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Issue No.16 - Finding Voice/Refusing Voice

The true and durable path into and through experience involves
being true to the actual givens of your lives.
True to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.
Seamus Heaney



What would I say in their Shoes?
Rewriting speeches

Saying No More
Refusing to speak

A New Time Scale
Looking at time from a new perspective

The Grace of an Empty Building
Dignity in ruins

Simply Voicing the Self
Not chasing publication

Geography of a Person
Exploring landscape and body

Stories from Household Objects
If objects could speak ...

The Spider and the Fly
The horror of fables

Projecting and Creating New Space
The art of projection

The Emotion of a Flower
Projecting meaning onto nature

Thirteen Plus Ways of Looking at a Poem
Comparing translations

Building depth in space
The return of Trompe L'oeil

Exploring a concept

Welcome to Edition # 16 of The Creative Teaching Space.

It feels like ages since I have written this magazine. I have been working on new projects and just haven’t had the discipline to sit down and get ideas rolling. I think all writers face this – the eternal battle of getting down to work; the guilt and the lack of confidence.

At times my muse has vanished. Last I heard it was backpacking in the Andes. A friend suggested it had arrived at a U.S. airport and was stuck in customs control. I think that it has simply gone quiet, pushed away by bigger forces. It is probably in a back room, like a cat, kipping on a couch. I’ll wake it, but hang on, why not let it rest? Sometimes I prefer to be quiet.

This edition of the magazine is dedicated to the idea of the ‘voice’. Sometimes people don’t want to speak. Sometimes I don’t want to speak. Sometimes I don’t want to enter into the role. Sometimes I just want to stand back, and watch, and listen. Summing up. Sometimes I don’t want to answer. If I had a dollar for every time people asked me why I moved to Tasmania! People want to pin you down, find a quick answer – always find a reason as if there is always a clear decisive reason. Okay here goes: I moved to Tasmania ‘because’. I like the word ‘because.’ It defines – and it answers. Now hopefully all the questions will cease.

A few words about my approach in this magazine penned from some time ago:

My approach in this magazine has been one closer to poetry than curriculum design. While I write resources in curriculum, and teach or conduct professional development when opportunities arise, I have always felt somewhat distanced by academic references to education. I get tired of the jargon and understand why, in recent times, Australian newspapers and websites are carrying articles about jargon in education.

I am particularly interested in new ways of talking about education – new ways in which the classroom, or learning itself, is made even more human. This is far removed from the language of psychology that so easily creeps into modern discourse. It is more an attempt, on my behalf, to re-examine the mysteries in learning and the many ways in which we can choose to explore the riches of the world. I am drawn to voices that are sincere and authentic. I shy away from language that is overly academic and seems to lack a human stamp.

I guess that is why I draw so much upon poetry and art within my writing. I love situations in which the human voice reveals itself – with its strength but also its vulnerability. I love getting a sense of a person. I love that feeling of intimacy in which I feel that I am engaged with a person, across time and space. How often can we say this about contemporary educational writing? Too often words seem to be shaped by theoretical cultures. Pragmatists play the game. Language is used to re-inforce one's place – and define yours!

I have never really felt part of those scenes and tend to work independently. I am drawn to voices that speak of humanity, with a humanity. I value words that inspire and make the world into a richer place. I try to listen to the world – to sincere voices coming from many fields. As a result in recent times I have explored many disciplines. I have been reading the poetry of the New Zealand poet Glenn Colquhoun and I have been viewing beautiful books on garden photography by the likes of Lyn Geesaman and Sally Gall. I have been inspired by artistic photography of old buildings. All these ideas will somehow, sometime, work their way into an edition of The Creative Teaching Space. Work with the ideas as you like. In some cases they may inspire. They may open doors. I find that artists often open doors for me.

Above all don’t fall victim to cultures that try to stamp or define learning. There is so much more out there! Beware of the reductionists. In the end we run the risk of being disempowered by them – the so-called educational experts who, in defining education, take away the joy and the mystery.

I still contend that how a school, or an education department, treats its teachers is just a reflection of how that system will ultimately treat its students. If we are really serious about opening possibilities in education then we should be really serious about the humanity of all involved – teachers, students, parents and the wider community.

We must take a broader view of education: see the language for what it is, see how certain ideologies and disciplines have tried to stamp our perceptions, see the politics involved and simply see how people are treated.

It has been interesting watching, at close hand, so called educational experts in recent years. Some have been the most immature and cold people I have ever met. Others have been very open.

The proof is in the pudding. The most interesting people are the practitioners who put their ideas into practice. We should be looking to this consistency, finding these stories and celebrating them. We should be watching and listening for authenticity as well as inauthenticity. We should be alert to the nature and feel of language – in particular becoming more sensitive to the sound of authenticity. That is why I love the arts. It so often expresses authenticity. Find and sense the authenticity in a work of art and it will train you to authenticity in so many fields. It has certainly helped me.

Enjoy the reading and the scanning.


What would I say in their Shoes? – rewriting speeches

Out of dismay at the nature of modern political speech imagine if we could rewrite the speeches of politicians. Imagine if we could say what we really wanted to hear. Imagine if we could go beyond the rhetoric, find words that really inspired, find a truth that heals and opens new possibilities for advancement. The following speech by the actor John Howard, same namesake as the current Australian Prime Minister, was broadcast a few years ago on the satiric television series The Games. The television show satirized the politics behind sports administration. It also took the opportunity to imagine what John Howard would say if he had the courage to apologise to the Aborigines of Australia – a grand gesture akin to the power of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

Apology made by John Howard on the 3rd of July on national TV.

Any other John Howard who wishes to make this announcement should apply for copyright permission here, which will be granted immediately.

Good evening. My name is John Howard and I'm speaking to you from Sydney, Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games.

At this important time, and in an atmosphere of international goodwill and national pride, we here in Australia – all of us – would like to make a statement before all nations. Australia, like many countries in the new world, is intensely proud of what it has achieved in the past 200 years.

We are a vibrant and resourceful people. We share a freedom born in the abundance of nature, the richness of the earth, the bounty of the sea. We are the world's biggest island. We have the world's longest coastline. We have more animal species than any other country. Two thirds of the world's birds are native to Australia. We are one of the few countries on earth with our own sky. We are a fabric woven of many colours and it is this that gives us our strength.

However, these achievements have come at great cost. We have been here for 200 years but before that, there was a people living here. For 40,000 years they lived in a perfect balance with the land. There were many Aboriginal nations, just as there were many Indian nations in North America and across Canada, as there were many Maori tribes in New Zealand and Incan and Mayan peoples in South America. These indigenous Australians lived in areas as different from one another as Scotland is from Ethiopia. They lived in an area the size of Western Europe. They did not even have a common language. Yet they had their own laws, their own beliefs, their own ways of understanding.

We destroyed this world. We often did not mean to do it. Our forebears, fighting to establish themselves in what they saw as a harsh environment, were creating a national economy. But the Aboriginal world was decimated. A pattern of disease and dispossession was established. Alcohol was introduced. Social and racial differences were allowed to become fault-lines. Aboriginal families were broken up. Sadly, Aboriginal health and education are responsibilities we have still yet to address successfully.

I speak for all Australians in expressing a profound sorrow to the Aboriginal people. I am sorry. We are sorry. Let the world know and understand, that it is with this sorrow, that we as a nation will grow and seek a better, a fairer and a wiser future. Thank you.

John Howard, July 3, 2000.

In another gesture the writer Harold Pinter, in his excellent and hard-hitting Nobel Prize acceptance lecture imagined a speech by George Bush.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

Imagine taking political speeches and rewriting them – the real speech compared with what could otherwise be said. One only has to go to press releases from the offices of politicians to explore possibilities.

Here is another interesting example. In his film The Great Dictator, Charles Chaplin’s character – a Jewish barber – makes a speech when he is mistaken as the leader Adenoid Hynkel – Chaplin’s satire on Hitler. No doubt Chaplin would have hoped that Adolf Hitler could have been capable of such a speech.

The Jewish Barber (Charlie Chaplin's character):

I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an Emperor – that's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible – Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another; human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there's room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me I say, "Do not despair." The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators die; and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers, don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel; who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate; only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers, don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, "the kingdom of God is within man" – not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite!! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality.

Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow – into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up.

Saying No More – refusing to speak

In his song "Why Must I Always Explain", on my favourite Van Morrison album, Hymns to the Silence, Van Morrison sings:

Why, why must I always explain
Over and over, over again
It's just a job you know and it's no sweet lorraine
Tell me why must I always explain?

Van Morrison is obviously alluding to the ways in which media critics are often looking for answers to why people do what they do .It is as if we have to always look for an explanation: ‘that person is that talented because of the way he was treated by his father.’

Biographies, and general criticism, so easily get trapped by the theories of modern pop psychology. Rarely do they step back and consider their theoretical perspective. Rarely do they consider how trapped they are by ideologies that seek to explain human behaviour in such simplistic terms. One only has to read the recent biography Chronicles by Bob Dylan to read how mystified he was by his own talent and how horrified he was by the others’ perceptions:

"I was sick of the way my lyrics had been extrapolated, their meanings subverted into polemics and that I had been anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent, the Duke of Disobedience, Leader of the Freeloaders, Kaiser of Apostasy, Archbishop of Anarchy, the Big Cheese. What the hell are we talking about? Horrible titles any way you want to look at it. All code words for Outlaw."

While Dylan’s skills partly developed from a deep immersion in music and literature one gets very tired of the endless need for people to pin down others like butterflies in a display case. It is as if we are restless in accepting talent. It is as if we have to find something to pin down that talent. This puts our minds at rest. We feel that we have an answer.

Why can’t we simply accept the mystery? Why do we have to pester for an answer?

The following poem by Thomas Hardy says it all. Having spent much of his career writing words he talks about speaking no more.

He resolves to say no more

O My soul, keep the rest unknown!
It is too like a sound of moan
When the charnel-eyed
Pale Horse has nighed:
Yea, none shall gather what I hide!

Why load men's minds with more to bear
That bear already ails to spare?
From now alway
Till my last day
What I discern I will not say.

Let Time roll backward if it will;
(Magicians who drive the midnight quill
With brain aglow
Can see it so,)
What I have learnt no man shall know.

And if my vision range beyond
The blinkered sight of souls in bond,
By truth made free
I'll let all be,
And show to no man what I see.

Thomas Hardy

Reflect upon this approach – the refusal to explain or speak. Throw light on the questioner or the public that seeks an explanation. What power is there in remaining silent? What power is there in accepting the mysterious and the unexplainable? You can even listen to this: "Ain’t Talkin’" by Bob Dylan.

A New Time Scale – looking at time from a new perspective

I really admire the poem "To the girl who stood beside me at the checkout counter of Whitcoulls bookstore in Hamilton on Tuesday" by the New Zealand poet Glenn Colquhoun. Read it and see its beautiful way of exploring time. A lifetime is compressed into a few seconds. A few seconds become a lifetime.

Use it to inspire discussion and reflection about time. How can one take a short period of time and use it to explain a longer scale? Play with time's mystery and beauty.

The Grace of an Empty Building – dignity in ruins

I was recently entranced by the website called New England Ruins by Rob Dobi. I had been looking through websites and books containing images of old building sites. A number of these have been referred to in previous editions of the magazine.

Whether it is a group of light bulbs left on the floor of a building, a broken clock, a lone bath tub, Rob’s photographs are extraordinarily beautiful. They have a dignity and a grace that speaks of the past. Images are beautifully arranged. Discarded objects become rare relics, the past is suddenly evoked, beauty is found in even the most abstract of objects.

The photographs on this site indicate how a sensitive photographer’s eye can breathe new life into a place. Abandonment becomes beauty. An eye finds form within fixtures now deemed worthless. Our imagination is set to wonder and wander. What happened in this building? What stories could be told?

The camera is like a ghost passing through the echoes of a past world. Imagine the questions. Imagine the answers.

There are many sites that deal with the photography of ruined urban space.

