A review of Miranda Woollett’s work from the recent group exhibition at the Exhibitions Gallery. Artists involved in the exhibition include: Miranda Woollett, Kevin Dunkley and Bruce Mahalski
Exhibitions Gallery, Wellington
20 August – 12 September 2009
Walking into Exhibitions Gallery, one is confronted with works that appear to show-case New Zealand iconography— sheep, landscape and native birds, albeit all with a personal twist. As with the title of the show, underpinning paradoxes begin to rivet one’s attention and set up questions that create a need to unpick the deceptively simple images. Miranda’s birds specifically, situated amongst bright, crisp vegetation, painted in oils in a fairly representational manner, may initially convey a conservationist tone. However, on closer inspection, a sense of agitation is relayed, with the birds placed as solitary individuals within very structured compositions.
Echoing McCahon’s Tau cross, a symbol well-ensconced in our visual language, Miranda here uses it as a compositional device to dissect the canvas, in the works titled ‘Falling Short’ and ‘Trapped’. Yet, instead of a solid form, it is used as an open space, for framing both exterior and interior sensibilities. Within this cross formation, greenery, space, air and light abound. While in one sense, the bird is constricted, as if in a cage or boxed in, it only needs to turn around and fly towards the light behind it.
The symbolism of birds as messengers or as harbingers has been set in our consciousness since biblical times, as in ‘Faith Messenger’, which depicts a tui upside down. Reading Miranda’s text placed next to corresponding works, we are given clues as to her struggles both personal and spiritual; there are notions of conforming to social pressure and expectations, measuring up, ticking all the boxes (as in ‘Compliance’), or being regimented or justified. Entrapment gives way to freedom, found in a lush environment that ultimately fosters the spiritual and physical life, one that is saturated in light.
Like the birds, we only need to turn towards it.
Reviewed and written by Rosalie Jurczenko
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