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From the land: Four new exhibitions to open at The Dowse this Spring

Zina Swanson, Ignore the Other, watercolour on paper, 2018.
Brent Wong, Tide of Change 1969. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, purchased 1971
Madeleine Child, Bozzetti, 2019. Ceramic, Egyptian paste and enamels. Courtesy of The National. Photo: John Collie
Zena Abbott, Fibre Fall No. 1, wool, sisal, date unknown, 1530 x 900mm, Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, gifted by the Abbott Family 2018.
Conversations with plants and the land, wandering weavers, and ceramics that break all the rules – four exciting free exhibitions will open at The Dowse this season.


Conversations with plants and the land, wandering weavers, and ceramics that break all the rules – four exciting free exhibitions will open at The Dowse this season.

Opening 28 September, artist Zina Swanson will take visitors into the secret lives of plants in Zina Swanson: For Vivian – and asks whether plants might be trying to talk to us.  

Communicating with nature continues in Solid Ground, an exhibition of unconventional landscapes from The Dowse Collection – including a celebrated 1972 work by Colin McCahon.

Nomads opens 19 October and tells the story of New Zealand’s first professional studio weaver Zena Abbott. The exhibition includes one of her large woven forms made to shelter people who roam, alongside a contemporary response by artist Emma Fitts.

Bold, joyful and confronting, Dirty Ceramics opens Saturday 26 October and brings together a group of rule-breaking ceramic artists, whose constructions expand the idea of what we can do with clay.

Melanie Oliver, Senior Curator at The Dowse, says the new Spring exhibitions show how art can help us see the natural world through new eyes.

“We’re exploring our deeply embedded relationships with the land, as seen through the use of organic materials like clay, fibre, and plants, and how our perspective is informed through the place we are from.”

“I hope the shows will be like a breath of fresh air for people,” she says.

Opening dates:

Sat 28 Sept - Zina Swanson: For Vivian and Solid Ground       

Sat 19 Oct - Zena Abbott & Emma Fitts: Nomads

Sat 26 Oct - Dirty Ceramics

The exhibitions

Zina Swanson: For Vivian

Vivian Wiley can communicate with plants - perhaps we all can. In 1973, a book called The Secret Life of Plants described experiments showing how plants respond to humans and experience feelings, such as pain or fear, maybe even love.

Drawing on this psychology of plants, Christchurch-based artist Zina Swanson presents an exhibition of watercolours and sculptures that act as a window into the world of the plant paranormal.

“Zina’s works are intricate, whimsical and curious,” says Oliver. “I hope they encourage people to talk to their plants more.”

Open 28 September 2019 – 2 February 2020.

Solid Ground

Using landscape as a form of personal expression, the artists in Solid Ground reflect on the history, culture and environment of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The exhibition brings together unconventional landscapes from The Dowse Collection - including celebrated 1972 work Through the Wall of Death: A Banner by New Zealand painter Colin McCahon, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Solid Ground also includes works by Ann Shelton, Ann Verdcourt, Areta Wilkinson, Brent Wong, Doris Lusk, Jeffery Harris, John Bevan Ford, John Lake, Judy McIntosh Wilson, Ralph Hotere, Ronnie van Hout, Robert Ellis and Shane Cotton.

Curator Sian van Dyk says the exhibition explores how artists search for a sense of safety, identity and belonging in the places they occupy.

“Solid Ground shines a light on the ways artists think about land, and what it means to us,” she says.

Open 28 September 2019 – 2 February 2020.

Zena Abbott & Emma Fitts: Nomads

In the 1950s, weaver Zena Abbott travelled around New Zealand in a caravan as a sewing machine instructor. Later on in her weaving career, inspired by the Nomad Weavers of Turkey, Abbott worked with the Pakuranga Arts Society Fibre Group to create large woven forms that could provide shelter for people on the move.

In Nomads, Abbott’s original woven sculpture will be shown alongside a contemporary response by Christchurch artist Emma Fitts.

Senior Curator Melanie Oliver says Zena Abbott was a central figure in weaving in the 1960s and 70s.

“She had a huge influence on New Zealand’s textile culture, with an often-overlooked entrepreneurial spirit. She helped trigger the resurgence of crafts to counter the consumerism and emergence of mass-produced products.”

Oliver says she hopes this show will encourage people to rediscover New Zealand’s colourful textiles history, and the incredible woman who was instrumental to the explosion of crafts in Aotearoa.

Open 19 October 2019 – 26 January 2020.

Dirty Ceramics

With clay building methods like slapping, puncturing, tearing; applying nail polish and spray paint and even breaking their pieces, the artists in Dirty Ceramics are anything but conventional.

Curator Sian van Dyk says the artists in Dirty Ceramics share a passion for clay and enjoy the freedom it gives them to experiment.

“You won’t find a cup or a bowl in Dirty Ceramics,” she says. “Instead you’ll see the work of artists who push the limits of clay.”

The exhibition includes works by Blue Black, Jaime Jenkins, Jake Walker, Jim Cooper, Laurie Steer, Nichola Shanley, Madeleine Child, Peter Hawkesby, Tracy Keith and Virginia Leonard.

Open 26 October 2019 – 15 March 2020.



Contact details: 
Steph McDonald,, 027 424 1716

Written by

The Dowse Art Museum

9 Sep 2019