Tonight our daughters are staying with their grandparents. The house is eerily quiet. The expectation that they will wake with some urgent need to be attended to remains. The muted cacophony of little noises and small movements generated by sleeping children is replaced by the roaring emptiness.
I remember the awful moment after I had dropped our youngest daughter off for her first day of kindergarten. I drove off weeping. "What" I lamented "am I going to do now?". For seven years I had spent almost all of my time with one or both of our children. Now I was by myself feeling an overwhelming loneliness. Without a child nearby I had become nothing. Without the endless parade of needs and wants to attend to I had nothing to do - ahead of me the gaping maw of possibility. If you are a parent what are you when your children are elsewhere?
I was reminded of this sense of loss when I went to the 'Woodfire' exhibition at Kerrie Lowe Gallery in Newtown yesterday. I hadn't been close to a gathering of woodfired pieces before. Each clamoured for attention. As I understand it (glibly and superficially - that's how I roll) woodfiring is a process in which much is a matter of chance, a pocket of heat, a flash of flame, a falling of ash and your pot begins a different journey. During the firing of the kilns many variables are at play that provide infinite possiblities for the final state of the piece being put to the heat.
The potter then can hand over care of the work to a new owner, a curator or someone facilitating its placement in a new home. I think the women that run Kerrie Lowe Gallery fall equally into two categories - those that are named Kerrie Lowe and those that aren't. They remind me of film I've seen of Soviet nurseries - babies wrapped tightly for sleep and efficient, loving women moving assuredly around taking care of all of them. It's rare to have retail experiences where the customer, the salesperson and the stock are treated with respect.
Two days earlier I'd been to JB HiFi and Dick Smiths. I was an inconvenient nuisance at both places. Acknowledging my existence interrupted, briefly, the shop - I was going to say assistant but now can't think why - attendant[?] at JB HiFi. Insisting on a discount because the overpriced gadget I bought from Dick Smith was a, a display model; b, missing its original remote and cables; and c, had no manual or handbook turned me into a tyrannical con man ruining the manager's day. I paid for an extended warranty as there was, they assured me, a good chance it wouldn't work with the replacement remote and cables they begrudgingly "gave" me. As it was an obsolete model having been released 18 months earlier in the dawn of electronics history it was going to be written off at the next stocktake. Giving him $150 dollars for something that might not work and was going to be worth $0.00 next June 30th seemed to me an act of generosity and to the manager an act of piracy. This then is contemporary shopping.
Being in the Kerrie Lowe Gallery was a dramatic contrast. Yes it's retail but you both know that when you buy a pot you're also getting thousands of years of human creativity and the potter's whole life. I don't think I've ever seen a piece of pottery where the price reflects what goes into it. At auctions you're often paying heavily for the noise that has accumulated around the pottery and in first sale situations, direct from a potter or at a gallery or shop pretty much everything that has gone into the pot is free. So as I was looking at pieces I was aware that the prices were going to surprise me. They were not going to reflect what I felt about each piece.
I also think that the potters don't really want to sell the works and the gallery doesn't want to take the risk of handing them over to strangers. But needs must. Like choosing a puppy or selecting a child for adoption a dialogue is established.
The works themselves? Each demands its own biography. I think to effectively display a piece it'd have to be on a slowly revolving platform with warm bright spotlights focussed on it and possibly Handel's Messiah or something equally triumphal playing from concealed speakers. The viewer would have to be wired to brain and heart monitoring equipment so the brightness of the lighting, the loudness of the soundtrack and speed of the platform's rotation would adjust to the amount the viewer was thinking and feeling. This is probably not practicable in a gallery space but worth considering.
There are 91 works listed on the price list ranging from Jan Kesby's small bowls at $33 to Don Court's Eucumbene at $2,200. Both are bargains. I was initially too timid to touch the pieces. When I was at the Gwynne Hanssen Pigott exhibition last week it was made obvious that in the presence of art one approached the work reverently with touch, taste and smell on hold and kept at a polite distance. Besides they appeared to have been hot-glued to their plinths.
In Newtown once I'd made the mistake of picking up a pot, encouraged by the wily (or do I mean crafty?) gallery curator, it was all over. "We do layby" she whispered as if she was mentioning what tea she'd had that morning and though a mildly interesting topic not related to me in any way. Wicked woman. The other pots knew and in the manner of desperate children in overcrowded Romanian orphanages began performing, subtly demanding my attention. The gallery became Aladdin's cave. Each pot was surrounded by more seductive peers. And perhaps the soundtrack and variable spotlighting had begun somewhere. Each pot quickly set up its own Facebook and Twitter accounts but realised I'm at sea with both and so began a more primeval appeal.
And somehow by it being made obvious that all the works belonged to the gallery and would be loaned out begrudingly but only if unavoidable I came to realise that I had gone from liking them to wanting them to needing one. Somehow my inner-Gollum had been brought to life by the sirens running the gallery. I have a vague memory of something possibly from the Illiad and the Odyssey. Women who lure sailors into dangerous situations by the seductiveness of their behaviour. I was in a whirlpool, pots silently urging "You know you want me", the curators working their subtle charms "Are you up to taking care of one of our pots at your home? We're not entirely sure". The music got louder, crashing of symbols, thunderclaps, lightning. How are you even allowed to run a business like that? Don't the neighbours complain?
By now the sickly sweet smell of joss sticks and opium pipes had dulled my senses. My body ached and my eyes itched. By sheer force of will, by tapping into ancient energy sources, I was able to block out the mesmerising forces at play and seeing a portal open briefly flung myself out onto King Street.
I lay there for a time. Newtown residents are used to stepping over prone bodies and I was dry and relatively clean. Later I'd recovered enough to walk home where I fell into an unsatisfying sleep. My relief at having escaped Newtown dissipated when I found folded into three in my wallet written evidence that I now owned one of the pots at the gallery. I'm going to have to go back to collect it. I'm thinking that I might go back sooner. Today even. I could wait outside. It's already 5.30am. I could take coffee and a little folding stool. I'm quite relaxed about it and there are a couple of pots I need to see again. By couple I mean no more than seven or eight or so. And by need I mean would like to - it doesn't bother me either way. Actually they didn't seem to have much in the way of security so I may be able to get in and just sit with the pots. In an hour or so the curators will have taken on human form again and will be pleased to see me. Probably. What's not to like.