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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Peter Robinson’s exhibition at the Peter McLeavey Gallery

Peter Robinson’s exhibition at the Peter McLeavey Gallery is a sculptural piece made up of an everyday material, white polystyrene, that’s been crafted into a form that at first may look like a giant alien from a Doctor Who episode, but with the aid of a book in the next room and the help of the those in the gallery, becomes unpacked, and the conversation becomes more focussed.

It is in the gallery where Robinson’s homage to the Roman school Baroque sculptor, painter-architect, and fountain designer Pietro Bernini (1562-1629) is taking place. The fountain could be the Travertine and marble work titled The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome, which consists of an imitation Egyptian obelisk surrounded by four giant statues representing the four quarters of the world. Robinson’s choice of the fountain could be linked to his initial training as a sculptor.

The use of polystyrene as a material is something that Robinson has become familiar with as he has utilised it in a number previous works.

Robinson’s work initially appears to be a crude replica using everyday materials to pay homage to Bernini’s fountain but is in fact a serious and complex work. The sheer scale of the work dictates that it must be taken seriously when it takes up one entire room in the gallery, rising up to the ceiling and cascading in various directions within the space.

The water from the fountain is represented by hundreds of chain links, which though created by a machine, were put together by hand (with Robinson’s student support) and when laid out flat stretch for a significant distance. The work itself took four days to construct in the gallery.

This desire to pay public respect to Bernini and his fountain is pivotal in understanding art historical tradition within the context of this work. The chains could represent the overriding bonds of western European art tradition and the influence it has had on the world, and how art is perceived, received and accepted within a global context. This draws us into the centreperiphery debate, questioning whether all art is influenced from cultural ‘centres’ or developed through a much more fractured process of interaction. What is the primary source that dictates what art is? Robinson utilises the fountain to display this.

The use of the chain as a symbol is also evident in other works by Robinson, two of which are in the Techno – Fossils Section of the Jim Barr and Mary Barr Collection. This is part of City Gallery’s New Zealand programme for the International Arts Festival, which runs from the 23 February to 15 June. Zero Red Self (2001) is made up of a number of red chain links suspended from the ceiling. The other work, titled Everything Affects Everything (2000) is a painted work featuring red and black zeroes and ones arranged in a geometric pattern.

The use of the chains is shows literally and symbolically how art is bound to tradition, and that Robinson believes this may not be a good thing. In this way Robinson may well be levelling a bit of irony to the homage. If this work is placed in context with Robinson’s work overall, with its critical exploration on issues of identity and ethnicity, it becomes clear that this tribute is not what it appears to be.

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