Re-opening in February 2016 after five years of closure, both CoCA Toi Moroki’s building and agenda for the visual arts underwent a thorough review, the building’s restoration and refurbishment, paying due attention to its ‘brutalist’ architecture, accompanied by comprehensive changes to its exhibition programme and the structure of its operations. Its membership of working artists and arts supporters, central to its programme over the previous 134 years, was legally dissolved through a Deed of Amendment and Restatement in February 2014 and its exhibition programme shifted its attention towards ‘an expansive view of contemporary art and diverse cultural perspectives’.
Five years later, Kim Paton, director of Auckland’s Objectspace, is also CoCA’s artistic director and Mark Work is her first exhibition developed by the combined Objectspace and CoCA team, and one that gives consideration to the shared territory between the organisations’ exhibition programmes; CoCA’s ‘expansive view’ of the fine arts and Objectspace’s dedicated programme of craft, design and architecture.
Curated by Paton alongside colleague Zoe Black, Mark Work is one of three recently opened exhibitions for CoCA’s quarterly scheduled programmes in 2021. In addition to Mark Work, Head of the Ilam School of Fine Arts, Aaron Kriesler has curated Hannah Watkinson’s The Near Future, and curator Jamie Hanton is accountable for Nathan Pōhio’s (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu), and Luke Shaw’s, The Mist and the Horizon. In addition to the inclusion of Hannah Beehre and Areta Wilkinson (Ngā Tahu) in Mark Work, the presence of these five local artists in the three current exhibitions, also feels a bit like a milestone.
Paton notes that CoCA’s programme needed to feel right for both places and an exhibition examining the role of mark making in many different types of practice feels like an important foundation to being with. ‘We are undertaking a partnership, confident that the programme has something to offer Canterbury audiences. In the disciplines that Objectspace focuses on, there is an accessibility and a democracy as to how audiences relate to them, and this is also what is important about mark making’.
Moreover, Paton’s consideration of mark making, (drawing) is generous. ‘Mark making is one of the first creative acts undertaken as a child. At some point we lose that freedom. Art education has a lot to answer for, as to prescribed notions of ways in which we think drawing is made. I rail against the idea that representational drawing is a foundation for measuring artistic ability. There are an extraordinary range of ideas and devices for making art that can lead to rich and high-quality outcomes – imagine if we taught more these in the school system’.
Paton describes the exhibition as making connections across arts practices. ‘Working with CoCA we are also building connections across disciplines; contemporary painters, architects and jewellers, feature in Mark Work, a group of practitioners who would perhaps never normally be brought together.’
It is no surprise that for Mark Work, Paton made numerous studio visits. ‘A lot of the work has not been seen before and it anchors us back to the artist’s studio. We started with a very long list of ways that we could develop the show and then some of the works and our time spent in studios set the course’.
Contemporary jeweller, Warwick Freeman is famous for establishing a ‘local contemporary voice for jewellery’, through his materials of choice; bone, stone and shell, yet in Mark Work, he is represented for the very first time, by his drawings. Paton observes that Freeman has a very long established association with Objectspace and she was surprised to discover that he had been drawing for forty years but in a way that was very different from his jewellery. ‘In the early 1980s he made a decision to undertake drawings in a consistent A2 format, a considered shift from the small scale of his jewellery. Over four decades he has accumulated drawings that express something of his wider work and thinking that exists around his jewellery. Seen together for the first time it is an extraordinary record of time spent in the studio.’
Over the past two decades, Areta Wilkinson’s has identified her practice as a contemporary jeweller, directly engaged with Ngāi Tahu values, its carvers and makers. In Mark Work, Wilkinson’s installation of 36 pendants in silver suspended from a chord along a 15 metre wall in CoCA’s Mair Gallery, Ka Take Te Wā – Time Passed is evidence of 36 days of lockdown. Paton observes: ‘The pendants are formed with stone from Ngāi Tahuawa, created by the iterative act of marking with stone; these objects carry the imprint and memory of this action on their surface.
Arguably, Hannah Beehre is best-known for her nebula series, exploring and recreating the infinity of the universe in painting on white velvet with dye, acrylic paint and Swarovski crystal, and reconciling associations between science and art. In Mark Work, Beehre’s Excerpts from an investigation on drawing in flow, 2018 -2019, is the outcome of research for her MA and the realisation of the possibilities of being immersed in an activity. Paton notes that Beehre has ‘taught drawing over two decades and recognised that feeling of being blocked when making work. In the “flow state”, she describes, your inhibitions are freed. She has used her teaching to formulate exercises for students, a foundation of returning to a more intuitive open space for creativity to occur within.
Paton describes architect and designer, Raukura Turei‘s Te Poho o Hinemoana, as about a ‘connected bodily engagement with mark making. Turei’s approach is deeply personal approach that doesn’t seek connections with western canons of art history or prescribed notions of painting, rather it foregrounds a powerful connection with whakapapa and the physical body. Te Poho o Hinemoana presents the viewer with a visceral close-up and large-scale engagement with mark making.’
K & J is collaboration, between architect, Krystina Kaza and artist, Julian Hooper, their choice of materials; cardboard, canvas, rolled wire and aluminium, and paper taken from their shared studio. Paton recalls how exciting it was for her and colleagues seeing the work spontaneously developing within their studio. ‘Julian has created a striking visual language for his own work, he mines symbols or forms, and has been interested in alphabet form for many years. For Mark Work you can see the influence Krystina’s work is having on Julian and vice versa – an outcome of their shared studio. Without a specific plan to create a work together they have developed a shared visual language and there is a very clear visual sense of the work talking to each other. We wanted to express the magic of what was happening in their studio within the exhibition. For me K&J is powerful and poetic, an entirely unique tribute to two artists in quiet conversation over many years.”
Hannah Beehre, Warwick Freeman, Julian Hooper & Krystina Kaza, Raukura Turei and Areta Wilkinson, Mark Work
CoCA Toi Moroki, 66 Gloucester Street
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm Saturday 10am – 3pm
12 June – 28 August
- Warwick Freeman, Workshop Manual, (detail). Photographer: Samuel Hartnett