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Elizabeth Brookbanks: Birds & Men


Thu 15 Nov 2012, 10:00am–6:00pm
Fri 16 Nov 2012, 10:00am–6:00pm
Sat 17 Nov 2012, 10:00am–4:00pm
Mon 19 Nov 2012, 10:00am–4:00pm
Tue 20 Nov 2012, 10:00am–12:00pm

Where: nkb Gallery, 455 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden, Auckland

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free


Listed by: nkbgal

As an extension of my previous works, Birds & Men once again explores issues of authenticity through copies of Russian icons and birds. The comparison of religious iconography with nature draws attention to our perceptions of value. The intention of the icon is to usher the viewer into a place of reverence and contemplation. Contemporary culture often sabotages and increasingly challenges this space for consideration. The labour of the icon centres not only the artisan but also the spectator. The eye is easily seduced by the ornate glow of pure gold, once enticed the spectator is entranced by the austerity of the subject. Captivated by the mystique of mannerisms and gestures, each figure is unique in character yet codified in meaning. From the punishing precision of facial hair rendered in minute detail, to the wisp of renegade feathers retraced upon a two-dimensional armature, each image demands pause in its deliberation and pseudo exactitude. If only to stop and ask, why? why bother? the icon has fulfilled its purpose.

Historically used as narrative prompts and homage to Saints, the icon carries emblems and symbols imbued with power. Hated for their reverential qualities, in excess of thirty million icons have been destroyed in Russia since October 1917. In the monthly Moskva (January 1990), Russian art historian Kuzniecov lists some of the malicious methods of icon destruction:
• In the army – for target practice
• In the mines – as pavement for tunnels flooded with water
• In the marketplace – as raw material for building potato crates
• In kitchens – as boards for chopping meat and vegetables
• In apartments – as fuel for stoves in winter
He adds that massive piles of icons were also simply set afire or driven out to country and city garbage dumps. Respect, therefore, is due to the provocation of emotional memory the icon carries if not for the subject being represented.

Copying icons from reproduced images serves to reclaim the innate quality of the icon by breathing life back into dry bones. Adopting the same method of iconography to present birds suitably venerates our rare and exotic native aviators whilst inverting the orthodoxy of the icon. A further parody lightly diffuses issues of gender bias within traditional religious contexts. The icon can at least dispel an automatic assessment of value through the examination of technical acuity, methodological accuracy, contextual applicability, historical discourse, material duration and perceived worth. That such beauty suffers violence is worth considering.

Elizabeth Brookbanks

BA, BA (Hons), BFA (Hons), MA

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