Lacuna by Dane Mitchell is part of the 2020 Spring Season of SCAPE Public Art curated by Jamie Hanton under the title Secrets and Lies. A lacuna is a gap or missing part. One might say, acknowledging the irony, that Lacuna fills a gap in relation to Post Hoc, an exhibition also by Mitchell. They fit neatly together; Post Hoc offers a tangible sense of gone-things while Lacuna calls for the imagination to fill in the blanks. Located in a part of Te Matatiki Toi Ora [the Arts Centre] that hasn’t been publicly accessible for years, Mitchell offers the audience another unseen thing.
Both Post Hoc and Lacuna share the same dramatic overtones. While walking between the cell tower trees of Post Hoc, one can detour to the former engineering school of the University of Canterbury in Te Matatiki Toi Ora, and visit Lacuna. With the site having been historically used as an educational facility and then the Court Theatre, one can notice the combination of engineering and drama in Lacuna. The work is both real and practical yet imagined and subjective. The theatricality of the work in both exhibitions is proportionate to the themes Mitchell handles, but interestingly, it is discordant with the physical and visual matter that is revealed; mundane lists of things that no longer exist or have become obsolete, a spindly support structure supposedly for a woolly mammoth. Underwhelming objects hold up grand ideas of loss and absence.
The sculpture in Lacuna suits the architecture of the space but only in the way its delicate frame draws the eye to the structural supports: steel buttresses, bracing and wooden beams, the steel frame like a line drawing in the space. It is inconspicuous and secondary, a purpose built support structure – but for what? Mitchell refers interchangeably to a mammoth or beast, the product of mingling threads of evidence, recorded knowledge and where the imagination fills in the gaps. The beast stands for creatures we have imagined and have had imagined to us under the pretence of history, prehistory or education.
Mitchell acknowledges that, especially in an institution or museum setting, we readily let ourselves believe in the old odd dioramas and ‘life-sized’ renderings of past things. We process them with the logic that’s afforded to us but rarely acknowledge the place that fiction has in our understanding of the past. Like a game, we play along because we know the rules. Lacuna breaks away from those rules.
Dane Mitchell, Lacuna
Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora
The Old Engineering Building
2 Worcester Boulevard
Dane Mitchell, Lacuna 2020, (ladder view triptych), photograph: Heather Milne, courtesy of SCAPE Public Art.(SCAPE Public Art Season 2020)