Artist Ruth Watson’s ongoing preoccupation with cartography is based on the impact maps have on our understanding and physical sense of the world, and how they can reveal and conceal information about places or spaces we know, and significantly, those we do not know. In a new body of work made for Two Rooms Gallery, Watson expands her interest in mapping, putting our perception of Antarctica under question.
Over the summer of 2010-11, Ruth Watson travelled to the ice as part of a science-based course run by Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury, and became more interested in our position in relation to 2048, when the Antarctic Treaty comes up for review.
In the popular imagination, preconceptions of Antarctica include now-familiar scenes such as dramatic ice formations, penguins, people wrapped in extreme weather gear, melt pools, seals, or struggling explorers in blizzard conditions. However Watson’s exposure to glaciology, meteorology, ice physics, pollutant and contaminant studies, fish and bird physiology, had a strong impact on her, being shocked by some of the things she learnt from the course and keen to find ways to deal with this information. “We are encouraged to consider Antarctica an ‘untouched wilderness worthy of protection’, but will those values withstand the pressures of energy-intensive world populations, double that of the time when the Treaty was signed in 1959”, adding “so it might be good to consider a wider context for our Antarctiphilia”.
Ruth Watson’s new body of work for the downstairs gallery at Two Rooms includes sculptures alongside paintings and photography, none of it designed to ‘bring the continent closer’ to us as a familiar place, as expected of Antarctica artist residency programmes. Instead, Ruth takes an alternative view, questioning what we think we know about a place that most only a few will ever see in restricted locations, but the future of which will have an impact on everyone.
This is Ruth’s second exhibition in the large downstairs gallery at Two Rooms; the first being ‘Unsafe’, a large-scale floor-based installation in 2007. A suite of paintings, ‘Platforms’, was shown in the upstairs gallery in 2009.
Born in Canterbury in 1962, Ruth Watson has a Masters in Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts (1999) and a PhD from the Australian National University. Recent exhibitions include the Myriad Worlds at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Big Wall (2011), Unnerved: The New Zealand Project Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2010), andBetter Places at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (2008). She is making a video installation of archival and original footage for a project ‘From White Darkness’ for ICEFEST, the Festival of Antarctica, in Christchurch in September, as well as writing about heart-shaped maps of the sixteenth century, a topic for which she won an international award in 2005. Ruth teaches at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland.
Ruth Watson wishes to thank and gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Gateway Antarctica, Antarctica New Zealand, the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industry Faculty Research Development Fund, Don Goldschmidt, Arnold Heine (NZOM) and Dr Wendy Lawson at the University of Canterbury.