Murihiku-based artist, John Wishart’s Abandoned Works is a series of sculptures from 2018 - 2019 that he describes as speaking to the premise that an artwork is never finished, rather ‘abandoned at a certain point in its production’.
Yet, in its title it also represents an allegory about the history of Southland and the workers that once occupied the Ocean Beach Freezing Works (1891 – 1991). Ngāi Tahu historian Dr Michael Stevens has described ‘The Beach’, (the name used by locals for the Works), as attracting “hard personalities to do dirty work.” The Beach employed generations of Southlanders and was the first in New Zealand to employ women (1970s), yet it closed in 1991 with 1,450 job losses. Abandoned Works makes reference to found-objects washed in by the tides constitutive of what remains of the Ocean Beach Freezing Works.
Wishart re-imagines collected remnants to produce and preserve mimicries of historical ‘in-between-ness’ that reflect on the ocean’s transformation and eventual abandonment of these traces of industry. The integration of man-made industrial waste with natural ocean debris has prompted him to question the categorisation of what is perceived as ‘natural’. He states:
The Ocean Beach Freezing Works does not quite lie at the southernmost tip of the South Island, falling a mere six kilometres short, but it must surely have qualified, at least in its time of production, as the world’s southernmost meat works.
High, dry and abandoned in the early 90s, its empty shell has only recently been re-inhabited, appropriately enough, by the fishing industry and its by-products. The beach at the foot of its ramparts is strewn with the detritus of past lives. Along with the residua of shells, carapace and kelp lie the artifacts of occupation – bleached buoys, concrete slabs rounded, bouldered, ribs still showing, bottles beaded and blasted, transformed into objects of an uncertain provenance, an uncertain beauty. It has been my joy as a sculptor to cast these objects, or at least their simulacra, and the spirit residing in them onto our urban shores in the hope that they may re-occupy our own barren and abandoned places.
Wishart is a graduate from the Otago Polytechnic School of Art. He later studied under Selwyn Muru and Brett Graham at the Elam School of Art, Auckland. Abandoned Works is supported by DIY Museums.
John WIshart, Abandoned Works
Ashburton Art Gallery, 327 West Street
27 May – 23 July
John Wishart, Ocean Beach Series, 2018, plaster, sisal, steel (nine piece work)