It is evident upon entry that State of Princes’s ‘Spring’ exhibition offers an idyllic escape from the unpredictable Dunedin climate. The gallery space itself is perfect for the season of bloom; it is airy and uncluttered with a large front window through which light floods. This exhibition provides an immersive spring experience for the senses through a variety of artistic mediums that explore the fusion of sound, touch and the visual.
The artists included in this exhibition are mostly local; there is a mixture of up-and-coming and established Contemporary artists, comprised of: Nick Austin, James Cousins, Scott Eady, Craig Freeborn, Alex Kennedy, James Oram, Charlotte Parallel, Miranda Parkes and Justin Spiers. Despite their differences, each artwork has been carefully selected to offer the visitor a refreshing burst of vibrancy.
Nick Austin’s Casuals elevates a mundane object, a fried egg, to the realm of art with an intriguing amalgamation of expected and unexpected materials. The fabric quality of the egg alludes to traditionally feminine domestic tasks, such as sewing and crafts. Austin plays with gender associations, evident in the pairing of an egg with the colour blue (conventionally a ‘male’ colour). While spring is a season of florals and freshness, it is also a time of reproduction in the animal kingdom.
The dialogue with gender and sexuality continues in the sculptural work of Scott Eady. Princess XL, a large bronze pickle atop a stool, is an intriguing work situated in the front window area of the gallery. The ripe-looking fruit satirises the ordinary notions of spring. Eady undermines the sexuality associated with the season by casting it in bronze, rendering the fruit inedible. This phallus has a built-in spout: potentially a reference to Duchamp’s Fountain while poking fun at ideas of functionality. Eady also pushes the boundary of his chosen medium, employing unconventional materials and subject matter, as seen in his collaborative work with Ari Eady at the other end of the gallery. Man on the Moon is very playful, constructed out of bronzed walnuts, a banana, atop an actual bowling ball. Fruit is used as a symbol of the complex notions of masculinity that is ingrained in New Zealand culture.
In juxtaposition to Eady’s hardness is Miranda Parkes’ Lite, its bright pastel plastic texture literally popping off the wall. This work exists in a place between painting and sculpture, critiquing ideas traditionally associated with both of these mediums. Lite projects a feminine viewpoint by appearing soft and melted.
Tukituki River and the Craggy Ranges and Untitled challenge the history of painting landscapes, one that we are very familiar with in terms of New Zealand Art of the past. The black holes obscure what is usually the central focal point of a painting, and seem to project off the canvas. Alex Kennedy’s work has a vein of dark humour running through it, and distorts preconceptions about lush landscapes that we associate with spring.
The most interactive work of the exhibition is undoubtedly Charlotte Parallel’s A Sonic Cartography of Venice Recordings. Like the aforementioned artworks, Parallel is challenging assumptions of medium specificity. The visitor is invited to press the many buttons of the work; each one linked to a recording of differing sounds of daily life in Venice, layering sounds over one another to create a unique symphony. Lemon Bloom by James Cousins also demonstrates a layering process, but in contrast to Parallel’s work, it is constructed by the artist’s hand for the viewer to visually unravel. A floral arrangement is at the centre of this work, but it not immediately obvious, recalling pressed flowers faded from age.
The moodier works ground the exhibition, as processes of renewal and change are not always sweetness and light. Craig Freeborn’s Weeping Man (After Freud) captures the rapid passing of time and resonates its’ subjects intense sadness. The Weeping Man’s tears are depicted as a sheet of water, obscuring his identity as though he no longer knows himself amidst his melancholy. Through Elimination James Oram captures dark thought processes and channels them into a survey of rock formations. The dark expanse of Cobi Taylor’s Untitled offers a portal into an unfamiliar world, where structures are broken down and reformed, where light can scarcely reach. The play between lightness and darkness is characteristic of the haunting photography of Justin Spiers, and Momona Barn is no exception. The brightly lit structure occupies a shady setting which creates a sense of foreboding and unease. The lack of movement in this image seems to allude to the giving and ending of life: a routine occurrence on farms.
The ‘Spring’ Exhibition at State of Princes is a sensory experience, one which skilfully marries visually stimulating and inquisitive artwork with the lingering reverberations of the city of the Venice canals. In keeping with the theme of spring, visitors were able to abandon any feelings of bareness associated with seasons past, and instead embrace evocative and playful pieces that spoke of growth and change.
Georgia Phillips, 2015