Thursday, June 28, 2012

Donna Sarten
By Sophie Keyse
Sarten attempts to address situations that are endemic to our social situation while at the same time sit outside society’s comfort zone...

When asked by the author what she hopes viewers get from her work, Donna Sarten replies with an unusual response: ‘A great sense of disorder.’  With visitor feedback commonly revolving around being shocked or disturbed by the content of her artwork, Sarten hopes this reaction will cause viewers to consider their role in society and their ability to influence change in New Zealand, particularly in regards to serious crime offenders such as child abusers.  It is perhaps this interest in social change which leads Sarten to choose her project first and then select which media would be the most effective to convey the idea.  

Originally from New Plymouth but eventually ending up in Auckland after a rather tumultuous initial few years, Sarten has a fine arts background after completing a Master of Fine Arts (Honours) at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts.  While completing her undergraduate degree Sarten began investigating anxiety through the lens of a camera and then moved into more sculptural approaches to broaden the scope of her practice.  Her work investigates various contemporary power relations including psychological, social and geo-political, often with a focus on subjects such as war, anxiety and child abuse.  Sarten attempts to address situations that are endemic to our social situation while at the same time sit outside society’s comfort zone, thus pushing into the spotlight topics which are typically pushed aside and not talked about.  Such is the case with the photographic exhibition currently on display in the Corban Homestead Galleries Norm & Noeleen, which is in collaboration with her partner Bernie Harfleet.  Sarten presents a photographic essay of her adopted mother Noeleen within her home, which she is determined to remain in while she battles with dementia and old age.  

During her Master’s degree at Elam Sarten focused her research on post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly exploring some of the lesser-discussed aspects of war experienced by New Zealand soldiers.  Her work touched on subjects such as conscientious objectors and the effect of post-traumatic stress on soldiers.  Sarten maintains an interest in drawing attention to specific historical and present events in order to raise people’s awareness of war and its results, as well as exploring psychological trauma such as post-tramatic stress disorder.  This is perhaps linked to prominent artist Louise Bourgeois who has influenced Sarten’s art practice, not only in her technique and the impressive nature of her sculptural spiders and cell-works, but also the therapeutic element to her art making.  Bourgeois suffered betrayal and anxiety following the discovery that her English governess was also her father’s mistress, and this childhood trauma has featured in many of her artworks in their suggestions of the human figure and their dark, lonely themes.  Sarten may also be using her investigations into trauma and anxiety as a means of therapy as well.

After successfully coming second place in the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award 2012 with her sculpture The Price of Milk, Sarten was also featured recently in the Art of Assemblage exhibition as part of the Erupt ,Festival in Taupo.
As in, The Price of Milk, image courtesy of Hamilton Waikato Tourism
Coming up for Sarten is a new work for Sculpture OnShore 2012 as well as adding to a long-term project entitled Future Tense.  It began in 2005 with a series of photographs featuring four girls aged 18 months, 8, 9 and 10 years old.  The images evoke real and perceived feelings of the vulnerability of these children.  She revisited her sitters in 2009 to see what had changed over four years and to ask the question: what do their futures hold?  This summer Sarten will photograph them again at ages 9, 16, 17 and 18, which will inevitability bring new challenges.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bernie Harfleet
By Sophie Keyse

“My favourite artwork is work that makes me think and want to discuss.  A work I can revisit again and again.”

The two photographic series currently on display in the Corban Homestead Galleries give the viewer a private insight into the worlds of the two artists, Bernie Harfleet and Donna Sarten.  As strangers we are given uninhibited access to the personal worlds of people that we have potentially never met, as well as those of their adopted parents, and this unexpected disclosure is unnerving.  It also encourages us to ask questions as to why we are being shown these intimate portraits, pulling the viewer into a contemplative space and viewing these photographs with a curious yet respectful and sympathetic eye.  These photographs almost reveal more about the viewer than the artist. Perhaps this is the intention of the artists.

Bernie Harfleet shares a studio with Donna Sarten at Corban Estate Art Centre, with Harfleet crediting his fellow tenants as being his greatest influence.  The creative and cooperative environment of the studios on the Estate has been of great benefit to the artist in regards to seeking counsel and support, which is linked to another major interest of Harfleet’s: sociology.  “I am interested in what makes the human animal tick and in particular man’s inhumanity to man.”  He has explored this topic within several media, including painting, sculpture and photography – initially a painter of oils, Harfleet moved to a more diverse range of media as they enabled him to depict ideas in different ways and enter discussion with his audience.  

This notion of creating dialogue between the work and the viewer is of prime importance to Harfleet – “My main focus is to address social concerns. The work offers a discussion point. I question, rather than present an absolute answer.” This goes hand-in-hand with the socio-political nature of his work which typically possesses numerous layers and contextual meanings that the viewer can unravel and explore.  Another way to describe this socio-political focus is that he looks at the “hard stuff” – the problematic and destructive elements of society which people would prefer to ignore. This is the case with his latest exhibition project, Norm & Noeleen , which is currently on view as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography.  Norm is the adopted father of the artist and is thus an intimate series covering Norm’s initial cancer diagnosis to his eventual death, but also on a wider scale the series explores old age and the repercussions this has not only on the individual but also their family. The content of these photographs elicit an immediate response in the viewer, which is the same reaction Harfleet desires from other artworks – “My favourite artwork is work that makes me think and want to discuss.  A work I can revisit again and again.” One artist who manages to conjure these feelings in Harfleet is Vincent Van Gogh, who he first discovered at a 1975 exhibition in Auckland as an 11-year-old – “I can still remember the feeling I had being with that work.”

