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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Exhibition, Week 9-10 Sept 21-2 Oct

Curating and installing exhibition and opening night


Consultation and Compromise

A week prior to installing, we all met at the observatory and discussed where we would like to install our works. Each artist had an idea of where and how they would like to position their work and our discussions allowed us to share and visualise what would work best within the space. Izzy had asked for the cupola room to wrap her charcoal drawings of trees and roots around the room, which we all agreed would be perfect. Of the walls in the rectangular entry room, both Breena and Victoria felt the wall that was larger and uninterrupted by windows or doors would offer the best place for their larger 2d works. It was initially decided that Breena would use this wall and Victoria chose the two remaining walls in the centre of the room.

There was only a tight back corner remaining positioned by the passage and door leading into the cupola room. This concerned me for several reasons - (i) it would negate the opportunity to experience my 3-d work from all angles (something that is important for 3d work), (ii) the apportionment of space didn’t balance the weighting of all the artists, and (iii) there was an appalling blue carpet on the floor that would disrupt the reading of the work. By this stage I felt I needed to reconsider what I was going to put in the show.

The initial installation plan was for each artist to go in independently and hang their work, rather than do it as a group experience where we could respond more fully to the site and the works as one curatorial experience. At the Tuesday class we discussed the curatorial and installation process i.e. how to balance the needs of each artist, address the different space requirements for 2d and 3d, and be responsive to the site. The lecturers shared their experiences as did other teams who had already exhibited. It was clear that doing the installation together was very important and that we needed to be adaptable and willing to change our initial plan.

On the strength of this, 5 of us met together on Thursday prior to Friday opening. We laid all our works on the floor, stood back and assessed how they looked. Victoria then placed hers as per the initial plan of using opposing walls in the center of the room with two photographs on each wall. It became clear that all four works operated better together so Victoria and Breena swapped their positions (Breena was happy to do this as she felt the larger wall was perhaps too big for her work). That left a third wall available for my work which seemed much more appropriate.

Kingsley arrived and together we discussed the how and why of the works and their positioning, the minimalist aesthetic of our curatorial style, the contrast of materiality in each work, and the theme of absurdity. Izzy’s work placed in the observatory room generated much discussion i.e. its overt response to the architecture of the room, its organic lines contrasting with the rigid patterning of the cupola construction, and its reference to the mysterious underworld that supports that which exists above.

It was agreed not to use my macro photographs of the cicadas as it might stop people from investigating the installation work and Izzy and I felt the tree stump I had intended to use in the exhibition should be used rather than two white plinths to raise the golden cicada mastaba object away from the blue carpet. The wooden stump would talk directly with her work on trees and the wooden material used in the cupola room. It would also echo the shapes in the cupola room i.e. square plinth/square room and round stump/round cupola.

Together we helped each other hang our works and the space seemed balanced in terms of fullness and emptiness - something Shannon had reminded us was important. Each work led thoughtfully to the next one and the two rooms (one white, one black) offered two contrasting experiences.

Experiencing the Absurd

Our exhibition Observing the Absurd invites people to look at life differently, to understand our life the way it truly is by juxtaposing reality with things that shouldn’t exist together.

On entering the exhibition, the viewer first experiences Victoria and Breena’s 2d works. Victoria’s four blue cyanotypes clearly state the absurd in their subjective, confronting reading of reality.

Breena’s collage of tonal dog drawings, cut and placed haphazardly so faces appear and disappear in a field of eyes and fur, speaks to the absurdity of inbreeding and its impact on canine health.

Following clockwise around the room, the viewer then steps up into a dark, intimate room to experience the visceral wrapping and flowing of Izzy’s sculptural charcoal drawing placed around the entire room. The notion of absurdity is described by the reading of the organic nature of the work juxtaposed with the rigid man-made pattern used in the cupola's construction. The work speaks also to the mysterious, hidden underworld that supports the visible world above.

Stepping back into the white room, the viewer then encounters Suzy’s installation of natural materials which offers a different perspective on the idea of the absurd in life i.e. how we are both attracted and repelled by nature, and the paradox of our role in its destruction despite protestations of wanting to protect it. The natural materials act to ground the audience and reference the pohutukawa trees growing and surrounding the Thomas King Observatory outside which the viewer will encounter when leaving the space.

