Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Xmas everybody!

Image copyright 2009 Grace Dalley, all rights reserved.
[Where X=appropriate festival! Thanks to Tim Michie for that great definition :-)]

Giant eagle at Macraes

The extinct Haast eagle was the largest eagle ever known, so big that it preyed on giant moa. In the bird-dominated New Zealand ecosystem, the Haast eagles filled the niche of the big cats, or of bears - the largest land-based predators. When the giant moa were hunted to extinction by humans, the giant eagles also became extinct.

At the Macraes gold mine site in Central Otago, soon to be the site of Macraes Heritage and Art Park, a giant eagle sculpture made of stainless steel has been erected. The eagle was made by Queenstown sculptor Mark Hill in his studio in Arrowtown. It is 8m tall and has a wingspan of 12m, roughly four times the scale of the extinct bird, so it will be a landmark in the area. And how did it get from Arrowtown to Macraes? It flew, of course!
The ODT has more information about the sculpture here and there are details of the installation, plus a picture of the eagle arriving by helicopter, here.

You can read more about the Haast eagle on the excellent New Zealand Birds site here.
And because I couldn't resist it, here is a video dramatisation of a Haast eagle attacking a person. Please bear in mind there's no hard evidence that the eagles did attack humans, although there is evidence that humans hunted the eagles. Anyway, the video gives you an idea of the size of the birds!

Another highlight of the Macraes Heritage and Art Park is a vast installation of speargrass and snow tussock by Auckland artist John Reynolds. You can read about it in this Art New Zealand feature .

1970s design strikes back!

I've lived in plenty of flats and houses with 1970s decor, and especially the 1970s curtains with wriggly swirly patterns.
I thought I was safe here with a plain-looking room in neutral grey, cream and off-white, but alas, when the sun shines there is no escape from the wriggly swirliness...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Simon's cat

This is just so funny I have to post it.

Photographic anxiety

You'd think that perusing stunningly beautiful photos of meteorological phenomena ( would be a nice soothing thing to do before bed, right?
Well, it gave me nightmares!

In the dreams I would see an amazing spectacle unfolding (mirage, halo, clouds, whatever) and reach for my camera. There are a number of ways this plays out:
1) I have left my camera at home
2) I reach for my camera but it is not in the case/bag
3) I have left the camera in the car, which is parked on the far side of a busy highway, which I have to cross (twice), Frogger-style, before I can attempt to take the picture. I think there was even a variant of this dream in which, having crossed the highway, I had lost the car keys, and could only look yearningly at my camera through the car window.
4) My camera battery is flat
5) When I press the shutter button nothing happens. This is actually the worst, since I can see the amazing scene framed by the lens, but can't record it.

In each scenario the amazing spectacle disappears unphotographed.

Do other people have these sorts of terrifying nightmares?? clouds

Thursday, 18 December 2008


On August 7th, in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, Kasatochi volcano erupted. I don't remember reading about this at all in the news at the time, but the whole thing was rather dramatic: a remote island not known to be volcanically active, home to 100,000 breeding seabirds, and 2 biologists studying the birds, stages a series of massive eruptions which transform the island! The biologists are rescued by a fishing boat with only minutes to spare. Thousands of seabird chicks are killed, no trace is left of the research station, the island's shoreline is extended 400m out to sea, and the formerly-lush island now looks like the surface of the moon.

You can read the whole story of the eruption here. And there is a "before" picture here and "after" pictures here, here and here.

And material thrown out by the volcano has caused dramatically-coloured sunsets over a huge area of the Midwestern US. You can see some examples here. And there's a neat animation of the spread of ejected dust and sulphur dioxide around the northern hemisphere here.

Bionic eyes

San Francisco artist Tanya Vlach plans to replace an eye lost in an accident with a webcam which she can control by blinking, if she can get someone to design it for her. That fascinating story is here. But this idea is not as new as you'd think: Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence, who also has a prosthetic eye, is retrofitting it with a camera so he can use it to make films. Wired has an article on him here.

Both of these people will be using their eye cameras to film with, not to see with, but the Daily Mail has this article on pioneering work providing digital imaging implants into totally blind patients, which provides rudimentary visual information to the retinal nerves - true bionic sight!

"American Linda Moorfoot was totally blind for more than a decade before becoming one of the first patients to test the new technology.
She told Sky News: "When I go to the grandkids' hockey game or soccer game I can see which direction the game is moving in.
"I can shoot baskets with my grandson and I can watch my granddaughter dancing across the stage. I can see ... things! It's wonderful."

Read the whole article here.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Classic Ready to Roll!

