Snow in Hawaii – an unusual event – but it did according to Judy Darragh, during Hurricane Kona in February 2019. She was on the Lucas Artists' Residency in Montalvo. As a show title however, it was the unpredictable, the element of surprise that got Darragh thinking. For one of the key works in this new show, 'see you in front of the flames, pay no attention to the shadows', reflects the difficult and divisive times in which we live.
It is a suite of 14 framed collages featuring small current images of protest, placed within crowd scenes lifted from old Hollywood blockbusters. So we've Kirk Douglas in Spartacus rallying the troops, whilst below young men brandish weapons in a contemporary frontline.
Beneath the line of paperworks, a small automaton-like figure waits, dressed in the body armour of today. The work juxtaposes political realities from the constructed to the real, from the past and the present. It feels eerie yet knowing, both one step removed and poignant still – silent witness to the gulf of (in)difference that generates civic unrest.
By contrast, the big floorwork Carousel promises child's play and all the fun of the fair. Fluoro painted horses, a mannequin leg, disco ball and plastic squid carouse under a striped beach umbrella, driven vertically through a slice of tomato on a circular table adorned with tiger stickers. Get the picture?! Darragh is the queen of the found object, transformed light. She's always been capable of the outright weird mixed with a sculptor's touch and her wicked sense of humour.
The line of Bin Works (or 'has-bins' as she calls them) are material delights – or the sum really, of what happens when you place objects like a rubber melon or imitation log in a metal bin and squash them. In Mesh 1 & 2, Darragh does things with net stockings, crystalline prisms and fluoro paint that you may not want to know about. And works like Heal and Melt are almost disarming in their striking simplicity of form and materials, right down to their colourful choice of plinths. Boil Up really is over the top with its superheated red sheepskin support.
Darragh made much of this work whilst in San Francisco. She experienced first-hand the fraught divisions in contemporary American society and watched its west coast burn. If it can snow in Hawaii, then there is hope yet for an election boil-over.
(In the Queen's Birthday Honours List this year 2020, Judy Darragh was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit – for services to the Visual Arts. Congratulations Judy – cheers!)
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.