2 0 1 6. When did this happen? Time just flies by faster and faster; I blinked and it’s suddenly the end of January! I hope everyone had a stunning sun-kissed summer (with the appropriate sun protection), and with a new year comes new adventures.
I recently headed south to visit the Franklin Art Centre in Pukekohe. Currently exhibiting is Made of Snow, a group show featuring Liyen Chong, Jacquelyn Greenbank, Laura Marsh, Ani O’Neill and Ngaio Rue Blackwood. Curated by Kara Wallace, these five female artists share an affinity in their praxes: each explore the handmade and crafts, oftentimes repurposing and recontextualising quotidian objects and materials.
Starting from the right, the first five works are by Jacquelyn Greenbank. Depicting what I believe are landscapes, they are delicately embroidered on linen with varied long and short stitches making up the scenes. They also apparently glow in the dark! I unfortunately couldn’t find the light switch 😛 Greenbank explained in a radio interview, how every stitch is done by hand and this is important in creating an entry level to the world of art for the audience, in that everybody has an aunty that knits. And certainly the titles of these artworks appear the reference this, with traditional names such as Peg (Margaret), Alma and Mary (all 2015). I think Greenbank emphasises the significance of such craft and skills, which are steadily disappearing.
Moving along the right wall, Ngaio Rue Blackwood has exquisitely stitched bees and honeycomb on circles of linen. Blackwood is greatly interested in the handmade and creating lines freehand. Furthermore, her fascination with the hexagonal shape, which proliferate her paintings and other works, lends itself effortlessly to this subject. Drawing inspiration from her garden and the outdoors, I think the fragility and delicacy of Blackwood’s artworks reference the delicacy of our ecosystem, as we are dependent upon bees for pollination and seed production. Sometimes it is easy to forget how vital these unassuming insects are, but Blackwood’s work asks us to focus on the small things.
Continuing with all things embroidered, Liyen Chong’s artworks are intricate and meticulously constructed – she has actually used hair as thread. Chong’s practice often traverses Western and Eastern styles and concepts, and hair embroidery has a presence both in ancient Chinese culture as well as in the Victorian era. I almost couldn’t believe these were constructed from hair, as such intense focus and precise attention would be required. With Square Maze (2008) and Round Maze (2008), I found the use of hair particularly poignant. The hair’s journey to construct such a labyrinthine pattern could be equated to the complexities of human life and all its twists and turns; sometimes life can be like a maze.
Laura Marsh’s three artworks are site specific installations that examine New Zealand’s colonised cultural landscape. Transient and temporal, My Land (2016) is a particular favourite, and consists of 0.15 m2 of actual South Island soil contained in a wooden crate with a miniature tent pitched on it. Originally from the South Island, Marsh has mimicked her migration by bringing a portion of ‘her land’ with her. Whilst a personal expression of her individual journey, I felt it could also be quite political. Whose land is it really? By recontextualising something you are likely to see ‘everyday’ like grass and dirt, I think Marsh’s striking work brings to the fore the ongoing debate of land ownership in New Zealand.
Lastly, Ani O’Neill’s latest installation Space Craft (2016) looks like something that’s just crashed from outer space. Displayed up high and clustered around some metal pipes, it consists of ocean blue donut pool floats, silver tinsel and hoops. Casting larger than life and slightly eerie shadows on the wall, I’m not sure what to make of this work. It’s indeed a contrast when compared to her earlier practice, which drew on the handcrafts of her Cook Island heritage to create works that examine our contemporary world. I do wonder if O’Neill has selected these items from outlets or op shops, and by altering their context, she has generated a space for contemplation and questions… quite a few questions 🙂
A compelling and engaging exhibition, I did mull over the meaning of the title Made of Snow. I surmise that as the gallery is a typical ‘white cube’ space, and as a number of the works (Greenbank, Blackwood and Chong’s) are of this wintery white hue, it was like searching for snowflakes against a blanket of snow. You do need to get up close and intimate to examine them, and marvel at their intricacy and individuality – like how no two snowflakes are the same. Similarly, the fleeting quality of Marsh and O’Neill’s works is analogous with the ephemeral nature of anything made of snow.
For info on current or upcoming exhibitions see Facebook:
And below are links to some of the artists’ pages:
Made of Snow is on until Saturday 5th March 2016 at the Franklin Art Centre, Pukekohe. Not to be missed.
 Jacquelyn Greenbank, ‘Knitted and Knotted’, radio interview with Lynn Freeman, Arts on Sunday, broadcast Sunday 28 August 2011, http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/artsonsunday/audio/2496648/jacquelyn-greenbank-knitted-and-knotted