Rob Dobi’s site is one of the more beautiful that I have found. Each photo is beautifully composed with a wonderful sense of balance. It is one of the best websites I have ever found – a salvation after receiving so many spam emails and experiencing so much dross on the web.

Simply Voicing the Self – not chasing publication

It is worth stepping back from the constraints of outside forces. Funding bodies and publishers are governed by forces and trends that can be extremely limiting and limited in their scope.

If you have a dream to write then simply write. If it never gets published then so be it. This doesn’t mean that it is bad. If you wish to explore and express your inner world then take the journey. The journey is important in itself regardless of whether one gets published.

The following account by Gao Xingjian in his Nobel Prize lecture celebrates the value in following the inner muse. It speaks of the importance of the individual voice. It takes us back to the truth of literature – an authentic voice, feelings, an individual wanting to express him or herself.

What I want to say here is that literature can only be the voice of the individual and this has always been so. Once literature is contrived as the hymn of the nation, the flag of the race, the mouthpiece of a political party or the voice of a class or a group, it can be employed as a mighty and all-engulfing tool of propaganda. However, such literature loses what is inherent in literature, ceases to be literature, and becomes a substitute for power and profit.

In the century just ended literature confronted precisely this misfortune and was more deeply scarred by politics and power than in any previous period, and the writer too was subjected to unprecedented oppression.

In order that literature safeguard the reason for its own existence and not become the tool of politics it must return to the voice of the individual, for literature is primarily derived from the feelings of the individual and is the result of feelings. This is not to say that literature must therefore be divorced from politics or that it must necessarily be involved in politics………(edit)

It can be said that talking to oneself is the starting point of literature and that using language to communicate is secondary. A person pours his feelings and thoughts into language that, written as words, becomes literature. At the time there is no thought of utility or that some day it might be published yet there is the compulsion to write because there is recompense and consolation in the pleasure of writing. I began writing my novel Soul Mountain to dispel my inner loneliness at the very time when works I had written with rigorous self-censorship had been banned. Soul Mountain was written for myself and without the hope that it would be published.

From my experience in writing, I can say that literature is inherently man’s affirmation of the value of his own self and that this is validated during the writing, literature is born primarily of the writer’s need for self-fulfilment. Whether it has any impact on society comes after the completion of a work and that impact certainly is not determined by the wishes of the writer.

I find speeches of this sort very inspiring. It is so easy to get caught up in pressures of the marketplace. Funding bodies can be so destructive. If it is true for you then follow it. Whatever happens is beyond your control. Just think of the Max Brod and Kafka saga. Reflect on the wonderful words of Harold Pinter at the start of his Nobel Lecture – what a beautiful and simple description of the process of starting writing! Nothing daunting here! Simply a beautiful description of the steps one can take in starting to write a play.

A time may come for publishing. Your work may never be published. Think of the journey. Feel the journey. Enjoy responses from friends. Enjoy those moments, like I do when a friend comments on my photography, or a reader comments on my website. Find solace in what is true for you – the nest, what is home, what can never be taken away from you.

Geography of a Person exploring landscape and body

In a previous edition of The Creative Teaching Space I referred to the song This Old House and how it was once thought to be an analogy of a body breaking down.

The following song Sweet Thames Flow Softly by Ewan MacColl explores a relationship through the reality and the metaphor of the River Thames. This makes me think of the many possibilities that we can use to explore geography – a city as the body, our relationship, as the place in which we meet, its many parts reflecting emotional states. Explore such possibilities. A place is more than a place name. It evokes memories. It works on us. We work on it. Geography and the body can combine. Art meets geography. Land resonates with a power that is part geography but part something more.

