Water, Water, Everywhere…

The artists take a stand

Graham Bennett, Nigel Brown, Bing Dawe, Barry Cleavin, Fatu Feu'u, Gregory O'Brien & Euan Macleod, Wayne Seyb, Michael Smither
20 August to Election Day (23 September)

Preview: Sunday 20 August 4pm

Swimmable, wadeable, drinkable…? Or degraded? These are questions our artists have long explored, working to raise public consciousness of the issues into the 'mainstream' before it is too late. The above quote from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner seems devastatingly appropriate to the worsening state of our rivers, harbours and other waterways.

So, with the election looming, what better subject for an exhibition to raise awareness of the need for a change in attitude – and action!

Absolutely on point is Nigel Brown’s lament to the rivers, We are Sorry, while Graham Bennett’s Pooling Ignorance signals the future, with a surface rusted from a pool of polluted Canterbury water. Touch this artwork at your peril.

Pooling Ignorance will go on to be exhibited at the Social Enterprise World Forum, the largest conference held in Christchurch since the 2011 quake; this work is available for purchase subject to being available to exhibit there also; a beautiful study for the sculpture is included in the price.

Like Bennett, prominent sculptor Bing Dawe seduces with exquisite craftsmanship to launch piercing questions about our impact on the waterways, as does leading printmaker Barry Cleavin, here with a series Ex Libris based on bookplates by various writers with tales of  rough waters, including Jack London, Samuel Coleridge and Edgar Allen Poe, reinterpreted in Cleavin’s inimitable ironic style.

Commentary on Canterbury rivers and other waterways would be incomplete without the vigorous paintings of Wayne Seyb—both celebration and lamentation—alongside the woven stories of Gregory O’Brien’s Ashburton Riverbook series and a striking painting about ’sunset systems’ created collaboratively with master of landscape Euan Macleod. Fatu Feu’u focuses on the need for sanctuaries such as the Kermadecs, and precious springwaters. Finally, a late inclusion, Stony River, from Michael Smither—one of the first of our contemporary artists to crusade on water quality issues, five decades ago.

It’s a diverse show, with powerful undercurrents, which our waters always should have. The exhibition runs to 23 September—Election Day. Like the artists, I hope this exhibition adds to the call for overt action to protect our waterways.

Barbara Speedy, Director, The Diversion Gallery