Happy coincidence of art and science in Covid ‘message’




Photo: Science and art making its point: photographer Bob Zuur (left) with print-maker Joe Buchanan (right), pointing to the letter “C” in Joe Buchanan’s Lockdown Alphabet. While the letter “C” could refer to Covid, it could also be an oblique reference to the sea that occupied much of their professional life.

A new Mahara Gallery double exhibition delivers a Covid 19 message in the form of work by two Paekakariki artists who in their professional lives have both been marine scientists.

Photographer Bob Zuur brings his acclaimed, Portraits from a Village in Lockdown to the Gallery while print-maker Joe Buchanan is showing his remarkable Lockdown Alphabet.

“We invited Bob Zuur and Joe Buchanan to exhibit because of their creative response to Covid 19,” says Gallery Director Janet Bayly. “But in view of the crucial role science has played in dealing with the pandemic, it’s a happy coincidence that they both happen to be scientists and a further coincidence that they both live in Paekakariki.”

At the exhibition opening, both talked about their reaction to Covid 19 and the impact lockdown had on Paekakariki and New Zealand.

“Some people were not able to say goodbye to their loved ones or travel to see family,” Bob Zuur said. “Lockdown was hard but what everyone said is, 'if we are going to be stuck anywhere in lockdown, best be in New Zealand and you can't beat Paekākāriki'."

Bob Zuur studied marine biology and worked for local and central government and environmental groups on conservation in New Zealand and Antarctica. He had been passionate about photography since school days and in 2018, his passion also became his career.

Lockdown put photographic work on hold. In seeking something positive to take out of the experience, he came up with the idea of taking photos of different bubbles with the village.

He put a message on Facebook, hoping for around 20 replies. He was surprised by the way the village embraced the idea, giving him 55 photos which were exhibited in the village hall in June and captured in his book, Bubbles of Paekakariki - Portraits from a Village in Lockdown.

"There's an element of trust you have to establish as a photographer which normally takes time,” he told Kāpiti News in an interview.  “But with this it was a case of turning up and getting the photo within five minutes.

"I then often ended up with a longer conversation on how lockdown was and the challenges they had faced and that sort of thing."

Members of the bubbles were asked to summarise their lockdown experiences in captions which accompany the photographs in the exhibition.

Print-maker Joe Buchanan is also a marine biologist. He spoke at the exhibition opening about the effect lockdown had on him.

“For once, we all had time to think,” he said. “Suddenly appreciating the important role nurses and cleaners play in our lives realigned our values.”

That gave him the idea of using the alphabet as a means of commenting on what was happening at the time.

“I always wanted to cut a large alphabet. It is really hard to get large wooden type these day so I thought I’d cut one in lino and, because I was thinking about the Lockdown and the Covid-19 crisis, I wanted to respond to that and comment on it.

“In many ways The Lockdown Alphabet is me going back to my early days.  The first public art I really did was protest banners, simple slogans and pithy texts.”

Joe Buchanan says the text that accompanies the letter Z, “zero transmission” is a note of hope. The Lock-down Alphabet is not purely a polemic. The text for the letter I delivers the relatable message, “I need a haircut.”

He describes himself as “a third generation Paekakariki human” who grew up there and returned three years ago with his partner and two daughters.

He operates Diatom Press from an old railway cottage relocated to his mother’s garden.

He is working on a limited letterpress edition booklet of the commentary that accompanies the Alphabet.

Mahara Gallery is also currently showing, Living the Dream, an exhibition by Ben Caldwell, the 2019 Mahara Gallery Arts Review premier award winner. He describes himself as an “art maker” who lives between Paraparaumu and Aotea and has a workshop and small gallery in Paraparaumu.

There is also a small exhibition of works by Frances Hodgkins from the Field Collection in the Gallery’s NewSPACE gallery. It complements the major touring show Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys which has just opened in Wellington. It features a special painting loaned from the Field Collection.

Friends of Mahara have been offered guided tours of this show by Adam Gallery Director, Christina Barton.