Sand Gets Everywhere: Madeleine Child & Philip Jarvis
White, Moira, Ceramics Art & Perception
TO FULLY UNDERSTAND MADELEINE CHILD AND Philip Jarvis's recent sandy series, one needs to have visited their home. And then gone back to one's own home and shaken the sand out of shoes and clothes and bag and ...
The spit at Aramoana near the mouth of the Otago Harbour, Dunedin, is an addictively beautiful sweep of beach and ocean. The sand dunes that edge it and the coastal wind, however, ensure that sand is a constant feature of life for the occupants of the nearly hidden historic Basil Hooper-designed pilot's and boatmen's houses at its tip. Sand at Aramoana can range from the artful to the environmental; from elongated sand-shaded shadows marked on the wall, to mounds encroaching on the access to the house. Imprinted on it periodically are the patterns of the most recent tide, of passing humans, seabirds, sea lions, horses or dogs and the occasional wheeled vehicle, but it moves to coat nearly everything else.
Artwork of and about Aramoana is, of course, not without precedent. One immediately thinks of Ralph Hotere's iconic collaborative installation with Bill Culbert, Pathway to the sea--Aramoana 1991, and the work of the mostly Dunedin-based artists and writers in opposition to the proposed aluminium smelter that in the early 1980s threatened the Aramoana salt marsh and mudflats--now a protected wildlife sanctuary. Ralph Hotere's corrugated iron Aramoana / Pathway to the Sea series dates from this time, as do Marilyn's Webb's Aramoana Soup, 1982, Derek Ball's formed plastics work Aramoana, 1981, Bing Dawe's endangered species series, Andrew Drummond's Strain/Filter: for Filter Action--Aramoana, 1980, Cilla McQueen's Aramoana/Fog song for five voices, and Joanna Paul's series of 30 works, Aramoana. In search of the indigenous.
Neil Frazer's 1992 charcoal on paper View at the Heads, Aramoana Beach produced during his year as the Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago, Dunedin; RAO Oliver's ca 1850 watercolour Heads of Otago; and Garry Blackman's photographic portrait of Joanna Paul at Aramoana also spring to mind. And there is music, notably Maarire Goodall's Aramoana pianoforte solo, published in 1991; and Gillian Whitehead's Low Tide Aramoana from 1982 for large choir, mezzo-soprano, three trumpets, two trombones and timpani, with Cilla McQueen's poem of the same name, commissioned by the Auckland Choral Society.
Rather than offering a representation of the landscape, however, or evoking its magical atmosphere, seeking to protect its plant and animal life, or impart a sense of the small Aramoana settlement, the Child and Jarvis sand works tell us something about the physical impact of life on the spit. They incorporate a part of that environment--rather as it must sometimes seem intent on incorporating them.
Earlier Child/Jarvis work relating directly to this part of New Zealand includes their pingao pots and the 1998 Aramoana cups (from the notional Pathway to the Sea Pottery) that circulated mainly among family and friends.
Pingao (Desmoschoenus spiralis) is a native perennial sedge. It is a major sand binder, trapping sand to form dune systems and, drying to an intense yellow, is also prized by Maori weavers. The unglazed terracotta cup-form pingao planters, modelled on their earlier strawberry cups, were part of a pingao raising and planting project embarked on in the 1990s. The Aramoana cups (albeit glazed in a shade more likely to call to mind thoughts of tropical beaches than the Otago Harbour) had sides decorated with the Zediloma arida top shells swathes of which can line the Spit beaches after some high tides. …