When Leigh Davis and his wife, Susan, established the Jar Trust, they wanted to create opportunities for artists to work in ways not usually possible in traditional public or dealer galleries. They wanted to see work that could convincingly encompass its environment rather than competing with other works in a generic white space.

"It seemed to me the time was right for a new addition of the range of exhibiting possibilities in Auckland, which is getting richer and richer as a centre for the visual arts," says the third trustee, Wystan Curnow, who Leigh jokingly refers to as being the brains in the operation alongside the Davis brawn.
Together with artist Stephen Bambury, they opened the first Jar space on New North Rd, Kingsland, late last year.

Leigh and Curnow are both writers, so it is fitting that the name Jar is a literary reference, recalling The Anecdote of the Jar, a poem by Wallace Stevens that describes placing a jar on a hill, which - despite the jar's small scale - is able to both absorb its surroundings and give them impact.

Davis came across the poem while a student of Curnow's: "That goes back to my relationship to Wystan as a teacher and his American poetry course - being introduced to the fabulous modernist Wallace Stevens. I've always been struck with the perfection of that poem and its ambiguous scale."

When we visited the Jar project, it was a dim, drizzly day with little light entering the gallery from its rooftop aperture, but such climatic shifts can also be seen as subtly altering the work's focus. "When it's almost too reflective, we can see the 'jar effect' in relation to that space," says Curnow. "So it seems filled by everything that's around it."

The project is initially philanthropic and the trustees have paid for the development of this first venue, a low-cost model.

"This was a crumby building and we took a peppercorn lease for a long period and did the capital reconstruction and we have no running costs," Davis says.

"It has to be something which, for a start project, is very manageable, so it doesn't commit us to constant care and maintenance. It has to be sustainable on those terms, then we can plan what the next one's going to be."

Although starting simply, they have plans to expand the organisation. "We'll be looking for sponsorship.

"As our ambitions grow, we are going to want to find more friends and bring more people to the party," says Curnow, who was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year's honours list.

"We need to show what we can do and what the idea can do first. That's the key thing - start cheap and modest and prove a point and then we can lift our sights."

Both Davis and Curnow see the Dia Foundation in America as a good working model. Established in 1976, Dia has supported many ambitious, large scale projects, usually permanent, including Walter De Maria's Lightning Field, Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and Donald Judd's Chinati complex in Marfa, Texas - all works created for specific environments that remain far longer than any public gallery would allow.

Like most Dia projects, the Jar Trust aims to support projects that will sustain longer exhibitions without the pressure of fortnightly, monthly, or even quarterly changeovers.

Working on an expanded cycle can also mean approaching and thinking about the work in different ways, similar to the Millennium Clock (named the Clock of the Long Now by Brian Eno) project, which works on a 10,000-year cycle to promote more long-term thinking.

"We wanted a slower process so the quality of the encounter with the work had time to do more than is usually possibly," Curnow says. "It's a different pattern of breathing. It's taking deep breaths rather than panting."

Working on a more gradual timeframe also means more considered planning, where the installation process can even take months to get it just right. Finding the right building and connecting it with an appropriate artwork was essential.

The Jar Trust worked with Sydney-based architects Pohio Adams to adapt the space, including replacing the front wall with glass, and Bambury responded to those developments in creating the work Room for Reflection.

Davis not only sees the western influences of Malevich, McCahon and even Dante in Room for Reflection - which sees the gallery floor covered in oil - but also a clear nod towards Mecca and eastern traditions.

Room for Reflection continues on from Bambury's earlier work Ngamotu, which also used oil to acknowledge global and environmental politics.

Curnow and Davis say there will be more Jar spaces but they can't say when, or even when Room For Reflection will close. Rather than announce a specific grand opening, they were happy to let the work just seep into the city's consciousness.

"At the moment we don't have a closure point on this particular project," Curnow says. "We're not in a rush to tell you that. We'd like it to just make its way into the life patterns of the people of Kingsland and the people of Auckland."


*What: Room for Reflection, by Stephen Bambury

*Where and when: Jar, 589 New North Rd, Kingsland until further notice