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October 1, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Primary Products

Primary Products is the latest exhibition at the Adam Art Gallery with the purpose to help us reconnect to the fact that we are all consumers of timber. We are all aware of our agriculture industry but equally important to the history of New Zealand is forestry. Primary Products has key works from five New Zealand artists whose own interpretations of this country’s forestry industry overlap in several areas encompassing beauty, form, utilisation and spiritual meaning.

John Johns (1924-1999)

On display as part of Primary Products are a series of black and white photographs that showcase the talent Johns had at representing forestry as an industry, lifestyle and environment. Subject matter include mills and ships which are best represented by Aerial view of Conical Hill Sawmill [near Tapanui] 1959 and the two long titled and excellent photos Cape Wrath carries the first major consignment of exotic sawn timber to the United Kingdom. It is the biggest timber cargo (7,000,000 board feet) ever shipped from New Zealand. Departed from Mt Maunganui 5.5.70 1970.

These are a long way from Johns’ earlier and quainter images of post war forestry lifestyles as shown by High pruning equipment invented by R.T. Morris, NZFS 1963. The gigantic Cape Wrath laden down with timber conjures up an image of the machine, a move away from the human to the technological end point of New Zealand forestry becoming part of modern globalisation.

Also Johns has captured beautiful images of forests themselves, my favourite being Habitat of native orchids, avenue of Corsican pine, Hamner Forest Park 1985 which is of a dirt road covered by a canopy of pines.

It reminded me of times when I used to go out to Rabbit Island near Nelson and drive down the side roads to collect pine cones with my father.

Maddie Leach

As soon as you walk into Adam you will notice a large wooden crate sitting in the foyer. On closer inspection I noticed that it was getting straight to the point of what Primary Products is all about. There is a eucalyptus log from the earth that has been harvested, this lies inside a pine crate (which itself has already been through the forestry and mill process!) and on the side is written: MADDIE LEACH C/O- MUSEO DE ARTE, CONTEMPORANEO, PARQUE FOR ESTAL S/N, FRENCH ACALLE MOSQUETO, SANTIAGO, CHILE.

The title of the crate is One Shining Gum (Sovia Brillante) 2006-7 and is only one third of a series. This catalogues a long journey for one log felled in a forest in the Wairarapa and an attempt to ship it around the world as part of an exhibition for The South Project an organisation creating cultural and artistic networks from South Africa to South America.

Unfortunately, the log never made it in time to its destination. Shipped from Wellington via Singapore to Valparaiso (Santiago’s nearest port) with plenty of time for the exhibition, it got holed up in typical fashion (in Hong Kong, of all places) and never made it in time. Finally, after arriving late, the Chilean port authorities refused the crate’s entry for biosecurity reasons. This is probably the only time you will be able to see it, sitting pride of place just inside the entrance at the Adam Art Gallery.

The log’s actual journey is documented by two very excellent looped DVDs; One Shining Gum (Carterton) 2006 which features two people cranking up a chainsaw and felling the original eucalyptus tree and One Shining Gum (Valparaiso) 2006 showing a slow camera pan of Valparaiso port where the closest Leach got to her work was seeing the container ship Cap Palmas docked in the harbour.

Paratene Matchitt

Walk along the narrow top floor of Adam and you will see Matchitt’s gigantic 17m long Te Wepu. Parts of it will look familiar, as most of you will have crossed his City to Sea Bridge on the waterfront, completed in 1993.

But Te Wepu is older, made in 1986 for Huakina at the National Art Gallery here in Wellington. It proved to be too long for the wall and had to be hanged using a corner of the gallery. Matchitt definitely utilised the corner to stretch the work, as a protest against the staid architecture of the building.

Made from demolition timber near his home of Napier the disused materials reflect the dislocation of Maori from their tribal lands, the destruction of native timber forests and the general conditions Maori had found themselves to be living in as a result in contemporary times. A huge wooden flag, Te Wepu is named after the flag prophet leader Te Kooti and won in battle against Ngati Kahungunu in the 1870s. There are metal figures in the flag, and no, they are not from Bono’s headband CoeXisT even though that also sports a C in the shape of a crescent and also has a cross and morning star. Te Wepu also has a mountain and heart pierced by an arrow which is full of symbolism and spiritual meaning. Take this chance to enjoy Te Wepu in a setting deserving of its majesty and mana.

Jim Allen

Downstairs at Adam, there’s a dark room that often has really atmospheric and powerful displays; this time around I had an encounter with New Zealand Environment No.5, 1969. From a distance I saw a green glow, and as I a got closer I noticed that they were neon lights, these were in small rooms encased by steel and Hessian walls on wood chips and wool with barbed wire punctuating green the floor.

Lured by the soft light like a mosquito to a kerosene lamp, I was almost tempted to walk right into this cosy tent-like installation. But the barbed wire put me off, as did the cat gut strands hanging down on one of the doors. Luckily there were no razor blades attached to them as this was from 1969, long before similar looking structures began to suggest fortified cannabis plantations.

You may be wondering what the hell this has to do with primary products or forests, but Allen’s works deny one from just enjoying the aesthetics and plunge the viewer directly into the natural world that he is trying to represent. It managed to send me to a place contemplating the relationship between man and nature as it rose from the deep recess of my subconscious mind. Had this work been made in 1999 instead of 1969, Allen may have consciously reflected a much different zeitgeist which now exists in some of our far north forests.

Times have changed; forests are no longer the state industries as photographed by Johns nor just worshipped in an artistic sense by artists like Matchitt, but are now often just impersonal business units of global forestry companies. Unfortunately with most global business that takes hold you also get what you could call the pilot fish of the business world, the underworld that in recent years have used these forests to plant their own pot plants.

Allen has definitely succeeded in making me interact with myself (the thoughts I would have if I came across such a suspicious structure in the middle of a forest) and the environment (forests). I have no idea if Allen intended such a viewer as me to have an experience like this with his installation but he has described this work as a proposition about the ‘non-indigenous European environment’. And nothing can be as non-indigenous and European as coming across some gang’s plantation in the forests of the far north today.

Fiona Amundsen

Amundsen here shows a stark view of three towns in the area of the Kaingaroa Forest in the central North Island, which boasts 1.3 million trees for the building, packaging and paper industries.

Looking at these photographs of Rotorua, Kawerau and Murupara, you wouldn’t think that they have anything to do with the nearby forestry industry. But Amundsen was given specific geographical locations and a context for her commission about the forest.

These are urban scenes that sprang up as a result of the nearby forest, shaped by economic and social forces. Once thriving living spaces, they had their soul removed in the wake of Rogernomics in the ‘80s as the state forestry industry was split up into impersonal business units.

Explicit civic values were lost, and the views of these three townships captured here reflect the deadening of their prior energy. Rotorua may thrive as a tourist centre now, but at dusk the illusions are laid bare and you see a dead zone similar to the other two townships, as indeed the area’s soul has changed. This is due to the emptiness created by the globalisation of forestry, resulting in three lifeless vassal villages left over.

Adam Art Gallery
August 11 – October 7


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