Shelter – Barbara Strathdee

Shelter – Barbara Strathdee

Open from Saturday 4th to Thursday 30th August 2012

A village of the imagination.

Twig shelters, Resene-painted houses, sand bunkers, photographs of typical Kiwi houses are contrasted with traditional dwellings in an ancient Slovene (now Italian) border village – Topolò. I was invited to exhibit at Topolò’s annual summer art festival and that is where my work for Shelter commenced.

Shelter is now being exhibited in Kohukohu – another village with centuries of human settlement history.

Artists are constantly layering images so that meaning emerges afresh. I see Kiwi houses as our creative playgrounds; often they stand like lollipops separated from the earth beneath them.

"Shelter" recreates the basic house and quarter-acre section, the breaking in of the land scenario of Pākehā settlement – the bush on fire, branches slashed crudely from felled trees, corrugated iron roofing, and a tent set up for temporary shelter until the basic hut has been built. The model houses are painted in a light-hearted pop-art manner as if to shrug off any drama.

If my earlier series "Somewhere in Our Historical Memory" pointed more than one finger at present day Pākehā for the taking over of Māori-inhabited places, Shelter allows the artist a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the process of replacing one culture with another, or the destruction of the bush for the creation of house & garden. A narrative montage of signs has been brought together intuitively and understood only once the art works are brought together on the walls of the studio.

The materials and structures of Shelter might refer to the vitrines, oil painting and found objects of 20th century art – the visual language is familiar and easily read. Here it is adopted for a particular and unique project: acrylic paint and canvas, wood, branches and twigs, acrylic polymer shelves fashioned to order, create a "section" on which to build a minimal dwelling in front of a devastated or transformed environment – hacked bush turned into productive garden.

"A House & the Village" photoworks are created with a disposable camera giving a result that is both temporary and garish, well suited to the fleeting intrusion of these Kiwi houses into the context of a medieval European village.

"Bush Shelter" takes the skeletal twig structure into a beech forest for a calmer sense of a brief stay in the hills. But the photograph is never quite enough for me, not quite true to the impulse driving me to produce an image. I need the physical three-dimensionality of painting and shaped form. When in June 2001 I returned from Italy I decided to make more of the little houses I‘d carried there in my suitcase. In Petone I found a small factory which could fabricate the semi-transparent shelves. My intention was not to design elegant shelves to refine the clunky quality of the houses but rather have the shelves be in keeping with the basic functional qualities of the houses. In the past I had attached pieces of ponga tree bark and various other objects to paintings. But in this instance the model houses needed to be disconnected from their painted landscapes.

The issue of context is central to all experimental lines of research in contemporary art, to the extent that the original sense of a work of art may be lost if exhibited in just any space. I feel that Village Arts is a perfect match for this exhibition, allowing for connections to be made with Kohukohu’s own history.

Barbara Strathdee, Wellington, August 2012

Model houses built by Phil Redican
Shelves built by Post Form Plastics

Barbara Strathdee: recent exhibitions include

2012 Twelve Months of Summer – Mahara Gallery, Waikanae
2011 Waikanae Stills – Suite Gallery, Oriental Parade, Wellington
2010 Capital Times – Suite Gallery, Wellington (group)
2009 Riffs & Transitions – Outpost Hokianga, Rāwene
2008 Ted’s Jersey – Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Invercargill
Race Day – Expressions Art Centre, Upper Hutt
Avgust Cernigoj in Njegovi Ucenci – Gorenjski Muzej, Kranj, Slovenia (group)
2007 Mostra fra I vetri — Villa Revoltella, Trieste, Italy (group)

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