Monday, 18 February 2013

Information underload at Waiheke Headland Sculpture Trail

Sunday was the last day of the biannual sculpture trail on the island of Waiheke, a 35 minute ferry journey from Auckland. Brian was keen to go as he had lived on the island for a few months when he first arrived in NZ, and wanted to show us around his old haunts a little. I have to agree, the island is something special and for once I can completely understand why painters choose to work representatively when you see the views, colours and plant life on the island. 

Beautiful coves on Waiheke

Cactus flowers (got several spines in me taking this so enjoy!)
The trail is called ‘headland: sculpture on the gulf’  and consists of a 2.5km walk along the spectacular, iconic coastline of the island through 30 sculptures finishing at the pavilion with gelato and a glass of wine. Quite civilised!
The papers were reporting a high turnout this year, up to 40,000 visitors over the three weeks. There was certainly a steady ribbon of bodies along the trail to be seen as we arrived on the ferry. I am sure that numbers were helped by the good weather this summer. We certainly had to keep covered on our trip around and donated a handful of sunscreen to a gentleman who had forgotten his hat and whose bald patch was suffering!

As we followed the trail, it seemed to us that the pieces had been selected based on their links to NZ issues or comments and most were selected for conceptual rather than aesthetic values. As I was too mean to buy a catalogue, I had to rely on my limited knowledge and personal responses on the day, then referred back to the website later for more information (I could have had more information at the time if my phone was sufficiently up to date to read QR codes). Unfortunately the information on the website was not as useful as I had assumed it would be (as the saying goes ‘assume’ makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’), the statements are mini biographies rather than information about the particular sculptures and curatorial choices.
A few examples from the trail:

Terry Stringer, ‘A Shrine of the Elements’

This three sided sculpture with views through to the headland attracted a lot of attention, it reminded me of the large heads by Jaume Plensa I saw at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Quite Buddhist?

Nic Moon ‘Breath’
A series of tall 'wands' set high, and could be viewed as here looking up to the sky or out to sea, individually or as groups.

Konstantin Dimopoulos, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’

These bird silhouettes on a frame, something like a childs climbing frame, made us all feel uneasy. The influence of 'The Birds' perhaps?

Aaron McConchie, ‘System #2 I Am Auckland’

If you had a smartphone to read the QR, then these paddles lined up and each time the code was scanned gave a different part of a 'story'.

Carolyn Williams, ‘Field Notes’

A beautiful sculpture. Patterns perhaps from music or voices or the earth in the form of seismic waves, moving on their elastic in the breeze or when plucked. Their attachment to the branch of the tree and into the ground seemed absolutely appropriate.

Jeff Thomson, ‘Knotty’

Jeff Thomson, ‘Knotty’

Corrugated iron (wriggly tin to me) is ubiquitous in NZ, many artists make great use of it. This sculpture with its organic curves and twists to walk around and through was great.

Graham Bennett, ‘Overview/Overlook’

This man flies over the earth, looking down, he has the ability or power to 'Overlook, overview, oversee'. It seems to be his choice, does he look after what is below, control it, move on and ignore it?

Peter Lange, ‘This is My Beach’


The artist says that it is getting harder to have a perfect view, the spaces are being taken. By painting this trompe d'oeil, we can all see our own paradise.

Gina Ferguson, ‘Sheep Track’

A walking track made from the hugest knitting, to be walked on (as you can see with my dusty toes!).

Christian Nicolson, ‘Look Darling it’s Tom and Nancy’

 This was just fun!

Then the journey back to Auckland, and a fantastic reflection of the Ferry Building in the glass behind.

Having curated exhibitions at the Beetroot Tree, been involved in exhibitions as an artist and having been a visitor to many other exhibitions and events, my feeling is that more information about both the artists and the work allows a more thorough consideration of the pieces presented. I am able to ponder my response to the work alongside the intentions of the artist. I have observed that people viewing artwork are more interested, engaged and considerate about the work where there is information from the artist or a curator, or even the responses of other visitors. This applies as much to designer crafts as to conceptual work. I know that I am more likely to buy designer crafts if I have some feeling for the processes, materials and design inspiration.
I am sure that whether information is delivered before, during or after experiencing the art, or different parts of the information are delivered at different stages can also affect the viewers response and should be considered, particularly when presenting art with a message.
But some insight into the artist and their thoughts gives me a starting point to respond, for instance, do I feel the same about the work as the maker? Do I agree with any comments they are making? etc. etc.
A while ago I wrote about my response to two exhibitions which I attended on the same day, one presented work by Anish Kapoor, the other work by Lowry. I would have expected to feel more engaged and interested in the Kapoor exhibition, but the curation and the lack of information left me cold, even with some previous experience of his work. Lowry is an artist whose work we know about and which I personally do not find especially engaging, however, the quality of the information including what was happening in his life as he was painting made the experience completely memorable.

I wonder whether you have experiences to help my understanding about this? Have you been to exhibitions or events in which there was too much, too little, just right information? Can you remember examples where the amount of information or its style, content or presentation affected your experience? I would be really pleased to hear your ideas and experiences.


Craft Arena said...

I find visiting an exhibition much more satisfying and inspirational when there is information about both the work and the artist. In my own small gallery I'd like to give visitors a feel of what inspired the work, but I do find it difficult to prise information out of exhibiting artists. I suppose though that it isn't always easy to express how you feel about your own work. Do you always manage to get your exhibitors to do this and if so how?

Alysn Midgelow-Marsden said...

Hi, I am glad you find the inclusion of information satisfying when viewing exhibitions.
At the Beetroot Tree we send a form to the artists for completion with their agreement pack, including a letter which details all of the information we will need from them and the actions they need to take (including practical details for instance, is the ceramic frostproof or dishwashable, what is the jewellery made from etc.).
We sometimes have to ask again when we are entering the information into the database ready for display and going on the website! This usually works. If we don't get information directly there are usually write ups on the artists' websites or blogs, or the information they sent in when applying to exhibit might be useful. Very occasionally we have to write a personal response about the work ourselves.
I am thinking that a more personal write up about the pieces by you, such as why did you choose the work? or what attracted you to it? would be a lovely addition anyway.
It may also help to ask the artists specific questions which help you to have the correct information with the work whilst it is exhibited with you.
Hope that helps.

Craft Arena said...

Thanks Alysn. I think I'm probably not asking the right questions. I'll make them more specific!