New Age by Gavin Hipkins

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Courtesy of Gavin Hipkins and Landfall Journal 208 The New Age By Gavin Hipkins When we think of the New Age, aromatic wafts of smoke from burning incense tingle our nostrils. It is said…

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Courtesy of Gavin Hipkins and Landfall Journal 208

The New Age

By Gavin Hipkins

When we think of the New Age, aromatic wafts of smoke from burning incense tingle our nostrils. It is said the New Age emerged with the Age of Aquarius and the passing of the Age of Pisces, sometime in the 1970s. New Agers reject Christianity and other religious orthodoxies; instead, they adopt a hybrid spirituality that comparative religion guru Joseph Campbell would approve of. The concern for world peace, planetary harmony, and conservation - it is claimed - owes much to the 1960s counterculture, the influence of oriental religions and, notably, George Harrison.

Image: New Age: Whatipu (Coast II), Gavin Hipkins 1992-2003Courtesy of Gavin Hipkins and Landfall Journal 208

The New Age

By Gavin Hipkins

When we think of the New Age, aromatic wafts of smoke from burning incense tingle our nostrils. It is said the New Age emerged with the Age of Aquarius and the passing of the Age of Pisces, sometime in the 1970s. New Agers reject Christianity and other religious orthodoxies; instead, they adopt a hybrid spirituality that comparative religion guru Joseph Campbell would approve of. The concern for world peace, planetary harmony, and conservation - it is claimed - owes much to the 1960s counterculture, the influence of oriental religions and, notably, George Harrison.

Image: New Age: Whatipu (Coast II), Gavin Hipkins 1992-2003Like the Beatles and many other New Agers, I have spent significant time in and have revisited that mother of all continents named India. At an impressionable twenty-two, after seven or so months in South East Asia and India I was dragged (kicking and screaming) back to New Zealand to complete a half-finished undergraduate degree at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. Returning to art school after the meditative riverbanks of Varanasi and the fast-flowing, corpse-carrying, cool current of the Ganges, I knew my singed perceptual faculties would never be the same again. Phenomenology had taken on far more intense (read, slippery chasms and insurmountable peaks) understanding. In my final year of undergraduate studies in 1992, and in post-India mode, I chose to distance myself from the student-flat experience and live alone for twelve months at Elam's Fisher Lodge at Little Huia near the mouth of the Manukau Harbour, west of Auckland. Here, a magnificent kauri grows through the lodge's deck and a valley of tui sing near the stream.

Given my surroundings, perhaps inevitably during this period I turned to the landscape genre. The New Age was always close at hand. As pipes chimed in the wind, I read Minor White's wacky approach to photography and sat contemplating how such reverence for the photographic medium, like that of the Japanese tea ceremony, could bring about spiritual enlightenment. Cycling through darkness without lamp (knowing well the few kilometres of winding quiet road) to reach the one departing bus at 6.30 A.M. for the hour-long ride to K Road and art school was an easy path, except when the river flooded and mudslides blocked the road. At university we were reading about postmodernism, grappling with its vocabulary and absorbing its influences in our individual practices (much of the time this meant persuing the latest edition of Artforum in search of assimilable attitude and artistic devices). And, significantly, art photography was still at the core of postmodern tactics of appropriation, parody and allegory. How then to comprehend and place the brand of landscape-based photographic pictorialism that had entered my practice and constituted such a weighty portion of my production in that busy final year of studies?

I recall confusion and scepticism for some as to what my rarefied silver gelatin prints, which so surely looked like landscapes vistas and nature-fragments produced under the persuasive sway of high-modernist photography, were attempting to achieve. Moreover, this apparently conservative attitude to landscape did little to acknowledge a feminist reassessment that writers including Deborah Bright and Abigail Solomon-Godeau brought to such a male-dominated landscape tradition: Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White...What was so appealing for men-alone photographing in an idea of wilderness?

It has taken me more than a decade to turn back to these (incomplete) photographs from my time in the Waitakere Ranges and rugged West Coast beaches to engage some of these unresolved issues. Not all the images stem from this geographical area, but many do, and those taken on distinct Auckland and Northland trips similarly reflect my attitude towards photography and landscape from the early 1990s. Since that time I have become more interested in an occupied landscape, a contested space; my ongoing thesis couples desire with landscape. Reflecting this shifting attitude, literally, the early negatives became hinterland as I placed beads and lace on light-sensitive paper in the darkroom. Amalgam of photogram and photograph, for my audiences these works have connoted calligraphy, animation, ghost traces and the late-nineteenth century scientific art of chrono-photography. Somewhat flippantly, I have previously referred to the beads as both rosary and anal - playing with Colin McCahon's sacrosanct relationship to landscape while attempting to eroticise that purist space of, infamously, 'too few lovers'.

Individual works from the 'New Age' series still pay homage to oriental and New Age references and a spirit of production of the original backdrops. Under this reverent light, rosary and anal beads must also be interpreted as worry beads sitting on top of a familiar vernacular landscape: beautiful, romantic, sexualised, occupied landscape.

All works have the series title New Age.

All works are unique silver gelatin prints from 1992-2003 and measure 610 X 508 mm.

Thanks to Gavin Hipkins

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

16 Feb 2005

The Big Idea Editor

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