At present Harfleet is putting together a proposal to tour Norm & Noeleen around New Zealand galleries as well as creating a piece addressing domestic violence for Sculpture on the Shore which raises money for women’s refuge.  He was also recently included in the Art of Assemblage exhibition as part of the Erupt Festival in Taupo.  The bottom line for Harfleet is that his works are well-made and resolved to the point that the viewer is the next element to add, so one can be rest assured the next work you see by Bernie Harfleet will have the 100% approval of the artist.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Matt Akehurst
By Sophie Keyse 
‘Forget about fame or money and then ask yourself if you still want to be an artist.’– Matt Akehurst

When one first inspects Matt Akehurst’s Objects they appear to be a cross between a Henry Moore sculpture; a character from Monsters Inc.; and something that has escaped from a Salvador Dalì painting.  However, the inspiration of these captivating forms is much more erudite, with Akehurst’s experiences as a scientist and the numerous hours peering down a microscope subconsciously influencing his choice of shape.  American ceramic artist/printmaker Ken Price and his abstract clay shapes, as well as the monumental semi-abstract sculptures of Henry Moore also played a part in determining these forms.  Yet it is the ambiguity around these biomorphic and changeable blobs which fascinates the artist - ‘Our ideas of the blob have been shaped by the cartoon Shmoo; the movie The Blob, and maybe our very own history of evolution from a simple amoebae.  There seems to be this general consensus that a blob can evolve into anything.’

While the sculptures installed in the vitrines in Object 5+ may appear to be weighty and monumental, they are in fact composed of high-density polystyrene and shaped with saws, wire brushes, files and sandpaper.  Plaster and builder’s filler have also been incorporated to create the smooth surfaces, with the objects spray-painted with acrylic paint as a final touch.  It must be noted, however, that Akehurst does not consider polystyrene his principal medium and instead lets the initial idea shape his material selection which can be both a help and a hindrance – ‘I find not being restricted to one material is both the most rewarding and frustrating aspect to my practice.’

This is a central idea in Akehurst’s creative practice, as he prefers to remain open or ‘unfocused’ by letting the process take control and lead the work where it needs to go.  It is context driven, which is primarily the art world but, as the artist himself has said, ‘you could say its art about art, or art about being an artist.’  Do not interpret this as the artist being slack – quite the opposite, in fact, with Akehurst functioning as a significant member of the Christchurch arts scene since completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) at the University of Canterbury in 2010.  His sculpture You Are Here first appeared in Sculpture on the Gulf on Waiheke Island and references artistic influences on New Zealanders, such as Pablo Picasso’s Guernica in Bilbao or Sotheby’s auction house in London, with the specific distance each object/location is from the coordinates of the sculpture.  You Are Here now resides outside the Christchurch Art Gallery, which has been closed since the February 2011 earthquakes.  Its new location has added a new angle to the work, as it literally points away from the prominent Canterbury arts institution towards distant art destinations, which makes all the more sense as the Christchurch Art Gallery is closed, and yet its title You Are Here pulls you back and suggests what are you going to do about this situation.  Akehurst had to update the distances on each sign to adapt to its new site.  

Matt Akehurst: You are here

Akehurst has contributed both artistically and administratively to Christchurch before and after the earthquakes, setting up a portable exhibition space called GalleryGallery that travelled around Christchurch for, more often than not, one-night exhibitions.  The artist, along with fellow Fine Arts students at Canterbury University, established ABC gallery in Addington, a neighbourhood that has flourished since the widespread damage to the central city.  The storage space where ABC was located has since been knocked down to keep up with demand for commercial space and for its final exhibition Akehurst began the demolition process by hitting the wall with a sledgehammer and left it protruding from the wall to reference the impending destruction of the space.  Often the simplest of gestures can have the most impact.  
Matt Akehurst: Object series

Next up for Akehurst is adding to his Object series, with several featuring in a show in Japan as part of the Sendai Art Exchange with Christchurch as well as in a group show in Sydney.  To see more of his work please visit his website

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art in the Centre - Call out for entries

Art in the Centre - Call out for entries
Closing: 13 June, 2012
This September is the 10-year anniversary of Corban Estate Arts Centre (CEAC) and to celebrate its role in West Auckland’s creative arts community CEAC is collaborating with Westfield WestCity on an open arts project.  Artists are invited to create a two- or three-dimensional artwork themed to a participating Westfield WestCity business which will be displayed at WestCity 7th – 25th August.  During this period the public will vote for their favourite artwork, which will be exhibited in the allocated business.  From these finalists a winner will be selected by a panel of judges and awarded $2000!  A second prize of $800 is also up for grabs.   Following their display at Westfield WestCity, the artworks will be exhibited at Corban Estate Arts Centre in association with the anniversary weekend celebrations over the 8th/9th September.  This is a perfect chance for artists across Auckland, and New Zealand, to step outside their comfort zone and create an artwork inspired by a much-loved Westfield business.

Please see the brief and rules of entry for further information on this exciting project on our website: