Ivan Mrsic : N G A  H E I H E I  O R C H E S T R A

At Te Tuhi Center for the Arts – Auckland New Zealand, on Saturday, August 13, 2016

and human chickens click their feet in the dust, apparently with no clue

(Nga Heihei is a Maori word for a cacophony of sounds or the commotion of kicking up dust. Chickens are called Nga Heihei because of the noise they make stirring up the dust. And the word Nga is a suffix used to change a verb into a noun, especially to denote a tribe of people. As a noun, moreover, it means ‘breath.’)

Ivan Mrsic during the concert

by Rosanna Albertini

“The real is a closely woven fabric. It does not await our judgement before incorporating the most surprising phenomena, or before rejecting the most plausible figments of our imagination. … Truth does not ‘inhabit’ only the ‘inner man,’ or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty*

NGA HEIHEI is a music from the inner core of an artist, and a splinter of War and Peace in our time, that hits the brain like a storm. Facts and images of facts around us shriek in our consciousness, piercing our dreams. One child on the beach, dead like a shell out of water, we only see the nape of his neck, grateful his face isn’t visible, sucked into the sand. Another boy on the ground was abandoned, a lifeless doll embracing flatness, crucified without a cross. They stayed in me like symbols of sacrifice for a long time, those two boys, and yet, as much as I would like to avert the very idea, I know the massacre will not stop. I’m waiting for the next. Hordes of refugees escape wars and poverty, they are treated like new barbarians. None of us owns an ideal truth. We have music instead, if nothing else, as an act of devotion.

And through Ivan’s sounds, history takes the form of a huge storm including Napoleon’s cavalry, canons and machine guns from World Wars I and II, and recents battlefields like big mouths vomiting voices and falling mountains, tsunamis, angry gods of the oceans, and an endless lack of meaning, what is it for?  Instruments, especially the digital alteration of natural sounds produced, at times, with a simple kitchen metal bowl, translate languages and stories into one long impersonal lamentation, the mediterranean expression of grief.

In such a bewildering human landscape, half gardened half destroyed, the artist, Ivan Mrsic, and the four performers next to him** become an island of resistance. Torn between his native Croatia and the new homeland he found in New Zealand, Ivan’s feelings float in both places. Transpierced like everyone else by things perceived, he/it/she shows the strength of resilience, and spreads around not intelligence -almost impossible- nothing more than the fastest beats of a heart.


The imaginary war in his head could not be expressed through words, or images, it’s a long river of steps on the ground, screams, trees shaken by winds, bombs, fountains of blood, and singing birds, despite the horror. Because our sense of dismay isn’t disjoined from an equal awareness of joyful attachment to this absurd world. Arts of our time merge into the living. No more illusions about the brain, our friend enemy personal engine, emotions come first. Physicality, sounds sometimes. We are not right, not wrong, not saints, not monsters.

Non-involvement, so far, has replenished the holes of the old wars.
As Hone Tuwhare*** wrote in his Haikuku

To reach the dizzy heights
of non-involvement
one must be unattached

In order to reach the peak
of non-attachment (ah yes)
one must be dissolved.

Ivan Mrsic dissolved himself, for a limited time, in a piece of music.


All the stills from a piece of video documentation commissioned by Te Tuhi, Auckland.  



* MAURICE MERLEAU PONTI, Phenomenology of Perception, translated from French by Colin Smith, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1962

**The performance of Nga Heihei Orchestra premiered on Saturday, August 13 2016, at the opening of the Te Tuhi exhibition Share/Cheat/Unite, Auckland, 5.30 pm. With Ivan Mrsic, the performers were: Hermione Johnson, Pat Kraus, Jonny Marks, and Andrew McMillan. John Kim as a sound engineer and a performer.

***HONE TUWHARE, Deep River TalkCollected Poems, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1994, p.77

This text was published in SHARE/CHEAT/UNITE VOL. 3, online catalogue edited by Anna Hodge and Rebecca Lal. Curated by Bruce E. Phillips. Te Tuhi, March 2018, Auckland, New Zealand.




by Rosanna Albertini

“There is a big difference between using a rock and making a rock.” (Kate Newby) 

Let’s imagine things and people never were, so we could

breath such emptiness in and out

and feel murmurs of silence

subject and names are gone

a field remains of impersonal vibrations

the simple fact of an existing energy field

as impersonal as ‘it rains’ ‘it’s cold’ ‘it’s foggy’

names can’t tell about it, verbs maybe can

no offense to time and space they don’t count

compared with human energy

incurable daughter of fate

no one nothing will change her

what kind of art now?

(Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre, 1979. Translation from French RA)

One of the many answers could be:  Kate Newby’s Two aspirins a vitamin c tablet and some baking soda – 2015  In Los Angeles, at Laurel Doody.


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015, detail.
Courtesy of the artist and of Laurel Doody. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Let’s imagine a beginning without time, the artist looking for a space to visit, landing on its flatness like an alien presence bringing presents in a quiet and friendly manner, so quiet that visitors, or recipients, if they exist, could easily ignore them. John Cage’s prepared piano’s distinct notes would trace the spirit of this presence better than words: liquid sounds, ponds of feelings for a landscape that only exists if some body’s expectations go astray, heading towards a field of sensations that float and fly, light feet on the floor.

I can hear you

making small holes

in the silence


(Hone Tuwhare, Rain, in Deep River Talk, 1993)

In that landscape Kate’s art makes sense if we forget all the strings we attach to the word ‘meaning.’ An impersonal field of energy offers tactile surprises to the eyes: a small island of wax on a wooden skin, coins melted in clay, a couple of glass stones at the edge of the window sill, as if they were two feet waiting to fly rather than jump. And even more surprising, four irregular metal cilinders with a point that worked holes and lines and angles in the clay, helping the artist’s fingers. Her magic fingers, not merely tools. Strangely, they make me think of Mahuika in the Maori mythology, the image of the goddess grandmother who hides fire in her body, and gives it to the living humans pulling out her fingernails one by one, her fingers bursting into flame. Although Kate Newby is from New Zealand, this is only a fantasy of mine.

She carved small and big holes in each brick, made the bricks one by one preparing them for the kiln, pierced the silence of the matter introducing scratches, cavities, scars produced by pieces of metal or glass. Wounds of the same kind, in a place run by history, would be normal accidents happening over time. As I told before, time is gone. This is reverse archeology: a fictional legend.


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015, detail. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015, detail. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda, 2015, detail. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015, detail. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015, detail. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Kate Newby,

KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015, detail. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

It’s a cluster of unnamed,  brand new objects: never used, human hands made them all, they might not be useful or noticeable. The artist brought them into a friendly room, aware of their novelty which is first of all a lack of experience: who ever looked at them? In their primordial, perhaps pre-historical surface they wear without knowing, why are they sprinkled with something white looking like bird shit (what’s a bird?), or with colored pebbles and small shells (where do colors come from?), can they stand to be under scrutiny? Scrutiny is an architecture of thoughts as cold as a laser beam. The whole energy field could be destroyed.

A window, a thick expansion of green outside, emptiness in a room. I don’t know if Kate Newby still feels like a pile of leaves, this time she has aspirin, a tablet of vitamin c and baking soda in her mind’s pocket. Is she able to shut down her self and bring up only her (and our) alterations? Being impersonal like rain and dry like the destiny?

When she looks from afar at the scattered sculptures released by her hands,  she sees them together in her mind as they cannot be seen in the physical space where they are installed. Suspended from a branch outside the window, the musical fingers can perhaps visually connect to the glass feet, not to the bricks inside the room. They are dispersed family members, that only a mental vision would bring together. Distance and displacement don’t reduce her attachment. The conversation she had in mind in the making of the art has been slowly decanted into the objects’ physical quality, so as not to disturb the sediment, that is different for each material. A physical conversation between wind, leaves and silver fingers, and between the sky and the glass blocks, takes place outdoors; while the iron, that makes the clay red inside the room, reverberates the iron in her blood and viceversa: human and inhuman temperament of the metal share the same nature. A wish of infinity, in the blue pebbles?  The raw matter that is in her is also in the body of her art: an “incredible feeling” arouses her vision. She will never say it in words, nor should I. It’s a feeling of certainty, though, joined to the pleasure of giving.


KATE NEWBY, “Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”, 2015
Courtesy of the artist and of Laurel Doody. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen