The effect is the latest skill artist Sorawit Songsataya learned as a Frances Hodgkins Fellow in Dunedin, and will be part of their contribution to the group exhibition ‘Nature danger revenge’ at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (DPAG) this month.
“It’s pretty exciting to me. It’s all these possibilities of creating images from a real place or a real object.”
Being free to make art means Songsataya has been able to contribute to six exhibitions across the country so far this year.
“It’s been a crazy year. I thought I would have plenty of time to read, but I still haven’t made it to the central library. I couldn’t have done it without being full time.
“I used to juggle two part-time jobs and the studio. Getting paid and having the studio space to do is such a different story.”
They take advantage of the time to explore and learn new digital techniques, especially in animation, which forms a larger part of their practice. It allows them to reconstruct surfaces of real objects in space.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve learned so much. I’m self-taught with everything, thanks to YouTube tutorials. Animation is quite exciting. You see it mostly used in advertising or very commercially, but I think it has a lot of potential [in art].”
To date, Songsataya’s works have evolved from physical sculpture (such as a life-size fiberglass moa surrounded by smaller native and endemic bird species created for the Auckland Art Gallery) with video to more digitally-oriented works with animation.
“I’m not an artist with a distinctive style – I like to be really versatile and flexible.”
This means that the fraternity studio space is empty and tidy as they work on their digital offerings for the DPAG exhibition, which is an exhibition of paintings by the late Alexis Hunter that stem from a feminist and environmental consciousness from years 1980, in conversation with new commissions. by Songsataya, Evangeline Riddiford Graham and Deborah Rundle.
Songsataya’s work for the exhibition, The shyness of the crownis on New Zealand’s tallest tree – an Australian mountain ash Eucalyptus regnans (Purukamu) in the Orokonui Ecosanctuary planted around 1870 – using 3D bark mapping. They then used a photogrammetric processing technique to convert the tree trunk video footage into a “point cloud” data set. This data is used to translate geospatial information into a new textured landscape. Played on stacked vertical screens, the animation shows the digital “skin” of the trunk, made up of small polygons, extending upwards. In another sequence, cascading 3D particles illustrate the law of gravity.
It follows “Otherwise-image-worlds”, a group exhibition presented by CIRCUIT in partnership with Te Uru in Auckland earlier this year where they used a scan of their mother’s house in Thailand, featuring objects from the everyday like his cactus bedroom and a lotus pond in the garden filmed by animated hands holding a mobile phone.
“I look at the idea of place and the reconstruction of a place from memory.”
Concepts of “home” can be complicated for Songsataya, who was born in Thailand but grew up in Auckland, where they studied the arts.
“I didn’t really intend to become an artist. I didn’t really know what it meant. I’m not good with language but I’m good with visual things, so I did a degree in communication visual.”
While studying painting, the restrictions of working in two dimensions began to chafe, and they switched to moving image for their postgraduate work at Elam. They also experimented with 3D printed objects presented alongside a video. In 2018, video installation became the main medium of their work.
“It’s always been this relationship between tangible objects and the material nature of the digital environment. I like to look at the idea of what are considered living and non-living things.”
The use of three-dimensional animation allows them to talk about these ideas, and they are also shown in Songsataya’s sculpture work. As part of their fellowship work, they will carve limestone into large vessels, adding organic and inorganic materials in a more architectural style.
“People say that dirt, stones or rock are not alive, not living things. I’m not trying to say directly that rocks have life, but I’m trying to get the public to reconsider that which is binary between the living and the non-living.”
Another aspect of their practice attempts to blur the boundaries between genres. “I guess presenting a range of understandings.”
While their fellowship work is still in development, Songsataya says it will work with home-from-home ideas and make sense of calling New Zealand home when it’s not their home country.
“It’s been a constantly contested experience, and then there’s the complexity of [colonialism]. My relationship to the place can be tricky. Every time I go back to Thailand, I also feel like a foreigner there.”
They also recorded the white heron at their nesting site on a west coast river and plan to return there in the spring.
“They are quite common in Asia. It was really weird to see them in a foreign setting. Through the birds, I try to establish a relationship or connect them with ideas of home making and my memory of the house, and seeing them in Thailand and what the birds mean culturally here and in Thailand as well.”
“Nature danger revenge” curator Sophie Davis says she chose Songsataya to show in the exhibition because they have an interesting approach and relationship to the natural environment that is often “playful” and accessible but also “ thought-provoking”.
“You feel like the tree is that vital being and you think about how art can be used as a tool to reinvent the way we think about nature and other living beings around us.”
It was also an opportunity to take advantage of Songsataya’s presence in Dunedin for fellowship and to bond with the city’s artistic community.
“It anchors the exhibition in a local context.”
Songsataya’s work is shown alongside the work of Hunter (1948-2014), who moved to the UK in 1972. There she became part of the avant-garde feminist art movement, producing photographic work based on the appropriation of the language of film and television tropes. , but in the 1980s she returned to New Zealand and developed a neo-expressionist style of painting in Elam under Colin McCahon.
These works reflect the turbulent 1980s when the punk movement in London and political issues such as nuclear threats dominated. It was from this time of work that Davis selected from public collections in New Zealand to exhibit.
“His works were a passionate rebellion against some of these things that are happening in society and it puts them in conversation with three new commissions.”
Davis also chose Graham, a Nelson-born but New York-based writer and artist, to show, while working on an exhibition with the artist when she first saw Hunter’s work at Te Papa. in 2016 and was able to see the links.
“There was something about the connection between those works and Hunter. That was the initial starting point for this show.”
Another link was that the DPAG has a work by Hunter in its collection, which depicts a wild-looking black cat ready to strike.
“This work also served as a touchstone.”
Graham, whose work considers personality, gender and power and how this plays out in character performance in literature, has created a new audio work, juggernaut mother (2022), featuring the voice of a “needy millennial” girl leaving messages on her mother’s phone, playing in a living room setup.
“It plays on the generational tension and also references a landmark in her local cityscape of Brooklyn, New York, which is the Green Point sewage plant, which the girl works in, and so there’s also an environmental theme that goes through that.”
Rundle’s interest in politics, history and labor movements made her a perfect fit for the exhibit, Davis says. She used a series of leftover textured tiles in My body (2022), incorporating language referring to the sovereignty of the body: “In my body, you still write your name”. It goes back to the 1970s when Hunter produced his work, but also thinks about where “we” are now. The words appear and disappear as a person moves through the exhibition space.
“She often uses language and sculpture in such a way that she often re-creates experiences for viewers that are captivating but also have a strong political charge to them.”
For Rundle, the work has an “even deeper resonance” after the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned in the United States.
“The rights to your own body and who has a say in what it means to be a person in this world.”
Together, all the artists say something interesting about our current situation and the role of art in it, says Davis.
“They also bring out wilder and more interesting parts of Hunter’s work. The show has a lot of different textures, audio, digital video, wonderfully wild expressionist paintings, old-fashioned furniture paired with an answering machine 90’s.”
— Next week: Deborah Rundle’s Blue Oyster exhibition “Tomorrow is Today Now”.
“Nature danger revenge”, Alexis Hunter, Evangeline Riddiford Graham, Deborah Rundle and Sorawit Songsataya, DPAG until November 6.