There is something quintessentially New Zealand about Hannah Kidd’s extraordinary sculptures. Using that most rural of materials, corrugated iron, she has encapsulated the spirit of rural New Zealand, with its working dogs, its farmers, and its day at the races. The materials are shaped beautifully and organically by the sculptor, and become not just symbols, but seem to live and breathe with their own lives. The very essences of animal and human are distilled - these are characters, not mannequins.
In past exhibitions, Kidd has also shown that her skills can equally well depict exotic birds and endangered species. In doing this, she not only showed the versatility of her craft, but also presented works with a deeper message, that of protection of the environment and the need to work with the land rather than against it. This message has come even more to the fore with Fantastic Land, as has the breadth of Kidd’s subject matter. The exhibition’s title is a double-edged weapon. We live in this fantastic land, yet we are in danger of reducing it to a Disney world where the real and ersatz are intertwined and indistinguishable. Just as - to tourists - Maori culture has become a concert in Rotorua before moving on to the next attraction, so too our rural heritage is in danger of becoming self-parody.
The irony of using sculptures of rural life to demonstrate this is not lost on the artist. The wry humour of the kitsch Fantastic Land sign, and the use of light fittings within the works emphasises their staginess, whilst at the same time highlighting the strength of the artist’s work. A series of iron and steel puppies are presented which simultaneously capture the soul of these animals and also play on our instinctive emotional attraction to them. So too, the regal and often-dangerous swan with its charmingly cute cygnets.
A fitting conclusion to the exhibition is a memento mori tableau, with its skull and draped plinth. As Joni Mitchell once sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. Kidd’s plea is to protect what we have, while her sumptuous, wryly humorous method of delivering that message is a work of technical and artistic wonder.