songs for albert

domenico de clario

from 8.42 pm (sunset) december 21 (solstice 2.58 am december 22) until 6.16 am (sunrise) december 22 2022

‘la mente di tutti e’ illuminata da canzoni d’amore’

 Hadeweijck c 1250 AD

I have been presenting full moon, solstice and equinox performances since 1992, as a way of acknowledging the fundamentally co-dependent relationship between earth, sun and moon and its consequent dynamic effect on both the human body and its psyche.

The exact moment of the 2021 summer solstice take place at 2.58 am on December 22. From this moment the angle of exposure of the earth’s southern hemisphere begins to imperceptibly shift away from the sun’s direct rays until June 21 2022 when it reaches its minimum exposure to the sun and recommences its journey once more towards maximum light.

This celestial dance is fundamental to maintaining the balance of light and dark upon which our survival on this planet is based. This balance is currently being radically disrupted by human activity and this disruption may have consequences we cannot yet accurately predict.

Attentively journeying through the night in attendance to the often unobserved celestial movements above provides us with the opportunity to engage with a dynamic that directly connects both celestial and human bodies in ways that cannot be fully described, yet are often deeply experienced.

The sound component offered through the duration of such an experience functions simply as a catalyst for a possible deepening of individual awareness and may result in a clearer understanding of our place within this continuum.

The sound performance is not offered as a focus of the overnight journey but simply as the entry point into possible new spaces and perhaps even as the portal into an unexpected and variously nuanced new relationship with the self.

This solstice offering is titled songs for albert and primarily constitutes a respectful  homage to the artist Albert Namatjira, through a presentation throughout the night of the songs he loved.

Simultaneously a video will be screened of Edipo Re, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1967 cinematic interpretation of Sophocles’ masterwork Oedipus Rex, first performed in 430 BC and marking the summit of classical Greek drama’s formal achievement.

What emotional, psychological or even artistic dynamics might intersect somewhere within the crucible-like core that embodies both Sophocles’ timeless tragedy and my attempt to homage to Albert Namatjira’s life and work?

To my mind the endless cycle of our planet’s journey through light and dark perfectly reflects the masterly reflection of the ancient Greek classics upon both the darkness and the light embodied within the trajectory of the lives traced by the more vulnerable of our species. Fallibility is compassionately humanized through such timelessly insightful chronicling and as we look up the endless cycle of light and dark becomes apparent in the macro-world we have always inhabited as minor players.

But I prefer to think that there is no performance or performer, only time passing through us marked by projected light and dark upon the screen and the touching of keys with the timeless celestial dance unfolding above our heads.

What follows below is the story ofhow songs for albert came to be.


The story of songs for albert begins in 2003.

Albert Namatjira was one of seven artists I included in a project titled seven times thank you*, first presented at Goddard de Fiddes Gallery in Perth in 2003, then at Arc One in Melbourne in 2005 and consequently at the Adelaide Biennale of Art in 2006.

Through this project I sought to gratefully acknowledge the ongoing presence in my creative life of the work of seven deceased Australian artists, often forgotten and unacknowledged after they have passed on.

I identified seven with whom I had either experienced a personal relationship or that had in some way deeply affected my sense of self.

Albert Namatjira’s 1950 watercolour ‘Ghost Gums’ was the work upon which my painterly homage titled ‘yellow ectoplasm (for a.n.)’ was based.

I identified such a moment for each of the seven artists. From an understanding of that moment came the instinctive choice of a painting that would contain my sense of each of seven particular ways of perceiving the world.

For a month I lived with an image of each of these seven paintings placed close to the skin of my chest day and night. At the end of this period I proceeded, in one single session and without referring to the image I carried on my body, to make a work that flowed from this relationship.

The following text below, written to accompany the catalogue for seven time thank you describes the moment that first connected me to my ‘sense’ of Albert, and what followed subsequently later breathed ‘songs for albert’ into being:

yellow ectoplasm (for a. n.)

I first saw an Albert Namatjira painting in 1957, on the day my mother accompanied my sister and I to the Headmaster’s office at Brighton Primary School in order to enroll us.

I was ten years old.

We had just moved from our two-room dwelling in the inner city to that seemingly faraway suburb so that we could (my father had joyfully informed a few days earlier that we were moving to the ‘country’) enjoy the clean air and open spaces of what was then outer suburban Melbourne.

As we walked through the primary school’s corridor towards what was to be my fourth-grade room my mother stopped dead in her tracks and stared at a small framed print hanging on the wall.

‘Look!’ she exclaimed, ‘that’s Australia!’

