Bared for the gaze of the city
Is Nelson a "cruel city", a conservative city struggling with art that challenges and pushes boundaries? Judith Ritchie checks it out.
Colin McCahon wrote to the Suter Art Gallery in 1978, saying "Nelson is a cruel city - to people and paintings", referring to small-town responses to and acceptance of contemporary art. Using this as a hypothesis, the Suter has a new exhibition titled Cruel City, featuring four Nelson artists' work, ranging from installation, textile work, to large-format painting and mixed media.
Josephine Cachemaille, Lisa Chandler, Dan Campion and Claire Ellery are in effect baring their art for the city of Nelson to respond. Will it be a cruel city or kind?
The show is curated by Anna-Marie White, who says the Suter is honoured to have the work of four artists who have all pursued their careers vigorously, and who challenge the notions of conformity, with works that question and confront, humour and subverse.
"We work really hard at the Suter to support artists; these four are all on the same level, they've done post-graduate study, have had residencies, including at the Refinery Art Space, and other new gallery spaces in Nelson like G-Space, plus made national art networks."
She adds that there is a new direction in contemporary art in Nelson, with changing conditions because of the global economic crisis, creating testing times for artists. "Serious artists have made it through; by networking with galleries, they have created a fabric which supports experimental non-commercial art in Nelson."
Cachemaille says her work in this show is about the law of attraction. She has made an installation "hex", each piece representing key figures in the arts world, designed to "enhance my success in the art world and escape from the provinces", as she puts it. She says that Nelson in some ways can be kind and in other ways closed and limited. "I'm resorting to magic to get what I want."
Ellery has spent the last five weeks working fulltime seven days a week on her five hangings in the exhibition.
"I've made work that is representative of myself. I often use disposable materials from waste and transform them." Here she has taken polythene foam from around computers and hand-punched small holes, using a lace pattern as template, 80,000 on each panel. "It's repetitive and requires perserverance, like the original hand-made lace would have been."
Chandler, currently away on a residency in Singapore, has four massive paintings taking up the far wall of the gallery space, measuring 7.8 metres long by 2.5 metres high. White comments that these ambitious works show Chandler "has really hit her stride as an artist".
Chandler has been continuing a theme of non-places in global cities, with previous works produced after spending time in Kuala Lumpur Airport, and now the current works based on the Underground in London.
"They are generic, people passing through a de-humanised environment; it's not a sociable place.
"She also makes historical references to the plague, a burial pit, contrasting that with zombies, people zoned-out."
Campion says his installations are a byproduct of travelling. "Something I've crafted, found or a byproduct."
He says his work in the gallery has come about by selection which sits alongside the large paintings by Chandler. His wall-mounted large-scale syringe in cream and a touch of yellow, compliments Chandler's palette, while making an uneasy reference to her zombies and the Underground underworld.
If Colin McCahon struggled with how his work was received decades ago, will these four contemporary artists feel the wrath of a cruel city today?
- Cruel City, The Suter Art Gallery, Bridge St, Nelson, to August 18.