Jenna Packer continues to dig deeper into the socio-cultural and econo-political structures of power that shape the environment of a colonised Aotearoa. Her works are visual representations of the ways in which culture, power, and capitalism intersect to control a populace - cultural hegemony, first described by Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s. Of necessity and design, this hegemonic system extends to shape the physical environment.
Those acquainted with Packer’s practice will recognise the familiar presence of the bull, a recurring symbol of the neoliberalist theories that have shaped the globe over the last 40 years. The ghostly outlines in Toro and Fields of Gold are not fading away, but have become inseparable from the body of the work. Like the ghost in the machine or Adam Smith’s invisible hand, the market bull has become integrated into our social fabric or, in this case, an Axminster-patterned landscape. Human elements are reduced to shadowy afterthoughts, adrift in a world that seems inimical to their presence.
The House That Jack Built refers, of course, to the old English nursery rhyme of the same name. Jack’s cathedral-like glasshouse in Part I offers a contemplative space filled with a selection of carefully tended garden specimens. A lone tree dominates the centre of the painting, haloed with muted light and sunburst lines formed by the architectural framework. Tiny people are dwarfed by its splendour: Jack’s house is impressive indeed.
In The House That Jack Built (Part II), Packer lays out the true cost of Jack’s house. Landscapes denuded of their natural cover provide no refuge or solace, but are home to the extractive industries and 'cash cows'. The human population sits precariously on the land, instrumental in but also subject to its degradation. The original nursery rhyme describes the entire social system that exists around Jack’s house: are the tents and small huts in Part II where, “the man all tatter’d and torn” and the “milkmaid all forlorn” make their homes?
Allyship includes using your position of privilege to examine and critique the systems you benefit from. Jenna Packer’s ongoing creative practice draws on this: she acknowledges her place as tauiwi in New Zealand and the social and environmental trauma that continues to resonate as a result of European settlement of New Zealand. In doing so, she also challenges others in her position to do the same.