The New Zealand film archive has made 100 New-Zealand-made music videos available online here! They're wildly assorted, from middle-of-the-road to wildly experimental, and from historical to recent, so there's something to interest most people.
Some of my personal faves include this Chris Knox from 1984, and this Split Enz clip from 1976, and the lovely Bic Runga from 1997.
Nod to Russell Brown for the link.

And if those don't make you feel nostalgic, try watching the intro to RTR Countdown from 1983!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

More chances to see

Last Chance to See....

When Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine wrote their brilliant conservation book Last Chance to See.... in 1991, they visited kakapo on New Zealand's Codfish Island, along with a host of other critically endangered animals around the world. Adams himself died tragically in 2001, but zoologist Mark Cawardine is teaming up with the delightful Stephen Fry to revisit the animals described in the book and check on their progress. Fortunately, most of the animals featured have increased in number, the kakapo among them.

Stuff has an item on Cawardine's and Fry's visit to NZ, and says they will be visiting not only kakapo on Codfish Island, but also black robin on the Chathams, kiwi in Waipoua Forest and tuatara and giant weta in Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

There will eventually be a BBC television series, but in the meantime Fry promises to post detailed updates on his redesigned website. And if you haven't already read the book, go to it!, it's hugely entertaining as well as informative and insightful.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds
Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds

Modern birds evolved from a group of carnivorous dinosaurs which included Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor. Feathers are in fact modified reptilian scales!

What has become clear recently, from a number of sensational finds in Asia, is the sheer diversity of feathered dinosaurs. While very few of them could fly, their feathers must have served all sorts of other purposes, from insulation to camouflage to display to the ability to run faster and escape predators by gliding.

This beautiful book has a very detailed and absorbing text, and sumptuous illustrations which attempt to recreate the appearance and behaviour of the feathered dinosaurs, based on comparisons with modern birds and other animals.

You can buy it from Fishpond

Better-educated cats

In answer to the lax grammar and phonetic spelling of the lolcats on , there is , where the cats know their English. It's very funny.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Eileen Duggan: stunning poetry

Eileen Duggan (1894–1972) was well-known in New Zealand in the 1930s and 1940s as a leading poet; she supported herself full time as writer for 50 years, producing not only poetry but essays, reviews and journalism.

I first came across Eileen Duggan's work in the beautiful anthology My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems , which also contains other New Zealand greats such as Katherine Mansfield, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Cilla McQueen, James K Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Bill Manhire, Fleur Adcock, Lauris Edmond, and many others. Unfortunately this book is currently out of print.

Duggan's poetry is polished and formal, which will alienate some readers, and at its worst can be sentimental and contrived, but at its best I think it's breathtaking! I haven't been able to locate any of her books of poetry still in print, but some can be found in libraries. Meanwhile here are three poems to whet your appetite:

The tides run up the Wairau

The tides run up the Wairau
That fights against their flow
My heart and it together
Are running salt and snow.

For though I cannot love you,
Yet heavy, deep and far,
Your tide of love comes swinging,
Too swift for me to bar

Some thought of you must linger
A salt of pain in me
For oh what running river
Can stand against the sea?


You are the still caesura
That breaks a line in two;
A quiet leaf of darkness
Between two flowers of blue

A little soft indrawing
Between two sighs;
A slender spit of silence
Between two seas of cries.


The leaf was dark until a wind
Flung it against the living sun
And all the little cells behind
Were lit up one by one
Lord, if my green has power of fire,
Fling me against you love or ire
That I may give you out again
In one green, luminous amen.

You can read more about Eileen Duggan on her Book Council page, and there are some photographs of her here.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Improv Everywhere

Improv Everywhere is a New York-based group which creates drama in public places. One of their most famous missions was sending over 200 "agents" into New York's Grand Central Station, and at the same moment they all froze in place for 5 minutes, while commuters continued to rush past them. In another stunt they gathered a set of pairs of identical twins and placed them in a subway car all facing each other so that their poses perfectly mirrored each other: a Human Mirror.

Fascinating stuff! There's lots more on their website.

"the substance of things, their being, their thingyness"

Peter Peryer, Photographer
Peter Peryer, Photographer

Peter Peryer has a new book of photographs out. I know this not because I have seen it but because Paul of The Fundy Post has written this wonderful review, which manages to convey what the book is like without showing any of the pictures, and also without any artspeak at all:

"Peter Peryer is a New Zealand photographer who photographs things. Here, for example is a sequence of photographs about a third of the way through the book:

26. Donkey, Legoland, 1997
27. Bulls, 2006
28. Punakaiki, 1997
29. Owl, 2003
30. Sand Shark, 1991

To explain, the donkey is life-size and made from Lego bricks. The bulls are of indeterminate size; they are six plastic toys. Punakaiki is represented by a rock formation of dense horizontal layers; again its size is indeterminate. The owl on the facing page appears to be real; the pattern of its feathers is similar to the rock formation. Although in nature there is a fish called a sand shark, this one is a shark made of sand, on a beach."

