Fiona Pardington's A Beautiful Hesitation
An aroma of death and decay perfumes this extraordinary survey of Fiona Pardington's work with faint forensic scents of
camphor and formaldehyde. Eight large-format still-lifes dominate the main room, while other works reveal progressive
developments in style and subject-matter. Curator Aaron Lister uses terms like '"hypnotic" and "uneasy" to introduce
these photographs, but it's their oneiric and eidetic qualities are the most striking.
Pardington's lushly opulent and painterly approach is achieved by printing her digitally-enhanced colour photographs on
gesso grounds, infusing them with a richness of texture that invokes Vermeer and Rembrandt. Echoes of 16th-century vanitas traditions merge with mysterious invocations of memento mori as cultures collide across vast oceans.
Still Life with Albatross Feathers with Pounamu and Coral Hearts, Courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite, Auckland
Voluted bivalves display coruscated carapaces, pomegranate seeds spill into perspective, and mineral deposits glitter on
wave-worn glass-ware. all features emerge from textured velutinous backdrops under multiple light sources reflected and
refracted back at the viewer. They convey a mirror-like quality that solicits us into her uncanny realm of curiosities.
Pardington has described her work as a "hesitation in time". Similarly Roland Barthes suggested that a photograph
creates a false illusion of what is. What has ceased to be is a more accurate description of the photographic process.
Instead of making reality solid, it invokes the physical world’s eternal mutability.
Presented with a variety of ornithological specimens, castaway detritus, glaucous glass, jewelry, colloidal candle
sticks, and dead flowers, we're left with an overwhelming impression of transience. These salvaged materials are
sedimentary traces of personal history, laden with complex connotations of temporality - "every object has a particular
meaning for me, a certain feeling, an emotion, a history, often a history I can sense, even though I can't tell you it's
My Mother's Roses, Pomegranates and Silver Platter of Ihumoana, Courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite, Auckland
An obsession with "found texts" and "private desires" is equally apparent in an inkjet print of the Marquis de Sade's
skull; C19th century museum display cases of Amanita Muscaria and Cantharella Tubeformis; a death-cast of the French phrenologist Dumoutier's recently-deceased daughter; and a luminous bottle of Thebaic
It's the monumental triptych Portrait of a Life Cast of Matoua Tawai which stands out as the high-point of the exhibition. Serendipitously discovering this obscure object in La Musee de l'Homme, Pardington overcame the two-dimensionality of the pigment inkjet process by documenting her tipuna from three different angles. Reminiscent of a police mug shot, and just as inscrutable, was he a genuine moku-faced Maori chief, or merely a slave posing as one?
Moonlight de Sade, 2010, Courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite
Pardington's technical expertise in digital manipulation and prowess in analogue hand-printing is undeniable. She
employs long, multiple-flash exposures for her monochrome work, which at times appears almost abstract and then precise
at others - compare the c-type print Huia Bird Beak with the silver gelatin Huia Beak and Claw Jewelry. Her skill in designing, lighting, printing and framing is exquisite.
Pardington's earlier feminist work explores the male gaze, the boundaries of sex, violence, and masochism, and creepy
medical textbooks. Images of bruised and punctured flesh, necrotic skin covered with smallpox, abscesses, and cysts are
not for the squeamish. The eerie, subaqueous glow that suffuses another triptych entitled Cast of a Man with Severe Syphilis is especially striking. Rarely has the nexus between desire, pain and perversion been explored so programmatically. Is Gigi in her underwear meant to be stepped on or over? The hanging makes impressive use of the gallery space, providing ample
room for the prints, which are never cramped together. We're invited in toward the images, allowing us plenty of time to
absorb their full scale and presence, while the curation provides them with sufficient breadth to feel both expensive
and expansive. This is an important exhibition by a major New Zealand artist that shouldn't be overlooked.
Installation view at City Gallery Wellington, 2015, Shaun Waugh