Wellington

Kim Pieters, . . . to walk horizontally along the edge of a word, blinded by sun, to forget what was seen, and what there is, and beneath heel, to gather the fiction of a hill, 2011, four panels, mixed media on hardboard, overall 3' 11 1/4“ × 14' 1  1/4”.

Kim Pieters, . . . to walk horizontally along the edge of a word, blinded by sun, to forget what was seen, and what there is, and beneath heel, to gather the fiction of a hill, 2011, four panels, mixed media on hardboard, overall 3' 11 1/4“ × 14' 1 1/4”.

Kim Pieters

Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi

Kim Pieters, . . . to walk horizontally along the edge of a word, blinded by sun, to forget what was seen, and what there is, and beneath heel, to gather the fiction of a hill, 2011, four panels, mixed media on hardboard, overall 3' 11 1/4“ × 14' 1  1/4”.

Kim Pieters took a risk in titling her first survey exhibition “what is a life?” Such a portentous question is hard to address, but it turned out to be a near-perfect encapsulation of the self-examining quality of the artist’s work. Encompassing video, sound, photography, drawing, and, most of all, painting, her oeuvre comes together not so much through specific forms as via a kind of mood: a wintry, subantarctic cool that permeates everything. It’s tempting to read this in autobiographical terms: Pieters has spent most of her working life in Dunedin, New Zealand’s southernmost city of any real size. Also clear, though, is that her work is as informed by a deep engagement with a strand of European philosophy that deals with the shape of visual experience, from Bergson and Benjamin through Deleuze, as by her own life. Her videos in particular bring these two forces into conversation. The Golden Fields, 2009, for example, presents an archetypally southern New Zealand landscape—wire fences, leafless trees under glacially clear skies—in a slow-moving, nearly hour-long time-lapse. On one level, the work is like a step-by-step guide to the Deleuzian relationship between movement, image, and cinematic representation. Even so, it never feels like exegesis or finger-waving lecture. Wearing its erudition lightly, it creates the sense that Pieters is letting us see life on delay—a living pulse dimmed even more by musician Peter Wright’s accompanying droning sound track.

The rich light alluded to in The Golden Fields’s title points to Pieters’s sensitivity as a colorist, which was demonstrated time and again throughout the exhibition in her monochromatic paintings. Pieters usually deploys cool hues such as indigo, gray, and a washed-out pale green, and in the best of these works, such as those that make up the mallarmé suite, 2013, color seems to sit on the surface like chalk or even fine snow, despite having been applied in rainy washes. These ambivalent surfaces fight hard against their rough-and-ready substrates: Pieters almost always paints on old chunks of hardboard, their edges roughly snapped rather than cut. Many of the boards carry the scars of earlier lives: nail holes the artist hasn’t bothered to sand back; folds, wrinkles, and warpings where paint has pooled and turns darker. Pieters then makes small graphite doodles on them—abstract gestures that could come across as karaoke Twombly, but that in fact manage to both disrupt and anchor the paintings’ odd, scumbled fields.

Sound bleed was everywhere: It was impossible to stand in front of a painting without having the encounter contaminated by noise from a video. The constant hum acted as both a conceptual and elastic thread that bounced viewers from the paintings to the moving-image works and back again; competing soundscapes revealed Pieters’s practice as a singular whole concerned with a philosophical battle between body and mind. In an accompanying interview with writer Hamish Clayton, Pieters explains that “Deleuze especially investigates a transcendental empiricism, which makes its appearance as an experience without either consciousness or subject; this paradox particularly intrigues me.” It was a contradiction that the exhibition itself ably embodied, while also exuding a quiet appetite for risk, a total awareness of the way in which its various elements should coalesce, and a subtle understanding that philosophy presents us not just with abstract ideas, but with solid models for how to be in, and of, the world.

Anthony Byrt