Polishing silver, gifting photographs and an auction at Toi Pōneke

25 March 2015

Kelly McDonald, Vivien Atkinson and Petra Stueben explore the nature of objects and performance, memory and desire, and the dynamics of collecting.

Greywacke, steel, brass, pine, steel by Kelly McDonald

Greywacke, steel, brass, pine, steel by Kelly McDonald


Bringing in silverware to be polished, taking a photograph as a gift, and participating in a silent auction – in their exhibition ornament/artefact, the artists provide visitors to Toi Pōneke Gallery with interactive experiences while exploring society’s relationship with objects from differing points of view.

Vivien: “Objects are what matter ....           

Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.” – Levi Strauss.  

When Vivien Atkinson stumbled across a 44-gallon oil drum filled with mangled pieces of silver plate at a metal recycling agent she decided to use this as inspiration for her work in ornament/artefact.

“I often find tarnished silver plate for a few dollars at op shops; it represents a changing attitude to once cherished and valued possessions. These objects that once signified a cultured home are now often regarded as ugly and high maintenance.”

Vivien says she’s drawn to the historical connotations and the tactile nature of the surfaces – especially those that have been used for generations. She was fortunate to be able to spend time with Robert Clendon, a conservator at Te Papa. Her work with Robert involved meticulously recording the history of each piece, noting the condition, materials, maker, and dates, and keeping a photographic record.

“There are many smells and actions associated with the conservation of these objects that have the power to re-awaken forgotten memories.”

Her own experience caring for her family’s silver and the techniques learned while studying jewellery have come together in a performance piece working with traditional domestic forms of cleaning and the conserving techniques practised at Te Papa.

Vivien is inviting visitors to bring their silver plate to the gallery for conservation and polishing. The history of each piece will be recorded and then carefully restored to a condition agreed by the owner.

Petra: “The hereafter and the here now”

For the past two years, Petra Stueben has been working with photographs taken from her family's archive. Her recent project The hereafter and the here now is based on photographs her grandmother took in Germany in the 1930s. The pictures were intended to document her family’s property, to save them from disappearance during World War II.

The exhibition uses nine of these photographs, reproduced as inkjet prints and stacked on top of cardboard boxes to represent items stored for safekeeping as objects often are. The visitors to the exhibition are welcome to take a copy from the stack and in turn will be asked to send her an image of its new environment by.

Petra asks: “What things do we surround ourselves with? What do we see in these that make us want to keep them? What role does photography play? Since the development of digital photography the photograph seems to be disappearing in a crowd of data storage devices. This leaves me with the question about photography’s value today and our connection with it.”

Kelly: “Desire hath no rest”

Kelly McDonald explores our relationship with new objects through a large wall installation. 152 stone and wood objects are arranged in a series of binary code formations representing the converted text “Desire hath no rest” from Robert Burton’s 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy. Through these digits, McDonald reduces our choices to “to buy or not to buy” and exposes our dependence on the binary system from Eftpos and telephone banking to apps on mobile phones.

“The ‘0s’ are made from greywacke, which forms the majority of New Zealand’s basement rock – it’s used for roading, railway tracks, airports and construction. Each rock was collected from Wellington and has been shaped through time by its environment. The ‘1s’ are made from wood salvaged from local house renovations, houses being the foundation of our stability from which all else branches.”

The cultural significance of both stone and wood in our lives has long and important traditions in trade and commerce.

A small collection of jewellery works will be available for purchase through a silent auction running until close of the exhibition. 

“This work is driven by the anticipation of purchase, representing the multitude of research that shows it is this anticipation that actually makes us happier, rather than the owning of the purchased object.”

ornament/artefact opens at 5.30pm Thursday 9 April and runs until 2 May (closed 27 April) at Toi Pōneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street.