Nature Captured

Amelia Pascoe has much to say about our relationship to nature through her bringing together of jewellery and pinhole photography.

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By Mark Amery

Often when we craft something we are capturing and containing nature, then transforming it through bringing our own design ideas to it. Nature and culture become entwined.

By Mark Amery

Often when we craft something we are capturing and containing nature, then transforming it through bringing our own design ideas to it. Nature and culture become entwined.

Art takes this a step further. What is found in a contemporary painting or photograph is often the complex interaction between nature and culture. We no longer just represent a landscape; the effects of nature and humanity are there in the viewfinder, fighting it out.

Amelia Pascoe’s exhibition Captured provides some neat twists on this. Featuring pinhole cameras, film, photography and jewellery her work draws you into thinking about our and art’s relationship to nature, and the way different artistic media together work.

Her principal subject is sightings of animals and birds that are thought to not, or no longer, exist in New Zealand. As you enter the gallery a television news item about the sighting of a black panther plays. Joining the panther in the show as characters are the moose, South Island kokako and moa. One exhibit provides silhouettes of these creatures as earrings, with tags identifying the location and date of their numerous sightings. As recently as this month The Nelson Mail reported a tramper having thought they’d seen a Kokako, while a Hallensteins promotion is currently offering a $100,000 reward for a photograph of a moose

Trying to capture something just outside our view is the mysterious stuff of both artistic and popular imagination. From its inception the objectivity and magic of the photographic process has been one thought to perhaps capture phenomena unseen by the human eye. Likewise Pascoe’s subject reminds us that as soon as we start to represent or tell a story, in its crafting fact starts to become fictionalised. We go about creating mystery in our environment.

They key items in this exhibition are tiny and exquisite pinhole cameras. They are less than half the size of a typical pocket camera. Barrel shaped, they are trinkets you might hang around your neck; for adornment as much as capturing images. They remind me of how we treat wildlife as adornment. Think of the image of a mighty stag before a grand Fiordland landscape. We introduce exotic animals to bring our own cultural ideas to the land. The camera is employed to frame that achievement.

You immediately want to pick up these beautifully made cameras. To both use and fondle them – function and form have come together bewitchingly. One set of three cameras are made out of bone, antler and stone respectively –themselves made of nature and animals captured and crafted. A fourth is sterling silver, beautifully inlaid with floral and plant patterns. Each is a tiny tub, as likely to contain powder or rare potion as to have the mystery of the imprint of an image swirling around within it.

They remind me of the pinhole cameras made by artist Darren Glass. Not only because these functional objects are also artworks in their own right, but because the form of these objects, and the subjects that they capture talk together in interesting ways.

Yet these two artists are also very different. Glass’s cameras are many and varied, pushing the camera to fanciful new sculptural lengths to get new pinhole effects. They often also have the rough blocky charm of strapped together DIY improvised instruments, constructed to withstand rugged treatment in the great outdoors. Pascoe’s instruments are more what you might expect a Victorian gentleman to keep in his suit breast pocket next to his fob watch. Their complexity is in the jeweller’s eye for detail and construction with different material.

The crafty finesse of the cameras is also reflected in the decorative filigree of what Pascoe shoots: constructed scenes featuring silhouettes of her creatures and white bare stick like trees upon floating islands. These tiny prints are nicely presented in frames around the gallery walls. Tiny worlds have been crudely constructed for tiny cameras, like cut out constructions in empty shoeboxes. They also remind me of the kitschy domestic ornamentation of deer and other flora and fauna found in lit wall decorations and sandblasted glass doors in homes popular in the middle of the last century.

The sketchy shadowy nature of a pinhole camera print nicely echoes the hazy half-seen reports of these birds and animals. Yet it’s not just a case of the limits of basic technology. Pascoe also cleverly features a projection of motion sensor camera footage from the Fiordland bush, trying to locate moose. As far as I can see nothing moves whatsoever in this murky yet strangely beautiful scene. Delightfully it ends up more resembling an abstract tondo shaped painting than it does a landscape.

The least successful work in this exhibition are the more conventional jewellery pieces. The most interesting are where Pascoe casts her birds and animals (cereal packet toy size) in silver and then encapsulates them in clear plastic, as if they were vacuum packed products. These read fairly simply, operating like much contemporary jewellery as emblems.

Pascoe is a recent graduate of Whitireia Polytechnic’s jewellery diploma. This exhibition is just one of a number by graduates that have popped up over the city in all sorts of interesting locations in the last year. It’s testament to the encouragement this course gives for jewellers to think deeply and innovatively about how jewellery might operate. This is Pascoe’s first solo exhibition. Providing much food for thought it leaves me very much looking forward to her next.

Written by

Mark Amery

29 Apr 2011

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media. He is co-curator of public art programme Letting Space.

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