Light enough to read by considers the re-launch of The Physics Room library, the gallery itself and new works by Fiona Connor, Lucy Skaer and Rachel Shearer in collaboration with Cathy Livermore.
I was first introduced to The Physics Room’s library after the gallery moved from the old post office building into its temporary home at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. This transitional space with a floor to ceiling glass front let in the light and suited the library well but did little for the exhibition space. The shift to its current permanent location in the Te Matatiki Toi Ora Registry Building offered a two-room exhibition space perfect for video and projection work but with no space for the library.
The Physics Room director, Abby Cunnane, recognised the library as a public resource; the gallery is publicly funded and has an obligation to serve its community. The architecture of the gallery had to be changed – beyond the necessity to physically accommodate, it was important that the library and its impact be acknowledged through such a gesture. What does it look like, sound like and feel like to treat the library as an exhibition and an exhibition as a library?
Connor encourages audiences to consider new relationships between concepts and forms; the exhibition space as a sculptural form, the gallery as a holistic entity, the publication as a social practice. Shearer and Skaer, respectively, treat history as an embodied experience and text as a material form. Blinds up, black out off, a wall cut-out reveals a window. Interruptions to the white cube open the gallery to its external surroundings, welcoming in the light at this time of year as it changes throughout the day – and day to day. The exposed windows and the relocated workshop door is Connor and Skaer’s gesture towards opening up all the working parts of the gallery, nothing hidden or separated, every pride and problem of the gallery is treated the same.
Consider the act of translation, as movement, carrying meaning through time and space and between different forms. With Te Huri Wai, Shearer and Livermore invite the winds of Waitaha (Canterbury), by name, into the gallery, each of whom perform a different role. Seven speakers act as a compass, corresponding with the principal winds and water of a Ngāi Tahu whakapapa narrative. Skaer translates a written sentence into object and material forms, recognising the many processes and hands that materialised this work in Ōtautahi. With the artist based in the UK, every attention is given to how and by whom and with what material each component is made. Connor’s Untitled (mailbox) #1-#8 are internal casts of mailboxes, characteristically honouring the mundane objects whose plaster bodies glow in the light of the gallery.
Part of reading is attentiveness, attention to surroundings. Light enough to read by offers the audience many opportunities to take in their surroundings whether that be by noticing changes to the gallery and library architecture or by letting Te Huri Wai surround them.
Fiona Connor, Lucy Skaer, Rachel Shearer and Cathy Livermore, Light enough to read by
The Physics Room, 301 Montreal St, The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora Registry Building
11 June – 25 July
Fiona Connor, Lucy Skaer, Rachel Shearer and Cathy Livermore, Light enough to read by (installation view), 2021. Photo: Janneth Gil.