With No Vertical Song, Anne Noble, photographer and beekeeper, has advanced into new fields of technology. Following her Song Sting Swarm exhibition of 2003, she has taken her bees into the laboratory and photographed them with the aid of a scanning electron microscope. The images, all called Dead Bee Portrait, are a fusion of science and art and a paean for an endangered vital species.
Under the microscope and in black and white, the dead bees are hugely enlarged and take on a silvery quality. The details are extraordinary. The compound eyes become luminous; the dense fur of the body is contrasted with the overlapping shell structure of the lower thorax; the strong structure of the wings becomes intricate and leathery.
The suite of 15 works fulfils the special function of photography that gives the viewer insight into something commonplace in a way that is unexpected and insightful.
Where it intersects with art is when the bee takes on a special character. A hint of a fallen angel in Portrait #3 is a case in point. The extraordinary sense of personality as well as the complexity of eyes, jaws and nostrils in Portrait #14 is another. In Portrait #6 the bee, supported on one wing, takes on the pose of the famous Roman sculpture of the fallen warrior.
These spectacular enlargements make an intriguing exhibition.
Upstairs at Two Rooms Elizabeth Thomson has five works that are meditations on the ocean depths. Their intense blue and modest size makes them symbolic of an infinitely larger reality.
Cast vinyl film combined with a wooden panel with the slightest of undulations and the depth of the colour give viewers a constant sense of a surface that changes with their movement and with the light. Their luminosity might recall a memory of a deep lake or a wide ocean.
These paintings do not draw the viewer into the depths in the same way as the artist's previous large work. They concentrate more on the surface and become rich images of memory rather than pictures of the immediate reality.
Two shows at Bath Street Gallery in Parnell also offer a contrast, this time between romp and restraint. Peter Gibson Smith continues his career-long use of encaustic wax. He has developed its qualities on the surface of elaborate shapes made of assemblages of panels. Save the Phenomena has a dozen wall sculptures based on Greek vases and architectural urns. These vessels are made as halves so they fit flat against the wall. They are the vehicles for pencil drawing and painting in wax. Based on photographs, they relate to the individual shape of each construction. The tall Alabastron has a long wavy tress of grass or hair. Volute Krater, with fern patterns, is a specifically New Zealand image. Vesuvius has a shadowy, elegiac footprint as if moulded in ash. The human exception to these natural patterns is Clay, which has hands at work on a potter's wheel creating the shape of the vessel. It is fitting that an exhibition so inventive and imaginative should have an image relating to skilled creative making.
The other exhibition of paintings and drawings has the jaunty, visual wit of Mark Braunias. It is called Herbert Goon and part of its improvisational quality is seen in the way, when the framed works were hung, the artist painted directly on the wall to link them.
The works are mostly black on white or the reverse with small circular touches of colour. They have names such as White Lyf or Goo Goo Meister and have abstract figures in them that have just enough of the human in their forms and curves to give them life and character.
They all appear to be drawn with a quick, swinging arm. One exception is faces exactly drawn, all looking to the left and surrounded by circles like bubbling thoughts in the midst of unruly confusion.
The show is completed by a series of little paintings on the subject of rocks: Egg Rock, Little Rock and Soft Rock.
The whole is carried off by energy of thought and sureness of hand, creating a distinctive body of work.
Nicola Holden has an elegant exhibition at the Antoinette Godkin Gallery. The work is minimalist abstraction and part of the elegance is owed to the material, often watered silk or chiffon. The richness of the work lies in colour. In some cases it is capable of remarkable changes. Ultraviolet has twin surfaces which change from dense blue to rouge with a slight movement.
However, the real secret to their outstanding quality lies in their ability to respond to changes in light. Fluctuating light confers different qualities on them, sometimes reflective, sometimes a rich surface, yet always a source of enticing visual pleasure and surprise.
At the galleries
No Vertical Song by Anne Noble; Body of the Sentient by Elizabeth Thomson
Where and when:
Two Rooms Gallery, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to July 4
Noble photographs the amazing details of bees enlarged under a microscope while Elizabeth Thomson evokes the profound depths of the sea.
What: Save the Phenomena by Peter Gibson Smith; Herbert Goon by Mark Braunias
Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Parnell, to July4
TJ says: Urns made as wall sculpture are the vehicle for Gibson-Smith's images; Mark Braunias' shapes make a sardonic dance across the wall.
What: Render by Nicola Holden
Where and when: Antoinette Godkin Gallery, Apt Y32, 30 York St, Parnell, to July 4
TJ says: Nicola Holden makes minimal abstraction come alive.