where a type of magic can be made

image of Bruce Mason's concrete poetry

I ask not only that my city,
but all, give themselves
to the essence of our cult –
the ritual assembly of an
interested coterie in space
where magic can be made
and miracles occur.

Bruce Mason – Omens and Portents

This work can be found on the north side of the Circa Theatre, set flat in the pavement. It’s not hard to find, once you get used to the idea that it is flat on the ground, as opposed to being set on a wall, or some rather more inaccessible location. Perhaps that’s part of Bruce Mason’s charm – his work is accessible.

The typeface used here is Optima – a very elegant font with graciously shaped letters – and quite surprising to see it used imprinted into the concrete. The font used in the other Wellington Writers’ Walk concrete poetry looks like a condensed Helvetica. With the Helvetica face the letterforms are set in relief, and casts shadows. The result causes strange, but not unpleasant, results in the negative spaces between the letters and lines. I think this effect is most obvious in the James K Baxter ‘Maori Jesus’ work, set with the concrete letters floating in the water.

One of the very subtle differences between the use of Optima here is that it looks different to how it might be used incised into a public building. The imprinting process, I believe, has allowed for a more delicate set of letter forms, particularly noticeable around ‘inner’ points e.g. the inside form of the capital ‘A’. If one was cutting this with a chisel it would be very easy for the point to flake off. The serifs are also set more in the traditional style of letterpress on to paper – the sides are square, and not cut in a ‘vee’ as would be required if chiselled into stone. The effect, then, is like the letters have been sandblasted into the concrete. But it somehow looks more delicate than that technique achieves.

Honey, this is not the side of a building any more, and it sure ain’t no headstone.

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