The Heart of Things

Art All Magazine, 2009


Clara wobbles her head to her right and then carefully wobbles it back to her left. A bead of dribble is making its way down from the corner of her mouth. It stretches out and drops onto a growing damp patch on her singlet. She is following a conversation about the finish of an interior brick wall.

It’s a tough conversation and Andres the builder is showing extraordinary patience given the customer (me) doesn’t know the Spanish name of half the tools or materials needed for the job. Neither is he accustomed to foreigners, so what I consider a perfectly formed and executed sentence still has to be translated. As for his pronunciation, well it’s pure Andaluz drawl. Javier calls it a conversation between two fish (“blup blup blup”). Exasperated, he and has ordered me to keep away from the builder.

We’re doing up our old storage/wash room on the roof of our 1920’s building. When it’s done, I will be the proud owner of a studio so flash, Javier will probably forbid me from ever crossing its threshold. It’s our first ever foray into home improvements. That is if I discount my kicking the rotten wall in of the back porch of the fourth-worst student flat I ever lived in on Park Road in Palmerston North. For what it’s worth, I also painted my room, we covered the mouse hole in the kitchen floor and my flatmate Tray painted a naked lady above the fireplace. Third and second worst were in Christchurch and nothing could be done for them.


The Electrician has just fired us, if that’s possible. A polite but firm complaint from Javier about their holding up the job has escalated into a session of insults and said boss has just called to tell us where we can stick our job in colourful pictures that include something about someone’s balls. Time is running out, the builder has another gig lined up. Meanwhile upstairs there is nothing but dirt, sand, cement and dust. Oh and it’s forty degrees out.


I spend three sweaty hours wiping my precious books which are covered in dust despite attempts to cover them and contemplating the painting I got all inspired about, putting down a layer of paint two days before Andres attacked our dusty plaster walls with a hammer. That beautiful soft skin of paint is now pitted with dust particles (Ahhhhrrr! Emma you are a ….) Andres has found us another electrician, and he’s cheaper – the silver lining.


Clara is working out on the floor with a bit of tummy time. She’s wearing her muscle shirt, wet with dribble. Very little clothes washing from her corner this week – muscle shirts and nappies. Her sounds of exertion are turning into whines. Turn me over mum! I turn her over to see an angry face. She is breathing heavily. In and out flap two sail shaped boogers in each flared nostril.


10.00am: Andres wants to know if I can load a music track to his website. He was all excited by a chimney top website that had something dramatic going on in the background so he has opted for the theme from Titanic.

12:00pm: Andres asked Javier today if he knew what jetlag was. When Javier explained what it was he was surprised, he thought it was a type of plane. Yet again, I am reminded that we live in the arse of Europe.


What am I doing with my life, my painting? Yes, that question again.


My friend Dede is over for a visit (there is life outside these walls!) She has braved the heat wave, what a star and comes with new music downloads and interesting podcasts (you star!). She is thinking about heading off to Berlin. It’s the place to be for Electronic music and that’s Dede’s thing. She spends hours tucked away in her flat on her computer laying tracks. I asked her when she was going to perform, but Seville is, well Seville, a romantic holiday destination, hardly the cutting edge platform for sound artists.

Ah, the cutting edge, I always seem to be where it is not. It started with being born in Taihape.

We got talking about being where it’s happening. I’ve got into the habit of going to show openings via YouTube while breastfeeding– A retrospective of Gerhardt Richter in Frankfurt, Daniel Richter or Neo Rauch in New York at David Zwirner. The places to be – St Petersburg or Moscow, Belgium, New York, Berlin …

When last in New Zealand, I got talking to New Zealand artist Pete Wheeler (Born in Geraldine, so I take that back about Taihape), also based in Berlin for that very reason, to be in the heart of things. He started out there co-founding an artist collective creating shows in unused building spaces. Just being in Berlin wasn’t enough, he told me. Artists couldn’t simply arrive there and start knocking on gallery doors. You had to earn your stripes first by making work there and creating encounters, getting to know people and slowly making your way into the scene. Pete had his first show in a Berlin Gallery just last year.

I remember inwardly sighing during this conversation. My finances didn’t make for moving about, starting up collectives and making things happen in that way. I had also just discovered I was pregnant and the pace of things was going to alter significantly. These things are best done in the fresh bloom of post art school life when you have the freedom of movement, exist in the bosom of arts friendships and networks and you can commit yourself uncompromisingly to advancing your work. You go where you need to go and do what you need to do. It’s a precious, precious time, not to be wasted.

However, not all of us are confident networkers and movers and shakers. Dede and I pondered Andy Goldsworthy, who, if you have seen the film Rivers and Tides (directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer), portrays himself as a very reluctant networker and people person. He said it himself – “People tire me”.

So how does one, who actually took himself away from the studio at Art College to make ephemeral work on isolated beaches, create the connections he has to have a robust artistic career? His representative is in Paris, and the gallery must be a good one, and I think timing is as we know, of the essence. The right gallery in the right place at the right time.

Meanwhile my heart remains here with my dust pitted canvas and dribbling Clara (teeth are coming), contemplating the idea of a bricklayer’s website with backing music from the Titanic. Hold on Rose, don’t ever let go.


About the author Emma Louise Pratt

Emma Louise Pratt studied at Ilam School of Fine Art, Canterbury University, New Zealand. She has been the runner up in the Molly Morpeth Canaday Award (2005), and a finalist in the Norsewear Award (2007) in New Zealand and finalist in the Focus Abengoa International Painting Prize, Spain in 2014. Emma is known for her landscape based work where she explores specific landscapes that convey significance to her either for their historical or personal importance, serving as they always have, as a personal travel map.

All posts by Emma Louise Pratt →

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