Art Seen: April 22

BY ROBYN MAREE PICKENS

"Captain Paradise", Philip Jarvis

(RDS Gallery)

In the process of thinking about and with Philip Jarvis’ exhibition Captain Paradise, I am drawn once again to consider the aesthetic and affective framing provided by galleries, and the contingencies of knowing, even a little, the artist.

That is, having read the framing material and knowing the artist (a little), it is impossible for me to approach this exhibition from a purely aesthetic position.

While a highly aesthetic exhibition, even a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), Captain Paradise is laden with affect that is primarily joyous with strains of melancholy.

Or perhaps the latter emotion is only discernible once the viewer has engaged with the paratextual material.

The act of writing about Jarvis’ exhibition is a call to pay attention to the dynamics between aesthetics and affect.

Even though the exhibition’s framing is easily accessible and quite the opposite of hidden, I feel protective of the artist’s story.

Perhaps it is also the case that I am resisting the impact of the weighty narrative (as much as I am empathetic) so that the works themselves are not obscured or drowned by pathos.

I walk in the gallery and am immediately and resolutely embedded in a total artwork or environment of the artist’s making.

The line between exuberance and suffocation can be slight. I see echoes of Matisse’s cut-outs and Bourgeois’ spider, and Jarvis’ more familiar ceramic works — and they all point towards a new delight.

"Basking", Madison Kelly

(17 George Street)

The ways in which our potential to interact respectfully with non-domesticated animals, beings, and plant life can seem abstract.

Perhaps we plant harakeke or kowhai for tui and other native birds, or flowers for bees — with the knowledge that each colony requires a billion flowers.

Basking encourages us to look beyond flying whanau to contemplate mokomoko or lizards, particularly the endemic geckos and skinks threatened by habitat loss and predation.

Mokomoko are the subject of Otepoti artist Madison Kelly’s (Kai Tahu, Pakeha) project, though the artist would most likely consider herself a subject of mokomoko.

While this suggests an equivalence or exchange of sorts (which it could be), it is perhaps more in keeping with the kaupapa of ‘‘Basking’’ to consider the ways in which we can extend care to these small beings of evolutionary wonder, cultural significance, and ecological knowledge (acknowledging that these designations interact simultaneously).

With this kaupapa in mind, Kelly has developed an installation comprising habitat models, a series of lizard drawing workshops at Orokonui Ecosanctuary, and a forthcoming discussion on mokomoko (26 April).

The installation consists of three interrelated works that, particularly in the terracotta tile works, successfully unite aesthetics with ecological remediation.

Ridged tiles provide sites of refuge and habitat for mokomoko, and of equal importance they can be warm sun-heated surfaces for basking.

Kelly alludes to semantic and cultural references between the mark making of facial moko and the patterns on mokomoko with lizard drawings on the tiles.

"distance rewoven from the roots to the stem", Arielle Walker

(Blue Oyster)

Layers of whanau relationships are readily apparent in this exhibition of textile, fibre, and moving image works by Arielle Walker (Taranaki, Ngaruahine, Ngapuhi, Pakeha).

Whanau relationships in this body of work include the human beings, iwi, and rohe (areas) Walker whakapapas to, but also the plant life inhabiting the whenua with which the artist resides and travels through.

In what ways might these relationships manifest without engaging with the gallery text I subsequently wondered?

The worn quality of the stitched together pieces of blanket (distance rewoven from the roots to the stem, 2020-ongoing), and perhaps that of the silk in the suspended window work (first soft light of the rising sun, 2020) suggests they may have been handed-down through generations.

In a similar vein, the pattern (Print o’ da Wave Shetland) Walker knits with muka (prepared fibre from flax) could indicate the passing down of familial knowledge.

One of the joys of this work (tupuna guide us to weave in any way we can, 2019-ongoing) is the stalk-ends of flax from which threads emerge at the base of the piece.

The decision to retain these stalk ends seems to honour the plant beyond its use as fibre.

This reverence towards the materials Walker works with is more emphatically evident in small handwritten labels attached to the blanket squares.

Each one names the plants that provided the dye, such as kanuka.

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