Record, 4 October - 29 October 2011
Joe Sheehan is as interested in words and their conceptual purchase as he is in the artworks he produces; vitally aware of the significance of attaching names to things, and vice versa. 'Record' combines objects as records with the notion of embodied knowledge and information.
There are literal records here, simply numbered from 1 to 7. Fragile slices of stone with their 'songs' carefully engraved in one movement, they speak of technical achievement and the fragility of the very moment they record. Sheehan also presents us with the tools that might have been used to create such records of time: a series of pounamu chisels called Arrow of Time. They are replicas of an old set of chisels rescued from a skip (many missing their handles), which were given a second life in Sheehan's studio. Carved in pounamu, they recall greenstone adzes and remind us of the collected histories such tools accumulate, even as they wear away.
Reserve tells a story of material value in the form of twelve jade ingots, 'green gold', numbered G97001 through to G970012. Such titles seem oblique but encode the significance of 1997, the year that Sheehan began working at his father's Jade Factory in Rotorua, and the year in which the Crown returned ownership of pounamu within the Ngai Tahu region to Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu. For Sheehan, 1997 marks a point of new beginnings and new restrictions within his craft, as the value of pounamu rose in relation to its constrained circulation.
The pivotal work in the exhibition is a series of fifteen balloon letters carved from Carrara marble: a response to Sheehan's Antarctica New Zealand Arts Fellowship in November 2011. The bubble letters are called Words Fail, a witty response to an inability to communicate such a monumental experience, couched with further irony in the medium of monuments themselves. These letters are about awe, and the limits of our capacity to convey it; words with lofty intentions that have fallen on stony ground.
'Record' continues Sheehan's fascination with redundant or failed objects, the delights of the skeuomorph, and the witty interplay of words and things.
Dr. Billie Lythberg
Auckland, October 2011