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Published: 31 March 2023

By Andy Ross

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Serendipitous encounters

The Left Bank Art Gallery in Mawhera Greymouth is always a good place to meet people. 

This week the opening of Lance Kerr's show, Culturescape, took us across the river into town on Friday evening. It is always a great walk across the bridge from Cobden, especially in the late afternoon with the water flowing dark between the raised levees that protect downtown Mawhera, and, in the distance, the mouth of the river opening up to a sun lowering over the ocean. At the gallery a group of friends and onlookers had gathered for the opening and, having seen the show, we chatted away.

The West Coast is an amazing place. Here, at the ends of imagination, unexpected characters exist, who turn up every so often. It is no surprise then to meet such people at these events. Last night, however, was a real treat. A trio of women, one a commercial photographer, gallery owners and textile collectors came over and we had a great conversation about art, cloth, weaving, photographs and life in general. 

Regular readers of the blog might remember that during the lockdowns I was working on a project about birds and migration. Flight! has been on hold for a little while although it is always at the back of my mind. For as long as I can remember birds have been a fascination and we watch out for harriers circling overhead whenever we are driving in the countryside, and weka and the handsome pukeko on the roadside. Finding out that one of our new friends has photographed birds in New York's Bronx Zoo was, naturally, exciting and rather wonderful. Giorgia Valli's project, Aves Mei, is a series of portraits of birds in captivity, the hand-painted backdrops of their cages a faint echo of their homelands. Each photograph is named, the names made up of the vowels of each place in which the artist has lived. As singers use vowels to project sound, this adds another dimension to the work, a formless, pleading wail. 

Another project, Universo, draws together music, Braille, poetry, the soil of a childhood home, photographic techniques, glass-making and song to map out the artist's imagination, and what an amazing imagination it is. 

We returned home filled with cheer and glee. Who knew that a small art gallery on the West Coast of New Zealand would be so well-travelled and connected?