The review is playful and serious, like Peryer's photos. Read the whole thing
here. And you can buy the book here.

Peter Peryer has a very cool blog (and photolog) here. It's very straightforward in style, and it's worth keeping an eye on because you never quite know what will show up next. For example, his recent posts feature pictures of: a tree, a church, a submarine, a quail, a gravestone, and a cloud.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Hidden depths

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones: A New 44 Scotland Street Novel
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones: A New 44 Scotland Street Novel

"Angus, dispirited...looked down into his coffee cup. And a coffee cup, as we all know, is not something that it pays to look into if one is searching for meaning beyond meaning; coffee in all its forms looks murky, and gives little comfort to one who hopes to see something in it. Unlike tea, which allows one to glimpse something of what lies beneath the surface, usually more tea."

Alexander McCall Smith's new 44 Scotland Street novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, is delectably light and fluffy.

And it is more like tea than coffee. :-D

You can buy it at Fishpond.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

See Rita Angus online

Te Papa has curated a huge touring show of Rita Angus' work from their collection, which is currently in Dunedin, and will move on to Christchurch and Auckland during 2009. To promote the exhibition they have extensive material online here, with high-resolution zoomable reproductions and commentary provided.

This is such an amazing resource on one of New Zealand's foremost painters. Have a look!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Gardens Sculptures

And does anyone have any idea who made these? I came upon them in the Christchuch Botanic Gardens, and they don't seem to have any signs telling you where they came from. They are awesome, anyhow.

Botanic Gardens - Amazing!

If you haven't been to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens lately, you really should, they are looking amazing! Flowers are popping out all over, and everything looks lush and abundant.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

New Tim Main show

Tim Main is opening an exciting new show of sculptural works at the Milford Gallery in Auckland on November 5th. His recent works are elegant combinations of Gothic architectural forms and New Zealand native plants. Read all about the show here.

Russell Moses: Garden of Light

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery has a brilliant Russell Moses show. Moses' works are paintings, sculptures, and fascinating hybrids of painting and sculpture. In one of my favourite pieces he has made a string of giant clay beads in the shape of a stellar constellation, to hang over a painted clay ground. Stars made of earth: I love it!

Other works reference mining, with patterns of metallic pigment emerging from a clay ground; Green paintings mimic the markings of pounamu, but also of light on water or trees in a landscape. Cross motifs in his work refer to measurement and surveying, the carving up and carving out of the land; the patterns he makes also evoke natural shifts and processes: night and day, movement of the sun and stars, seasons, growth and erosion.

You can see more examples of his beautiful work here.

Gecko glue

This fascinating story tells about a new dry adhesive that mimics the way geckoes hold themselves on walls and ceilings.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Daniel Crooks: everywhere instantly

This new installation in the Christchurch City Art Gallery has to be seen to be believed! It's hard to describe in words, but I've never seen anything like it.
"Crooks transforms everyday sights such as trains and city streets into wide-screen meditations on time and motion", as the gallery website says.
I've never seen video used in such an unusual way. Go see it.

Saturday, 12 July 2008


Michael Ondaatje's brilliant new novel Divisadero is a haunting series of interlocking stories of characters who emerge from their own privacy only just enough to connect with each other. Ondaatje's narrative lets them keep their privacy, with only tantalising glimpses into their lives:

"Anna had met no one like him. There appeared to be no darkness in him. Though he would tell her of an earlier relationship that had silenced him completely, and how he had almost not emerged from that. He was in fact coming out of that privacy for the first time with her. All over the world there must be people like us, Anna had said then, wounded in some way by falling in love -- seemingly the most natural of acts."

"I learned that sometimes we enter art to hide within it. It is where we can go to save ourselves, where a third-person voice protects us. Just as there is, in the real landscape of Paris in Les Miserables, that small fictional street Victor Hugo provides for Jean Valjean to slip into, in which to hide from his pursuers. What was that fictional street's name? I no longer remember. I come from Divisadero Street. Divisadero, from the Spanish word for 'division', the street that at one time was the dividing line between San Francisco and the fields of the Presidio. Or it might derive from the word divisar, meaning 'to gaze at something from a distance.' (there is a 'height' nearby called El Divisadero.) Thus a point from which you can look far into the distance.
It is what I do with my work, I suppose. I look into the distance for those I have lost, so that I see them everywhere...."

