Visit to The Dowse

On the drive over to The Dowse Art Gallery I was thinking about how strange going to an Art Gallery is, and how some people probably wouldn’t visit an Art Gallery because it is such a strange and personal thing to do. It almost has a feel like visiting someone’s house that you don’t know personally just to sit and look at their walls, and to pass judgment about the things on their walls. Like, when you go to a gallery you aren’t going there usually to buy anything, you are just going there to be there. To see something, and to hopefully feel something, or think about something in a new way.

Personally I never know what to expect at art galleries, even ones I visit regularly. I’m not one of those people who look like they belong in an Art Gallery. I’m not some hippy dippy, art party looking person. I look completely normal, if a little under dressed and mummy-ish to be at a gallery. But there I be any way.

So when I got to the Dowse it was lovely to be greeted immediately by a lovely young lady who asked if I was there just to have a look around, and then when I agreed that I was she then told me that there isn’t a huge lot going on at the moment as several galleries are closed currently while they set up new exhibits. She showed me the elevator (I had my baby in his buggy) and said there are a couple of shows happening upstairs currently. I was a little shocked that they would be setting up an exhibit during open hours, particularly if this left so much of the gallery closed. Surely they would do this outside of normal hours. But hey! What do I know?

The Dowse itself is such a lovely gallery, its light and airy, very friendly and very small. It would have been nice if there was more going on. But what was going on was quite lovely.

Upstairs they had 2 shows running. Handshake, and Scribble and Sculpt.

To be honest, even though I read the blurb for Scribble and Sculpt I didn’t really understand what it was talking about.  It kept talking about teaching art, and how important art is for students, and how the art would be regularly updated through the exhibition. This seemed fine, but other than a table in the middle with a few school journals and a couple of other old books, that admittedly did take me back to school days when I would have to read those oh so boring school journals, this was a little uninspiring and didn’t reflect to me the importance of art for schools or students.

There was a wall along the back, which you would be forgiven if you didn’t notice it as not very much was made of it, which had some school kids work, all of which was less than impressive. Ok so they’re school kids, so their work isn’t going to be phenomenal. But I feel like firstly, it is in an art gallery, make sure the work is top quality, secondly the work should be of a decent size, and thirdly at least make it feel like the kids works are important. Not just all bunched together in a big cluster of similar works. Anyway, moving along.

In the same exhibition there were some pretty amazing artworks hanging actually. But these were clearly not children’s works, and I found it hard to understand the connection. But anyway, they were there. The blurbs do mention that the artists with their works on show were taught by teachers at one point, which is a fairly obvious thing. At some point all children were taught by someone, and the children obviously grow up and some of them will become artists, while others will be something else. It would be nice to have seen a clearer connection to this, or to have the importance of the schooling more prevalent in the artworks shown, if that was their point.

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Sandy Adsett – Riri (Left) and Warema (Right) [1977]
While I found these Kowhaiwhai patterns to be absolutely beautiful, the writing about them is very basic, and gives the sense, that while these are beautiful, and fine art, they don’t have much meaning for the artist. He basically says that he wants to understand why the kowhaiwhai was reduced to such basic patterns when most of the other patterns in the wharenui have significance or meanings. This is all he says, he doesn’t talk about whether or not these do actually have meaning, or what he has found out. But just says that he wants to use them to create meaning.

It really bugs me when artists (particularly important ones) don’t understand the importance of their own works, or can’t speak to it in a way which gives a direction of what they were going for with their work. Or at least to be open about ‘well actually it was just patterns I thought looked pretty, so I painted them.’ Moving on from the artist’s thoughts and onto the art now.

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For me Riri was beautiful. It spoke to me a violent past but from a metaphor of a stormy sea. Obviously I am reading this fairly literally with the waves none of which are evenly spaced or following a similar wave. All parts of this differ. Its like our histories are always moving and changing, nothing will stay the same, nothing will ever stop moving and vibrating with life. And then there are the vibrant almost pulsing areas of bright bright read amongst the dark blues, browns, and greys. The red isn’t consistent across the whole workout only splashes up in areas. It does provide an almost sickly feel particularly as it seems to pull at the dimly red-brown colours through the rest of the work, your eye struggling to pull those earthy tones from the work. Its like there will be times when things will be a massive struggle and during those times, when focussing on the chaos you will try to find links to other areas of your history where really there might not be any links. So really we should just move on. Just let tide move on to tide.

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Warema for me didn’t speak too much to me actually. But I was just intrigued with how the kore patterns broke free from the inner borders. and I wanted to show you it because of it. There is no doubt that this is a beautiful art work though, and my preference of the two.

