Art Seen: May 30

In this week's Art Seen, Robyn Maree Pickens examines exhibitions from Emma Chambers, Joanna Margaret Paul, and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.


Intersecting Architectures, by Emma Chalmers
Intersecting Architectures, by Emma Chalmers
''Intersecting Architectures'', Emma Chalmers (Dunedin School of Art)

Intersecting Architectures is a site-specific exhibition by Auckland-based artist Emma Chalmers that uses architectural structures to symbolise relationships between domestic or private space and institutional or public space.

The architectural structures deployed and reworked by Chalmers resemble window frames, and, in one instance, a ladder. These structures variously jut out from the wall, or rest against the gallery walls as single objects or clusters of two, and are dispersed around the large gallery space.

Chalmers' exhibition, however, is not merely a formal exercise in shape, composition, and spatial relationships, although these considerations are evident. In many ways it is the colours of the wooden architectural structures that point towards the particular relationships between private and public that Chalmers' ongoing project is centred on; namely the ways in which LGBTQIA people negotiate the gap between private and public spaces.

By painting the wooden architectural structures a range of colours including ''rainbow'' colours, Chalmers is signalling the historical, traditional, and typically ongoing invisibility or erasure of LGBTQIA people in public spaces where the default is heterosexual.

The inference is that the private lives of LGBTQIA people in domestic spaces are seldom able to be expressed in institutional or public spaces such as the everyday work environment. An example of ''private lives'' may refer to pronoun avoidance by a LGBTQIA person when discussing their partner in a workplace that is heterosexual by default.


The Real Bird (Teal), by Joanna Margaret Paul
The Real Bird (Teal), by Joanna Margaret Paul
''The Real Bird'', Joanna Margaret Paul (Brett McDowell)

I have seen several exhibitions of Joanna Margaret Paul's work at Brett McDowell, but the current exhibition would have to be one of my favourites.

''The Real Bird'' comprises five framed drawings that are deceptively simple in appearance, but actually ask some fundamental questions about the natural and the artificial, the real and the fake.

Each drawing comprises two birds, one in a deconstructed, pencil-drawn cage, and a second, larger bird that is either a bird on a stick or a bird on a slender perch. The bird in the cage (one drawing has two birds) is the more naturalistic bird while the bird on a stick is reminiscent of a type of wooden bird that might adorn a garden.

Through such an apparently innocuous juxtaposition, Paul seems to be asking, which bird is the real bird? Although the titles are declarative - with pencil titles at the bottom stating ''The Real Bird'' - the scenario Paul has created is less certain, more ambiguous.

In all of this, it must be remembered that Paul is a master of the line; the slight line that somehow, even when it builds something as contradictory as a deconstructed birdcage, is sufficient and perfect in its slightness.

In addition to pencil, Paul uses daubs of watercolour for the caged bird, and bright, flat blocks of colour for the artificial bird. Elsewhere she includes a single bird feather.


Nga wai e kato haere ana ki Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, (DPAG Rear Window)
Nga wai e kato haere ana ki Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, (DPAG Rear Window)
''Nga wai e kato haere ana ki Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa'' (DPAG Rear Window)

The title of the video work currently showing in the DPAG Rear Window space translates as, ''The waters weaving their way to Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwi, the great ocean of Kiwa.''

This video work is a collaborative project between five scholars, artists and film-makers, including Graeme Atkins (Ngati Porou/Ngati Kahungunu), Alex Monteith (Ngati Pakeha/Clan Monteith), Natalie Robertson (Ngati Porou/Clann Dhonnchaidh), Kahurangiariki Smith (Te Arawa, Tainui, Takitimu, Horouta and Mataatua) and Aroha Yates-Smith (Te Arawa, Tainui, Takitimu, Horouta and Mataatua).

Through waiata (song) and aerial footage, the video records the movement of silt from Barton's Gully at Waiorongomai on the East Cape of the North Island. Composed by Aroha Yates-Smith, the waiata personifies the fine-grained silt deposits as Para-whenua-mea, a female deity who, as she travels along the Waiapu River eventually merges with Kiwa, the ocean deity.

When Para-whenua-mea and Kiwa merge they become Hinemoana, or the sea, and embody the interconnectedness between mountain and sea in Te Ao Maori (the Maori world). Yates-Smith's waiata is presented along the bottom of the video as a karaoke animation so that viewers can sing along with the recorded waiata, and in so doing they also embody the passage of the silt as it travels along the river towards the sea.

The aerial footage captures the great, grey, sheer face of Barton's Gully as it gradually erodes to meet the sea.

-By Robyn Maree Pickens

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