Art studio in Moray Pl recreated

Julia Holderness in her exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Julia Holderness in her exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Christchurch artist Julia Holderness builds a bridge across history to a 1940s artists’ studio in Moray Pl, home to Doris Lusk, Anne Hamblett and Mollie Lawn. She tells Rebecca Fox about repositioning episodes of history.

Fans of Dunedin painter Doris Lusk might find parts of Julia Holderness’s latest exhibition oddly familiar.

They will see aspects of Lusk and fellow artists Anne Hamblett and Mollie Lawn’s Moray Pl art studio, as seen in photographs from the mid-1900s, reimagined by Holderness.

The daybed Lusk sits on and the vases of flowers around her, have a new life in Holderness’ "The Studio" exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (DPAG).

Holderness’ practice - she calls herself an installation artist - starts with "art historical moments" and then expanding and extending those.

"Proposing in a way art history can be considered from an artist or makers point of view."

So when she was invited to do a project for DPAG she wanted to do something related to Dunedin.

She was aware of the three female artists who had been to art school together and joined a larger group studio which came to an end when the men went off to war.

So the trio rented their own studio space in Moray Pl. There are photographs of the space and of Lusk in it.

"They are significant as that was Lusk’s first solo exhibition so the photographs are from that. I find it an interesting space. It’s obviously a work space but it’s also an exhibiting space and a space for social connection with the daybed there, the furniture and they were bringing in things to paint, often flowers in vases."

Holderness noticed that Hamblett and Lusk both used the same vase in pieces of their art so she has worked with a ceramicist in Christchurch to remake that vase and a tea cup which featured in another work.

"They’re sharing resources and working from the same objects within that space. I conflate and kind of entangle. I guess I see it as an art historical fragment, a moment, with another history. "

That history is the imagined artist Florence Weir - a reoccurring character in Holderness’ work - as she seeks to build a bridge between her practice and that of art history.

It starts with a piece of text in which Weir expresses her desire to work in such a group studio and have the kind of environment the three women had.

"She didn’t in fact have one."

Holderness has "re-made" Weir’s textile work, responding to the Dunedin artists’ paintings, on the salvaged rimu workbench in her home studio. The bench also makes an appearance in the exhibition.

"She’s a proxy to other art history. She can bridge histories. It’s a way I can connect local histories in New Zealand and perhaps international movements.

"There is a lovely ambiguity about her."

Also in the exhibition are seven historical works by Lawn, Hambleton and Lusk as well as works by invited contemporary artists asked to respond to the studio’s work such as Julia Holden who has created a portrait of Weir in her studio.

"She and I have worked together to work out what that looked like."

Other artists to contribute include Kirstin Carlin and Richard Orjis who have created contemporary works responding to historical works.

"There are a lot of strands to it. It is this space which will have some furniture in it. I didn’t want to reconstruct it from the photograph. I guess I’m taking queues. There is this gorgeous daybed which I’ve created."

AS part of her research for the exhibition, Holderness discovered writings by historian Peter Entwisle in the Hocken Library calling it "the impromptu cushioned sofa".

"So I’ve named it that and created fabric for the cushions that use parts of the historical paintings and works from Florence who was a textile designer and I’ve got some Hessian-covered free-standing screens that will also act to kind of create a nod to a studio space without reconstructing it."

Driving Holderness is a need to fill the "gaps" in art history.

"I look for these gaps and try to imagine what could have been. I guess I’m interested in the social side of these women working together."

She also has an interest in oral history and has included reference to a conversation she had with Lusk’s daughter about a random comment Lusk made about designing fabric once.

"While there is no evidence of that, it’s a nice connection with Florence’s works. It’s about getting access to the artists in different ways."

For Holderness it is the idea of re-presentations of the past, not representing.

"Revisiting different epochs in New Zealand’s art history and imagining their possible entanglements with other things."

Weir was "discovered" in 2015 when Holderness was working with Orjis. They were interested in a ceramics studio in Auckland Studio Ceramics which took over the Crown Lynn enterprise.

It still had some of the moulds from Crown Lynn so they used them to create a series of vases.

"The story went there were some watercolour designs uncovered in an archive of Florence’s. She lived most of her life in England but had contacts coming back to New Zealand."

They did a range of ceramics based on those designs and launched her work in an exhibition called Florence Weir - a play on her name.

"She’s known for her ceramics, textiles, painted furniture. It positioned her among other artists and she always has relations or companions. The artists or people around you that are part of your context or group - that is important to me."

Weir’s last outing was at the Ilam Campus Gallery where Holderness looked at the workbooks she had made when designing costumes and sets for a play.

"I remade some of those sets and designs and textiles. In creating a narrative that might or might not have existed ... I’m sort of critiquing the way material histories are collected, interpreted and presented.

"I’m trying to critique the traditionally held divide between art historical scholarship and art historical fabrication - so I guess I’m trying to mess with a bit and go between it."

Another of her projects centred around "The Group", a group of mid-century Christchurch artists.

"She kind of came out of that. She comes out of this awareness there are lots of women artists who have been overlooked and whose practices haven’t been considered in great detail."

It is an attempt to remind people that history is a product of those who write and edit it.

FOR Holderness, the relationships between the artists and their works, how they work together and are influenced by each other, is important.

Her interests are borne out of a long background in the arts but not as an artist.

Holderness came out of school in the late 1990s wanting to go to art school and did her first degree at the University of Canterbury.

"Then came 10 years’ travelling and working in the arts, often actually in marketing roles. I worked for City Gallery in Wellington for a long time. I was on the other side, interested in producing exhibitions."

When she returned from London she made a "sudden decision" in her mid-30s to go to Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and do an honours degree in visual arts.

"I got back into making. I made ceramics and this whole project developed around The Group and these group catalogues that I used as a starting point to remake, reconsider these catalogues from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.

"It was interesting, the ceramics and textiles were listed on the back pages of the catalogues. I re-made them and re-made works in response to those."

That honours year turned into an invitation and scholarship to do her PhD which she is completing now.

"It’s all coincided with having children. I have two young children."

So she works on one project at a time.

"They’re like chapters."

While her physical practice has recently involved mostly textile work, she will turn her hand to whatever she needs to create to tell the story she is working on.

"My practice is very collaborative. I work with people if I can’t make things myself. I’m really interested in working with other fabricators."

Her PhD is around archiving and work in fiction. Once "The Studio" is over, she plans to concentrate on writing her thesis with the aim of completing it next year. She also has her final PhD show in Auckland next year.

"I have a lot of ideas for my final show where I might end up doing something quite different. I’m really interested in crossovers between design and art and textiles, ceramics and art making that might be outside fine art."

TO SEE

Julia Holderness
The Studio, Moray Pl, Dunedin
July 10 to October 25

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