Freeze defrenzies at Aspiring ConversatiONs

FREEZE in action. PHOTO: Alastair Bett,

FREEZE in action. PHOTO: Alastair Bett,

Freeze (verb) To find stillness.

Defrenzy (verb) To eliminate clutter, chatter, distraction and agitation. 

“Bring your own stone,” the programme said. We’re carrying rocks we collected from the beach at Mt Aspiring look-out that morning. It’s a crisp Central Otago day, the second day of the Aspiring Conversations festival of ideas, coined a “time for thinking”. We find seats on the tiers outside the Lake Wanaka Centre.  We are met by Rita, who stands in front of an oval shaped arrangement of stones on the decking overlooking Bullock Creek. “Nick asked me to tell you to please turn off your phones, completely. You don’t need them where we’re going.” We’re told to pick a rock, and follow her, in silence, to the lakeshore. We’re part of a journey, a ritual. We’ve been told to have no expectations, to forget what we may have read or heard about the show. Called FREEZE, it’s a one-man performance by Nick Steur and it’s a work that seems to stop time. To see this show is to be part of a series of moments of stillness, interconnected to form a cohesive whole; to be complicit in the building of an impermanent and pertinent collection of stone sculptures that seem to defy the laws of physics. Balanced on steel rods protruding from a large tree stump at the water’s edge, Steur masterfully stacked rocks in clusters of three or four, point to point, in mind-bending ways. His sculptures are built from stones selected by himself, the audience and the will of the collective.

Steur operates on a level that is alluring and mysterious. Initially it feels that he is a skilful rock balancing practitioner, a pseudo-conjurer, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is no gimmick, Steur is on the level. A level that is beyond our full comprehension. There is something intimately captivating about watching Steur work his unique gift. He appears to almost speak to the stones, asking them for subtle guidance, waiting, listening to their response as he manoeuvres them into position. The installation is built in time and place. When one arrangement falls, it wasn’t meant to be. Another will be built, patiently, in its place. One stand out moment was when Steur held out his hand for a patron to bring him a rock. The audience member stood rather quickly, and chose a rock swiftly. Steur remained calm and simply said “Choose the rock you really want”. The audience member took a step back and took their time over a new selection. Steur then smiled and used that rock to continue the magic. Another stand out point was when Steur balanced rocks on the leg of a man who seemed to sense Steur’s focus and energy. A simple glance; a nod, passed between them, to show each understood the other. Again, when it fell, a fresh form was made.

There’s an intense energy within the stillness and calm that this show captured. The sound of children at the nearby playground and the creek becoming Lake Wanaka were the backing track to the tranquil effect of Steur’s art. Like a mandala, the sculptures were dismantled when we departed. No photos were taken, as he hoped that “the moment should stay just between us”. Meditative and magnetic, FREEZE is a stirring reminder of the strength, complexity and impermanence of all things.

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