From the Air: Ruth Watson, 'Without
Parachute', at the Physics Room
Ruth Watson's practice might not be a lingua franca, but it is
certainly a lingua geographica. For almost twenty years her work
has been informed by maps of many kinds, a sometimes multi-media
interrogation of the politics, passions and issues of representation
that have arisen out of our evolving claims and ownership of land.
Maps offer visual testament to such "ownership". Variously
projected, constructed, and pushed and pulled by vested interest
- maps have been at the core of Watson's oeuvre. Here "without
parachute", interestingly she is also without map. Instead,
she has used cartography's kissing cousin, the aerial photograph,
to form the basis of this show.
The Wigram air base in Christchurch was the originating site of
the first aerial surveys of New Zealand - visual records of the
patterned geometries of field and road, from mountain to the sea.
Such patterns might be the envy of many an abstractionist, or today's
fashionista; but here they are silken and made into a dress recalling
the era in which one of Watson's forebears made a one-way journey
to a foreign land. Patterns and dress then, are both foreign and
familiar; known, yet strange together. Tiny houses of the city sit
alongside eroded hills, man made structures alongside snow patterns:
all ruched, folded, sewn together into a graceful and somewhat fragile
whole. Past and present combined.
These aerial composites collaged into the Victorian and the work-a-day,
suggest something viewed from a distance, then patchworked together
like the Canterbury plains. Ruth's sense of fabrication, her process
of making, becomes integral to the conceptual nature of her project.
Which is typical. It is typical of Watson's ability to inflect the
post-colonial with a visual construct both wilfully cross-disciplined
and resolutely informed. Or is it that lingua geographica, this
particular artist's geographic tongue, is simply wagging in a more
determined, idiosyncratic or fissured way than normal?
Watson has lived and made art in New Zealand, Germany and Australia.
In this exhibition she is "without parachute", landing
again in Christchurch - a place Victorian in conception (for
which she has dressed appropriately) - a place with which she
has a quite particular relationship, framed both by the benefits
of distance and the intimacy of birth. Her interrogation of the
(mostly Cantabrian) land forms here, remind me of T.S. Eliot's lines:
"And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where
we started/ And know the place for the first time". Watson's
form of knowing is to imply that the picture is created from a variety
of sources, and while stitched together to form a whole, might still
be subject to a little stress: threads hang outwards, seams are
visible. Only the exploration seems certain.
From the Catalogue