"In spite of everything that had existed between Coop and Anna for those two months on the Petaluma farm, they had remained mysterious to each other. They'd really been discovering themselves. In this way they could fit into the world. But years later, never having married, never having lived with anyone in a relationship that intended permanence, she still sidled beside her lovers as if she were on Coop's deck, glowing in secret with the discovery of herself. So there had always been and perhaps always would be a maze of unmarked roads between her and still needed to move warily, with hesitance, within it."

You can buy it from Fishpond here.


Anyone who's crazy about fonts will love Fontstruct - a free tool that allows you to create modular fonts quickly and then download them for your own use! You can also share them publically either in the Fontstruct gallery or embed them in your own webpage.

There is an animated tutorial here which shows you what to do.

Monday, 7 July 2008

New Tim Main show

Tim Main's stunning, subtle designs based on New Zealand flora draw on the tradition of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, but have a gentle elegance all their own. His new show at CoCA is a must-see. It's on until the 20th July.

Monday, 30 June 2008

The Post-birthday World
The Post-Birthday World

Many people have compared this novel with the film Sliding Doors, where two possible futures are played out. However Sliding Doors is all about chance: whether the heroine catches her train just in time and gets home and catches her partner cheating; or whether the doors of the train close just before she reaches them, and she doesn't catch him out. The Post-Birthday World is much less about chance, and more about choice.
It is the story, or stories, of Irina, a book illustrator in a happy but mundane relationship, who is tempted to begin an affair with another man.

Irina and her partner Lawrence have an annual tradition to have dinner with Irina's colleague, Jude, and her professional-snooker-player husband Ramsey Acton, on Ramsey's birthday. This year Jude and Ramsey have divorced, and Lawrence is away on business, but Lawrence urges Irina to keep the tradition, and make a fuss of Ramsey on his birthday. Dining alone with the enigmatic and mercurial Ramsey, Irina finds herself unexpectedly drawn to him, and is tempted to begin an affair.

At this point the story splits, with one Irina saying goodnight and going home, and looking forward to Lawrence's return; and the other Irina choosing to kiss Ramsey and see where it leads. These are the post-birthday worlds: one in which Irina continues her pleasant and orderly life with Lawrence, and one in which she embarks on a steamy affair with Ramsey which will turn her life upside down.

The wonderful thing about The Post-Birthday World is that the two stories really are parallel: Irina is the same person regardless of her choice, she has the same strengths and weaknesses; in the parallel storylines she has to deal with many of the same challenges. In both stories she struggles to assert herself with her partner and to find her own professional identity. And Lawrence and Ramsey, while being very different to each other, also have a good deal in common. In neither story does Irina have an easy time with her chosen mate, but in both she learns a great deal.

It's a brilliant book, vividly-written and full of humour and irony. And there's a very satisfying twist at the end.

You can buy it from Fishpond here.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Tiny vegetable gardens

A lot of food can come from a small garden; in Lesotho, farmers are proving just how much can be done:

[Mahaha Mphou] and the rest of her family of 10 have become some of the most enthusiastic evangelists for a home-grown idea that has almost certainly saved them from starvation.
They are now thriving on what have become known as "keyhole gardens". They are round gardens of about two metres in diameter and raised to waist-height to make them easy for the sick and elderly to work.

"As you can see, (Mahaha's family) has three keyhole gardens and that's more than enough to supply all 10 of them with all the vegetables they need, and with some left over to sell. It's changed their lives."

Read the full, fascinating story on the BBC.

That's the spirit!

'When the Times of London reported in 1837 on two University of Paris law profs dueling with swords, the dispute wasn't over the fine points of the Napoleonic Code. It was over the point-virgule: the semicolon. "The one who contended that the passage in question ought to be concluded by a semicolon was wounded in the arm," noted the Times. "His adversary maintained that it should be a colon."'

Read more about these dangerous semicolons in this great story on Slate. Thanks to Jana for the link.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

More than just groceries

An enterprising young Palmerston North mechanic has motorised a shopping trolley for riding around in. Apparently it can do 45km/h! And it's legal to ride on the road. The full story here.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Graham Bennett exhibition - Converse

If you're in Christchurch be sure to catch this amazing show of Graham Bennett sculptures at The Art House in Gloucester St, until 15 June.
Bennett's subject matter in the show deals with New Zealand's antipodean location, mapping, navigation, and the migration of peoples by sea. His beautiful, immaculate forms also suggest sentinels, lookouts, and alien peoples.
The show's centerpiece, the monumental PoDs, features a crowd of 60 forms of various heights, the tallest up to 4 metres high.
Apparently Graham Bennett has just turned 60 himself. Many happy returns, Graham. :-)

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Atmospheric optics - what an amazing site

Anyone interested in clouds, rainbows, ice halos, the aurora, green flashes, or any other crazy optical effects happening in the atmosphere will love this site.

