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Putting the ‘No’ into ‘No. 8 Wire’

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2016 Fieldays No.8 Wire Award winning artwork: Ben Pearce's Stone Age Eight Gauge, 2016, detail. 2017 Fieldays No.8 Wire Award winning work, In New Zealand we don't need walls only fences, by Jill Godwin.

Unfortunately, most of this year's entries were works created not just from the agricultural material, but rather narrowly about something to do with farming. While last year's winner melted the metal into delicate spear heads, most of this year's entries involved merely a little bending.

Hamilton

 

Group exhibition
Fieldays No. 8 Wire National Art Award
Judged by Dr. Robin Woodward

 

21 April - 22 May 2017

The Fieldays No. 8 Wire National Art Award is an annual submission-based exhibition in the Waikato, judged this year by Dr Robin Woodward from the University of Auckland and displayed in Hamilton’s Artspost Galleries and Shop that are under the auspices of Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato. The entry conditions dictate that the works must include at least 50% wire or steel, but otherwise, absolute freedom of creative expression is encouraged. I myself am still finding my footing in Hamilton; I hoped, from the title, for something which encompassed the idea of No. 8 Wire as a national symbol of Kiwi ingenuity, problem solving, and thinking outside the box.

Unfortunately, most of this year’s entries were works created not just from the agricultural material, but rather narrowly about something to do with farming. While last year’s winner melted the metal into delicate spear heads, most of this year’s entries involved merely a little bending.

Size No. 8 Gumboots by Terry Pluck was awarded the President’s Choice award by the Fieldays‘ Society President Peter Carr - it was a pair of gumboots. Technically, it was very competent, seamlessly bent from the wire, with red enamel toe caps - but it seemed dull and lacking in imagination, as if he had looked out the window and thought, “Ah. Gumboots. I’ll just make these.” His wall text celebrates them as symbols that show “the next generation of can-do-ers how to stomp their mark on things.” Suitably pedestrian. Carr described it well when he called it “synonymous with farming”. I prefer a more cynical interpretation of the work: a symbol of the entrapping agricultural industry that strips away autonomy from independent farmers (once on you can’t take them off), and the daily struggle of isolated rural life (the heaviness and pain at each step).

In contrast, the People’s Choice winner, 999 Eight-gauge seeds of inspiration, 31 scoops of sunshine by Tim Elliot was a shoulder height sunflower-shaped lamp with a brilliant burst of yellow petals made from kiwifruit spifes. The seeds were 999 cut pieces of wire, meticulously glued at even intervals in a fibonacci sequence of circular rosettes.

Two sculptures by John Robson and Stephonie Quenaux, titled Koohanga 1 and 2, were large nests or cradles, from elements that have been thrown together and woven into wire. Embellished with fluorescent plastic triangles, pieces of straws and hoses, and other recycled colourful elements with a Judy Darragh-like kitschiness. They composed a celebration and interweaving of the artificial and single-use items which, cast aside from our daily lives, resurface within nature.

The winner of the No. 8 Wire award, a work by Jill Godwin, seemed to capture the dissatisfied and desperately defiant spirit felt in New Zealand after the American election. Against green astroturf, wired letters spelt out the statement: “In New Zealand we don’t need walls, only fences”. At first it seems a witty statement that decries the new breed of post-Trump racist malice, instead taking pride in this country’s modest scale and lack of walls to divide the many cultures that make up Aotearoa.

The fact that this artwork won First Prize made me pause. What at first seems a pithy, but self-congratulatory point of political difference and liberal leanings perhaps has more depth. Walls and fences differ in price, materials and scale, and in this instance, in explicit segregational intent. Yet they serve the same function of a dividing line, a barrier, and a sign of a physical difference - on one side, an ‘us’ and so therefore a ‘them’.

Both designate specific confines for peoples or animals, and both also have the function of marking out spaces of assumed land ownership. Exhibited in the Waikato, this is shown in an agricultural area, but also the place of the Kiingitanga movement. The work acts as a prompt to consider the colonial concept of land ownership itself - and the consequences of such an ideology held by a dominant culture. It is not just a warning of post-Trump American culture, but an admission of collective settler guilt, of current, still extant fences.

As a whole the exhibition showcases contrasts between ideologies, and overlapping but distinct versions of Aotearoa. There still exists the John Mulgan concept of New Zealand farming, and gumboots as a symbol of a rural nationalist spirit. This idea is pitted against a different political message, one perhaps more relevant to a new generation. Both though, are made with this inherently Kiwi product and tool; these two cultural ideas living with one another. Again, the simple No. 8 size wire offers its very malleability of form to be endlessly bent and interpreted any way one likes. That’s kind of the beauty of it, isn’t it?

Ellie Lee-Duncan

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