether comforted, challenged stimulated, whatever it is that you need at that time.
In the July chapter, ‘Inside Books’, she says the importance of books when travelling, cannot be emphasised enough. I concur.
When I went to Istanbul for the first time, on my first day, I found a copy of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, a memoir of the city, in a bookshop. I carried it around for a week, reading it by night or in coffee shops and parks and sometimes in a quiet corner of a museum. It was like travelling with a knowledgeable friend, who could explain why all the open-air restaurant’s seemed to have an attendant dog snoozing under a table, or could tell the history of the lighthouse whose beams slowly rotated through my room from dusk to dawn every night.
Reading Becoming a Bird reminded me of this experience. How a book can open up unknown and familiar worlds rather like taking a walk and having an ongoing conversation with a friend, lightly touching on many topics, gardens, art, books, poetry, family, birds, dogs, a conversation full of words and companionable silences that open up spaces for thinking.
I loved reading this book
You should buy a copy now for yourself … and one for a friend!
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