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caitlin j clarke




belly full of green

belly full of green sees multidisciplinary artist Caitlin Clarke conjure fragments of a home or a church: floor tiles, wall joists, window frames, and earthenware; midden pit or demo skip. Through a process of experiencing the place in which she lives (Te Waipounamu/South Island NZ), collecting its parts (sand, wood ash, mud, leaves, invasive weeds), and relearning the lives of her ancestors (Brunner Mine, Channel Islands, Dartmoor), Clarke’s process reciprocates the humming materials she’s gifted with similarly storied things. The expansive installations for Hot Lunch and Sculpture on the Peninsula—made with plant dyes, foraged clays, and timber structures built with Clarke’s father—offers a choral vision of lands we’ve variously called lost, reclaimed, high, low, wet, and home.

belly full of green was a two part exhibition: first at Hot Lunch gallery in central Christchurch, and secondly at Loudon Farm in Banks Peninsula, inside a grove of Ash trees. Having the work literally in both the gallery and the landscape, belly full of green experimented with the interior and exterior of the fragments of a home
.



belly full of green

accompanying text by Hamish Petersen, 2021.

Dear C,

A greasy seam is sewn in the dewed yard. Hedgehog Way. It’s 7:18am and I’m greeting the hens. I wiggle the feeding bucket’s nipple and lodge a chickweed bundle under a brick. This is my time with the past before today begins. I stare at the wet mulch. I see soil-ordinary nothing. I see all the pits people have dug in this soil: midden, kiln, kumara... Maybe if it had never been drained to build roads it would have one day resembled a peat bog: mattressed with moss and heather. So I listen to the stories you tell with your hands to braid yourself back; Neolithic memory humming; immigrant weeds singing in the pot; a shadowed need for old relations; a gift of new language.

***
The ground itself is kind, black butter1 ***

“Could you conjure a church?”

Yarrow asks, in reply to the woman now rolling about on top of them. Weeks ago, she asked Yarrow about the stories in the ground around these lowlands, and how to hear them: the chorus of navigators who’d each found their way up this estuary at different points in the double spiral of its memory. She introduced herself as C. A weird name.

“Well, we need somewhere to gather and listen together.” Says Yarrow, “So maybe make something of hay and mud, or wattle and daub? Maybe we just find the five biggest rocks within rolling distance of this old swamp, bury a third of each in the sandier soils, backfill, and put the biggest on top. Call it a dolmen.”

“Or” C adds, “should we go cottage-core and reassemble that falling-down worker’s hut in a sunny spot and scatter-sow hollyhocks, and foxgloves, and batchelors’ buttons? Or, I know, I’ve got an architect friend. How ‘bout we ask them to draw up something modular with an outdoor kitchen and a bunk house for friends to stay in. We could start a vlog about it and run a PatreonTM to pay the engineers, and pile-drivers, and bristly electricians...”

Some of the geese have gathered and are shaking their heads, sharing glances and knowing brows. A moment passes. Others join.

C brushes her palms across the tops of her tarpaulin thighs, getting the picture. She leans forward on two tree knots and stands, putting one wet leaf palm against her lower back, and then the other. Schlup. Schuup.

“Alright, yeah, good point.”
Yarrow breathes out, thinking,
“That was close, almost lost another one.” 

And puts on an encouraging look: five tiny white petals around a domed arrangement of pollen receptors and nectar teeth.

C turns back around to the small assembly.

“Right then, it’s agreed: our church will swallow us and be made of us, house and require us, ingest and digest us. Finally, a place to be together in some mycorrhizal chorus of sensation and story. But it’ll be no bigger than you, y’hear!”

Hedgehog nods, smiling a pine needle grin.


“It should be just big enough to fit the congregation of clovers,” C continues, “So we’ll use those 110ft scots pines over there, let them sit in the river till soft as black pulp, pack them into woven willow, and clear these old pioneer trees to make ash for the potato drills and to glaze the goblets. I don’t think the market will ever recover this time, so let’s not worry about the depreciation of attached dwellings like these. We’ll insulate it with ryegrass in April and wash its walls in kelp slime to keep the rain out. That sounds better eh?”

Walnut drops from the canopy in affirmation. The assembly has grown.

“But where?” C asks.

On an incoming wind, the Harakeke raise their precise voices to the group,

“We know how these soils slip around here. If you can help us keep our rito safe from those steel predators, we’ll send the kōmako out to sing you to the sound places for your structure. There are only a few spots down here where we would all have enough soil around our roots and be woven tightly enough by those last kahikatea to hold us all together, to sing at once under a single roof. Just ask, and we’ll tell you what’s needed.”

A sweet old peach rustles a round of applause and mumbles underleaf to its neighbour,

“I wish that rumply old couple had listened to those folks when they planted us in this slump in 1949. My boots have barely had a breath of fresh air in all those 130-something years!”

C thanks the stand of harakeke and takes another plotting pace in algal galoshes, then back again in sappy clogs, plan crystalising while turning a chestnut and two acorns over in her paw.

There’s an urge to begin in pricked ears and cocked beaks held around the yard. Piwakawaka winks and does a kickflip. The assembly seems to be in agreement. Convivial chatter and planning rises amongst the stray cats and buried family dogs, budgies, and chinchillas. C gets to work drawing up plans with the ants.

“Engage bug mind,” they say. And C sinks in. ***

Then he is standing very still, concentrating, rocking on the breeze, and he wriggles his fingers and there are hazelnuts.2

***

She gives me slushy tiles and bursting stones. Overflowing geology. Extrasensory archaeology. Blinded by the city, we look for miner’s lettuce and ploughman’s luck. But it’s too early. Or all gone. All I can do today is sit near and watch your back. You cast the space between your fingertip and nail in earthenware and ironsands to record who happened there. What was left and what you made from that. It’s warm to the touch now: bleating, bloated, bleeding, beating. Stained grass windows in the last light of the day.

***
My body is the tent of my body And dwells here on earth Among us3

* * *

1. Seamus Heaney, “Bogland,” Opened Ground (London: Faber & Faber, 1998), 41. 2. Max Porter, Lanny (London: Faber & Faber, 2019), 202.
3. Tusiata Avia, “Apology,” Fale Aitu (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2016), 59.

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caitlin j clarke
St Dominic, Cornwall

 caitlin@caitlinjclarke.com
 caitlinjclarke