''The Liquid Dossier'', the result of Nick
Austin's year as Francis Hodgkins Fellow at the University of
Otago, opens at the Hocken Library on Saturday. Charmian
Smith talks to the 2012 fellow about his work and his
Since he graduated with an MFA in 2001, Nick Austin has
worked part-time to earn a living and pursued his art
practice when he could. However, it was a challenge as well
as an opportunity to have the University of Otago Francis
Hodgkins Fellowship last year which allowed him to work on
his art full-time, he says.
''It's been a huge challenge because it means there's a
vastness that I've never been in. I became so used to making
work in small pockets of time and this residency allows one
to have this distance, to step back and look at what you are
doing and think about what you are doing, which was very
hard, actually,'' he says.
However, it's meant Austin has been able to do things he
would not otherwise have done. A big studio has also enabled
him to make larger works, and the Hocken exhibition has
allowed more scope than usual. Last year, he had a solo
exhibition at the Hopkinson Cundy gallery in Auckland, which,
he says, was a sort of rehearsal for what he's done since and
what he's going to show at the Hocken. The exhibition is a
collection of disparate things - some sculpture, some
painting and some installations, including a DVD slide show,
''We say these things are all quite disparate, but I feel
they are all very similar in that they are all arrangements
of two or three elements done with different materials.''
Austin feels it has a resonance with the Hocken environment
because it involves collections of objects and the works are
often like images of images - pages from books, photographs
from the internet, envelopes.
''All those things are in relationship to the function of the
Hocken, but it's not directly about anything at the Hocken,''
There's a work entitled Dentists on holiday that
involves a dentist's chair on which is projected a slideshow
of men riding jet skis accompanied by a soundtrack of jazz
music with chainsaws.
''I don't know where it came from - I think it came from this
situation that the more money you pay a dentist or anyone,
the bigger smile you receive back from them. It's like
thinking about what a dentist's recreational activity might
be. Anyway, I designed this work in my head - there was just
a vision floating around in my head and I did it when I felt
I had to do it, when I couldn't not do it.''
However, he says, the explanation of how the work came about
is not important, although he likes to set the tone of the
work by giving it a title.
''[The work] is meant to set up a situation where a viewer
can make up their own associations or think about the
situation of these materials,'' he says.
''I think my motivation for making works is quite a private
one and I don't think the work is trying to do something,
gratify the viewer or anything like that. The work is there
and the viewer can take it or leave it.''
However, Austin feels his work operates within a triangle of
funny, sad and strange.
''These are the qualities in life that, for whatever reason,
I enjoy and respond to, so I think my art is just reflective
of these qualities that exist in life - that's the
territory,'' he says.
''I think the work is just reflective of being an artist, but
it's not grand and I embrace its purposelessness.''
Austin grew up in Auckland and studied at the Auckland
University of Technology then did his master of fine arts
degree at Elam. The master's programme was really a process
of unlearning, he says.
''My initial learning was an opportunity to try many
different things, which is what art school should be. When I
did my master's, I suppose my interests changed.
''I think the work became a lot more self-reflective and I
started using the process of making as a subject, things
which maybe before then had been invisible, were not seen as
He had adopted a mindset in which bigger was better and made
a large 2m fibreglass sphere which he originally thought he
might make into some kind of kiosk, but the object was not
important to the vision of his intentions for it, he says.
''I had this big thing in the studio and I realised the thing
itself was really fascinating. I felt I needed to do
something with this thing. I had no idea what I was doing but
I took it to the beach. I rolled it around on the beach then
my friend and I thought we'd take this sphere into the water.
It was a very placid day, and this thing was floating around,
then all of a sudden there was this gust of wind and this
huge but incredibly light sphere was beyond my fingertips and
sailed out to sea.
''That was somehow a significant moment when I think I
learned I could use chance and failure and also the issue of
materiality and immateriality. They became interesting and
the process of doing and thinking somehow aligned
Austin, now in his mid-30s, his partner, fellow artist Saskia
Leek, and their 3-year-old daughter, Agatha, intend to stay
in Dunedin this year rather than return to Auckland.
''The Liquid Dossier: Nick Austin'' is at the Hocken Library
from Saturday and runs until April 13.