Time well spent

Kim Pieters 'Halo' (2010), digital video, audio by Edie Stevens, in the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington (photo: Shaun Waugh)
Installation view of paintings from 'the mallarmé suite' (2013) in the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington (photo: Shaun Waugh)
Installation view of paintings from 'the mallarmé suite' (2013) in the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington (photo: Shaun Waugh)
Kim Pieters '…to walk horizontally along the edge of a word, blinded by sun, to forget what was seen, and what there is, and beneath heel, to gather the fiction of a hill' (2011), in the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery
Installation view of the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington (photo: Shaun Waugh)
Installation view of two paintings from the 'something possible or i will suffocate series' (2009) in the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington (photo: Shaun Waugh)
Installation view of the exhibition 'what is a life?' kim pieters at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington (photo: Shaun Waugh)
Mark Amery finds that time and space given to Dunedin artist Kim Pieters has paid off.

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Mark Amery finds that time and space given to Dunedin artist Kim Pieters has paid off.

* * *

“Trust me, this will take time but there is order there, very faint, very human,” writes Michael Ondaatje in his novel In the Skin of a Lion, as quoted in the introductory panel to Kim Pieters’ six year survey exhibition.

Of Pieters’ work I couldn’t have said it better. Yet with this exhibition such introductory words turn out to be unnecessary. Exquisitely, like a rich musk, a powerful, personal abstract beauty fills the Adam Art Gallery. Space and time have opened up her paintings, drawings, video and photography.  

It’s articulates the human breath between things. The gallery becomes resonant chamber, within which beautifully positioned series’ of pieces work as one spatial, visual and aural composition.

For this Dunedin artist persistence and time spend on a singular journey have paid off. Pieters has previously exhibited her paintings in Wellington at Bowen Galleries, yet I’ve always struggled to engage with them. Working with the architecture and given more space here, their song in a singular language is better revealed. Pieters proves an accomplished spatial designer. Each painting is but a note in suites of works that are like colour-coded chords, themselves part of a larger orchestrated whole. It’s as if they were made in response to the space.

Pieters’ paintings are awkward at first. They reject the geometric conventions of structure we’re accustomed to within modern painting. Instead they mark out a poetry, a human line, in an ocean of worn space. As in her videos, Pieters’ paintings reveal the precious and fragile in the mundane. Intense colour fields each panel is a mood piece on which are performed small and quiet but vigorously expressive drawn and painted creative impulses and skirmishes.

Whether they look like the tracks of a worm, pools of blooms or the hatching of designs there is something primordial about these bubbling marks. The biological fermentation of things, etched on boards weathered by time.   

Where other painters’ work with the luxuriant weave of canvas, Pieters’ employs thin, hard recycled wallboard. These boards have been ripped out of buildings, their edges torn or with insertions where windows and doors once have been (gaps not so different to those in the Adam’s architecture). Banged into the wall with small, common domestic nails, their surfaces feature pockmarks where they have been ripped from their prior attachments. Soaked richly in a single colour, the industrial shifts into a human dream space, a screen upon which ghostly remnants still drift.   

The still and moving images both open out time and space. Just as the paintings cross corners and break into frames, videos are projected up large across surfaces, creating different cuts and shapes across the interior. The warm industrial hum of the videos’ music echoes through the chambers, as the video shimmers across surfaces and plays with its shadows. The gallery doesn’t so much frame the art, as become a cavity for it to reverberate.

In Pieters’ film work time is slowed down to reveal both power and fragility. This is most easily represented by the moving image in the gallery’s window of a seagull, majestic on a bed of air, but vulnerable in its constant shunting shifting to gravity.

The Adam Art Gallery’s multiple levels and in-between spaces can be tricky to employ, but a strength is the way light, shadows and sound move between spaces. What is a Life? articulates the architecture as much as the work, bringing a human blush to its hard industrial-like surfaces.

Standing in the middle level feels like being on the bridge of a battleship, Pieter’s paintings well-worn plates from its sides, yet bearing the marks of a gentler energy.

This is an exhibition that extends our thinking of how painting and video might operate in space as a way of expressing emotion on the edge of our consciousness. It is transformative, contemplative spatial experience. As Ondaajte says, take the time.

MUST SEE

A smartly installed two channel video work, playfully and masterfully juxtaposing a 1960s Passolini film and the antics of Eugene Kriesler in the streets of New Plymouth with absurd, amusing and profound effect.

Written by

Mark Amery

5 Jun 2014

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

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