Jane Downes, Habitat, 2022
Rusted steel, colour acrylic, solar powered LED light fittings. 2400 x 1200 x 1200mm.
Habitat is inspired in equal parts by coastal settlements, towering city apartment complexes and insect and mollusc colonies. The work, which viewers are encouraged to enter, explores the contrasts and continuities between such built and natural environments, highlighting interplays between exposure and protection and individuality and community.
It presents cohabitation as inevitably double-edged. Each unit is dependent on the whole, which offers security yet requires conformity, and inside the structure, the viewer might equally feel sheltered from the elements or claustrophobic.
Jane Downes has balanced these competing feelings but ultimately tips the scales towards the benefits of dwelling together. With acrylic windows inset on all sides of the structure, which filter light and suffuse the interior space with prismatic, shifting colours, she creates an immersive kaleidoscope that hints toward unthought (and potentially miraculous) ways of collective living.
Debbie Fish, Reflecting on Hauraki, 2022
Recycled plastic, stretched polyester film, bio-based epoxy, springs & attachments. 600mm diameter per unit.
Reflecting on Hauraki was prompted by a story in which it was revealed that the New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council had misrepresented data concerning lobster populations in the Hauraki Gulf, arguably in a disingenuous effort to delay action on overfishing in the region. The controversy illustrated to Debbie Fish the ease with which statistics could be taken out of context to furnish an idealistic narrative.
Her work is a form of data visualisation, comprising 40 discs scattered across the land, scintillating in the sunlight in an immodestly beautiful display. This beauty, however, should make a question of art’s complicity in these same processes of misrepresentation; is it the accurate reflection of the Hauraki environment it purports to be? Or is it that data, like any other material, can be infinitely moulded in support of an ideal, and sketchy vested interests?
Against this backdrop of murky facts, Fish affirms the importance of self-reflexivity. “Art,” she writes, “helps us communicate across silos, to zoom out and understand our place within the whole. But like anything else…it needs to be aware of its context, its power and its limitations.”
Anton Forde, Te Kotahitanga o Whakamaru / The Unity of Protection, 2022
Sustainably sourced Australian hardwood sleepers, ōnewa/basalt. 2700mm each.
Anton Forde’s fifty-five carved contemporary pou stand watch over the Hauraki Gulf in a kao kao/arrow formation upon the Mātiatia headland, visible from the ferry approaching Waiheke. Like a flock of migrating kuaka/godwit, or warriors awaiting in haka, this formation represents protection in standing together, and suggests a way forward in which one is guided by the ancestors of the past and the land itself.
The artist, drawing upon his knowledge and connections, offers this position as one we might assume while navigating the increasingly uncertain times of climate change, from which we might conceive of ourselves as kaitiaki or guardians of the land rather than as its possessor.
His stately figures are at once a dominating and sheltering presence on the exposed headland. Walking among them, we might take measure of our smallness in relation to the majesty of nature, of time, and of the many generations of people to have come before and who will come after.
Kazuhisa Nakagawa & Salome Tanuvasa, SCARECROW, 2021-2022
Galvanised steel wire mesh, nylon/polyester fabrics. Life-size.
In this collaboration, Kazuhisa Nakagawa presents a sculptural interpretation of the human form using fine silver wire – an elegant filigree that suggests partly-faded bodies of which remains only these strangely-transformed circulatory systems and tracts. The preternatural figures were then clothed in abstract textile garments created by Salome Tanuvasa, whose designs were inspired by indigenous botanicals like harakeke, kōwhai and pōhutukawa.
Interplays between hard and soft materials, and positive and negative space, are at the heart of this work, serving as something of a coda for several other contrasts and dynamics that the work speaks to: between human and natural systems, between the inner workings of being and the external expression of self, between the human capacity for gentleness and hostility, embodied by the symbol of the scarecrow.
Wanda Gillespie, A Counting Frame for Circular Economies, 2022
1Cedar, macrocarpa, stainless steel. 1915 x 1645 x 200mm.
A Counting Frame for Circular Economies begins with the question of how to value what is immeasurable. Do we calculate the dollar value of mangrove forests and pollinators for their thankless contributions to life and economic systems? Is the attempt to do so possible, or just absurd?
Wanda Gillespie’s abacus gestures to literal methods of counting, implying slow, tactile labour that offers an alternative to the fast-paced and self-effacing (under)world of stocks, bonds and synthetic debt, inequality indexes and interest rates. Its interior steel frame, along which the individual hand-carved timber beads slide, is wrought to recall patterns in nature, like the golden ratio and Fibonacci spiral, and the innumerable systems that play a role in the continued cycling forth of life.
While these systems might be beyond remuneration (a living wage for bees would be an absurd proposal), the work might make us think of other measures, such as a universal basic income or a toxicity tax for polluting corporations, that remain well within the limits of the doable, and the new metrics of value they entail.
James Cousins, Envoy, 2022
Printed billboard skins, acrylic paint. 3000 x 6000mm.
