Making my way downtown, walking fast, faces pass and I—glimpse what seems to be the nest of a giant bird? Currently on display on Moray Place is A nest in town by Motoko Watanabe; a mass of crumpled folded sheets and dense brown foliage packed behind the rear window of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. An oval of dark, dying leaves furl together, forming the centre of this ‘nest’, contrasting with the folded layers of sheets surrounding them, like the white of an egg. The textures of these two become magnified, pressed up against the glass and drawing attention to the organic blades of leaves and the manmade waves of fabric. The overall effect is rather appealing — you can’t help but gaze at this work and imagine how cosy it would be snuggled up amongst the leaves and sheets, snoozing in this oddly comforting found materials installation.
Themes of safety and nesting are key to Watanabe’s work. She originally studied at the Kanazawa City University of Fine Art and Craft and Joshibi University of Fine Art, before relocating to Dunedin where altered natural and manmade surroundings have offered up new possibilities for her artistic practice. In A nest in town she has gathered local materials and compiled them in much the same way as nests are foraged for and constructed in nature. Reflected in this process are the artist’s own self-taught basket making skills, and her personal interests in traditional crafting and soft sculpture methods.
Visually, it would be easy to look at this work and dismiss it as a pile of sheets with some dead branches in the middle. But I think to do so would be to miss Watanabe’s subtle focus on textual detail, and the soft gentleness of this work’s tones and forms. The organic matter seems to both offer a central location of safety and warmth, and perhaps suggest the existence of a nesting creature, buried beneath layers of white cotton. The organic and the synthetic are evoked, the combination of the two suggesting a deeper commentary on the burying of the natural world within the artificially constructed. The colours are soft and lovely, the textures are appealing. In this installation Watanabe seems to have tapped into something quite unique in terms of form and approach, and I’ll be interested to see where she goes from here.