Honestly, it has so many pages full of information and stunning photographs that I have only looked at a small portion! Which means I have a lot more to look forward to. :-D

The page that I first looked at is of rare ice halos photographed over Antarctica in 1999. Truly staggering images! And the site explains the more common halos to look out for, as well as fascinating speculation on the ice halos that might be seen on other planets, where the airborne ice crystals are made of methane, ammonia, or carbon dioxide!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Megan Lewis

Photographer Megan Lewis, originally from New Zealand, spent 5 years living with the Martu people in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia.
Her amazing photographs are the subject of her book, Conversations with the Mob. You can read more about it here. And there are some sample images on this page.

Dance dialects

Bees dance to tell each other where to find nectar. The dance is a coded representation of distance and direction, but not all bees do it in the same way: geographically separated populations of bees have slightly different dances.

Reasearchers in China have found that with practice, bees can learn to interpret the dances of foreign bees. Read the full story here.

Clothing travels

This fascinating photo essay in the Guardian shows how used clothing from the UK is recycled into new clothing and textiles in India, and how Indian saris are recycled into new clothing for sale in the UK.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Polyanthus montage

Image copyright 2007 Grace Dalley, all rights reserved.

Now available in both greeting card and gift card sizes here.


Image copyright 2007 Grace Dalley, all rights reserved.

Now available in both greeting card and gift card sizes here.

Cream peony

Image copyright 2007 Grace Dalley, all rights reserved.

Now available in both greeting card and gift card sizes

Fern frond montage

Image copyright 2007 Grace Dalley, all rights reserved.

Now available in both greeting card and gift card sizes here.

New card designs

I haven't posted here for a while, but now I can show you the reason: four new designs that appear on my greeting cards and gift cards at Rata Design! You're very welcome to tell me what you think about them.

Monday, 12 May 2008

I want a puggle!

What is a baby platypus called? A puggle! I kid you not! There's a picture of one here. And there's a neat article on platypuses here in the NYT. (access is free but registration is required)

Baby echidnas are also called puggles, and there's one here.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Morris and Co.

The Christchurch City Art Gallery has Morris and Co: The World of William Morris until June 29th. It's a beautiful show, with printed textiles, wallpaper, embroidery, furniture, carpets, books, ceramics, and the centerpiece of the show, the vast, jewel-like tapestry of The Adoration of the Magi. It's worth seeing the show for that alone - no photograph can adequately convey the shining, rippling surface of millions of tiny stitches. And while the symbolism is rather laboured, the rich colour harmonies and beautifully-observed naturalistic detail in the plants and faces and objects is exciting to look at.

One thing that would have increased my enjoyment of the Morris designs was more technical information about how they were printed and made. I was tantalised by a photograph of the Morris workshop printing chintz fabric, with stacks of wooden printing blocks visible in the photo, but no indication of how such a method was used to produce such fine, continuous, printed pattern. And how were the inks made? I gather they were derived from plants, but I'd love to know the details.

And how did the cost of producing Morris designs by hand compare with the cost of factory production? How different did they look? What are the economics of hand-printing today? Morris's revolt against mass-production and worker exploitation seems highly relevant to the globalised market we have today. But I wonder how many people could afford to surround themselves with beautiful hand-printed, hand-crafted objects.

I was pleased to see more information on Morris's book-printing techniques given on the gallery website, and the links they make to artisan-printing in New Zealand.

The exhibition is accompanied by a huge range of events, from lectures to performances, demonstrations, and even workshops in Morris-style embroidery, wallpaper- printing, and life-drawing!

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Art D'Eco - recycled fashion

Katell Gélébart is a Dutch activist and designer who believes in recycling. In partnership with other designers, she produces two haute couture collections each year, all made from reused materials. These materials include old mail sacks, parachutes, sails, offcuts of felt, old curtains, mattress-ticking and inner-tubes!

You can read all about it here.

These are some of my favourite Art D'Eco creations: the army blanket hats, army blanket jacket, inner-tube wallet, postbag dress, record notebook, and inner-tube belt.

I really like how the designs preserve the character of the original materials. Perhaps we will all be dressing like this, before too long....

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Save the planet by eating less meat

According to an article in The New Scientist, eating meat causes more greenhouse-gas emissions than eating food which has travelled a long distance. Read it here.

Anime lunch

Dinosaurs and Robots has an amazing piece about Japanese obento box lunches, here. The lunches are decorated with incredibly detailed pictures of anime characters; the pictures are made up of edible items. Go take a look, you won't believe it!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

That's it, I'm moving to Norway!