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Cliff Whiting – Whanganui A Tara (Ngake and Whataitai) [c.1990]
This for me was the show stopper. What an amazing amazing piece of relief sculpture! That incredibly vibrant blue with the red pressing through it, and the tan colours of the Taniwha in their lake.

I love reading my daughter the story of Whataitai and Ngake. Its a great story about two Taniwha who lived with each other in what was a big lake around Wellington. Then Ngake gets restless and decides he wants to go exploring in the ocean beyond their lake and begs for Whataitai to go with him. But Whataitai is too scared to (or maybe too lazy, I’m not sure which) and so Ngake breaks free with a great gush from the lake, and also from his side as he cuts himself on his way through. Whataitai, who is left in the new harbour that has been made realises his mistake that he should have gone with his friend as nothing has said the same. Now there are various sea creatures coming into his harbour, so he tries to go after Ngake, but instead he finds himself stuck upon the sand as he hasn’t realised there is now a thing called tides. Anyway, on it goes until Whataitai dies.

While you don’t get the whole story from this, I just love it. It has the two Taniwha, looking like traditional Taniwha should. And you can see their close bond with how they are playing together. In fact perhaps there is even water spraying from their mouths at each other. You get the restlessness of the water signalling the restlessness of staying put in one place for a long time, that you need to move through life rather than staying still as nothing really ever truly stays still. You have to have courage and be brave. And then you get the red coming through from the blood of Ngake who put everything into living.

Then through the other side we had Handshake. This one suggested it was about jewellery and you had some pretty average things in there (if I may be so blunt). One which was a video of a woman who looked like she was trying hard not to laugh her arse off at how she was conning the gallery into thinking that what she was doing was anything more than just a bit of a piss take. While the video did say it was tongue in cheek I felt like I would have wanted to at least see it looking like it wasn’t a joke, even if we knew it to be exactly that. So she just kept trying to stick various household things to her body, and not even very well. Things like a cleaning brush, and a power drill, and picnic bar. But seriously, this was just dumb.

But there were a few bits that I found were actually treasures.

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Debbie Adamson – Up close and far away (2017)

In this one Adamson has used social media to bring together memory, storytelling, and relationships between people. She exchanged small cast silver necklaces in exchange for people’s memories which she had printed onto handkerchiefs. These handkerchiefs have been hung and get washed regularly, so some of the memories are fading, as memories do. Particularly when they are not your own. But also this shows how memories can change with time. The fact that Adamson has exchanged something semi precious for the memory suggests that memories are precious, but then in this there is a thought that while they are precious and you could trade them, or give them away, you will always retain the memory itself – unless of course you forget it, or change it or whatever.

I like that with this artwork while it talks fairly specifically about this idea of memory, and changing memory, and sharing stories, it doesn’t resolve all the questions, and it brings up new questions for the viewer.

The handkerchiefs were also perfect. They hold a sentimental feeling. Old movies where the male gives the female a handkerchief as she cries over something. Or memories of mother spitting on the handkerchief and wiping at your face and that wet warm softness as she rubbed whatever muck and fun you had been into off of you – literally wiping a memory off your face. Or wiping your own eyes as you watch your parent buried knowing that all those memories of growing up with that parent are all you will have left of them. Handkerchiefs are seriously an ingenious thing to have used for this project.

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And they looked great hanging together.

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Sarah Read – Hoard (2017)

In Hoard Sarah Read has taken hundreds of gold edged books and stacked them haphazardly into the bookshelf with the edges facing out, rather than the titles. Personally for me (an avid reader) I just want to get stuck in and find out what all these books are called, and about. Some of them you get little suggestions as you can see small, teeny tiny sections of their cover, so you start to kind of dream about what might be contained in there. But for the most part you have no idea what could be in these books.

Books hold stories, and it is only when the book is given to someone else for reading, AND accepted by the other person as something they are going to read that the stories are passed on to another person. Just by having the book doesn’t mean that the person will get the story. Similarly with memories a person won’t get the memory just by being with the person, or even necessarily when the person tells them their memory.

The gold edging of the books indicates something is precious, and as the blurb says books were edged with gold to protect the pages, stopping them from wearing out, and suggesting also the importance, or preciousness of the story within. Similarly with memory it is something that (if it has been allowed to become a memory in the first place, rather than just discarded with all the other non important junk in life) we would want to protect, and take care of. Look upon regularly to ensure that it is still as we remember it. Though it hardly ever is. As memories go, they change. Although not stories written down in books, but then if a book is re-written then the story changes.

And then one last thought with this (before I rescue my crying baby) – look how many books are in there. It is hard to believe that we would run out of room to keep more memories…

About Me

I adore and practise Art and Embroidery. I blog about Art, trying to encourage open communication through the creation of Art and discussion about Art.

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Bruno Mars

Last week my girlfriend Delwyn and I flew to Auckland