CONNECTING ART IN A TIME OF CRISIS:  New Zealand –The Netherlands

Sonja van Kerkhoff is based in The Hague and New Zealand. She is currently under lockdown in New Zealand but before that was enforced she jointly curated an exhibition at the Geoff Wilson Gallery in Whangārei which included artists from The Netherlands.

Galleries are closed across the world due to the COVID-19 crisis and in New Zealand most galleries closed their doors on March 23rd before the nationwide lockdown three days later. For one of the two shows I had curated, I was able to get in with a camera in those few days and make a 12 minute video on the show. Works from outside New Zealand were posted or digital. In a time when physical presence in a gallery is not possible, the video is not just as a showcase of works behind closed doors but part of a shift: if you have time and internet access there’s a way to make connections – albeit with mixed fee lings.

One work, “Inorganic Collection” by South African-born New Zealand-based Ursula Christel, is an assemblage of an old upside down garden table with a ticking metronome on top of an old mirror wedged into the centre of the table legs. The sound of ticking is ominous and, in the middle of the day, the sun throws a reflection of the reciprocating movement onto the empty wall above, adding a sense of anticipation – of the tables being turned. This work originally about recycling and re-purposing seems now to express the second by second risk of an unforeseeable rupture, caused by nature, of the established order of things.

The gawdy misshapen “Vogel” (Bird) by Maastricht-based Jacqueline Wassen, positioned on a bare white corner shelf, is attractively tactile as an object and yet a metaphor for dissonance. What are the implications, in this day and age, even before the threat of the virus, for representations of the natural world, however misshapen? Should the natural world be treated as a subject? The bird is positioned in isolation in a corner between, “Geolith,” a video featuring the moon-like landscapes of Native American geolith sites on the border of California and Arizona, by New Zealand-based American Brit Bunkley and a row of scallop shells, “Te Ara ki Rangihoua: The Way to Rangihoua,” by Yllwbro, an anonymous sibling artist collaboration from New Zealand. In the video the aerial shots of vehicle tracks transition to a floating three D animation either to remind us that all is artifice or that the artifice is the real – at least in the narrative of this video.

Whereas, Yllwbro’s scallop shells; once you zoom in on them, seem increasingly about personalized engagement. At the top of each string is a name in pencil and in the video they are worn by five individuals. Instructions from Mokopōpaki, the gallery representing the artists, for the hanging height of each shell, was that I was to invite five individuals to wear them while standing against the wall. I curated this exhibition with third year Art and Design students from NorthTec Polytech and so delegated the task to them.

The shells and title also reference St James and the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, as well as the moko kauae (the female New Zealand Māori chin tattoo). Rangihoua is the location of the first Christian mission established in 1815 in the north of New Zealand.

Another shell in the exhibition hails from the province of Zeeland. “ogen zijn de spiegels der ziel” (eyes are the mirrors of the soul), by Hague-based Martje Zandboer inside an oyster shell is a trick of the eye. A convex image on a concave shape. An eye photographed in the Hague, hung on a wall in a gallery on the other side of the globe, now, in the video, seen, virtually, everywhere.