Ben Pearce and Paratene Matchitt 9 December 2017 – 25 March 2018, Hastings City Art Gallery By Rosheen FitzGerald
‘Life will go on after money’ is spray painted onto the side of Ben Pearce’s recreation of a houseboat constructed by Nelson resident Paul Jepson on the city’s boulder bank. Using wooden pallets, driftwood and oil drums, the “original” and the “copy” raise real New Zealand issues of land ownership, homelessness and our housing shortage.
Jepson opted out of society, choosing to build and attempt to live in this illegal structure. The story was picked up by news site Stuff in 2014. Soon after artist Ben Pearce responded to a friend’s Facebook post of the houseboat, claiming the structure as his new art project: part joke, part gesture of kindness, buying Jepson time as he wrangled with local bureaucrats. More media coverage and confusion ensued, and the tiny house became buoyant, drifting into a shipping lane and eventually being picked up and dismantled by the council.
As with much conceptual and installation art, the story of creating the work can be more aesthetically important than the work itself. Ben Pearce has layered and reframed the story within the Holt gallery at the HCAG.
The narrative is supported by a video projection on the wall opposite the houseboat. A quiet, meditative panning shot reveals a shabby caravan interior, at once a sanctuary and an escape. There is distance but familiarity too, a battered Bell tea tin with a picture of Mt Taranaki, gnarled hands in the act of making tea, a teaspoon clinking, a patterned mug. The sole occupant shifts in bed, makes his tea, pisses out the caravan door, settles down for a cuppa. There is no dialogue, no face shown, enabling us to project ourselves into the scene, even the mental state. There is a kind of delight in our view on this little world, a kind of nostalgia and playfulness, I imagine a pile of tatty National Geographic magazines to browse, some stale biscuits for dunking.
Far from playful, Hui is Paratene Matchitt’s first major exhibition in three years. The installation is made up of seven pairs of looming matte black wooden structures, each couple turning slightly towards each other, illuminated in the dark space with a single neon light from above. This sombre assembly forms a gentle arc in the large main gallery, casting shadows from the upright sculptures. The surfaces are “decorated” with tightly constructed geometric forms in relief which have an energy and dynamism. This mix of European modernist forms with Maori art has been called “Maori modernism”.
This “ceremonial gathering” creates a contemplative space, and perhaps even a sense we may be interrupting.
Both installations point towards psychological spaces or states, different kinds of isolation. Hui explores our alienation from traditional forms of communication; the “real” world all too often replaced by digital technologies: texting, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc.
Pearce’s work examines the real and the digital world, a story gone viral, a loner’s structure recreated. The point of difference between the two is made apparent in the approachability of Pearce’s work. At 75% scale of the “original”, the dinky houseboat invites us in to explore. This spirit of participation advances the Hastings City Art Gallery’s commitment to engage and communicate with their audience.
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