I thought new Zealand was beautiful, but check out these amazing photos of Norwegian landscapes! (clicking the link opens a slideshow, or you can open a static page here)

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Congratulations Edith Amituanai

Edith Amituanai is the inaugural winner of the Marti Friedlander Photographic Award. The award is biennial and gives the recipient $25,000 with which to further their career.

Amituanai's subjects are drawn from her family and community and the houses they live in.

Friedlander says:

"I have chosen Edith as the inaugural recipient of the Award as I believe she has an exceptional talent. I particularly like the way her photographic essays portray people and places that reveal New Zealanders and all their diversity. She is a most worthy recipient of an Award that is intended to support the development of the medium of photography."

You can read more about the Marti Friedlander Award, Amituanai, and Friedlander
There's a nice article from the Herald about Amituanai's work with Samoan rugby players in Europe
here. And there are some more examples of her work here.

Sophie Ryder

English sculptor Sophie Ryder is installing some amazing new work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park: 6 metre tall "hare-ladies", creatures with human bodies and hare heads.

You can read about the exhibition here.
And see some of the huge work under construction here.

Sophie Ryder has a website with lots of stunning exanples of her work here.
Some of my favourites are the Curled-up Figure, Sitting Lady-Hare on Dog, Conversation, Lady Hare Holding Dog, Dancing Hares, the wire drawing Eye, and the two collograph prints Kneeling Figure and Bending Figure.

The most common life-like thing on earth :-)

The folk at Astronomy Picture of the Day have this crazy photo of some bacteriophage viruses attacking a bacterium.

And these bacteriophage ("bacteria-eating") viruses are everywhere!

"A pinch of soil or drop of seawater, for example, contains many millions of bacteriophages."
"They're nature's most successful experiment," says Marisa Pedulla of the University of Pittsburgh. "They outnumber all the bacteria, all the humans, whales, trees, et cetera, put together."

They're "the pinnacle of creation," adds Graham Hatfull, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Pittsburgh. "Phages represent the major form of life in the biosphere."

Read more in an intriguing Science News article on phages, wittily titled, All The World's a Phage.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

A toilet-paper gown

Stuff has this nice story about an unusual wedding-dress design competition - the gowns must be made of toilet paper!
I've no idea how the winning gown is held together, but it's very impressive.

Hypnosis instead of anaesthetic

The BBC has this story about a man who hypnotised himself before surgery instead of having an anaesthetic. Despite the intensive operation on joints in his hand, he felt no pain.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Life Before Death

German photographer Walter Schels has confronted his terror of death by interviewing terminally ill people and photographing them before and after death. It's an amazing series of images, some of which are online here. They are currently on show in London: The Guardian has more information.

A temple of books

This fascinating Guardian article takes a tour of a 13th century Dominican church in Maastricht which has been re-purposed as a vast bookshop. Apparently it's an imposing sight!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Sewing the invisible

Jum Nakao is a Brazilian fashion designer who has designed these amazing garments, made of laser-cut paper.

Nakao's collection of intricate paper dresses used 1 tonne of paper, and involved 150 people over 6 months; the dresses were on the catwalk for 10 minutes before being ripped to shreds by the models! The Listener has the full story of the fashion show. One of the garments has been reconstructed especially for The Dowse in Lower Hutt, and it's accompanied by photographs of the destroyed garments.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

New Philip Pullman novel!

Once Upon a Time in the North
Once Upon a Time in the North

Philip Pullman has written a new novel, Once Upon a Time in the North, about the early life of Lee Scoresby, a character who appears in the His Dark Materials trilogy. You can read all about it on Beattie's Book Blog here.

And you can buy it here.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

H2o: The Underwater Photography of Howard Schatz

H2o: The Underwater Photography of Howard Schatz

Howard Schatz's images of dancers dancing underwater are famous, and this is his latest collection of breathtaking images. You can take a peek at some of the pictures on his website.

And you can buy it here.

Ann Robinson

New Zealander Ann Robinson has been pre-eminent in the field of lost-wax glass-casting for a long time.

You can see examples of her beautiful work here. This series of tall vases is one of my favourites. And her flax pods are amazing!

She has a fascinating step-by-step description of the casting process, in a slideshow here.

Adrian Arleo

Adrian Arleo is a sculptor who works chiefly in ceramics. Her ceramic figures are uncanny and dreamlike, suggesting mythological stories of transformation or metamorphosis. The boundaries between human and animal, animate and inanimate, body and spirit, become fluid and dissolve....

There are pictures of her work here, here, and here.

