Key Points:

VISUAL ARTS

What:

Small Wonders

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Where and when:

Objectspace, 8 Ponsonby Rd, to Dec 22

Shows don't just happen. There have to be people willing and able to come up with ideas and bring them to fruition on the gallery walls or floor.

To increase the pool of people who could curate shows around the areas of applied art and design, Objectspace this year pulled together a group interested in handmade pieces.

Fortnightly sessions were held to talk about and look at the process of making exhibitions. The immediate outcome is

Small Wonders

, at the Ponsonby Rd gallery, on the theme of the miniature. That brief was interpreted in diverse ways by the participants, making for an intriguing show. Some asked makers to create new objects around a theme. Others plundered existing collections for works that illustrate the largeness of thinking small.

Anna Wallis focused on a classic miniature form, the ship in the bottle.

Esther Lamb, who runs a website devoted to contemporary craft, toggle.co.nz, looked at memento mori, the objects or jewellery made to remember the deceased.

Roberta Johnson was struck by the way people keep small items with them as charms or keepsakes, which take on a sentimental value more important than any value as ornamentation.

"In the past, charms were used to protect us from harm or ward off evil. Do people still believe that, and how do jewellers take the magic of charms and make it contemporary?" Johnson asks. Her invitation to makers to come up with contemporary charms generated a wide range of responses.

Tanya Zoe Robinson created a silver powder compact with skull, symbolising the passing of beauty.

Simon Gamble and Ilse-Marie Erl took a 1GB flash drive and built a case for it, literally taking the idea of embedding memories in charms. Jane Dodd made a series of pins based on items from fairy stories, while Nikki Soons made a traditional charm bracelet documenting her own life.

The project gave David McLeod the opportunity to finally produce something based on his trip to the sub-Antarctic Islands two years ago. His

Grim Harvest

charms of items such as whale pots, crosses and penguin oil bottles are drawn from the islands' harsh environment and history.

"As a group, they all take different ideas about charms and what they might mean and tried to make them special and something you would pass down to your children," Johnson says.

Bronwyn Cornish also commissioned work, getting fellow potters Peter Lange and Hilary Kerrod to make maquettes from miniature bricks:

Relics from Tinytown 2210

.

The oceans have risen by then, so the works - Lange's city rubble and Kerrod's abandoned kiln - are housed in fish tanks.

"At its best, curatorship can be partnership. You float an idea to people and they respond and you have a relationship with them and, at the end of the relationship, something emerges which would not have happened if you had not suggested it to them in the first place," Cornish says.

Karla Bo Johnson pulled out a set of dioramas of colonial scenes from Auckland Museum's basement. These models used to be loaned to schools, exposing generations of children to miniature views of the country's history.

Sarah Cox sourced two model houses from Trilby Conway, one a bach, the other a splendid gothic mansion that looks as if it has leapt out of an Edward Gorey drawing.

I applied to participate in the miniatures project to look under the hood of exhibition planning. I have observed the rise of the curatorial class since the 1970s, noting with alarm the way artists became subordinated to curators who saw themselves as auteurs, cherrypicking work to illustrate some arcane thesis which might win them kudos from fellow curators in Basel or Brisbane.

When it came time to suggest a project, I looked for something that would test the premise of the show. "Miniature" did not necessarily mean small - a Shetland pony is not a small pet. And while Objectspace exists to promote innovative craft and design, some working in that area argue the boundaries between craft and art have blurred or broken. So something made for an art context could fit.

Brendon Wilkinson's Meat Dust was made in response to an invitation from the Sao Paolo Bienal. It has not been shown here because it is too big to get up the stairs to his Auckland dealer's gallery.

It works at the level of a miniature landscape, modelled in part on an internet tour of the sun-blasted industrial terrain of the Cape Canaveral Space Centre in Florida. It is also life-sized - two figures on a real double bed - so there is a constant ambiguity about how the viewer will relate to it.

And then there is the psychological landscape Wilkinson creates. "You'd need a shrink for that," he replies to a question on its meaning.

"Over the course of four months [making the work] you think of lots of things and all those things relative to it, a lot of ideas, and emotions, all get crystallised into it," he says.

Objectspace director Philip Clarke says juxtaposing

Meat Dust

with the other models in

Small Wonders

shows how different the vocabularies of makers can be, even when they are applying similar levels of skill.

"It's interesting for Brendon's work to be in the context of the space here where the focus is on the quality of the handmade. That differentiates what we might call craft from art. The making process is a big part, whereas in a lot of fine art, 95 per cent is the concept and the construction and making is not such a big thing."