Current Exhibitions

Jenna Packer


12 Jul - 5 Aug 2024

Artist Talk 6 pm Thurs 1 Aug

Exhibition Works

Mythos (2024)
Terre d'Ombre (Stranded Assets IV)
Terre d'Ombre (Stranded Assets IV) (2024)
The Dispatch
The Dispatch (2024)
Red Admiral
Red Admiral (2024)
Filigree (2024)
Masquerade (2024)
Ultramarine (Stranded Assets III)
Ultramarine (Stranded Assets III) (2024)
Promises, Promises
Promises, Promises (2024)
Mast Year
Mast Year (2024)

Exhibition Text

Jenna Packer's art has always been heavily political, wrapped in strong allegorical narrative. And, whether deliberate or not, this narrative has extended across all her exhibitions, leading towards an inevitable imaginary timeline.

Packer's early works displayed a near-pristine land where native inhabitants live in symbiosis with the environment, visited by a great migration of airships and watercraft. Over the course of her work, Packer's terra nova was tamed: harbours built, small settlements replaced by towns and eventually cities, the limpid, watery green forests replaced by dry brown and eventually by steel grey. The remnants of nature were enclosed in giant greenhouses, while Mephistophelian furnaces and forges cast effigies of the great bovine god Mammon Capitalism. And while the decaying land was clearly part of another green world, it was all too clear that this was New Zealand through the looking-glass, that it was we who were replacing our green and pleasant land with the dark satanic mills of consumerism and industry.

There was, perhaps, too much forthrightness in some of this message. Beautiful though Packer's art is, there is, in politicising, always a risk of descending towards agit-prop. And, as is only too obvious in major election campaigns, repeatedly shouting the same message — while it might stir up your supporters — is only likely to turn away the unconvinced. A subtler message is often the more powerful approach. In this exhibition, Packer has recognised this and has produced a series of works that are no less political, but are far less dogmatic.

The images in the current display take their lead from the traditional designs used on furniture fabric and wallpaper by refined settler families, specifically toile de Jouy, a cambric material often found in the higher quality furnishings brought to New Zealand. The exhibition's title, Giltwood, reinforces this image of the early settler homestead.1 Toile de Jouy designs often depict theatrically inspired scenes of small idyllic islands, the fabrics becoming happy stage backdrops.

In Packer's hands, the scenes becomes double-edged; in works like Filigree, the islands are scenes of her mirror-land after a sea-level rise, individuals gathered among trees connected by drowned fenceposts, or — in the bolder pieces — surrounded by the devastation of felled forests. Simultaneously, this separation is a reflection of our increasing isolation and social fracturing, ironically exacerbated by the proliferating use of social media.2

Over these backgrounds, the bull reappears, in symmetrical yet only semi-tangible form. It is mirrored, duplicating and reduplicating, becoming the official stamp of approval on the land, and seems so integrated into the land that we consider its presence normal or at least normalised. Yet, in works like Promises, Promises, the translucent body becomes an oracular image of the world before the changes wrought by greed, a halting reminder that "normal" can change, and that without concerted care, will only ever become a degraded shadow of what it once was. Our human capacity to adapt and absorb new, initially shocking realities into the everyday becomes as much the problem as the despoiling of the land itself.3

A tipping point has been reached, possibly passed. All we now have of the once pristine land is memory. But maybe the past is not quite the foreign country of L.P. Hartley's famous quote. Packer is clearly not ready to give up the fight, and continues to tell of the journey and tribulations of the land through her astonishing art — perhaps no longer shouting as forthrightly, but in a glorious overwhelming whisper.

1. Artist's statement, 2024.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.