|dc.description.abstract||In 2011 the MV Rena struck the Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty, Aotearoa New Zealand. Stacks of containers fell from the ship and household goods, industrial items and oil washed into the sea coating beaches and birds. This project Keeping Watch involves the production of a series of large paintings and prints commenced after the grounding of the Rena and emboldened by a watery strand in Hélène Cixous’s writing. While Cixous is not a painter she has an affection for painting and the formal effects of writing and she advocates a practice that risks the unknown and the unexplored:
“Go, fly, swim, bound, descend, cross, love the
unknown, love the uncertain, love what has not yet
been seen, love no one, whom you are, whom you
will be, leave yourself, shrug off the old lies, dare what
you don’t dare, it is there that you will take pleasure,
never make your here anywhere but there, and rejoice,
rejoice in the terror, follow it where you are afraid to go,
go ahead, take the plunge, you are on the right trail!”*
The work has been propelled by Cixous’s exhortations and and by an understanding, newly authorised in Aotearoa New Zealand, that the rivers and seas are much more than resources, having their own status and legitimacy as entities. Water and oil are both the site and medium of these projects and the work is an extension of previous research on politically and literally turbulent ground. Salty water, water that is tainted or tinted, that is both within and without, is the unstable ground of the projects.
The paintings operate with the materiality of the Rena in an acknowledgement of a complicity with the strange circulation of ordinary goods and empty containers across seas. In a fictional indexical operation, the writing and making describe the work of a woman, variously housekeeper, cleaner, architect and artist, who attempts to clean up spills that are both domestic and public. She paints, makes prints and draws trying to attend to those who do not have a voice. Knowing that it is impossible to put things to right she nevertheless keeps watch.
The black paintings, prints, and drawings, undertaken as signs of care, operate on the edges of the codes and materiality of a past practice of architectural delineation, though this is not easily recognised. Architectural sections cut through both the material support of building and also the occupation of space. The sections in this project catch discrete moments of an expansive oceanic field even as they allude to the human interior. The float and the swell of the works combine with difficult knots of matter, entanglements of mortality and the destruction of illusions. Following Cixous the painting undertakes the vital work of mourning associated with loss; it also is also indebted to Slavoj Žižek in its attempts to pay attention to toxicity through transformative pleasure.
* Cixous, Hélène and Susan Rubin Suleiman. “Coming to writing” and other essays. (Ed). Deborah Jenson. Trans. Sarah Cornell, Deborah Jenson, Ann Liddle, Susan Sellers. Cambridge: Harv ard University Press, 1991, 40.||en_NZ