Artists and environmental protest

I recently watched the documentary “You’ve been trumped” on New Zealand’s Maori television channel, directed by Anthony Baxter (2011). It is about a luxury golf course development in Aberdeenshire by Donald Trump and the local residents who opposed the project. It raises many issues, but I was particularly interested in the role two young artists played. David McCue painted portraits of some of the residents and of Trump. His exhibition titled ‘TRIUMPHANT? The Art of the Deal’ took place on the 4th July 2010, in a farm barn belonging to landowner Michael Forbes. Trump had described the Forbes’s place as a slum, so the choice of venue was deliberate. There’s an interview with McCue about the project and other information on his website.

The other artist featured in the documentary was photographer Alicia Bruce. She photographed local residents in compositions based on well known paintings. Apart from the image based on Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’, however, she hadn’t tried to replicate the painting – most of her local residents were clearly contemporary – one had a camera, another a cellphone. I see that basing photographs on paintings is an idea she has used before – in her ‘Flood in the Highlands, after Sir Edwin Landseer’ for example.

I was intrigued that both artists had chosen to make portraits of the residents, which I’m sure was in response to the personal nature of the confrontational tactics used by the Trump consortium. However, I see from an interview that Alicia also made landscape photographs of the area, which weren’t shown in the documentary.

There are now a lot of artists in New Zealand that make art concerned with environmental issues, but back in the early 1980s artist Ralph Hotere (1931-2013) also used art to protest against a proposed aluminium smelter being built at a wetlands area, Aramoana, near Dunedin. His series of mainly abstract paintings was called Aramoana (which means ‘pathway to the sea’). Unlike Trump’s golf course, the smelter wasn’t built. You can find a brief summary in the wikipedia entry on the Save Aramoana Campaign.

Hotere also collaborated with Bill Culbert to create this sculptural installation, owned by Te Papa Tongarewa/National Museum of New Zealand, but seen here in Dunedin Art Gallery called Pathway to the sea / Aramoana, with fluorescent lights and paua shells.


Kermadec Islands

One of the more recent examples of environmentally themed art that I enjoyed seeing was an exhibition called Kermadec at Wellington City Gallery in 2012/13 (it showed at various locations around New Zealand and also at a few places overseas, and may still be travelling). Nine artists undertook a sea journey to New Zealand’s northernmost group of islands, called the Kermadec Islands. The artists were Phil Dadson, Bruce Foster, Fiona Hall, Gregory O’Brien, Jason O’Hara, John Pule, John Reynolds, Elizabeth Thomson and Robin White. One of the artists, Australian Fiona Hall had her own exhibition at City Gallery several years ago, which I thought was very good. I also like Robin White’s art. You can read more about the nine and the work they created after the voyage here. And this link is to information about the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary that has since been created – I’d like to think the awareness-raising by the artists played some role in that!

Another City Gallery exhibition – smaller this time – in 2013 was by Huhana Smith – ‘artist, curator and environmentalist’… “Smith describes her painting practice as ‘an attempt to overcome a range of disturbing research findings for lands and waterways in this region [an area in Horowhenua, north of Wellington] … It helps articulate and visualise place-based action, for better environmental outcomes.’” One of the interesting events in conjunction with the exhibition was a talk and site visit to the area in November 2013. I was one of the couple of dozen people who took part in this walk around the area to see the environmental restoration work being carried out.

Kuku beach group   Kuku beach

Photo of the group and a wetland scene, from a blog by Lily Hacking, Assistant Curator, City Gallery about the visit – read about it here and see more photos.


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