Art Seen: May 23

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Graham Bennett, Peata Larkin, and Viky Garden.

 

Poles Apart, by Graham Bennett
Poles Apart, by Graham Bennett
''From a Different Distance'', Graham Bennett (Milford Gallery)

Ecological balance, the interplay of scientific data and the spirit, and the merging of Pacific and European culture all play their part in the elegant forms of Graham Bennett's wood and metal sculpture.

Bennett uses a strong, lenticular ''pod'' form as the central motif of many of his works. The form can be read in many ways - as seed pods, as ocean-going vessels, as the gores of a global map, as scientific instruments - each of which reflect on the artist's concerns of cartography, ecology and the meeting of East and West.

The pods are etched, physically and metaphorically, with a history of Pasifika design, and we see these totem icons delicately balanced within scientific instruments, able to, and liable to, move at the slightest touch.

The artist is not shy to use found scientific instruments directly alongside his highly worked pods. Calipers and folding rules become integral parts of the works.

The direct measurement of place thus sits alongside the spirit of place. This is not only our Turangawaewae, the place to stand, but the location of that place has been calibrated to the minute and second of arc.

The result is work which speaks of both the physical nature and spirituality of place, and of the delicate tipping points which we are constantly in danger of upsetting.

 

Urunga, by Peata Larkin
Urunga, by Peata Larkin
''Aitanga > Descendant'', Peata Larkin (Milford Gallery)

Peata Larkin art has long paid tribute to the traditional patterns of her Maori ancestry, reproducing and adapting in paint form the geometric forms of taniko and tukutuku.

In her latest exhibition, Larkin presents two groups of works, one of which continues this process in a surprising and effective way, with the second taking a step back towards more abstract interpretations of her artistic lineage.

The former group of works are presented as raised open latticeworks of thread, over which thick droplets of acrylic have been suspended in regular patterns.

The three-dimensionality of the work allows light and shadow to become intrinsic parts of the design, and the use of a single honey-amber colour allows viewers to concentrate their gaze on the intricate structure of the design and the strength of the artist's work.

The latter works move away from direct lattice forms towards more painterly interpretations of the artist's whakapapa. The titles of the works repeatedly refer to blood and water (also reflected in the colours used) and the images themselves are reminiscent of the ''life-walk'' computer simulations in which colonies of coloured pixels ebb and flow across the screen. Injected points of acrylic colour bloom and grow across the regular white fabric to create an impression of a gradual diaspora of painted life.

 

Trap, by Viky Garden
Trap, by Viky Garden
''Casting Shadows'', Viky Garden (Fe29 Gallery)

Viky Garden's art is being shown in two consecutive exhibitions at Fe29. The second, starting at the beginning of June, focuses on her paintings, but in the current display it is the artist's pinhole photography which takes pride of place.

Pinhole photography is an intriguing art form. The oldest form of photography, even pre-dating the means of preserving the image, it is one which relies as much on chance and the photographer's intuition as it does on the skill of the image maker. The ability to manipulate the image after exposure is reduced to near zero, and the primitive processes require both an intensity of mental effort and an adventurous spirit on the part of the photographer.

Pinhole work often results in high contrast images, relying for their effect on the photographer's ability to use chiaroscuro to good purpose. The long exposures also mean that the inevitable blur that comes from any motion has to be taken into account and used positively. Garden has succeeding in putting both these inherent, potentially problematic, characteristics of the process to good use. In images such as Trap, the stable background and moving foreground produce a strong depth to the image. In other works, such as Stay, the remorseless high contrast of the image creates a disturbing, dramatic effect.

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