A Songless Land
1 – 24 March 2019
I grew up in a forest. It’s like a room. It’s protected.
Like a cathedral… it is a place between heaven and earth.
– Anselm Kiefer
In 2015 Sue Cooke, a Whanganui-based landscape artist, received a year-long grant from the Pollack Krasner Foundation in New York that funded drawing, research and development of proposals for artwork based on the past and current deforestation of New Zealand’s indigenous forests.
A SONGLESS LAND is one of the proposals that grew out of drawing in Northland’s Kauri Forests and Southland’s Beech Forests. Opening first at Percy Thomson Gallery in Stratford, Taranaki, the exhibition immerses viewers through the mediums of ink, canvas and paper in deforestation, regeneration and highlights natural beauty in order to focus the audience’s attention on protecting New Zealand’s small and ever-diminishing indigenous forest stock. There was a time, in Aotearoa New Zealand, when the early European settlers’ children could not hear their teachers in the schoolroom due to the deafening sound of the indigenous birdsong. The birds thrived in an ecosystem of mature forest lorded by the ancient columns and canopies of Kauri, Beech, Rimu and Totara giants.
Our biodiversity held a special place in global environmental history due to the isolation of an island nation many miles from larger landmasses. It was a completely different experiment in evolution to the rest of the world. The imagery in A SONGLESS LAND references destruction, healing and the beauty of New Zealand’s indigenous forests. A SONGLESS LAND highlights the ease and speed with which mankind can annihilate mature stands of trees, hundreds of years old but gives us hope for the forests amazing albeit slow ability to heal itself.
A SONGLESS LAND is made up of three distinct series of artworks. In the large gallery eight tall thin, collagraphs on canvas will focus on the theme of destruction using totems and ghost trees inspired by the dead Kauri Trees of Northland and the mature Beech Trees of Southland. The centre piece will be Long Hee Lee, measuring 3.5 metres high by 16 metres long; this image focuses on the theme of regeneration. The work will be made up of 20 loose canvas banners, depicting an ampitheatre of regenerating Kamahi forest in Southland, at the site of the wholesale destruction of mature podocarp forest by European and Chinese loggers and goldminers from the 1870’s to 1950’s. The Beech at Ohau series of 11 Monoprints highlights the melancholy beauty of the surviving Beech Forests.
A SONGLESS LAND has relevance and appeal for all age groups. Deforestation is an environmental issue that effects all communities. Climate Change is closely linked to deforestation and is the issue of our times. Disease is also closely linked with deforestation and Kauri dieback is a particular issue that requires New Zealanders to take action. In addition to the exhibition, public programmes include a public conversation with Sue Cooke at 11am on 2 March and art workshops for Taranaki’s school children.
Supported The Pollack Krasner Foundation, New York, USA and The TSB Community Trust, Taranaki, New Zealand
Photo: Matt Smith