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Buersten_ca1940RetCol_v02PresseNo ideas but in things,” wrote Amer­ic­an poet Wil­li­am Car­los Wil­li­ams in 1946. As I talked to Vivi­en Atkin­son, Petra Stueben and Kelly McDon­ald about their ornament/artefact exhib­i­tion at Toi Pōneke, the quote swam in my head. Wil­li­ams was refer­ring to poetry, but these artists con­sider our rela­tion­ship with things — what we emo­tion­ally invest in objects and why, what our desire for objects means, and where it leads us. These ques­tions are the sub­text to the exhib­i­tion, not obvi­ous to the viewer.

At one end of the room are Stueben’s pho­to­graphs — reprints of images her grand­moth­er made in Ger­many in the late 1930s. Dur­ing the Second World War Hitler guar­an­teed Ger­mans that any pos­ses­sions des­troyed or broken dur­ing the con­flict would be replaced. Stueben’s grand­moth­er pho­to­graphed the family’s valu­ables in their stu­dio with this ‘insur­ance’ in mind. Stueben re-presents the images in a pile free for any­one to take away. She flips her grandmother’s obses­sion with pos­ses­sions or, as she says, resets the objects to unload them of any mystery.

Atkin­son occu­pies the centre of the gal­lery in a daily per­form­ance clean­ing a col­lec­tion of sil­ver-plated objects she has amassed. She engages vis­it­ors in con­ver­sa­tion about sil­ver-plated objects and invites them to bring in any that need con­ser­va­tion or polishing.

Her interest in sil­ver-plat­ing dates back to her own col­lec­tion inher­ited from her moth­er, and a 40-gal­lon drum of sil­ver-plated objects she saw at the Pori­rua met­al recyc­ling depot. For her, sil­ver-plat­ing is a meta­phor for middle-class aspir­a­tions — the sil­ver-plate cov­ers a base met­al of nick­el, brass or steel. The tea rituals of the upper classes could be rep­lic­ated with these lookalike teapots and milk jugs. They were an aspir­a­tion­al pur­chase. Atkin­son wants to know about con­tem­por­ary rela­tion­ships to sil­ver-plat­ing now that status and rituals have been trans­ferred to oth­er objects.

McDon­ald brings grey­wacke and found wood into the digit­al con­text. Using an app that con­verts text to bin­ary code, her work presents a quote from St Augustine, “desire hath no rest” in zer­oes and ones. The zer­oes are rep­res­en­ted by stones and the ones are pieces of wood laid out on the gal­lery wall. The weight­less digit­al world is giv­en heft by the mater­i­al­ity of nat­ur­al things.

No ideas but in things”. These things in the gal­lery are mys­ter­i­ous in terms of ideas, but what seems to under­pin them is an invest­ig­a­tion of value. Stueben has to give away pho­to­graphs to dis­em­power their story, but in a twist she hopes vis­it­ors will repho­to­graph them in new situ­ations and email these images to her. Atkin­son finds a potent meta­phor in the sil­ver-plated objects of her back­ground and hon­ours their sym­bol­ic value by offer­ing con­ser­va­tion treat­ments and con­ver­sa­tion. And McDon­ald presents the bin­ary code as the boiled-down yes/no choice of acquisition.


April Art

It’s a boy’s month around the deal­er gal­ler­ies. Col­lages by Peter Mad­den (until 18 April) and paint­ings by Andrew McLeod (open­ing 23 April) show at Robert Heald Gal­lery. Wal­lace final­ist André Hemer is on at Bartley and Com­pany. At The Young in Mt Vic­tor­ia is spray-can man Ed Bats with work by Don Driver (until 11 April), then paint­er Jake Walk­er opens on 13 April. Euan Macleod paint­ings and Peter Hannken pho­to­graphs also open at Bowen Gal­ler­ies on 13 April.


Mary-Jane Duffy

Mary-jane is a Paekakariki-based poet and essayist, and FishHead's art columnist. She teaches poetry and academic writing on the Whiyireia Creative Writing programme, torturing students with half-rythmes and pantoums, zombie haiku, and line breaks, referencing and structure. Duffy has a background in museum and gallery work, making a lucky escape from the basement of the City Gallery Wellington in 2002 and opening the Mary Newtown Gallery with Paula Newtown in 2004. Art (across all the disciplines) feels like the closest thing she has to religious experiences - seeing, reading or hearing things that make her brain fizz.