Starkwhite is pleased to present In a forest by Ann Shelton from 4 - 29 November 2011.
in a forest addresses the shifting symbolic status of a particularly charged group of trees. Presented to the one hundred and thirty gold medalists at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, the seedlings were conceived as a gift from the German people and presented by members of the Olympic Committee and reportedly, in one instance, by Hitler himself.
Of the one hundred and thirty gifted seedlings, many are no longer locatable, however one, now an adult oak tree, grows in the artist's hometown of Timaru, New Zealand, in the grounds of Timaru Boys' High School. First photographed in early 2005, this tree has become the centrepiece of Shelton's enquiry, which forms a kind of map or incomplete archive and charts a link between the oaks and National Socialism's brutal history.
Sometimes referred to colloquially as 'Hitler Oaks' these globally dispersed trees share a mythic status. in a forest considers this mythic status as well as a series of complex concerns: critiques of sporting, nationalistic and Olympic narratives; the ideological appropriation of these trees as symbols of Germanic strength and monuments to sporting prowess; memorialisation and the politics of post-World War II history; and the wider cultural complexities of remembering and forgetting.
The artist says: "The title in a forest addresses this complexity and the abstract nature of signs in general. The images initially engage with the surface information that forms part of the public or collective memory. Further, they address the mutable ideological status of these living objects, as well as their locations and idiosyncratic historical contexts.Today many of the trees are charged as symbols of the political and sporting pride of nation states' and in this sense they represent a failed attempt through the appropriation of the oak tree as symbol, to assert a particular ideology via the seedlings sent out around the globe.
"This group of trees haunts the contemporary imagination. It is my intention to examine the conundrum they represent and the wider issues they confront. To remind me as much as anyone that links to tragic periods in world history can exist in one's own far-flung hometown: links that cannot be completely erased by language or re-appropriation."-
After completing a BFA at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts, Shelton graduated with an MFA from The University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Most recently she edited the publication Sightseeing, an exhibition and a publication of postcards that explore the representation of place in contemporary German and New Zealand photography. This group show includes Shelton's work amongst 8 German and 8 New Zealand featured artists.
In 2009 she exhibited the series Public Places in Images Recalled (Bilder auf Abruf), Germany's photographic biennale curated by Tobias Berger and Esther Ruelfs. In 2006 her project a library to scale was awarded the Trust Waikato Contemporary Art Award and in 2007 the project toured New Zealand and Australia. In 2004 Shelton was the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery's artist in residence, during which time she produced the solo exhibition a kind of sleep and completed once more from the street originally exhibited at Starkwhite.
Other recent exhibitions include: Unpacking My Library, Curated by Stephen Cleland, at the Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Auckland; Collect/Project, curated by Tina Barton, Adam Art Gallery, Wellington; and Earth Matters, curated by Natasha Conland, Auckland Art Gallery Toi oi Tamaki.
Press release courtesy Starkwhite.