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.



NICK AUSTIN in Los Angeles, 2015

Federico Garcia Lorca in New York, 1929-30

Nick Austin arrived in Los Angeles early December 2015 from Dunedin, New Zealand. Once  his drawings were hung at Laurel Doody Gallery, he spent his time walking through Los Angeles for hours and hours, from Griffith Park to Cloverdale Avenue. Nick, like me, doesn’t drive. He didn’t know that Griffith Park is the biggest park in North America: Rancho Los Feliz in 1882 with an ostrich farm for feathers on the ladies’ hats, then Aerodrome for pioneers of flight that became a zoo, and a detention camp for prisoners of war after WWII. Nick felt he was flying on his feet. Feeling hot, he threw his shirt in the air; his passport fall out of it and slumbered, hidden in the grass. But his naked torso was happy. He got lost. At the end of the day, exhausted, Nick appeared tall and skinny like a winter tree on the steps before my door, a bunch of organic carrots in his hands. An artist is not a conventional traveler. 

NICK AUSTIN, Where Sugar Lives, 2015, color pencil on paper Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody

NICK AUSTIN, Where Sugar Lives, 2015, color pencil on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

I cannot complain / if all that I wanted eludes me. / In the sapless world of the stone and the void of the insect / I shall not envision a duel of sun with the creatures of festering flesh.

I go into genesis’ landscape / of rumblings, collisions, and waters / that drench all the newly-born, / and shun all the surfaces, / to understand rightly my target-convergence in joy / when passion is mingled with dust and I rise upon air.

(From: Heaven Alive, by FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA)

NICK AUSTIN, The Town Wristwatch, 2014, colored pencil on paper Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody

NICK AUSTIN, The Town Wristwatch, 2014, colored pencil on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

To see how all passes, / the void and the vesture together, / give me your gauntlet of moonlight, / and that other glove, lost in the grass, / O my love!

A stir in the air can pluck out the snail / dead in the elephant’s lung, /  and puff up the frost stiffened worm / in the calyx of apples and light.

The indifferent faces float off / in the failing clamor of grass / and from the toad’s little breast, in the corners, / a chaos of heart-beat and mandolins.

(From: Nocturne of the Void, by FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA)

NICK AUSTIN, Many Happy Returns, 2015, colored pencil on paper Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody

NICK AUSTIN, Many Happy Returns, 2015, colored pencil on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

There fell a leaf / and two / and three. / And a fish swam into the moon. / The water slumber an hour / and the white sea, a hundred. / A lady  / lay dead in the branches. Still / the nun / in the grapefruit sang on. / The little girl / passed out of pine into cone. / And the pine /tried a feather-fine trill. / But the nightingale / wept in his circle of wounds, / as I / for the fall of a leaf / and two / and three.    …

The sky will stand firm to the wind / like a wall, / and the ruining branches / dance off. / One and by one / ringing the moon, / two and by two / ringing the sun, / three and by three / till the ivories’ slumber is sound.

(From: Waltz in the Branches by FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA)

NICK AUSTIN, Secondary Submarine Studies, diptych, 2015, colored pencil on paper Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody

NICK AUSTIN, Secondary Submarine Studies, diptych, 2015, colored pencil on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Apples delicately bruised / by a supple blade’s silver, / clouds broken by fistblows of coral / that carry a fiery cocoon on their backs, / the arsenical fish, like a shark, / the shark, like a tear-drop, blinding a multitude, / the rose, drawing blood, / and the needle-point finding the blood vessel, / the enemy worlds and the worm-eaten passions, / will cave in on you.

(From: Cry to Rome by FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA. This poem, as the others poems quoted above, are published in POET IN NEW YORK, by Federico Garcia Lorca, Translation by Ben Belitt, New York, Grove Press, 1955)

NICK AUSTIN, Secondary Submarine Studies, diptych, 2015, colored pencil on paper Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody

NICK AUSTIN, Secondary Submarine Studies, diptych, 2015, colored pencil on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Laurel Doody  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


A painting writes to his painter: IVAN MRSIC

By Rosanna Albertini


IVAN MRSIC, Coffee Painting, about 2001 Courtesy of the artist

IVAN MRSIC, Coffee Painting, about 2001,  ground coffee on plexiglas 10″ h x 12″ w
Courtesy of the artist

Dear Ivan,

It’s me, your painting. It has been hard to be on my own: your friend the plumber packed me so well ― as if I were a leaking pipe ― that I couldn’t breathe. Was Peter his name? You had asked him to deliver me to the other Peter, the one from Los Angeles. But, his meeting with the other Peter did not go immediately well. The two Peters waited for each other at the museum entrance, each of them at different doors. Remaking the effort the day after, they finally have been able to reach the same entrance. Both were kind. The American Peter kept me in his hand baggage for the flight. It was good to be packed and not see how far was I going from New Zealand, over the ocean.

My real landing was on a bed, in a Los Angeles house. She unpacked me immediately, maybe she is claustrophobic. I was so disoriented and shy that, instead of blushing, I turned into the palest thing, almost invisible. I did not want to look vain. I didn’t know who the “she” was, but she really looked at me. With no words, so I could read her thoughts. “Did I already see you in Ivan’s house?” ― she mumbled ― “You must be one of the first coffee paintings he made, if not the very first.” I only know I never grew much, my size is 25 x 30 centimeters.

Holding me, she started the tour of the house, where to place me? I desperately wanted to be by myself. She must have felt it, she found two nails already hammered into the wall underneath a shelf covered with books, a shady place symmetrical with the picture of a two-year-old pretty girl: her daughter. Maybe she liked me. You know from your Croatian grandmother that coffee grounds have magic powers. Especially now, after some weeks, I can see her mind-set at first glance when she stares at me. I am so happy I could liquefy.

I am a coffee way that doesn’t need milk,

750 squared centimeters of universe blocked in infinite stillness,

the house for a fruit freed from plantations,

a solidified magic rag showing that beauty can be humble,

a piece of sky the same color of earth,

I am the grace of broken things that multiply, spread on archival drawers.

On the same wall where I am hung, but above the art catalogues, shines her Neapolitan mother’s picture. It makes me dream that in the night time I let the ground coffee go away and jump into the filter of a Neapolitan coffee maker to become fragrance in the morning, as it has to be.

(Letter of a painting to his painter Ivan Mrsic, from Los Angeles (California) to Auckland (New Zealand), sometimes in 2008.)

1945, my mother and me in her

1945, my mother and me in her

Ivan Mrsic is a visual artist and a musician. Born in 1957 in Zagreb, Croatia, when Croatia was still one of the six republics of Yugoslavia. Adopting a Maori custom, I place him in his genealogy: son of Tonica Ilijic, who was born to Ivan and Katarina, and of Andjelko (Angel), born to Andrija and Jelena, the grandmother who used to read the coffee grounds on the bottom of the cups and inspired Ivan, in a dream, to start a series of coffee grounds paintings. Ivan landed in Auckland on February 24, 1989. He was a professional printer for many years. Studied jazz percussion at the Conservatory of Music in Montreux, Switzerland. When I arrived in Auckland for the first time, Ivan volunteered to be one of my  guides through the new world. The kindest.