Elizabeth Thomson

My Hi-Fi My Sci-Fi

15 December 2007 - 6 April 2008

Wellington-based sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Thomson is fascinated with both the orderliness and the disorderliness of Nature. While her wall-sculptures are meticulous, ‘high fidelity’ productions, her art also reflects a fascination with the ruptures, disjunctions and absurdities of the natural world—hence the element of science fiction, or ‘sci-fi’, which is never far from the surface.

Working at the interface between art and various strands of science, Thomson has, since the late 1980s, explored both the formal qualities and artistic potentials she finds in plants, insects and molecular structures. Earlier that decade, she established herself as a printmaker, exhibiting photoetchings made while a student at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland. Surreal and disorienting, these imaginings of the New Zealand coastline and craggy interior were based on sculptural dioramas which she constructed in the studio and then photographed. In these prints, human figures were often brought into disconcerting relationships with animal and plant forms. It was through working with metal plates and lithographic stones that Thomson became interested in three-dimensional effects and dream-like juxtapositions.

Through the 1990s, Thomson’s art became increasingly sculptural and focussed on harmonious repetitions of natural forms. Like the photoetchings, her large, intricately patterned wall-pieces effect a shift in the relationship between human observer, work of art and the world beyond: in Ant’s Head the viewer is confronted with a tiny detail of nature as seen through a giant microscope; in Flight Test a vast, unfurling landscape is shrunk to fit a gallery wall. By radically adjusting scale and perspective, Thomson invites the viewer into a fictional world where optics, mathematics and natural science are reconfigured by the imagination. A tension at the heart of Thomson’s work is epitomised in The Black and Whites, where moths—a common symbol of the irrational—are locked into a geometrical arrangement; these most short-lived and fleeting of creatures are rendered in permanent, robust bronze.

While Thomson’s dizzying perspectives and optically challenging orchestrations make us aware of the limits of both eye and rational mind, the materials she uses—blown glass, bronze, zinc, beading, fibreglass—draw us closer to the sculptural qualities of the work, with its hard and soft surfaces, its roughness and smoothness, opacity and transparency. On the boundary between two- and three-dimensionality, Elizabeth Thomson’s paradoxical works inhabit both wall- and air-space. Balancing observation and imagination, organisation and invention, order and adventure, her art is an eloquent exploration of both a state of mind and the state of the natural world.

Born in Auckland in 1955, Elizabeth Thomson graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 1988. She moved to Wellington in 1991 and currently works in a studio in Newtown. She exhibits widely throughout New Zealand and her works are included in major public collections.

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