NAMELESS/REDUX is the last poetry work by Leigh Davis, published posthumously by Jack Books in April 2013.
It is two books and a DVD sold as a box set. The first book, Nameless, was designed by Arch and Jane McDonnell at InHouse Design with art direction by Stephen Bambury, and printed in 2008. The second book, Redux, was printed in 2013 and designed by Stephen Bambury with technical assistance from Christine Hansen. Leigh Davis, author of Nameless, died in October 2009.
As these details suggest, the story behind NAMELESS/REDUX is a complex and unusual one. Presented in a box containing two books and a DVD, it is a big poetry work with a big ambition for poetry. The first and larger of the two books, the text-only hard-covered , white linen bound book, carries Nameless, a long poetry work conceived as a play in Acts and Scenes. It was Leigh’s intention to see the poetry taken off the page, as a physical work installed in several rooms using projection, light, sound and voices as a complex work to be interacted with rather than simply read.
The second book Redux, overall the same dimensions but soft cover and highly visual, is a companion book which acts something as a blueprint for this intended physical version of the work. In the back of Redux there is also a DVD which carries a 10 minute virtual film or ‘flythrough’ of this physical Nameless, also the recorded voices of Michael Hurst and Jennifer Ward-Lealand reading scenes from ACT II Wedding, and sound by Alastair Galbraith. This sound is also present in the flythrough.
When in July 2008 Leigh was diagnosed with a brain tumour, the diagnosis was accompanied by the surgeon’s suggestion that he complete anything that needed to be completed. The surgery, in the part of his brain that controlled and enabled language, might seriously compromise his abilities.
Nameless had been gestating for more than 5 years. A section of the work had been realised in a physical installation over two days in Starkwhite Gallery in December 2006. At this stage the work was called Anarchy. In July 2008, before his first brain surgery, Leigh completed the writing and Anarchy became Nameless.
The surgery did affect Leigh’s language. Two rounds of surgery and treatment with radiotherapy and chemotherapy gave Leigh more time, but the process of deterioration was steady and inevitable. In the months immediately after surgery, Leigh was able to work with his friend Stephen Bambury and Arch and Jane McDonnell of InHouse design to see Nameless to print. The focus then turned to the planned installation of the work, and the thinking and planning for that. Leigh asked Stephen for that help as ‘director’ of the project.
(It was at this time also, when Leigh was having radiotherapy, that Stephen encouraged him to begin to write again after the surgery had initially affected his ability to read and write. This writing would become the manuscript Stunning debut of the Repairing of a LIfe which would win the Kathleen Grattan Award for poetry a few months after Leigh died.)
When it became obvious that the physical work couldn’t be realised in Leigh’s life time and with production costs greater than anticipated, it was decided to convert the planning and thinking into book form with an accompanying DVD that would carry the sound and voices that Leigh had commissioned and a virtual movie made by Bruce Ferguson who had earlier helped with the realization of Anarchy.
So Redux. The same dimensions as Nameless, but soft cover and largely visual, Redux carries Stephen’s architectural plans for the rooms as they developed out of the conversations with Leigh. It carries images of the earlier Anarchy installation, other images with rich resonance for Leigh and Stephen as they worked together, stills from the virtual movie or ’flythrough’, and essays by Roger Horrocks and Stephen Bambury.
Christine Hansen, a freelance book designer who Leigh had involved in many of his projects, was asked to help when it became clear that it would be another book that would complete the project. Susan Davis, Leigh’s partner, was actively involved throughout, facilitating the work and conversations that were necessary, and assisting to translate as Leigh’s ability to express his ideas was increasingly affected by the tumour. As a team, they worked almost daily on Redux as it developed until Leigh became too ill. After Leigh’s death Stephen, Christine and Susan continued to work on the book and development of the flythrough along with Bruce Ferguson working from London. Designed as a companion book to Nameless, it was important that Redux be similar format, and to carry through font design and other features of the ‘text only’ Nameless.
With the book design complete and printing under way in Hong Kong, attention was turned to the disc and the box. The sound track was laid over the flythrough at Sale St studios and the DVD then mastered at Next Technology. Stephen, Christine and Susan finalized the design of the box which was manufactured locally by Quick Brown Box.
It is worth noting that the box carries a family likeness with an earlier Davis work Te Tangi a te Matuhi published by Jack books in 1999. This book in a box , also with an accompanying disc, was made after and in response to Leigh’s 1998 Station of Earthbound Ghosts exhibition of 29 flags carrying the text of poems , and similarly includes the voices of a number of contributors among them Wystan Curnow, Haare Williams, John Reynolds, Stephen Bambury and Wirangi Pera.
NAMELESS/REDUX is Leigh’s final work, and a full expression of his big ambition for poetry, an ambition made clear in Roger Horrock’s comprehensive essay in Redux aptly named ‘Backstory’. While Leigh didn’t live to see the box set completed, he had deep involvement with Redux. Completion of this work, faithful to his original concept, was in the hands of Stephen and Susan with the expert assistance of Christine. There was a body of existent material from the planning for the installation, but after Leigh’s death, the completion of Redux was largely in Stephen’s hands, to give expression to Leigh’s original concept, but drawing from his own pool of experience and thinking. Redux thus behaves as one directors cut, another ‘director’ might stage the poem very differently.
Nameless stands as a work in itself, a play in Acts and scenes with actors as various as Ludwig Wittgenstein, George Wilder, Rua Kenana, a wedding couple, Duccio's Madonna, and (centrally) St. Augustine. The companion book Redux helps the reader understand the ambition Leigh had for the poetry, and enables the reader to ‘see’ Nameless in plastic form.
Alastair Galbraith, Dunedin based sound artist and Arts Foundation Laureate was commissioned by Leigh to create sound for the physical installation. In an early conversation, Leigh asked Alastair for ‘the voice of god’. The resulting sound exists as a soundtrack on the DVD, but is also laid over the flythrough.
Jennifer Ward Lealand and Michael Hurst, actors. (Michael is also an Arts Foundation Laureate)Leigh asked Jennifer and Michael to be involved in the project. Their recorded voices reading scenes from Act II, Wedding, were intended to be overheard within a semi transparent internal room within the larger Act III room. See Redux pp 42-43
Bruce Ferguson, a film maker specializing in digital animation and immersive video environments, first worked with Leigh on Anarchy using various projections of text and image in Starkwhite gallery. He continued to work with Leigh and Stephen, based first in Barcelona, and then in London to complete the flythrough.
Patrick Reynolds, photographer. The many still photographs taken by Patrick of the installation of Anarchy In Starkwhite gallery make up much of the visual texture of Redux. See Act III Heat.
The photographs of Victoria Park with its London Plane Sycamore trees, were taken by Leigh and Susan both before and after Leigh’s diagnosis. He was insistent on showing the change of seasons, the nature of weather and time in lived experience and they are a motif throughout the work and indeed in the earlier Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life.
Nameless Design: inhousedesign.co.nz, Art Direction: Stephen Bambury, Printing: Everbest Hong Kong
Redux Design: Stephen Bambury with Christine Hansen, Printed through Asia Pacific Offset Ltd, Hong Kong
Published by Jack Books 2013
The completion of the NAMELESS/REDUX project and launch of the box set, was made possible by a Creative New Zealand grant.
For online sales go to the Printed Works page.