19 June – 1 July 2017, Arts Inc Heretaunga

I went to the Hastings Community Arts Centre on Tuesday to see ‘Messines’ an exhibition by David Guerin. It is a sculptural investigation inspired by letters sent home to Dunedin by New Zealand Artilleryman Alfred Owen Wilkinson over a six week period in 1917 during the First World War. Wilkinson’s New Zealand Expeditionary Force were involved in the bombarding of the Messine Ridge at the southern corner of Belgian Flanders prior to, and after 19 huge mines were detonated beneath the German lines in the biggest man made explosion prior to the atomic age.

A photo tucked away in the far left hand corner I assume is Alfred although it doesn’t say so. A typical image of the time, fresh faced young man who has perhaps been sold the romantic notion of how war will be as opposed to what would actually transpire.

Guerin’s work leans towards what happened, sharp metal edges, dirt and rust. There are no romanticised images here, no posters of 7’ tall strapping Tommie soldiers cutting a swath through foreign lands for King and country.

The sculptures are relatively small whereas the room is quite big. This works well as it forces you to get up close and personal with each one and see some of the detail that has gone into them. Guerin uses an assortment of materials including wood and metal as well as pre-loved and pre-used things ranging from discarded military ordinance to bits of old toy trainset.

There are some thought provoking pieces here: I particularly liked ‘Deathscape’ a visually pleasing collaboration of carved timber and what I first thought was a mirror but turned out to be highly polished steel. ‘In Theatre’ and ’20 Foot Crater’ were also well constructed. I’d have liked to see how the letters connected to the individual works, to try and get a sense of how Guerin made the link from one to the other but overall this work made me think, and I suppose that’s all any artist wants of the audience.

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