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Marian Macken, Our Concealed Ballast

'Situated in ‘a strange liminal time between a death and a birth’, Our Concealed Ballast is a bracingly hybrid work that combines elements of memoir, personal essay and art criticism. Built from a series of discontinuous passages, Marian Macken’s book reinvigorates what it means to ‘hold space’ for others — as a parent and an architect — in the wake of bereavement. Yet it is also a work concerned with time, chronicling the ways that grief and anticipation texture the present’s ongoingness.

It is a significant achievement to introduce, as this book does, a new spatio-temporal vocabulary for understanding and processing the experience of loss. This includes its formal fragmentation: each of its passages provides a temporary habitation, while the cuts between them activate a sense of dislocation and unmooring — as well as the possibility of another chronology. With poise and imagination, Macken has probed an almost unbearable gulf between moving and moving on.'

Shortlisted for the 2024 NSW Premier's Literary Awards
Douglas Stewart Award for Non-Fiction Judges' comments


‘The opening of this book slaps the reader in the face with an impossible loss, a giant yet stealthy explosion. The shrapnel of grief caused by this event scatters throughout the rest of the book’s pages. Macken is interested in motherhood, in people, places, and spaces. How we shape the world around us and are shaped by it.’ 
ELIZABETH ALLEN in The Village Observer

Our Concealed Ballast weaves together reflections on motherhood, grief, attachment, and the moments that mark our movements through the world. It is a study of loss, its dimensions and atmosphere, and how these change over decades. A house on the river with a frangipani; an archive of drawings; a photograph taken by a father; a post office in West Harlem – the book pins together intimate moments and places which resonate to become a way of relating to the world. Renewing the memoir form within a spatial logic, passages communicating elusive ideas are precisely placed; these gather to deliver an emotionally taut reading across each spread of facing pages. Macken’s voice is direct and sparse, visceral and passionate, as she digs into the meaning and structure of the personal archive that we carry through life – the ballast of emotion and solace which keeps us steady. 

‘A profound exploration of subjectivity and space, relatedness and grief. Macken’s prose is a controlled—and clarifying—burn.’

‘A brave reckoning with unimaginable loss interspersed with vignettes of art, architecture, books and the unpacking of memory. Its intricate construction of place, time and grief is profoundly moving.’

Marian Macken is a writer, researcher, educator and artist trained in architecture, landscape architecture and visual art. Born in Sydney, Australia, Macken is Associate Professor at Te Pare School of Architecture and Planning, Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland, New Zealand.  Her creative practice research and writing primarily focus on architectural drawing. Her work has been acquired by various international public collections of artists’ books and she has undertaken funded artist residencies and exhibited internationally. Her book Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice was published as part of the Routledge Design Research in Architecture series in 2018. Her next book, Bodies and Space in Architectural Drawing: Line, Movement and Scale, co-authored with Carl Douglas, will be published as part of Bloomsbury’s Drawing In series. 

Marian Macken, Our Concealed Ballast
August 2023. 148mm x 210mm. 112pp.
ISBN 978-1-925735-51-2

This project has been assisted by Waipapa Taumata Rau The University of Auckland.

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