She says of her work:

"My overall conceptual concern, in creating pieces that deal with the figure, does not stem from a fascination with the construction and problem-solving process. Nor is it just the beauty of the human form that holds me. What continues to absorb me is how, by rendering the physical body, one can convey, or at least suggest, a remarkable array of non-physical, internal, ephemeral, spiritual, emotional or psychological experiences. I use the human form to get at the human being and human nature, not at the body as an end in itself."

And she has even designed some teapots! She says, "I see my teapots as being little narrative dramas"! Have a look at them here.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Penguins take flight

If only all commercials were this clever!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Prehistoric bugs in amber

How can you examine tiny and microscopic insects and plants trapped in ancient, opaque amber?

"The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, produces an intense, high-energy light that can pierce just about any material, revealing its inner structure.

Tafforeau and colleague Malvina Lak have put kilos of opaque amber chunks in the way of this beam and have found a treasure trove of ancient organisms.
From more than 600 blocks, they have identified nearly 360 fossil animals. Wasps, flies, ants - even spiders. There are also small fragments of plant material. All of it caught up in the sticky goo of some prehistoric tree and then locked away until modern science provided the key."

Having scanned the amber from at least 1,000 angles, a 3-D scale model can then be produced on the 3-D printer.

Amazing! Read the whole story here.

New coins for UK

The Royal Mint has chosen a smart contemporary design by a young graphic designer. What do you think?

Monday, 31 March 2008

Traces of sound

The world's first sound recording was not Edison's record of "Mary had a little lamb" in 1877, but an engraving of a French folk song in soot-covered paper made by a Parisian inventor in 1860. It wasn't made to be played back, but with clever technology, sound archivists have recovered the long lost sounds. Read the full story here on the BBC.

More kakapo!

There are now 91 kakapo! That isn't very many, but it's 5 more than there were last year. Yay for DoC and all the kakapo volunteers who have looked after the breeding birds and watched over the nests. Stuff has the story here.
All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy S.)
All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy S.)

Set in 1949, this is the tale of a teenaged Texan cowboy who decides to pack up and seek his fortune in Mexico, along with a friend. They set off on horseback, leaving behind everything they know. The people and situations they meet will test them physically, emotionally and morally.

Along with the serious moral and philosophical elements of the story, there is a wealth of darkly comic dialogue and offbeat characters. And also some of the richest and most lyrical descriptions of landscape, animals and people that I have come across.

It's a book that needs to be enjoyed slowly. Although it portrays dramatic events, the style is subtle and elliptical, and it's easy to miss important details. And the lushness and lyricism of the descriptive writing requires slow savouring. Below are some samples:

"As he turned to go he heard the train. He stopped and waited for it. he could feel it under his feet. It came boring out the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in this hands in the passing ground-shudder watching till it was gone. Then he turned and went back to the house."

"They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing."

"They spread their soogans and he pulled off his boots and stood them beside him and stretched out in his blankets. The fire had burned to coals and he lay looking up at the stars in their places and the hot belt of matter that ran the chord of the dark vault overhead and he put his hands on the ground at either side of him and pressed them against the earth and in that coldly burning canopy of black he slowly turned dead center to the world, all of it taut and trembling and moving enormous and alive under his hands."

"...inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed in their articulations and of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned."

Friday, 28 March 2008

New Zealand - A Painted Country: Contemporary New Zealand Artists Paint Their Favourite Places
New Zealand - A Painted Country: Contemporary New Zealand Artists Paint Their Favourite Places

This lovely book shows the incredible diversity of approaches within contemporary New Zealand landscape painting.

My favourites include Neil Driver (Central Otago), Nigel Wilson (Alexandra/Clutha), Susan Webb (Wellington Coast), Geoff Tune (Gisborne, East Coast), and Rachel Olsen (Coromandel).

The lives of others

In 2001, American John Freyer decided to sell everything he owned on EBay, including his furniture, clothes, rolls of undeveloped film, kitchenware, the food in his cupboards, and the personal hygiene products in his bathroom. He even sold the right to be him at his birthday party: to receive his presents, and to go out with his friends.

That wasn't the end of the story, though: having sold most of his possessions he kept in touch with all the people who had bought them, and he later went on a road trip around the US, visiting them all.

So you could say he lost his possessions but gained a lot of new friends.

You can read his story here, or buy the book All My Life for Sale.

Now a man in Australia wants to sell his whole "life package" on EBay: his house, car and possessions, and even his job, so he can walk away from painful memories, and start over. That story is here.

Update: more here. And he now has his own website, with a welcome to potential buyers from his friends!

A recycling miracle

In 2003, a 14-year old Christchurch girl won a science-fair prize for designing a composting system for disposable nappies. Her system produces mostly sterile compost plus a small amount of shredded plastic.

The idea has been taken up by a local business which hopes to eventually process up to 15,000 nappies per day! Read the story here.

Feed the giraffes

If you live in Hamilton, and need some tree pruning done, Hamilton zoo staff might come and do it for you. Really! They are looking for tasty treats for their giraffes. Read the story here.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Uncle Fred in the Springtime
Uncle Fred in the Springtime

Fans of P.G. Wodehouse will need no encouragement to read this story in which the eccentric Uncle Fred meets not only the inhabitants of Blandings Castle, but also the efficient Baxter! Sir Roderick Glossop, brain specialist, has a small cameo part.

Yes, it's Edwardian country-house nonsense, with a plot so farcical and convoluted I'd hate to have to draw a diagram, but it's also totally brilliant and hilarious.

Wodehouse's observations of his characters are inspired. Try this:

"...there entered a young man of great height but lacking the width of shoulder and ruggedness of limb which make height impressive. Nature, stretching Horace Davenport out, had forgotten to stretch him sideways, and one could have pictured Euclid, had they met, nudging a friend and saying, 'Don't look now, but this chap coming along illustrates exactly what I was telling you about a straight line having length without breadth'."

And try these, from Uncle Fred himself:

"'I seem to have a vague recollection of having met him somewhere, but I can't place him, and do not propose to institute inquires. He would probably turn out to be someone who was at school with me, though some years my junior. When you reach my age, you learn to avoid such reunions. The last man I met who was at school with me, though some years my junior, had a long white beard and no teeth. It blurred the picture I had formed of myself as a sprightly young fellow on the threshold of life.'"

"'We start out in life with more pimples than we know what to do with, and in the careless arrogance of youth think they are going to last for ever. But comes a day when we suddenly find that we are down to our last half-dozen. And then those go.'"

"'You can't compare the lorgnettes of today with the ones I used to know as a boy. I remember walking one day in Grosvenor Square with my aunt Brenda and her pug dog Jabberwocky, and a policeman came up and said that the latter ought to be wearing a muzzle. My aunt made no verbal reply. She merely whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked at the man, who gave one choking gasp and fell back against the railings, without a mark on him but with an awful look of horror in his staring eyes, as if he had seen some dreadful sight. A doctor was sent for, and they managed to bring him round, but he was never the same again. He had to leave the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business. And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.'"

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A parallel universe where poetry is considered important!

Poet David Beach has won the biennial Prize in Modern Letters for his book of poems Abandoned Novel.

He says, "That a book of poems can win a $65,000 prize makes me feel as if I've stumbled into a parallel universe where poetry is considered important,".

Read all about it here.

You can buy Abandoned Novel by David Beach here.


This image by Michael Lidski is the most unusual photo of fireworks I've seen! His nature photos are also fantastic. What about this one?! Wow.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Andes - Flight of the Condor

Andes - Flight of the Condor

This is an astonishing book: a tour-de-force of photography by NZ photographer Tui de Roy. Collected over 30 years, there is a huge variety of Andean imagery here, and every photograph is compelling. Every environment found in the Andes is here: cloud forest, volcanoes, high plateaux, salt lakes, jagged peaks, windswept coast and glaciers, complete with all the unique plants and animals which are found there. A treasure of a book.



For the first few chapters I was thinking, Vonnegut is a genius...

...but what the hell?!

He's writing a book about how he tried to write a book that didn't really work?!

After that I just settled in for the wild ride.

There are bits and pieces of autobiography, fiction, and fictional biography (the life of his alter ego, writer Kilgore Trout, and others). There's even fictional fiction, if that's possible (he recounts stories written by Trout). And there are plenty of silly jokes and random observations about life and a miultitude of other things.

The randomness and lack of structure is part of Vonnegut's point here - just as his refusal to differentiate major and minor characters was in Breakfast of Champions - life is a random mixture of crazy, wonderful, and horrifying things and people. And sometimes we get to make choices and sometimes we don't, but either way we have to manage the best we can.


The Distant Future

The Distant Future

The Flight of the Conchords are so funny they won a Grammy with their debut EP.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The World at Night

This amazing site gives starry night skies a context and an earthly perspective. By including landmarks or landscapes in the photographs, the skyscapes have an added richness and dimension. What beautiful pictures.

Unreal fungi

Thanks to Tom for pointing out these amazing pictures of rare and coulourful waxcap fungi in the UK. This one has to be the strangest, which is saying something!

Playing with food

Photographer Carl Warner has made landscapes out of vegetables. Really! Have a look here. And you can take a look at the other crazy things in his portfolio here.

Fuel from grass

This Scientific American article reports on exciting developments in biofuel production from a native North American grass.