Secondly, in this work, as in most of his “birdland” output, Hammond is concerned with depicting an “Other,” but not necessarily the commonly understood Other of the colonial worldview, defined by inferiority to, and difference from, white European understandings of self. Rather than infantilised inferiors, subject to the whims of the colonising impulse, Hammond’s birds feel more like ancestors or superiors, mythological figures who move behind the scenes of the postcolonial landscape. Like Thoth, the ibis-headed god who presided over magic, science and writing, Hammond depicts birds as an unseen, mediating presence in his works. In the large rectangular bottom panel, two birds stand by the side of a bed, as though holding a wake for the indistinct, cloudlike form on the mattress. Rather than a vanished race, supplanted by unfeeling colonisers and reduced to the status of museum exhibits, they are still here, still at large.
Lastly, Hammond’s painting is, and has always been, partly a response to and a celebration of the transformative effects of music. With reference to this painting, it is worth bearing in mind that, in Hammond’s punning vocabulary, a “recorder” is also a child’s first musical instrument. The presence of birds in the New Zealand landscape often takes the form of their songs, which alert us to their invisible presence. The central motif of Flight Recorder is the aforementioned angel, blowing the trump of doom, away from which a crowd of tiny figures are fleeing, tripping over themselves in their haste to escape their inevitable fate. The microphone in the upper right canvas also suggests the idea of recording, perhaps in the sense of cutting a record, freezing a fleeting, momentary performance in the grooves of a vinyl disc.
Hammond’s oeuvre contains numerous examples of paintings which depict music: people (and, often, animals) listening to it, dancing to it, or making it. However, works such as Radio On (1985), Jingle Jangle Morning (2006) and Flight Recorder can also be read like musical notations themselves. Repetitions, patterns and harmonies suffuse his works, making the experience of viewing them more akin to a process of listening than of looking. Rather than an illusionistic space, which is apprehended and understood as a whole, Hammond’s paintings are experienced piece by piece, consumed over a period of minutes or hours like passages of song.