This exhibition is a retrospective of Fiona Pardington’s work from her early days at Elam right through to the present day. Unlike the Yvonne Todd exhibition that took up both floors of the gallery, Pardington’s show was only on the ground floor. I felt like I would have liked to have seen more, as it seemed a little constrained. I was a bit unsure of the way the work was grouped; it didn’t appear to be chronologically arranged, as early work appeared in several spaces, but I don’t think it was thematically arranged either. The work seemed to be in ‘pockets’ of related pieces rather than in whole bodies and I found that decision a bit scattered. I would have loved to see a whole room, or a whole wall of one body of work, then a whole wall or room of another rather than 2s and 3s scattered around. Overall it felt like it was skimming the surface of a career when delving more deeply into selected areas might have been more satisfying.
I was quite familiar with Pardington’s earlier black and white work so I was really keen to see the more recent colour works, especially the ‘vanitas’ inspired photographs. The works that struck me the most were those with very deep blacks, intense colour and use of painterly chiaroscuro technique.
With my own video works shot floating and groundless against a black void, there images were useful for me to observe. I was really interested in in the use of coloured lighting in particular, the way it moulds and illuminates aspects of the objects. The objects often appear as singular icons imbuing them with a specialness, a reverence and an otherworldliness.
There was one particular aspect of the show that I found difficult to deal with and that was the choice of highly reflective glass over nearly all of the works. With many of the images being dark and with complex details, the reflections on the glass created a barrier between the work and the viewer. I wanted to spend time with the works and let them unfold in front of me, but this was often impossible due to not being able to find a view point that mitigated the reflections. My blog photographs are actually easier to look at than the full-size works themselves because in the flesh the reflections are even bigger and more distracting. I’ve often wondered if I’m not understanding something in this choice by photographers to use such reflective glass? Is there some aspect of the display technique that I don’t get?
There was one set of still life works that were printed onto a canvas substrate and with light framing and no glass. This was interesting because it created much more of a sense of immediacy to the work. The reflective glass creates a barrier separating the viewer from the objects, whereas the canvas works removed this barrier making the imagery vibrant and alive. This might not be what the artist wants from the work though, the use of the glass barrier does place the work into a space that is ‘other’ from the viewer and this could be a desirable outcome. I’m not entirely sure that either display technique is doing the work justice though.
Fiona Pardington (2014) ”Still Life with Young Kahu, Hag Stone and Paper Nautilus, Ripiro Beach’
Fiona Pardington (2014) ”Still Life with Two Dead Gulls, Coral Hearts and Lemniscate, Ripiro Beach’
Fiona Pardington (2014) ”Still Life with Albatross Feathers, Pounamu and Coral Hearts, Ripiro Beach’
Another choice I was a little unsure of was the use of what appeared to be a photoshop brush filter on a couple of the large still lives. If a photograph is referencing the painterly technique of Flemish masters does it really need to be so brazen as to have a digital painterly technique overlaid? I feel the works would have referenced everything they needed to without this added conceit and been stronger in being unapologetically photographs.
Overall I enjoyed the work a great deal, but was really distracted by the curatorial and display choices. Because of this I’ve found it quite difficult to talk about the work itself which makes me feel frustrated and dissatisfied. I hope the exhibition comes to the Auckland City Art Gallery so I can revist it and see what has changed between venues.