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Artist's work acts as a bridge between art and science

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Some years ago, artist-researcher Gabby O’Connor was flying from Tokyo to New York, when the airplane passed over a moonlit Arctic. That vivid experience sparked her interest in the polar regions and led to a series of projects involving working with scientists and local communities to communicate the connections between art, science, and climate.

Early on, secondhand accounts and tertiary research informed her knowledge of Antarctica, but some years later Gabby was able to visit the frozen continent. Gabby jokes, ‘my works are the results of a not very intrepid artist going to a very intrepid place.’

In 2015, O’Connor spent several weeks in Antarctica working in a shipping container laboratory on sea ice in McMurdo Sound. Invited back, she returned to Antarctica a year later – to continue photographing and measuring platelet ice.

Gabby’s art acts as a bridge between art and science, with there often being an explicit educational component of the work’s production. In 2022, Gabby exhibited at the National Aquarium in Napier in an installation titled The Unseen, an art-science collaboration made out of rope and the work of the unseen hands of hundreds of visitors.

This week, in the foyer of MTG Hawke’s Bay Tai Ahuriri, Gabby has installed All the Colours, All the Light, an ethereal work that incorporates the effect of light beaming through gel forms. The work is based on the meteorological phenomenon called diamond dust, which consists of tiny ice crystals floating in the air close to the ground. It occurs when the air is very cold and clear, in places like Antarctica. Tiny crystals are revealed when the sunlight hits them, making it look like glitter or sparkles.

Light is a key element in Gabby’s work, connecting the work with the space while also amplifying the sensory experience of its color properties. Bringing it back to the science of it, Gabby says, ‘it relates to the idea of the role of light in climate change too’.

All the Colours, All the Light first showed in Sharjah Art Museum in 2017 and more recently at the Dowse Art Museum and at Ashburton Art Gallery. Each time, the installation has morphed in response to the architecture of the space.

Gabby is interested in the architecture of the building and how her installations impact visitor movement through its space. Here, the work will be experienced by people in transit. ‘As much as making people conscious of their own movement and impact on a space is a sculptural idea, it is also a way of thinking about our own impact on climate.’ Gabby says. 

Working from engineering and architectural plans to prepare for the installation of the work, and as if drawing in three dimensions, Gabby adapts the work further as she installs it. Potential variations in the form of the work are as infinitely various as the diamond dust clouds they respond to. 

Gabby has dedicated her artistic practice to communicating environmental changes and climate shifts. Yet so much of the beauty of All the Colours, All the Light is in our experience of it as an artwork.  How in moving around it, it reveals new dimensions, how it casts dynamic shadows, and how it works with light. It’s that genuine wonder in the experience of it, that opens you up to the more challenging ideas it contains.

Gabby O’Connor, All the Colours, All the Light, MTG is on until 3 November 2024.

Gabby will be giving an artist talk in the evening of Friday 26 April and holding workshops for children, teens and adults on Saturday 27 April. See our website for details closer to the time.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper 16 March 2023 and written by Toni MacKinnon, Art Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image: Gabby O’Connor, All the Colours, All the Light, 2017-2024, Ashburton Art Gallery, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.

18 March 2024

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