Art seen: May 25
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Art seen: May 25

May 22, 2023

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(Hocken Collections Gallery)

Extended until Saturday July 15

The spatial and conceptual design of this exhibition has philosophical depth. Nirun (a Thai word for "eternal") also thinks in geographical terms (of places and the relationships between people and their environments). In this case, place-contexts across Te Wai Pounamu are integral and respected.

Elements of the show oscillate between the microscopic and the cosmic, where scales of time-and-space might be considered (for example) in the composition of rock. Ōamaru limestone sculptures are also reminiscent of the pillars of an ancient Thai temple, the blocky shape of audio speakers, and wash bowls. Water-like resin and warm beeswax fill receptacles that contain sea shells, orange peels, kōwhai petals, synthetic nails and eyelashes.

In film and 3D imagery, the artist presents vast Otago landscapes with overlayed photomicrographs of minerals, digital fossils and components of language. For Songsataya, the kōtuku (white heron) is one of many figures of relation: with a home in more than one place (Asia and the South Pacific) an empathetic connection is made with these birds that cyclically return to Aotearoa to nest.

Interweaving soundscapes include the lyricism of the khim (a Thai stringed instrument), embodied mark-making and falling stones. Resonating within the physical and technological spaces of this exhibition, are personal, interpersonal, and intangible realities of connectedness that make up the realities of place.

(A Rear Window Project, Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

The Wandering Womb is an animated three-dimensional virtual reality world that explores world-making ideas. The viewer becomes the protagonist on a moving image journey through creation narratives and rendered theoretical physics.

In the opening sequence, the viewer is positioned to take up a God's-eye view of an emerging planetary sphere, a sandy globe with clouds and rock formations slowly spinning into existence. The viewer descends to inhabit the world from an ant's-eye view, and the sky is screened by a thicket of grass. A philosophical question of perspective frames this scene: is reality to be comprehended as a whole, or through human consciousness?

Pausing for a moment to consider the ant, we then fall into one of its eyes, travelling fast and as if through a wormhole or a model of a multiverse theory. Creature images, perhaps fragments of creation narratives, pass by. We spiral onwards towards a cosmic centre — a rendered womb/cave and microcosm/macrocosm reflection.

The viewer's virtual journey then settles within an earth-like cave. We are placed in front of a small crackling fire; light flickers on the dusty floor and rough-hewn walls. A cut-out relief, perhaps another model of the universe, comes into shadowy view. This seems like Plato's cave and we are left again with a philosophical question on the nature of interpretation versus reality.

(Reed Gallery, Dunedin Public Libraries)

Curated to mark 150 years since the first edition publication of Walter Lawry Buller's A History of the Birds of New Zealand (1873), this exhibition celebrates a history of ornithological illustration in Aotearoa New Zealand. The showcase includes important and popular works produced from as early as 1843 to the early 21st century.

A key function of the exhibition acknowledges the work of artists in direct collaboration with scientific taxonomic work and the educational purposes of bird identification. Across this history of book design, we can consider the importance of anatomical accuracy and stylistic consistency of design alongside developments in print and image technologies. Many of the illustrations and illustrative styles will be familiar to viewers, having been widely distributed and treasured.

A dynamic example is an illustration in oil paint, by Raymond Harris-Ching, of two fighting Northland brown kiwi, set against a painterly back-drop with a section of hand-written text quoting lively field observations.

Reproduced here is a hand-coloured lithograph of the tūī by Johannes Gerardus Keulemans (1842-1912). Born in the Netherlands, the artist spent most of his life in England where he illustrated many of the best-known ornithology books of the 19th century — he never saw the tūī in its natural habitat.

By Joanna Osborne

"Nirun", Sorawit Songsataya (Hocken Collections Gallery) Extended until Saturday July 15 "The Wandering Womb", Pleun Gremmen (Netherlands) and Menahem Wrona (Brazil) (A Rear Window Project, Dunedin Public Art Gallery) "For the Love of Birds: The artistic depiction and classification of New Zealand birds" (Reed Gallery, Dunedin Public Libraries)