Artist Chat – Elizabeth Thomson
The weekend before lockdown, Ashburton Art Gallery had the pleasure of opening Elizabeth Thomson’s sole exhibition Cellular Memory, in which art is used to explore the areas of scientific knowledge such as botany, micro-biology, oceanography, and mathematics. Elizabeth’s body of work is driven by the question: How does humanity fit within the broader realm of nature? Given the current state of the globe, it is a poignant question.
Image Credit: Titirangi in the Bush, After the Renoir. 2018 – 2020. Glass spheres, optically clear epoxy resin, aqueous isolation, cast vinyl film, lacquer on contoured and shaped wood panel.
Elizabeth journeyed from Wellington to Ashburton with her husband Warwick – it turned out to be quite the odyssey! To actually arrive at the Gallery, Elizabeth and Warwick had to journey through snow, and it is the first of their road trip adventures that they have actually needed a four-wheel drive. Thankfully, the pair arrived safely, and were on hand to assist with the installation of Cellular Memory and a warm opening night at the Gallery, where Gregory O’Brien gave a heartfelt, insightful introduction to Elizabeth and her artistic practice. With the snap Level Four lockdown New Zealand found itself in last week, Elizabeth and Warwick had a slim window of forty-eight hours to drive from the South Island’s west coast to Wellington – quite the challenge! We are happy to report that the pair are safe and sound in their household bubble in Wellington.
The Gallery team gained insight into how Elizabeth is spending her lockdown.
What does your bubble look like?
Our bubble is pretty small really. Just the three of us: Warwick, Nina our wire hair foxy, and me. Depending on how long we are in lockdown, our son William and his lovely partner Maxine are returning from Berlin after being away for over two years. They will live in our sunny downstairs studio apartment.
What is one thing you’re looking forward to doing while in lockdown?
I look forward to enjoying the chance to rest up after working intensively on exhibitions and making new work – sleeping in, walking in the town belt up behind our house on the myriad of bush tracks, and watching Midnight Diner.
How do lockdowns change your art making?
For me it’s a receptive time – a bit of respite allows you to take stock. It’s a holiday of sorts but the seriousness of it adds a complexity. For me, the lockdown creates a heightened sense of awareness – of vulnerability and a state of hypersensitivity. It’s a time of humility, strength, fragility, and observance of our place in the scheme of things. The ideas and ensuing work conceived at this time tends to have all of these elements. I think maybe my work has become increasing experiential and affecting upon viewing.
Image Credit: Elizabeth Thomson at Work. Supplied by Elizabeth Thomson, August 2021.
As Elizabeth’s answers highlight, she is very much drawn to the exploration of life, and the duality of enchantment and inspiration that runs parallel to risk and portent. This strand of artistic exploration and thought is visible in Lateral Theories, Elizabeth’s new suite of works displayed at the Gallery as part of Cellular Memory. In these two meter wide works, the viewer witnesses uncharted, alien territories of exoplanets, and ponders how humanity fits into the complex framework of the world and universe.
Cellular Memory is available to the public from 15 August – 24 October 2021, and the Gallery cannot wait to welcome visitors when Covid-19 restrictions ease and allow us to do so.