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Gavin Hipkins


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Second Empire: Distant Travels

‘Hiya! I’m headed for Camp Crystal Lake. Can you help me out?’

- Annie, from Friday the 13th

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n the 1880s, the London-based publishing house The Religious Tract Society produced a series of popular travel books carrying the common subtitle: Drawn with Pen and Pencil. Titles including French Pictures, Italian Pictures and American Pictures feature line illustrations of landscapes and national landmarks. Second Empire (New World) takes its initial backdrops from this run of exquisitely produced books published in the late nineteenth-century and digitally combines plates from English Pictures and Scottish Pictures with scanned custom patches. These two volumes represent my ancestor’s lands of origin and, coincidentally, were published the same decade as my forbears booked themselves on that turbulent one-way sea passage to the South Pacific, settling in New Zealand. Common to the series Second Empire, as with its precedent Empire (2007), is the disruption of pictorial space with a centrally positioned and digitally scanned embroidered patch. The montages ask an audience to consider the formation of a hybridity and the tension between the patches and backdrops in the construction of narrative. In positioning these fused binary elements, I have called on Mikhail Bakhtin’s persuasive argument that language “even within a single sentence” is frequently double-voiced. Within single pictures then, stubborn pairings of late-nineteenth century etching plates with early twenty-first century embroidered patch design collide to produce a third meaning: a hybridity; digitally woven from an idiosyncratic charting (it would appear) of two discreet material elements, disparate times, conflated cultural and social meanings. The particular coupling in Second Empire (New World) calls on both a borrowing of nineteenth-century idealised European landscape plates, and at the same time, resembles a pioneering landscape made strange via their transformation into negative form: a binding of inverted pictorial scenes with wild beasts, suspended antlers, haunted lodge, and rustic colonial trinkets… Frontierland under the wrong moon.


In addition to the landscapes becoming monochromatic negatives, the backdrops are upside-down. With a spin of the globe, this nonchalant turn alludes to the imagining of landscapes literally “from the other side of the world”. In this light, a seemingly dumb pictorial ploy reflects on the childlike envisaging of specific geographical location (moment and event) on the flip side of the globe, extending centrifugally out to space with waterfalls, trees, rivers, fences, animals and figures fastened onto the earth, apparently upside-down. I have fondly labelled these recent works “memories of photographs”, alluding to the ubiquity of the landscape photograph and its exhaustion as stylised trope as well as my own experiential and media-filtered travel experiences and dreamed memories. On this occasion, the tainted memories conjure up formative video experiences from my teenage years of defining seventies and early-eighties horror classics including The Omen and The Howling. So, as much as Second Empire (New World) emulates the original nineteenth-century book plates and their time of printing, it similarly negates this dutiful postcolonial voyage by returning us to oddly familiar cabin lodgings and surrounding picturesque woods of a haunted lakeside setting like that featured in another horror classic, Friday the 13th. The embroidery too, calls on a nostalgic adolescent period of collecting badges for scout uniform sleeve or patches to be sewn onto faded denim. Between two points of distant travel, picturesque English vignette and primitive fish patch merge an antiquated pictorial tradition with vernacular emblems that evoke cursed Camp Crystal Lake.

Gavin Hipkins Auckland, October 2008

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1. (Cover) Second Empire (Tree) 2008 (detail) unique state pigment print on canvas, 130 x 110 cm 2. Second Empire (Cascade) 2008 unique state pigment print on canvas, 145 x 105 cm 3. Second Empire (Mountains 2) 2008 unique state pigment print on canvas, 115 x 115 cm 4. Second Empire (Pool) 2008 unique state pigment print on canvas, 125 x 90 cm 5. Second Empire (Lake) 2008 unique state pigment print on canvas, 130 x 130 cm 6. Second Empire (Valley) 2008 unique state pigment print on canvas, 120 x 100 cm

Published to coincide with: Gavin Hipkins Second Empire (New World) 28 November - 20 December 2008 Preview: Thursday 27 November 6-8pm

ISBN 978-0-646-50336-3 The artist acknowledges the support of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries (NICAI) Research Development Fund.

7. Second Empire (Forest) 2008 unique state pigment print on canvas, 110 x 110 cm

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Gavin Hipkins