Art Seen: December 8

This week in Art Seen, Robyn Maree Pickens looks at works by Daphne Simons, Yi-Ming Lin, and an exhibition curated by Priscilla Pits.

Flower vase — Ivy (2016), by Yi-Ming Lin.
Flower vase — Ivy (2016), by Yi-Ming Lin.
‘‘Undreamed of ... 50 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship’’ (Hocken Library Uare Taoka o Hakena)

In recognition of the stellar art created by the Frances Hodgkins Fellows over the past 50 years, curator Priscilla Pitts fittingly chose ‘‘Undreamed of ...’’ from a letter written by Frances Hodgkins as the title for this significant exhibition of New Zealand art. It is an exhibition that does indeed, to paraphrase Hodgkins from the same letter, yield up riches.

Priscilla Pitts’ curatorial skills enable the viewer to perceive these riches — not an easy task with the work of 50 quite different artists working across a range of media, and indeed, across five decades.

Visit the exhibition as much for the conversations between works as for the individual works themselves. Several exquisite conversations are on display at the Hocken Library such as the one between Julia Morison and Zina Swanson. The corseted heart of Morison’s Heartease from her Declan series shares the protected vulnerability of Swanson’s Draceana plant sitting in its terracotta pot atop a marble plinth covered with bright pink lipstick kisses.

Similarly, the divots and protrusions on Rohan Weallean’s paint-laden canoe speak formally to the profusion of Siegfried Koglmeier’s moulded cloud forms nearby. Pinpricks of light link Eddie Clemens’ bristling fibre optic broom with Joanna Langford’s installation, while her soundscape accompanies the visitor throughout.

Rocking Horse Cutter (2016), by Daphne Simons.
Rocking Horse Cutter (2016), by Daphne Simons.
"Stone Cold Cuts", Daphne Simons (Blue Oyster Art Project Space)

"Stone Cold Cuts" is an ambitious installation that rounds off a vibrant year of programming at Blue Oyster. In the spirit of Daphne Simons’ tongue-in-cheek exhibition, which comprises a cluster of appealingly aberrant machines, the artist has set herself the task of responding to two vexing questions that have troubled humankind since the invention of specific steel implements: how would you cut a cucumber without a knife? and how would you cut hair without scissors?

Indeed these are troubling questions.

Having seen the exhibition I could provide fulsome, detailed answers, but that would destroy the visceral experience of watching cucumber hurtle through the air in unexpected directions. It is an experience one must have in person.

Essentially, Simons has staged the workspace of an eccentric visionary intent on problem-solving with whatever resources are at hand. Like, but not-at-all-like Leonardo da Vinci, Simons has produced a backstory of working drawings for the wildly improvised contraptions that fill both gallery spaces. Each contraption, such as Rocking Horse Cutter (a rocking horse with metal blades atop camping tables, 2016) is at once highly inventive, excessively complicated, haltingly functional, raw, rudimentary, humorous and captivating. The repurposing and upcycling of materials does sound an ecological note: fortunately cucumbers are in season.

Flower vase — Ivy (2016), by Yi-Ming Lin.
Flower vase — Ivy (2016), by Yi-Ming Lin.
"Vitality", Yi-Ming Lin (Moray Gallery)

Taiwanese-New Zealand artist Yi-Ming Lin came to New Zealand 22 years ago to study ceramics at the Dunedin School of Art and has retained close ties with Dunedin since. For his latest suite of works, "Vitality", at Moray Gallery, Yi-Ming has created 28 hand-built ceramic sculptures that take the form of vases, books and paintings. All are built using paper clay (cellulose fibre added to clay) and stained with colour slips and glazes. Yi-Ming’s bold vases are constructed from sculpted leaves, leaf stems and flowers that twine around each other in pale pinks, blues and dark greens. These floral motifs grow, as it were, out of the sculpted base and proliferate upwards. Each vase is at once a vase and (sculpted) floral arrangement.

Floral motifs also adorn Yi-Ming’s sculpted books and paintings, but also provide a backdrop for his other main subject: horses. Yi-Ming has sculpted the books to be open at the centre page, and as with the surface of the sculpted paintings, the artist has created the writhing movement of horses springing forward off the pages or canvas background. In one instance, a sculpted horse has "escaped" the slightly buckled frame of the sculpted painting frame.

The power of these figures bursting out of their frames represents an exciting new direction.

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