The works of recent FELTspace graduates Shani Engelbrecht, Jayda Wilson and Marian Sandberg are on display at the exhibition space until Saturday.
Final days to see FELT Graduate Award 2023
This exhibition stages a relationship between three strikingly different works, none of which can be easily locked down in a singular genre, but which interlace audio, video, sculpture, installation and assemblage.
What is common about them is this; each work speaks about a striving for authentic human connection. More specifically, a connection that is capable of bridging the forces that threaten to disconnect us, be it locality, language, the passage of time or distortion in our representations of self.
Please note, this article contains the name of a deceased Gugada and Wirangu woman, and has been stated in accordance with the wishes and permission of the artist/ancestor.
Upon entry, the viewer finds themselves confronted with the Frankenstein’s-monster that is Sandberg’s sculptural/mechanical creation.
Put simply, this is a drawing machine. Occupying the centre of the room, one cannot help but feel that it encounters you, just as you encounter it. This effect is confirmed when a network of camera, AI technology, pneumatic cylinders and a tangle of tubes suddenly animate the 100-year-old loom, which draws in response to the movements of the viewer.
Despite its impressive tech and even a digital presence accessed through a QR code, this machine reminds us that, in the conversation of social media, the digital cannot exist without the real-world embodiment. The artist drives this point home by positioning the machine’s necessary maintenance as scheduled live performances, which offer us a literal window into its human-dependent state.
With this hybridised device, the artist seizes back autonomy over what her ‘digital’ presence could look like and has chosen an intentionally imperfect form for this embodiment. The unconcealed mechanics of the loom act as an offering of transparency, vulnerability and authenticity to her viewer. This work is playful and tangible, but more than this, it actively generates interactions that hold both machine and human equally accountable.
Engelbrecht’s work is silent in its presence and decisively so.
FELT Graduate Award 2023
16th August- 9th September
12 Compton St.
Wed: 1pm – 4pm
Thur: 1pm – 4pm
Fri: 1pm – 7pm
Sat: 10am – 4pm
FELTDARK: Night Screen
Wed: Dusk – 12am
Thur: Dusk – 12am
Fri: Dusk – 12am
Sat: Dusk – 12am
The work, which has no audio and emphasises physical touch to allow access to a diverse range of viewers, consists of a video projected in the FELTdark space and a handmade curtain installed immediately behind it.
Assembled from brown and white fabric scraps intuitively collected by the artist from a range of both personal and foreign sites, this curtain strikes me as the most powerful element in the configuration. It emphasises a stage-like reveal of a story (namely, a physical wrestle with colour in the video work), but also the potential for concealment, or the veiling of a ‘working progress’ state. This distils the essence of the work: Engelbrecht invites us into a vulnerable space where uncertainty is allowed to exist, but is also capable of being protected.
The symbolism within this work goes deeper than the immediacy of colour.
Segments of fabric have been interrupted with shaky, urgent, even agitated dashes. Why mark the fabric? The artist answered with great clarity. The lines speak of boundary lines or ‘fence lines’; not brown enough to be brown nor white enough to be white, the line is the dwelling place of the artist themselves, locked in ambiguous suspension between two cultures.
Similarly addressing cultural lineage is the work of Wilson, who offers visitors an audio recording of her great grandmother, Gugada and Wirangu woman Neva L. Wilson, that has been rhythmically interspersed with her own voice, speaking in rigorously-reclaimed Gugada and Wirangu language.
Cleverly installed so that the alternating voices emerge from two different speakers located on the left and right of the room, this fictitious conversation plays out like a gentle juggling act. The audio is complimented by two simple visual prompts; a page from the book Our Identity is our History and our Future (2003) written by Wilson’s great grandmother herself, and a family photograph.
Part of the warmth that exudes from this work is Wilson’s generosity in sharing a learning process. Wilson’s recordings of language are slow and considered; one gets the sense that these sentences have been hard won. Just some of their obstacles included the limited learning resources available as a result of intentional, historic obliteration of language, as well as the passage of time, which prompted respectful re-interpretation of traditional language so as to contextualise it within contemporary culture.
Wilson has successfully attained the emotional alliance of their viewers by choosing to tell a political story from a place of intense vulnerability. This work is powerful because it is personal.
This exhibition is a platform for voices of lived experience; Wilson reclaiming language through family connection, Sandberg challenging social media after living through the effects of its emptiness, and Engelbrecht’s vulnerable embrace of not-knowing as she visually articulates a pendulum-swing between cultures.
The title ‘Graduate Award Exhibition’ seems to unnecessarily excuse a rudimentary-state that is simply not present in these works. They are undoubtedly self-assured in their presence, but warmly, quietly and gently so.