What Lies Beneath (by Gabby O’Connor)
Wellington-based artist Gabby O’Connor’s major sculptural installation What Lies Beneath shows her to be an adept explorer of the material and immaterial nature and qualities of gallery space. But more than that, it shows her to be an adept explorer of space as a more general concept that has fascinated theorists and artists since the internationally relevant and cross-disciplinary ‘spatial turn’ of the 1960s.
What Lies Beneath literally lies beneath the Hirschfeld gallery’s ceiling, below the loft of its central lightwell and the windows that give light and air to her work. It is a massive handmade and organic keel-like collection of thousands of specifically-sized paper triangles dyed in shades of blue-green, coated in shellac and stapled at multiple points, one to another. Like stained glass panes, its pieces combine to suffuse the gallery with the blue light of an above-water underwater world, a fragile yet indomitable world of paper and story.
As you enter the gallery O’Connor’s sculpture seems to float before you. The heel of its keel dynamically points forwards, towards the long run of it, referencing exploratory journeys made through time. On cue you can walk just below it, look up towards the ceiling, take in its many cell-like triangular components, and see the tiny cracks of bright white light that sometimes appear between them. You can watch it yaw in the breeze, and listen to it quietly whisper and creak.
O’Connor’s sculpture successfully brings a visitor’s consciousness and understanding of the gallery space to life, while it is brought to a fuller life in that space. Attention is drawn to the architecture of the space and its ability to enclose and enable an individual’s sensorial experience. But perhaps most effectively, attention is drawn to an artwork that produces the kind of space Lefebvre has described as a container of possible meanings, and a node on a network that brings together human knowledge and history in relation to real and imagined geographies. For What lies Beneath not only provides a window on a world that is hidden yet imagined and mythologized, but it also clearly evokes a southern pole encircled by floating masses of dynamic and multi-faceted sea ice, a frozen continent that appeared on maps centuries before Antarctica was first sighted in 1820.