Hotere Culbert

Hotere Culbert

Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Ralph Hotere and Bill Culbert
Exhibited until 9 March 2014

This whole exhibition could be the result of Dan Flavin meeting Ad Reinhardt in Port Chalmers for a couple of arty hours by the beach. But, in fact, the Hotere and Culbert exhibition, currently at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, seamlessly brings together the works of two significant New Zealand artists in a retrospective of creative collaboration, revealing the fine fruits of an artistic partnership that lasted more than two decades after the pair met in London, in 1978.

The exhibition is an all-encompassing revelation of the pair’s creative relationship, wherein each work reflects the major contribution that both artists have made to both the New Zealand and international art worlds. As individual artists, both Hotere and Culbert have left a permanent mark on the discourse of contemporary – and especially New Zealand – art, through their innovative, emotive and minimalistic use of everyday materials including lights, corrugated iron, and other found objects, which serve to reveal both social and political commentaries close to the artists’ personal thoughts and ideas. The works shown – namely, “Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana” (1991) and “Blackwater” (1999) – unite Culbert’s devotion to fluorescent lights and their energising ability and transcendent clarity, with Hotere’s stark commitment to heavy organic materials, and the colour black.

The idea of “Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana” came from a time where Hotere and Culbert were among locals who protested against a proposed aluminium smelter at Aramoana in the late 1970s. They shared a mutual concern that the establishment of the smelter would disturb and upset the local environment. The artists’ working drawings for this installation are shown in the gallery as they lead towards the actual installation. The drawings exhibit instances of wine drinking, and the doodling of pictures of light beams, among other environmentally inspired, nonsensical scribbles. With lines from a poem by John Caselberg (“there is a rock to guard every sacred harbour in New Zealand. It but waits its hour”) printed on the working drawings as well, these pieces are all very nostalgic, atmospheric and eerily close to home (literally – as both men had long lasting associations with the area.) You can almost imagine Culbert pouring a glass of wine as Hotere scribbles down some inspiring Māori words on a piece of wood or something, as they discuss their creative ideas.

Once you get to the larger body of work, it becomes obvious that the drawings are very much a delicate visual entree to the buffet of fluorescent light tubes (100 feet of them) laid out in a straight line, with a parallel line of paua shells, all leading to a large rock, that makes up the colossal “Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana.” To put it bluntly, it’s like walking down a beach access in your hometown, then looking over the water at night when you haven’t been there for a few years.

The large installations “Pathway to the Sea – Aramoana” and “Blackwater” harmoniously blend Hotere's richly lacquered blacks with Culbert's bright white bulbs and, in doing so, create this prodding yet peaceful reflection of the presence of both the immaterial and material world, as they so naturally impose on one another. The work captures a particular moment in time, and through the innovations of both artists materially and subjectively, visions of these moments have been scaled down to a smaller size, where we can all appreciate and feel that fleeting moment of reflection, in one glance – and all without having to be in the cold at the beach at some ungodly hour of the night.

I definitely recommend seeing this exhibition, particularly if you’re into minimalist black-square beauty. And if you’re not into that, it’s worth visiting in celebration of the late, great Ralph Hotere, whose work will again be exhibited, in a significant retrospective, in 2015.
This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2014.
Posted 6:57pm Sunday 23rd February 2014 by Hannah Collier.