Making their mark

Each year Dunedin School of Art is transformed into an art gallery exhibiting a range of eclectic works by its students across a range of genres - painting, print or photography, jewellery, electronic arts, ceramics or sculpture.

Rebecca Fox talks to three students about their final year work being shown at SITE 2018.

Elaine Mitchell (20) with one of her natural history-inspired works, Palmyrene, depicting the endangered Northern Bald Ibis in Syria. Photo: Linda Robertson
Elaine Mitchell (20) with one of her natural history-inspired works, Palmyrene, depicting the endangered Northern Bald Ibis in Syria. Photo: Linda Robertson


An interest in natural history art works and science shines through in Elaine Mitchell's paintings.

The former Otago Girls' High School pupil won the 2015 Celebrate scholarship which is given to a high school student to attend the Dunedin School of Art.

That award was critical as it changed her path from science to art.

''It was a really big shock as I was planning to do sciences at university.''

Instead she changed her plans and enrolled in the Dunedin School of Art.

While the programme enables students to try different forms of art, Mitchell always knew her heart was in painting.

''It has the ability for you to do the things you want to do and I like the way you interact with it and have the ability to create a two-dimensional world.''

For her third-year work, Mitchell decided to change the scale of her work, going large-scale so the animals she features are life-size and created in a natural history biology-based structure.

''The dimensions are right. There were a lot of calculations to figure that out.''

She finds watercolour paints give her the control, effect and pinpoint accuracy she likes and it make sense for the natural history-type works she is doing.

''When I was younger I watched my grandmother use it and I thought her work was really cool.''

Mitchell has not left her science background behind. Her work is based on natural history art works and feature species which have an interesting history or are endangered.

''I take the visual rules of natural history and use them for a different reason.''

One work features a cave hyena inspired by a story about animal bones being found in a cave in England that were first thought to be cattle but turned out to be from tigers and lions and other wild animals normally found on the African continent.

''They were really confused about how they got to be there, finally figuring out it was to do with the Ice Age and climate change.''

She has included bones in the work to refer to the story of discovering the fossils.

Mitchell titles each work in the style of natural history works using Latin and calligraphy.

Another of her large works, Palmyrene features the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa.

''They have such a rich history. There are stories of them in so many different cultures.''

One of the few remaining tiny populations was in a Syrian city in Isis-controlled territory which had been destroyed.

When the conservationists working with them had to leave, there were only two or three birds left.

''They don't know whether they've become extinct or not. The city has been blown up. It's really sad.''

Mitchell is still deciding what she will do next but is considering further study.


Kipp Richards plans to make one large mural out of the bitmap sections of a Dunedin building he photographed. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Kipp Richards plans to make one large mural out of the bitmap sections of a Dunedin building he photographed. Photo: Christine O'Connor


Dunedin's wide-ranging architecture has captured the eye of student artist Kipp Richards.

''I like the simple clean lines.''

For his final year art project, Richards has taken photographs of different aspects of a variety of Dunedin buildings, like Dunedin City Library, Dunedin Hospital and Consultancy House, ''simplified them right down'' and made them into screen prints.

''I decided to go with the more modernist ones. I like the aesthetics of the simple clean lines and you can pull out a lot of the features.''

He has been inspired by Russian artist and architectural designer El Lissitzky, who used bold abstract shapes in propaganda posters.

''So I've taken his use of shapes and simplified them using photoshop and manipulated and collaging the images.''

He had used a lot of pastel and bright colours in his prints over top of the images.

Unlike Lissitzky, who used his work for political gain, Richards wanted to keep away from those connotations.

''I didn't want that to take away from the atheistic of the poster because they were so influential on people. I wanted to try and re-create them in a new way.''

He also found the shells of buildings being constructed, such as the partly-constructed University of Otago animal testing laboratory, to be quite interesting.

''Then you can turn them into bits you can lay over everything.''

So the images are printed on plain backgrounds allowing the buildings to be easily recognisable to everyone.

''They're quite accessible and everyone else would recognise them.''

He has also blown up some of the images as bitmaps, printing them on to large A2 sheets which will be screen-printed then pinned together to make one large image.

Some of the works have also been printed on to a reflective surface.

''Eventually they'll be like a massive grid.''

The former Waitaki Boys' High School pupil did art right through high school, and, with a bit of a push from his art teacher, headed for art school, although he had contemplated studying fashion and design.

His original interest was in photography but after trying out different genres at

art school moved towards print making.

''You can do so much more with it.''

Next year he planned to take a break and possibly travel before he came back to do more study.

''I'm still exploring. There is still other stuff I have to work out. I haven't experimented enough.''


Emily Davidson will hang her female werewolf head like a trophy head in the exhibition. Her original photo collage work is in the background. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Emily Davidson will hang her female werewolf head like a trophy head in the exhibition. Her original photo collage work is in the background. Photo: Christine O'Connor


Emily Davidson has had her fair share of controversy around her works, but hopes people will take a deeper look at what they are trying to say.

The third year art student, who went to Gore High School, hit the University of Otago student magazine Critic's headlines earlier this year when one of her works - Lasagnerie, a 103cm x 78cm, framed portrait of the cartoon cat Garfield wearing pink lingerie, stockings and high heels - was bought by Otago University Students' Association for $250.

It was a work she had made as a joke and then, after the Critic article, realised people were taking it more seriously than she thought.

''After that I realised I could make Garfield a bit more political, and I made another painting in direct response to her quote which was again published in Critic with a dedication to her in the corner.''

When we visit her in her corner of the art school studio, stuck to the wall behind her is a larger-than-life cut-out of a werewolf covered in pornographic images of women.

''That was my first developmental work. I was looking at the work of Barbara Creed - Monstrous Feminine.

''I took her film analysis and applied it to female werewolves.''

It was supposed to be about how there are no positives or few positive depictions of women's sexuality - they're either the femme fatal or the victim.

It is a work that will not be exhibited in the SITE exhibition though, due to its confronting images.

''Because of the use of porn I think some people became preoccupied with the images and weren't reading further into the work.

''I wasn't able to think of a way to resolve the use of pornography and so I decided against showing it, instead of exhibiting something that would be considered fairly problematic.''

But the thinking behind its creation has continued in the works she will be presenting for marking and exhibition - including a large-scale soft sculpture head of a female werewolf and a fridge.

Davidson, who did art throughout high school, has been researching how women are viewed in society.

Last year she looked at women as a reproductive vessel - creating a 2m-tall uterus - but this year took a different tact looking at how women are represented and treated in film and television especially the horror or thriller genre.

''How in horror films the hero is virginal brunette tom boyish and every single victim a sexy blond cheerleader It's interesting to see how women are treated.''

She narrowed the field down to horror and super hero films.

That led to looking at ''fridging'', a term used when a character is killed off and then brought back.

''It's really common in comic books. It's very different from my focus last year.''

She found interesting online forums and archives listing all the women characters which have been ''fridged'' and not brought back - at greater rates than male characters especially in super hero films.

This led to her bingeing on Supernatural, an American dark fantasy television series which she used to watch herself.

''It's infamous for fridging female characters.''

Davidson found the female werewolf characters also did not get the same equal treatment as their male counterparts.

This led to an idea of making a large soft sculpture referencing how female werewolves are often the watered down version of the male.

''So I made her hyper-feminine and non-threatening.''

''She'' will be hung in the exhibition like a trophy head.

To reference the ''fridging'' concept, she will display a fridge with the names of many of the female characters killed off. She has magnetised their names and stuck them to the inside of the fridge.

Accompanying that will be a video work of a compilation of clips from Marvel films from 2000 to the present day showing all the female deaths.

''A lot of the focus then is usually on the protagonist, usually a man. Even when women die they are not important enough to have their own moment.''

The last two works to be exhibited will be large-scale photographic collages to emphasis how frequent negative representations of women occur.

''I hope that when people see my work they are able to reflect on the media they consume and wonder why so many female characters are killed with little to no reasoning.

''I don't want people to cut these kinds of movies and television shows out completely, but I do think it is important to be critical about what we as an audience watch because it often reflects ideologies present in reality.''

The flexibility to create is one of the reasons she has pursued sculpture.

When Davidson started at art school, she was not sure what direction her creativity would take.

''I did a lot of drawing for fun and had only done painting and drawing, so I was overwhelmed by all the options here.''

She gravitated towards photography and sculpture, finally deciding on sculpture as there is more freedom - she can use photography and video work.

''It was a really close call. It's more free than other departments. I've done video work, I've sewn things. There is a lot more variety.''

Next year she hopes to continue her art in a ''lighter vein before I get back into critiquing society''.

To see
SITE 2018, Dunedin School of Art, Regio St, tomorrow until November 29.

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