Sweet Thames Flow Softly

Ewan MacColl

I met my girl at Woolwich Pier, beneath the big cranes standing
And oh, the love I felt for her it passed all understanding
Took her sailing on the river, flow sweet river, flow
London town was mine to give her, Sweet Thames flow softly

Made the Thames into a crown, flow sweet river, flow
Made a brooch of Silver town, Sweet Thames flow softly
At London Yard I held her hand; at Blackwall Point I faced her
At the Isle of Dogs I kissed her mouth and tenderly embraced her

Heard the bells of Greenwich ringing, flow sweet river, flow
All the time I had was singing, Sweet Thames flow softly
Lighthouse Reach I gave her there, flow sweet river, flow
As a ribbon for her hair, Sweet Thames flow softly

From Putney Bridge to Nine Elms Reach, we cheek to cheek were dancing
Her necklace made of London Bridge, her beauty was enhancing
Kissed her once again at Wapping, flow sweet river, flow
After that there was no stopping, Sweet Thames flow softly

Gave her Hampton Court to twist, flow sweet river, flow
Into a bracelet for her wrist, Sweet Thames flow softly
But now alas the tide has changed, my love she has gone from me
And winter's frost has touched my heart and put a blight upon me

Creeping fog is on the river, flow sweet river, flow
Sun and moon and stars gone with her, Sweet Thames flow softly
Swift the Thames runs to the sea, flow sweet river, flow
Bearing ships and part of me, Sweet Thames flow softly

Stories from Household Objects if objects could speak

I recently heard a radio show on the ABC that explored the topic of chairs. One reference was to the text Certain Chairs by Barbara Blackman. Having borrowed the text from a local library I am really impressed by the lovely way in which it uses furniture to tell the story of Barbara Blackman’s life. Like Seamus Heaney’s lovely poem A Sofa in the Forties in his text The Spirit Level, Barbara Blackman is equally aware of the power of furniture – how we wrap meaning around the objects that we live with or have lived with.

Her chapters explore a range of items: The Thin Blue Chair, The Carver Chair from Norfolk, The Swinging Mirror, The Good German Stove and The Monkey-Circus Table and One Woolworths Pudding Bowl.

What a beautiful way of presenting a memoir.

Imagine letting the objects from our past speak. What will they tell us? Where are they now?

The Récamier Couch began life with us in the coach-house after many lives secret to us. It was a seat for two with padded arms and no back which gave it the unlikely appearance of a bed for a very small child. Many twos sat on it and eventually one child slept there. The two arms were so very like handles that it was carried about more than any other impedimenta sedentia and so was present at most of our days’ dramas. The nervous stranger sat there with hat not removed, the good friend sat there reading a book, the employed woman sat there turning up a trouser cuff, the waiting one sat there watching out and down the paved and curving path. And it was often carried into the garden.

The Spider and the Fly the horror of fables

The following tale The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt shows us how stories can be moral tales warning children of the suspicious nature of the adult world.

Explore how concepts such as power, or manipulation, can be explored through fantasy tales. What other animal relationships, and fable forms, allow us to explore important ideas? How might we set a tale? What animals could we choose? What relationship could we explore? How might we use a fable form to powerfully express an idea?

The Spider and the Fly

Will you walk into my parlour? said the spider to the fly
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy,
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there.

Oh no, no, said the little Fly,
to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair,
can ne'er come down again.

I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high
Will you rest upon my little bed?
said the Spider to the Fly.
There are pretty curtains drawn around
the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile,
I'll snugly tuck you in!

Oh no, no, said the little Fly,
for I've often heard it said
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly,
Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I 've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice
I'm sure you're very welcome, will you please to take a slice?

Oh no, no, said the little Fly,
kind Sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!

Sweet creature! said the Spider,
you're witty and you're wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings,
how brilliant are your eyes!
I've a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you'll step in one moment, dear,
you shall behold yourself.

I thank you, gentle sir, she said,
for what you 're pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day.

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.

Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
Come hither, hither, pretty Fly,
with the pearl and silver wing,
Your robes are green and purple,
there's a crest upon your head
Your eyes are like the diamond bright,
but mine are dull as lead!

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words,
came slowly flitting by
With buzzing wings she hung aloft,
then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes,
and green and purple hue

Thinking only of her crested head, poor foolish thing!

At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour, but she ne'er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne'er give heed.

Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

Projecting and Creating New Space – the art of projection

The work of Shimon Attie shows interesting ways of exploring urban space, history and photography. Imagine finding old photos of a city, locating the exact spot and exploring interesting ways of using that modern space to evoke the past. Old photos can be recreated by actors. In this case Shimon Attie uses large projectors to project old photographs onto modern spaces. The past comes to life. We see the person standing in the doorway. The past has returned. The creative use of technology allows us to link the present with the past. What other creative ways can one use technology to evoke the past? History merges with art. History becomes a public project.

