Anthroposcenarios – Susan Mabin

25 April - 13 May 2018, Holt Gallery, HCAG, Hastings
By Rosheen FitzGerald

Judging from its last two installations, the Holt Gallery, at the Hastings City Art Gallery, is becoming something of a political space. Replacing Ben Pearce’s commentary on the housing crisis, Susan Mabin takes on the environment, more specifically the hot button topic of plastic in our oceans. The common thread running between the two is the casualties of a culture of consumerism, the fundamental unsustainability of life as we currently live it.

It’s a work three years in the making, that relies on layers, built up over time, to deliver a gut punch of meaning. As her medium she takes found objects along the coastline, ‘matter out of place’, and makes them the subject of stop motion animations, first in the location of their finding, later in domestic spaces. It began in 2015, in the isolated Icelandic inlet of Ólafsfjörður, where she took up an artist’s residency, and is continued here in Hawke’s Bay, on the beach at Waitangi. In this final iteration she casts our collective detritus in plaster and displays it on the floor, in neat rows, equidistantly spaced.

Mabin’s aesthetic credentials are evident. The initial Icelandic piece is a study in colour – her findings form masses of cobalt blue, cadmium yellow, crimson and teal which dance around one another, brought to life against the backdrop of snow-tinged mountains and a ceaseless sea. In stark contrast, her interior shows white objects progress and regress down a hallway, and fill and empty a bathtub and a doorway.

Perhaps it is a function of our situation, but it is the last stages of the process, where Mabin brings her practice home, that transmute the intellectual to the emotional. There is something in the familiar quality of the light, the landscape, the intimately and immediately recognisable disposable flotsam and jetsam of our lives. Our refuse is at once elevated by its inclusion in a gallery, yet denigrated, as it is displayed on the floor. In doing so the artist juggles with our concepts of sanctity and profanity, purity and pollution.

Unlike her commercial work, currently on display at Muse, the human form is conspicuous by its absence. Odd, one might think, for an exhibit whose title, Anthroposcenarios, suggests scenes with man at their centre. But the omission is central to the experience of the piece. By making us, the observer, the only human in the room, there is no bystander at which to point the finger. The artist has done her duty, now the responsibility is ours.

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