In 19th century New Zealand, artist Miriam Austin’s great-great-grandmother, Irish-born Annie Kelly, was selected along with her husband to help found a new town in the New Zealand bush. Although they contributed to establishing a new settlement, Annie’s husband never managed to build a house, so she raised her children in a tent.
In her show ‘Andesite’ at Bosse & Baum (her third with the gallery), Miriam Austin grapples with both her coloniser ancestry and her desire to expose and challenge the damage wreaked on the landscape by colonial extractivist systems. Born out of an extensive body of research and experimentation, this exhibition imaginatively inhabits both the mythical subterranean realm of Selvaga and the New Zealand landscapes ravished by colonial settlement.
A large part of the room is occupied by a structure that evokes a ferry to the underworld or a funerary boat: a means of passage from one state to another. The bow and aft of the boat look otherworldly, but they are cast from Tesla car bumpers – a nod to Austin’s research into the environmental impact of mining for lithium, used to produce the Tesla’s batteries. The base recalls stained-glass windows, coloured with natural dyes and salts, which will mutate over the course of the exhibition. A wax humanoid figure rides on the bier, reaching for a post-carbon future.
Beyond this, a series of silicon casts hang from tall metal legs: strange deities which oscillate between the organic and the artificial. Obsidian stones and opals emerge quietly from behind flaps of soft pinks and purples. These are relics from sites in New Zealand, tying the works to specific geographies and geologies.
Elsewhere, flexible body moulds are delicately flecked with dried flowers. The chosen species were introduced into New Zealand’s delicately balanced ecosystems by Western settlers. The silicon ‘skins’ embedded with petals suggest the indelible impact of colonial interventions on landscapes and bodies, while simultaneously hinting at the possibility of alternative symbiotic modes of existence. This ambiguity of interpretation lies at the heart of the exhibition, which evokes acts of both hope and mourning, ancestral communion and future possibilities.
‘Andesite’ is situated at a fluctuating and uncertain junction between past, present and future, between true histories and imagined mythologies. Characters, both intimately familiar and uncannily distant, inhabit a world squeezed on all sides by ecological disaster – perhaps they are recovering from an environmental disaster, or perhaps they are just on the brink of it.
Austin’s botanical, bodily and technological objects forcefully transport the viewer into a hybrid world. Threads of research, history and fantasy coalesce to produce a rich tapestry which rewards extended looking and provokes new directions of thought.