The Emotion of a Flower projecting meaning onto nature

In a recent exhibition at the State Library of Tasmania, The Language of Flowers – exploring the ways in which people throughout Tasmanian history have related to horticulture – reference was made to the text Language of the Native Flowers of Tasmania: Harris and Just 1867.

Based on an English tradition called Floriography, the act of attributing emotions to the reference and giving of flowers, it is an attempt, at that time, to project similar meanings onto the somewhat foreign world of Tasmanian flowers.

This list details some of the emotions attributed to flowers. By giving another person a cutting, or pasting or drawing flowers into a diary, one helped to evoke emotions in what was the rather stuffy world of the Victorian era.

Explore why people chose to project emotions onto flowers. In what other ways do we project humanity onto nature? Perhaps we can take trees or animals and explore how a taxonomy of emotions can be created.

Excerpt from Language of the Native Flowers of Tasmania

Swamp Tea–tree: (Melaleuca ericaefolia) Love of Home.
Blue Gum (eucalyptus globulus) Falsehood.
Hair trigger Plant (Stylidium graminifolium) You frighten me.
Blue Violet (Viola betonicaefolia) Modesty.
Yellow everlasting (Helichrysum apiculatum) a proposal.
Tiger Orchis (Cryptostylis Longifolia) I wish you well.
Wild Daisy (Brachycome decipiens) think of me.

Thirteen Plus Ways of Looking at a Poem comparing translations

Here is an interesting website dedicated to the Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1925). Inspired by his life, and the extraordinary resource of 25,426 items left in a trunk after his death, it presents one poem in over thirteen translations.

Have a look at the poem Autopsicografia and read the many translations. Compare them. Which translations work the best? Discuss the effect of translation. After all any foreign work must go through this process in order to be read by English readers. I think that we can lose sense of this fact. We take words as gospel without realizing how they are changed by journeys such as editing or translation.

Building depth in space The return of Trompe L'oeil

Trompe L'oeil is French for ‘deceiving the eye.’ Going as far back as the ancient Greeks it has evolved through Renaissance painting to the current day. Based on the premise of deceiving the eye into a sense of illusionary space – as though someone can pick something out of the painting – one can see it on the walls of old churches, in computer art and modern day murals. Explore the work of Richard Haas and works in Australia.

The website Urban Legends gives details on a series of truck images that have been circulating in emails in recent years. A form of illusion insofar as they are not real – they are computer generated images as part of an advertising campaign – they at least show us how Trompe L'oeil can still impress today. Look at these images and explore this fascinating field in art history. One that challenges the viewer and what is being viewed – a form of play that predates postmodernism and all its pretences.

Borderlines exploring a concept

I have been listening recently to the lovely album Travelogue by Joni Mitchell. A swansong in her career, she recorded it shortly before she retired, it contains orchestrated reworkings of her songs. Many of the songs are wonderful. They are performed with a grace and a tenderness that brings the songs even more to life. And with orchestration by Larry Klein and appearances by the likes of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Billy Preston, it is a lovely swansong – beautifully packaged with Joni Mitchell’s paintings.

One of the songs in the package is "Borderline". Not one for wanting to diminish music by writing about it – isn’t it Elvis Costello who once said that writing about music is like dancing to architecture? – I want to at least refer to the beautiful ideas within this song. "Borderline" talks about the many lines or barriers placed between people: distrust, defense, vulnerability, conceit, convictions, nationhood, age, income, etc. It is a lovely exploratory song that carries a range of tones – even the lovely line "Every swan caught on the grass will draw a borderline."

I refer to it because I feel that it approaches an interesting topic in a highly creative way. It makes me think of the creative writing that students could do as they explore a concept from a variety of perspectives. It also takes me back to the beauty and surprise in music – how words mean one thing yet how music and singing can take meanings even further.

Hoping to cross borderlines shortly I now take a clipping of a wild daisy and carefully paste it into a greeting card.

Darron Davies

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