Hannah Kidd's life-sized sculptural animals simultaneously lovingly acknowledge and subvert the ideas and forms of Kiwiana. Using the most rustic of metal materials, thick steel wire and flattened corrugated iron, the artist creates works which glorify but also cast a dispassionate - or at times jaundiced - eye on the rural lifestyle.
Perhaps this is not surprising, given that Kidd's life and work is based in a rural service town, in a region which provides its fair share of country inspiration. Neither are her "number eight wire" methods of construction, which include flattening used corrugated sheets by driving over them in a heavy roller before cutting them and welding them onto her expertly built frames. If one had to imagine a stereotypical New Zealand farmer creating art, a similar image might come to mind. Kidd realises that there is a clichéd element to her methods and subject, and the humour and warmth which imbue her work are all the more redolent because of that realisation. It is as if the artist has acknowledged that the work is what it is because of the surroundings in which it is made, and those surroundings include dry back-country humour and joy in life.
Not that the works are always joyful. Kidd realises that farm life is not easy, and also that the traditional life of the farmer is one being embraced by fewer and fewer New Zealanders. Several of the pieces in this exhibition recognise this fact, as does the double-edged meaning of the exhibition's title, with its messages of following a country code for the good of the farmers, and also of holding on to what we have by keeping the status quo and doing what is expected.1
It is for this latter reason that Kidd has "done what is expected" by creating those ubiquitous farm animals, so long the mainstay of New Zealand's economy, the sheep. As with the precarious nature of our farming industry, Kidd's sheep are reduced (by shearing), vulnerable, and wary.1 And, as always with the artist's work, these are not generic sheep, but are unique individuals, each imbued with a strength of personality and will.
The artist also exercises a second string in her multi-strung artistic bow with the rich narratives of her ceramic work. At a distance, these works also present the image of historic rural domesticity, with their traditional blue-on white decoration. Again, a deeper inspection reveals the often less palatable realities of a farmer's life. These are no bucolic landscapes, dotted with peaceful livestock and centred on a warm farmhouse. Instead, works such as Feeding Out display the familiar but cold solidity of farm machinery: the digger, the quad bike, or the faithful Toyota ute. This is not a cushy ride of a job, this is a profession, and a very demanding one both physically and mentally. Kidd exploits this apparent disparity between sentimentality for what we see as an idyllic rural existence and the painful truth of a career in the back-blocks to perfection in her work, leaving the viewer with a bittersweet sense of a country built on a different kind of slavery - a slavery to the land and environment, and to climates both meteorological and political.