Landscape painting and tourist advertising are two visual genres with a shared interest in capturing the beauty of a place for the pleasure of its viewer, and modern technologies have enabled anyone with a device to participate in this kind of snapshot representation.
Working outside the gallery and at a large scale for the first time, James Cousins’ contribution to the sculpture trail subverts these traditions to initiate a slower engagement with image and place.
Beginning with a photograph of the surrounding site, enlarged, and printed onto a billboard skin that acts as the work’s canvas, Cousins has subsequently added layers of paint using different application techniques.
The result is a “distorting filter” that shuttles between transparency and opacity, abstraction, and figuration, the real and its representation. Obstructing easy access to the image, Cousins undermines consumption and gratification as habitual modes of perception, calling instead for a slow appraisal of the picture surface that might also direct viewers to look beyond it to the immediate environment that here, as always, exceeds and diminishes the bounds of the picture frame.
Martin Basher, Suddenly Still Life, 2022
Aluminium, stainless steel, epoxy paint. 2700 x 900 x 800mm each.
A witness to the pandemic at its most harrowing, when it first swept through New York City in the winter of 2020, New Zealand-born artist Martin Basher was prompted to search out visually immediate forms, which would, in his words, “dance with the natural, while holding nature at a remove.”
Suddenly Still Life is the outcome of this, building on the artist’s exploration of the floral still-life. The botanical forms that have proven a well-spring of motifs, associations and compositional elements for Basher’s painting practice are approached through the rubric of three-dimensional space – an aspect new but apparently natural to the artist.
Like his paintings, these bouquets are angular and sparse. The sculptures are water-jet cut and designed in low-relief so that they almost disappear when approached from the side. This contrasts enigmatically with the layeredness of the works viewed from in front or behind and is a striking effect in works that stand at 3m tall but which so quickly evaporate from view.
Te Rongo Kirkwood, Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua, 2022
Basalt, kiln-formed glass. 2200 x 1700 x 150mm.
Looking across the gulf toward Rangitoto, this sculpture tells the story of a standoff that took place between commanders of the Tainui and Arawa canoe as they sought to lay claim to the island for their iwi. Both Hoturua of Tainui and Tamatekapua of Arawa avowed to have been the first to erect a tuahu (sacred altar) on the volcanic island and went to contest over their dispute. Hoturua struck down Tamatekapua, drawing blood and asserting Tainui’s rangitiratanga over the island, which from then became known as ‘Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua’ or the day Tamatekapua shed blood.
As a descendent of Tainui, this story was passed down to artist Te Rongo Kirkwood, who reimagines Hoturua’s tuahu in a dark volcanic basalt rock that forms Rangitoto. Kirkwood has incised a crucifix into the stone with a bowl-like insert made of red glass in reference to this ancient narrative, acknowledging the mana of her ancestor and the powerful elements of Rangitoto.
Virginia Leonard, Urns for Unwanted Limbs and Other Things, 2022
Clay, resin, lustre, gold. Urns H350-1100 x W290-600mm. Plinths 1500 x 300mm.
Urns for Unwanted Limbs and Other Things is a series of seven sculptures from Virginia Leonard.
Reimagined in her characteristic skittle-coloured glazes and shining lustres, Leonard transforms the classic funerary vessel of the urn into something far from funereal. Leonard conceives these vessels as “a place to discard what you will.” This might include, she suggests, “feet, left legs, abdominal fat, double chins, in-laws, annoying neighbours.”
Like all of her works, the urns poke fun at our intolerance for what is uncomfortable, messy or deficient about ourselves and our lives: while we might be right to wish to be rid of belly fat and in-laws, any attempt to cut them loose and stow them away would be mostly hopeless, especially in these urns, which are covered in holes and protrusions and perched upon spindly stools, ready to be toppled by an onshore wind.
Janine Williams, Black Picket Fence, 2022
As the work creates a movement with the wind and the site, it reflects the dance of our consumed traces repeating in nature. Echoing the drift of micro-plastics carried in the elements a dance of dire consequence for ocean habitats and marine species. By hoisting large colour sheets to the wind, soft plastic compositions flutter on lines that lean and tilt
It is easy to visit Waiheke with a mind to relax and enjoy the many leisures that the island offers – among them this sculpture festival.
With her work Black Picket Fence, artist Janine Williams, of Ngāti Pāoa descent, invites willing viewers into a reappraisal of the land as ancestral whenua and into a conversation around land ownership privatisation and dispossession and the lasting effects of these things on local iwi.
The form of the picket bears several layers of meaning, as a symbol of the quarter-acre dream with its footing in Crown thefts, and as a marker of the exclusion felt by many of those who whakapapa to the island when accessing their ancestral lands, now sub-divided and fenced-off.
It might also recall the use of the picket within activist efforts of past and present. Williams describes the work a homage to the people who work to protect the land from private interests, carved cross-shaped stars onto the posts in the manner of purapurawhetū tukutuku patterning as a gesture to the many descendants of Pāoa and an affirmation of their right to occupy these lands.