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Here, There and Everywhere

Ans Westra Fathers, Queensgate, Lower Hutt, 1989 Collection of The Dowse Art Museum
Andrew Ross Bike Workshop, 128 Abel Smith St, Wellington, 6/6/2007 Collection of The Dowse Art Museum
Julian Priest Local Time, 2011 Installation shot of exterior of The Dowse Art Museum
S. Schmidt Shannon Memorial Hall Fiona Jack's Living Halls Project
Ans Westra, Petone Wharf, 1989. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum
Mark Amery finds lots to think about in a show about time and place at The Dowse, Local Knowledge.

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By Mark Amery

Local knowledge is a charged subject in art currently. Globalisation sees artists on the move, while locally funded institutions bring together the local, national and international in ever-closer exchange and, sometimes, tension.

While a lot of art moves around independent of its context, there’s increasingly an interest in work about local needs or concerns. Artists can be both local and global. As outsiders they can act as introduced agents of change. Wellington artist Maddy Leach, for example worked in 2011 with communities as distant from each other as Tasmania and Cork, Ireland.

Contrast this to artists whose history and practise are grounded in one place, such as Veranoa Hetet. Her work in the Dowse show Local Knowledge is all about taking forward her whanau’s artistic practise here at Waiwhetu.

Local Knowledge is a smart, thoughtful exploration of different approaches to our grounding in place and time. Viewers may initially find its breadth confusing, yet it’s asking you to take some time to do some thinking. The strength of underlying connections between works sees it continue to turn over in my head.

In its triangular mosaic and tukutuku like configuration of pattern and materials Hetet’s work doesn’t feel like a progression of local form, more a collecting together of many strands as one story. As vital as its local contribution to this show is I find the containment of techniques and materials awkward.

Joe Sheehan’s cassette tape carved from pounamu meanwhile is both distinctive and eloquent. The cassette contains a tape of the sound of the river from which the stone was sourced, reminding us of the power an object has as a holder of place and time.

Chinese artist Zheng Guogu’s film presents his ongoing project to acquire land and build his own empire – fascinatingly, a physical realisation in his homeland of buildings from an online game. As a local viewer, however, I felt frustrated by the oblique rather than documentary presentation of the project.

Ans Westra’s photographs of Lower Hutt in 1989 recognise a local artist’s take on the local, yet they also make us think about the power of the outside eye. Westra wasn’t a resident when these photographs were taken, and her work has been much discussed in relation to her as photographing outsider.

Fiona Hall’s Living Halls project is another strong twist on the tensions wrapped up in the theme. She made an open call for people around New Zealand to paint pictures of their memorial halls, and they’re exhibited here collectively themselves as a new community. Part of the project’s bite is that what the paintings often lack in artistic distinction they make up for in local warmth and pride.

Julian Priest and Simon Faithfull find delightful new ways to consider the artificially constructed relationship between time, activity and location. Like Guogu they ultimately assert people’s power to create their own structures and paths. While with Priest’s public clock I find the exhibition of computer gear an unnecessary way of making visible of the mechanism behind it, getting time to be governed by activity at the Dowse is thought provoking - not to mention sinister in how it makes us consider information collection via surveillance of our physical and digital movement.

Mike Heynes’ work also messes beautifully with the relationship between time and place, inserting figurines from foreign historical wars into miniature historical scenes of the Hutt - previously made for a local museum by a local artist. As standalone works they’re lightweight, but strong in the context of the show.

By contrast Dan Arps’ installation ably demonstrates why he was winner of the 2010 Walters Prize, yet its links to the show are more indirect. A tent town of cheap overseas produced furnishings in the process of being unpacked and installed, it speaks powerfully of how we now as a culture often construct our space in a place with little regard for material, as if it were for a limited time only.

Local Knowledge, Dowse Art Museum, until 22 April

Written by

Mark Amery

2 Feb 2012

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.