News | 23 February 2016

Settling unpacked at Toi Pōneke

Bringing together art works developed in disparate locations, Other Ways Other Wise responds to the quirky architectural features of Toi Pōneke Gallery with a mix of found and made objects, wall painting, and sound.

Artist Karin van Roosmalen's work has been described as mobile architecture which finds a site temporarily, regroups, rethinks and moves again, gathering and losing components along the way. Other Ways Other Wise is about the act of settling, and acknowledges the profound difficulties many who arrive somewhere new face in such universally troubled times.

“Art is about encouraging a response from the viewer, says Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer, Portfolio Leader for Economic Growth and Arts, “Work like Karin van Roosmalen’s really asks us to look at the world around us in a different way. It can be a powerful thing”.

That themes of migration and settling inform the artist’s work is no surprise. Van Roosmalen is of Syrian/Lebanese and Dutch heritage. Her father moved to New Zealand from the Netherlands after World War II. A young tailor trained in Amsterdam; there were things he never mentioned about his family's experiences living close to the German border during the war. Her mother's family emigrated from Lebanon to Christchurch in the 1930's. Growing up in Christchurch, the civil war in Lebanon was a constant presence in the household. As a child of immigrants, van Roosmalen also became acutely aware of the potential for people to commit unspeakable acts.

“Part of my job now as an artist, and as a teacher, is to see the potential in beings and things, she says “I've been described as a magpie – I collect things, materials… a tiny piece of brick that looks like a thumb, or pieces of wood hauled from a skip. I am constantly in touch with these materials and play with their combinations. I experiment with objects in relation to the surrounding architecture.

“It's a slow open-ended organic process that explores how we inhabit space. There is very little of an art-life divide. It allows for surprises through chance meetings of materials and what could be better than having an artwork propose new ideas to you?

Van Roosmalen's decision to create site-responsive installations from found materials also hints at her leftist politics. Other Ways Other Wise and her wider practice address the global economic crisis, and its impact on society – from child poverty to the degrading of health care and education.

In particular, she highlights the ways explorative and abstract arts and sciences have been devalued, no longer recognised for their intrinsic worth.

“There are other ways to be that are not based on exploitation of the human and the non-human, van Roosmalen explains “There are alternative ways to think and live – despite claims to the contrary”.