Attendance Opening night was successful - about 60-80 people turned up and the space handled the crowd surprisingly well. Kingsley, Catherine and Lee arrived to assess the exhibition and seemed very pleased with the use of space and responsiveness to the observatory room. Attendance over the remaining four days was varied, as was the weather (Antarctic gales across the whole country). Saturday about 30 people turned up to view the show, Sunday 10, Monday 10 and Tuesday? Wellington Museum and Space Place staff also popped in to check it out.


This is my installation for our exhibition Observing the Absurd held n Thomas King Observatory Sept 25t-29, 2020. It describes the paradoxical absurdity of our relationship with nature i.e. our protestations to nurture and protect nature while continuing to wreak havoc upon it.

Placement was difficult due to a small room that contained 3 doors, 2 windows and a passageway to the observatory room plus a horrible blue carpet that was always going to interfere with the artwork! I was initially using a small corner area but more space was made available after others changed wall areas. This was a relief as 3d needs to be experienced from all around.

To overcome the horrible blue carpet I considered changing my intended artwork from a wooden stump to an earlier work of gold leaf and cicada that I would place on a plinth After discussions with Izzy during installation, we felt the exhibition needed the wood to tie it all together.

Having decided to use the stump, I debarked, sanded and waxed it. It is a beautiful object butchered by the chainsaw when the tree was cut down and now marks and lines remain as evidence of this process.

I made a low plinth sized to fit the corner area but when the artwork was repositioned to the centre of the room the plinth was too small and ineffective to counter the dominance of the blue carpet. I considered gilding the plinth but decided there was insufficient time to experiment but in hindsight this could have looked really beautiful - the gold reflecting the truck...

I experimented with a variety of ways to incorporate the gold leaf into the grooves on the stump. The gold leaf was to elevate the stump from a discarded natural object into a refined and highly valued art object. Which line/s to use? Horizontal, diagonal or vertical, or the one on the outside of the stump? I settled on the deepest groove that cut right across the surface of the stump. It referenced the wall behind and tracked the space from entrance doorway to observatory doorway but also meant it lacked compositional tension and drama that diagonal lines provide. The gold leaf was placed in such a way as to fold and pleat its way across the groove rather than be buried into it and this echoed Izzy's beautiful handling of the paper she had folded and pleated around the cupola.

Next arranging the cicadas... it was important to me to use lots of insects, rather than just a few, as I wanted to represent the large number of cicada living under the tree and feeding on the sap via its root system. The death of the tree would naturally affect the nymphs living underneath. Arranging the cicada on the stump was problematic. I started with the mastaba casting I had used previously in one of my first arrangements with the cicada. This was too large for the size of the stump and placing it behind the gold leaf felt too restricted - the gold line seemed to dominant the the piece. After some reflection I felt the gold line needed to be broken, just like the tree itself, so I rearranged the cicada to be more loosely dispersed, creating a softer curve while also obscuring part of the gold line. In the end neither arrangements seemed satisfactory.

Option 1: Mastaba shape positioned behind gold leaf Option 2: Curved shape cutting through gold leaf line

Lighting was problematic! I had hoped to draw attention to the negative spacing between the plinth but about 5 shadows of varying tonal ranges were being cast. This was an interesting moment given my last unsuccessful encounter with lighting and I was very grateful for Izzy's patience and help to resolve the matter. In the end we settled on 5 shadows within a light to mid-tonal range intersecting each other.

Ultimately I never really felt satisfied with the artwork. It lacked impact and tension and was swallowed up by the blue carpet.

Participatory Experience

Watching people hover close to the artwork on opening night, looking as if they wanted to touch it, I decided the following days to engage the audience more by inviting them to make their own golden cicada and place it on the stump. For me, adding gold leaf inside the discarded cicada shell is an intimate and reflective moment of engagement with the cicada's moulting process. It would be nice to share this with others.

As the school holidays were just beginning that weekend, Space Place was visited by lots of young families who also visited the exhibition.

Feedback from audience and tutors:

  • "Everyone loves your interactive element, so many kids think it fantastic", Anoushka when exhibition minding

  • "Well the blue carpet ruined the reading of the work...I haven't much else to say"!, Richard Reddaway

  • "Wow its beautiful, my country we eat them", Jacqueline (Massey Fashion student)

  • "it looked a little one dimensional, like it needed more height and movement", John Costello.


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