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Hood on CERA

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Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Detail. Robert Hood, Still from Say Valley Maker video Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Detail. Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Robert Hood photograph, North Branch, Hurunui River Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery. Robert Hood's Say Valley Maker at the Jonathan Smart Gallery.

When trapped in the office all day, many of us daydream of being out in splendid and sublime nature. This installation leads the eye to a row of photographic prints of what at first appear to simply be landscapes without a bit of local insider knowledge. One is of the newly extended Washington Reserve Skatepark which despite the nature images conjured up by the term “reserve” is in fact one single sculptural concrete form bridging the gap between art and life.

Christchurch

 

Robert Hood
Say Valley Maker

 

16 April - 10 May 2014

Christchurch-based Robert Hood is one of the most imaginative and original artists working in New Zealand. His latest project Say Valley Maker at Christchurch’s Jonathan Smart Gallery is ample evidence of this. Hood is completely at home in the overused and much abused vernacular of relational aesthetics and installation anti-aesthetic, but deftly blends it with a nuanced and poetic romanticism that captures the eye and mind of his audience, and isn’t afraid to be playful with sentiment and place.

The main component, When the mountains bow down and become valleys, is an installation put together from the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority’s (que CERA, CERA) office furniture, abandoned at Christchurch Art Gallery which was their temporary headquarters for a time. A row of office tables, paced out like a landscape of plains. Disks have been carved out of them and tilted in the holes, angle-pose desk lamps pause at louche and jaunty angles to provide dramatic light effects, book ends pile up like Babel towers of tongues, and electric fans swivel through their ballet mécanique, setting the flip lids of wastepaper bins a-quiver. At one end are two somewhat battered electronic whiteboards standing sentry like two monochromes against the Spartan white of the gallery wall.

Hood crafts his visual poetry out of these mundane materials, a kind of postmodern equivalent to Albrecht Dürer’s Melancholia (1514) and cuts to the heart of the banality of the work day, the pathos of the office, which for me resonates strongly with the Theodore Roethke poem Dolor,

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,

Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,

All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,

Desolation in immaculate public places…

And of course, when trapped in the office all day, many of us daydream of being out in splendid and sublime nature. This installation leads the eye to a row of photographic prints of what at first appear to simply be landscapes without a bit of local insider knowledge. One is of the newly extended Washington Reserve Skatepark (cnr of Moorhouse Ave and Washington Way) which despite the nature images conjured up by the term “reserve” is in fact one single sculptural concrete form bridging the gap between art and life.

Other deceptively picturesque scenes include the Burwood Landfill (a strangely secure spot - Christchurch’s answer to Area 51 - where much of the city’s earthquake rubble goes) and the Central Plains Irrigation Scheme’s main canal route through the oak grove at Homebush, originally planted by the long established Deans family. There are many subtle acts of human intervention (vandalism) and the paradox of their strange beauty is perhaps better and more subtly handled here than by Ans Westra dealing with similar material in her Our Future: Nga Tau ki Muri work.

Following the line of prints around the corner into the smaller gallery space leads the viewer to a meditative video work, Say Valley Maker - giving the show its title, of a rare native falcon kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) circling in the sky, shot on a gentle Nor’wester day up the Waipara Valley.. The image is inherently poetic, making me think of W H Auden’s poem Missing - ‘From scars where kestrels hover…’

or perhaps more aptly W B Yeats’ The Second Coming with its message of spiritual upheaval and global change:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

Kārearea (not to be confused with the larger and more common swamp harrier hawk kāhu, Circus approximans) take prey on the wing rather than feeding on carrion. They are fast and agile fliers that revel in gusty conditions, making them a somewhat apt totem for an artist, a metaphor for the artistic process and the art of standing upright here.

Hood‘s work continues to impress, and this is some of his best and most significant work yet. It’s tongue-in-cheek Canterbury, perhaps alluding to the artist (a direct descendent of pioneering Canterbury surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson (1841-1934)) as much as it does a genuine love of the local landscape.

Andrew Paul Wood

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