Saturday, 27 March 2010
Wellington moments - Seraphine Pick , Francis Upritchard, Shane Cotton and Paratene Matchitt
Four Wellington moments
I was in Wellington for the week just past, and more on this in due course: however, I did take some time out to go look at some of the art in the Wellington City Art Gallery installed for the New Zealand Arts Festival. I also took the chance to look at the two NZ installations from Venice Biennale currently on show at Te Papa.
The big ticket exhibition at the City Gallery stretches over both the North and the South Gallery the better to show a long arc of development around Seraphine Pick's art practice. She has been one of NZ's arts favorite daughters for some time now, but its the first time I have had the chance to walk round such a big collection of her work.
The curator, Felicity Milburn, from Christchurch Art Gallery, has organised the works in big slabs of consecutive time/series - from Private Universes, Fantasy Forests, Secret Gardens, and a more generic wall - the Image Bank - takes a bunch of works, many on paper, and conceptualises them as Pick's store of future imaginaries.
The approach - especially the big slabs of time - very quickly draw you into a conversation with the works as a series of episodes to the artist's life - re-enforced by labeling which adds a lot of personal colour and intimacy from the artists history - relationships - break-up etc.
I found some of this a little predictable, but it definitely served to make such a large parcel of works come alive as a coherent series of consecutive moments, as well as offering a healthy domesticity to some of the more startling images on display, especially the self portraits boldly working through the pain of loss and abandonment.
But it was the most recent, more cheerful, and fantastical works I liked the best, especially the deep blue broodiness of Wandering Rose, the image above, and the earlier Hunters with Wallflowers, 2004. and He (disappeared into silence) . I also loved Burning the Furniture, where the heroine sorts out her life, watched by a deferential Celtic guy in lovely grass kilt.
Summing up , and without over-examining the symbolism, in these later works, I just loved the big strong mixture of Victorian fairie - hippy chic, and nz girl.
[Notes: more Seraphine Pick work images at Michael Lett Gallery, Auckland, and Hamish McKay, Wellington. Plus see more on Felicity Milburn at the Imaginary Museum project]
Francis Upritchard, Save Yourself, 2009
Currently showing on the fifth floor of Te Papa, are the totally amazing small sculpture works, Save Yourself, which Francis Upritchard created for the Venice Biennale , where she and Judy Millar were the NZ representatives
Although I was suitable captured by the scale, texture and intellectual curiosity of the Judy Millar works next door, I adored each of these tiny figures from Francis Upritchard, Save Yourself installation, and was grateful to see them installed in Te Papa at a level where I could gaze at them on an equal footing.
The balance of size, emotion, colour and grace in these figures is just beautiful. They start an emotional dance in your head/heart, while all the time stand silent and small. Big big stuff going on here. The video has the artist talking about the works, as well as showing them in situ in Venice.
I adore Shane Cotton's work. He continually entrances me, especially his big leaps into new areas of work, each of which seems so self contained and of itself, leaving the past moments as episodes on his own journey exploring the dynamic of being Maori, or maybe just being Shane Cotton thinking about being Maori - the history, and the landscape of dispossession and reassertion.
Or keeping it much more simple - I just love standing in front of one of his works, and asking it to unpack its story.
Nineteen Ninety Three
Currently on view in the main foyer of the City Gallery is one of his early works, Nineteen Ninety Three, now in the collection of the Wellington City Council.
It is a long narrow work which shows a waka [canoe] shape - which might also be a long vessel sitting amidst a intense brown landscape. The deck of the vessel , or the rim of the vessel, also serves as a landscape showing small flagpoles and uprights, each of which is traversed by the sign 1-8 -6- 5 - this being the date 1865, when the Maori Land court was established which in turn converted communally owned tribal land into individual title.
Te Ara has more on this here - for Cotton, the establishment of the Maori Land Court marked the start of the dispossession, and the marker to the long march of cultural and economic reassertion. It's a stunning work.
Paratene Matchitt is another contemporary Maori artist and sculptor who just stops you in your tracks. Also on view in the City Gallery, and on loan from the main Wellington Public Library next door is his wonderful Waharoa [gateway] doorways, 1990, which serve as the entrance to the Maori section of the central library. Positioned here in the art gallery, its conceptual power is intensified courtesy of the reflective space around it.
I can't find images of either of these works to share with you, which feels a pity. Both works are in a public collection, and both artists have many images elsewhere. For example, apart from the big institutions, check Hamish McKay or Gow Langsford for Shane Cotton, or Judith Anderson, for Paratene Matchitt
Mercifully, Te Papa has a lovely image of Shane Cotton's Whakapiri atu te whenua, It hangs in Te Papa, and I saw it once again on my way through to the Francis Uppritchard.
It gives you a parallel track to the motions I was touching on above. Again, it speaks to Maori displacement and renewal.
So - four separate quiet, contemplative art moments as I navigated an intense week of Wellington which was all about engaging, talking collaborating, thinking out loud. You have no idea how welcome they were. Thanks!