Blue Mind opened in November 2020 at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū , its candid narrative an appropriate and poignant commentary about the colour and state of the planet, earth and sky, an encounter with a myriad of materials, surfaces, forms and tonalities that seem like a first-time experience on each occasion it is visited.
The project began with an approach to Rhodes from lead curator Felicity Milburn to develop an installation project for the public gallery. Warren Feeney asked Milburn about its development and place within Rhodes’ practice.
WF: Where did the idea for Blue Mind originate?
FM: I think it was something that Pauline had been kicking around for a while, and then saw the opportunity to use it. It’s very much a work about her life-long relationship with the sea, and her increasing concern about how we are failing to protect all the life-forms that depend on it – ourselves included. She had an idea of the kinds of materials she wanted to use – many recycled over a number of earlier installations. When Pauline arrived for the installation, she had a basic plan, and then the work evolved in response to the space. She worked with the assistance of our exhibitions and conservation team, and her process was incredibly efficient – it was immediately obvious that she brought all those years of working with different spaces and environments with her. She was easily able to respond to how the materials were working together in the space and make adjustments. It was amazing to watch it all come together.
WF: What about her choice of materials. Where did they come from?
FM: Pauline has had the plywood panels for many years. She got them from a salvage yard in the 1980s. They were the sides of crates that were used to bring car parts from overseas. She liked them because they were light and cheap. She painted them the deep indigo blue that is such a signature of the show – a reference to all things ocean, but also to the sky and to a particular state of mind and mood – thoughtful and slightly melancholic. Then she pressed them between wet steel plates to create unpredictable, and I think, very beautiful rust marks. She made the white marks by dripping paint from a brush and they add a real sense of movement in an installation that is largely still. They make me think of the white caps of the waves, or the froth that washes up on the shore, or the flight of the birds over the sea. The small blue glass ovals do the same thing, shifting with the light and moving slightly in the light current of the air conditioning.
WF: Blue Mind has a surprisingly rich narrative.
FM: Pauline described this as one of the most literal works she has made, and I would certainly agree with that. One of the things that she was trying to do was connect viewers with something quite specific - our relationship to the ocean and its connectedness to the land. So she is drawing on some visual clues that speak quite clearly – boat-like shapes, the marks that could be waves or birds, and all those deep blues. That said, for me, her use of space is distinctive, a signature that is quite unlike any other artist I know. She is able to transform and energise a room with a series of very subtle alterations; creating something that is both modest and ordinary, but which can take your eyes and imagination on a real adventure.
WF: Blue Mind looks like a work only a senior artist could have realised.
FM: Yes. Pauline’s work is by nature an accumulative practice – many of the materials in Blue Mind have had other lives in other indoor and outdoor installations. But she also accumulates ideas, and I had the strong sense in watching her install Blue Mind that she was drawing on all those years of experience. Blue Mind is really just one part of a long continuum of practice, and not too long from now these materials will be packed up again and go on to live other lives in other works.
One of Pauline’s hopes for the show is that it will prompt people to do some long, deep looking. That really is the best way to approach her art. Don’t come in expecting it to mean just one thing, and don’t worry about getting it wrong – let your eyes and mind wander and soon it will start to speak to you. You might be surprised what you start thinking about.
Pauline Rhodes, Blue Mind
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū
Corner Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street
28 November 2020 to 7 March 2021
- Installation view (detail) of Pauline Rhodes Blue Mind at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 2020. Photograph: John Collie.
- As above