Everything is a Monkey
03 Sep – 21 Sep 2019
There is a very old fig tree in my backyard. She doesn’t have much energy left, so all she can manage to produce each year is a handful of nuggety figs that never ripen. At some point in her long life she found that she couldn’t really support her own weight anymore. She got around the problem by creating a clever prop, letting one of her main branches slump over until it reached the ground and then growing a cluster of fresh roots to secure it. I have formed a deep attachment to the old fig tree. To me, she embodies wisdom, tenacity and magic, and I greet her respectfully each time I walk past.
During a recent visit to Christchurch, I was reminded of the fig tree when I saw a similarly gnarly slumped tree on the lid of a porcelain object made by Nichola Shanley. I bought it, of course, but I didn’t realise until I arrived home and unwrapped the package that the lidded container I had chosen was in fact a teapot, although arguably the most impractical teapot ever created.
The slumped tree, which doubles as the finger hold on the wobbly lid of the teapot, stirs up the coarse black soil beneath it and animates the scene below ground. The body of the pot is a low-slung crouching form with vines and roots snaking around it.
Severed feet and hands attempt to break free of the vines, without success, and a multitude of tiny faces peer out from their prison in the underworld like the piteous creatures in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The handle of the pot is formed from a twisted black vine that has a hollow centre with a clear glaze applied to it, so that the shiny white porcelain interior looks like a sanctuary. I like to think of it as a quiet purgatorial space for the lost souls to reach. The teapot spout is formed from another coiled vine, glazed an acidic shade of green and adorned with a garland of nine skulls ushering the chosen to the afterlife.
There is magic in this object, I know it. It is the same sort of magic that compels me to place wishes written on strips of paper into a terracotta Owl jug made by Bronwynne Cornish that sits on a shelf in my hallway, or to touch the head of the clay River God figurine from Papua New Guinea in my living room before retiring to bed each night.
The discovery that the lidded container by Nichola Shanley is actually a functional object – a teapot, imbues it with even greater magic in my mind. What kind of tea could I possibly brew in such a pot and what will happen to me when I drink from it?