Curated by poet, writer and artist Gregory O’Brien, Cellular Memory is a survey of works by Wellington-based artist Elizabeth Thomson. Currently toured by Mark Roach’s Exhibition Services to galleries throughout Aotearoa, it encompassed more than three decade of Thomson’s work from 1989 to 2019.
Visually and philosophically, O’Brien’s selection of works uplift and confound. In Cellular Memory’s almost infinite variety of materials, (oil pigment, sliver leaf, copper, acrylic, wood, nylon flock, fibreglass, etc) and titles of works (Snake River, Luna Ghosts, Voyage Sauvage, etc) there is the promise of mystery in its imagery and objectivity in the making and realisation of all Thomson’s works.
Nature and our relationship, or absence of any relationship or conversations with it loom large, and with the gallery’s wall-text detailing Thomson’s background over 30 years as an artist with a serious interest in micro-biology, oceanography and mathematics, Cellular Memory could almost be the work of a late, yet curiously, still working, 19th century Victorian artist / scientist. (Undeniably, the reality and unreality of the Pre-Raphaelite painters feels somewhere close by.)
Yet, from the perspective of the present day Cellular Memory is equally an unexpected surprise. The scale and diversity of materials, heightened range of colours and shifting, evolving experience of spatial relationships (foreground and background as one and the same creature) highlight the skill, research and knowledge fundamental to Thomson’s practice.
And those questions that Thomson asks outlined on the walls of the Aigantighe Art Gallery: ‘How does humanity fit within the broader realm of nature and to what extent are we part of or removed from our environment’, are provoked in the experience of visiting. Thomson’s The fearless Five Hundred, 1989 represents what appears to be 500 small fish, undulating forward and back from the wall and gallery space, spanning the width of the room that they occupy. Or the diptych, Celluar Memory, 2016-2017, its two-dimensional surfaces refusing to accept the laws of space and time, eternally oscillating into and retreating from the surfaces that they occupy.
Elizabeth Thomson Cellular Memory
Aigantighe Art Gallery
49 Wai-iti Road, Māori Hill, timaru
5 March – 9 May
1. Elizabeth Thomson, Cellular Memory (diptych), 2016-2017, cast vinyl film, lacquer on contoured and shaped wood panel