I looked up; the frame contained a dream-like, colour-filled landscape whose skies above a red earth were filled with clear blue light. She read out the artist’s name, which was handwritten on a small plaque attached to the frame.

‘The artist’s name is Namagira; Alberto Namagira! He’s Italian!’ she proudly told me. 

The pride with which my mother had pronounced the artist’s name, misspelled with a ‘g’ rather than with the correct ‘j’, and the translucency of his colours confirmed in my young

mind that he must indeed have been Italian (Giotto and Fra Angelico had been lovingly introduced to me only a year or so earlier by my second-grade teacher in Trieste).

So until years later when I learnt the truth in high school art classes I firmly believed that Albert Namatjira had been an Italian artist who, like me, had migrated to Australia at an early age.

Many decades later my mother was shocked to learn of Namatjira’s real identity and the true circumstances of his life and death.

From that moment she began to believe that his painted ghost gums contained something of the artist’s presence, so much so that she was convinced ‘ghost gums’ had been named so after his depiction of them had become popular.

I never attempted to dissuade her from her conviction and over time I also came to believe that Namatjira had been able to somehow transmute water-colour pigment into felt presence.

It is strange that even when your mind knows something to be impossible it can be persuaded otherwise by the parts of your being that might be in touch with a dimension that becomes more compelling than established phenomenological truths.

These compelling ‘other’ truths can at times instantly dissolve the seemingly indestructible conventions that hold together our agreed beliefs, revealing them to simply be fragile tumbleweeds dancing away from us towards an increasingly distant horizon, leading those of us courageous enough to follow to the land of transmutative un-knowing.

And if this is true, if we do believe that Albert himself somehow has become the work, then the light that emanates towards us as we view each painting, as it flows from inside the mountains and from inside the core of each tree, from each leaf and from all the space above and beyond what we see, constitutes all of the artist.

And as this dancing light reaches us we become horizon.

postscript: in May 2015 I dreamt that the framed print of ‘Ghost Gums’ that my mother and I had seen on the walls of the corridor at Brighton Primary was still in existence.

After my mother’s passing in August of that year I went to the school in the hope I might find it.

I was of course treated with disdainful caution, but after much pleading I was allowed to rummage through a storeroom that hadn’t been touched in twenty years.

I found the print and it now hangs on my kitchen wall in Mildura.


seven songs for albert

In 2013, as a result of my renewed connection with the story of Albert, I spent some months as artist-in-residence at Adelaide’s Flinders University, researching his life in order to prepare my contribution to a project titled ‘crystal palace’, which was to be presented at the University’s Gallery later that year.

During the residency I learned that the eucalypts that had been depicted by Albert in the water-colour ‘Ghost Gums’ (both the work I had first seen on the Primary School wall and that had subsequently generated my 2003 homage to Albert) had been destroyed in a maliciously lit fire.

I travelled to the region in order to collect some of the ashes and through some informal discussions with local Elders and others who had known him I became aware that he had been a lover of American popular music of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, especially the songs interpreted by singers, musicians and composers such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Irving Berlin, Etta James, Billy Eckstine, Nat Cole, Hoagy Carmichael, Lena Horne, Cole Porter and so on.

He had also been a great lover of slow dancing, as well as an able exponent of that art, but was never able to participate in social events because of the segregation policies that prevailed at the time.

These popular ballads (from the late Latin ‘ballare’, or songs to dance to, as singing and dancing were inextricably connected in ancient times) embody the wistful and romantic musical space of a narrative poem, which Albert so enjoyed.

The lyrics describe lived experience through the poetics of heart, while the accompanying melodies underline and supports the narratives of the song’s emotion; the whole is then embodied, by those moved enough to do so, through the art of dance.

To my mind the lyrics of these ballads (written mostly by disenfranchised African-American musicians or by eastern European migrants who had fled from war-torn Europe’s in order to find redemption in the US) inclusively transcend time, generation and consequently both cultural and gender specificity.

In so doing they propose a kind of English equivalent in poetic presence to the haiku, the ancient four-line poem form evolved over many centuries by Japanese Zen poet-monks and nuns, in order to best describe both the paradox and the wonder of being human.

Consequently in 2013, as a result of this research and as my contribution to crystal palace, I devised a performance I titled songs for albert, in which Albert was finally invited to come and dance with us while I accompanied him by singing the songs he loved.

In the presentation of these songs the beat of the keyboard is slowed considerably in order to better reveal the poetics; in so doing they gradually become one seamless narrative, one continuous lyric and one unbroken melody.

A space defined by white light is prepared within the performance installation in order to thankfully welcome Albert’s graceful presence, facilitated both through white light as well as though our collective mindfulness.   

domenico de clario

december 2022

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