Art Seen: November 4

Work by the Rayner brothers.
Work by the Rayner brothers.

‘‘The Magnificent Rayner Brothers Circus with Ringmistress Madeleine Child”


This circus-themed exhibition evokes elements of the carnivalesque in the sense theorised by Mikhail Bakhtin whereby the expected, the everyday, and the status quo are upturned — in this instance by ceramic and latch hook, woollen works (which Bakhtin may not have foreseen). Think whimsically ostentatious art-adornments (ceramic rings by Madeleine Childs), louche ceramic ghosts and a queer merman bag (by Mark Rayner), and macabre, decolonial reckonings with Captain Cook by Paul Rayner. This is a maximalist show.

Childs (she of the Ringmistress) has paired small-scale rings with two significant earlier, large works from 2005. Kronkelen, which is Dutch for “squirm”, achieves this precise feeling in a band of curlicue wave forms that almost resist stasis. The circle reappears in Cirklevorm — a floor-based sculptural ceramic piece that encircles many small ring works inside.

Not enough can be said about Mark Rayner’s Cleo Man Bag, which combines woolly mammoth tassels with a sinuous and svelte otter-like merman form on the bag. The presence of an adjacent self-portrait rug work by this brother, suggests he may be merman depicted.

In conversation with many of the protests against public statues of colonialists and slave owners in South Africa, the UK and the US, Paul Rayner imagines a range of possibilities for the coloniser James Cook. The titles of Rayner’s maquette-sized sculptures of Cook include: Tarnished, Cancelled, Mocked and Desecrated.

When the brothers collaborate on a work, Mickey Mouse with gold pox and Frankenstein plugs is one outcome.

A still from Summer Breeze’’,   by Denise Batchelor.
A still from Summer Breeze’’, by Denise Batchelor.
“Summer Breeze”, Denise Batchelor

(DPAG Rear Window)

In Denise Batchelor’s 2014 video work Summer Breeze, a mesh-like net curtain exists for eight minutes as a liminal space between inside and outside, built environment and nature. With the window open, the black net curtain sways gently from side to side, allowing the viewer to intermittently glimpse a large weta nestled in a fold. By maintaining focus on the interaction between the elements, a tensile human structure, and an endemic insect continuously for this length of time, Batchelor centres (so to speak) the weta as an agentic subject, a subject with agency. With greater awareness of the decimation of insect populations and species through the loss of habitats more generally, and the vulnerability of weta specifically, Batchelor’s 2014 work takes on a heightened resonance in 2021.

As a theoretical term (advanced by Timothy Morton), and indeed as a material presence in this video, “the mesh” functions as a tool to conceptualise the entanglement of human and nonhuman beings. While Morton suggests that we are connected to such an extent that there is no inside and outside, no external vantage from which to grieve or celebrate, the weta on net curtain filmed by Batchelor suggests otherwise. Without a doubt, human and nonhuman beings are intricately interconnected. However, this does not necessarily preclude the agency and ultimate unknowability of another being. Rather than rendered powerless by a dense interconnection incapable of recognising autonomy and separation alongside interconnection, Batchelor’s work holds open the space between.

World Girl in the Maniototo by Peter Cleverley.
World Girl in the Maniototo by Peter Cleverley.
“Never There Yet”, Peter Cleverley

(RDS Gallery)

Kakanui artist Peter Cleverley will be only too aware of the dynamics and intersections present in his latest collection of work, which takes as its primary focus the migrant crisis in Europe and the Mediterranean. As a Pakeha man who owns his own home and has enjoyed the privilege of travel to such countries as Turkey and Greece amongst others, the displaced status of migrant women from Syria, or a country from the continent of Africa, arriving unwanted in a European port city could not be starker.

In several paintings, the protagonist of Cleverley’s painting is a young brown girl of unspecified ethnic identity. Tall, slight, and barefoot, she stands in the centre with abstract backgrounds of Cleverley’s familiar blue, and in one painting a blue and ochre background behind her. Cleverley’s ragged line characterises the precarity of her situation (or theirs in the case of Twins, 2021).

Never There Yet captures the immense disparities between the so-called Global North (wealthy countries) and Global South (countries typically colonised and depleted by the North). One belongs variously (and unequally) in either “globe’’. Ever increasingly, those who have been structured into marginalised status fight to tell their stories themselves. This position, and that of Cleverley, who was moved by the desperation of migrant refugees are both understandable.

Although a little undone by her generic title, World Girl in the Maniototo (2019-21) could be interpreted as an invitation to relocate and find a semblance of home.

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