New exhibition by artist Sam Mahon shows that art is not just entertainment

Artist and activist Sam Mahon is set to host and feature in an exhibition called Sculpture, which is a bit out of the ordinary of normal exhibitions.

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Artist and activist Sam Mahon is set to host and feature in an exhibition called Sculpture, which is a bit out of the ordinary of normal exhibitions.

Sam Mahon takes a low-key approach to controversy in his latest exhibition – but there are always undertones to stick with the man.

His latest exhibition, Sculpture, sees him collaborate with eight other artists to show and talk about their work through recorded interviews on his website.

The message is not as bold as his lifelike sculpture of former MP Nick Smith defecating into a cupbut it is there, rallying against the commercialism of art.

Artists are able to talk about their work instead of being “someone with a doctorate” telling the public what it’s all about and only showing art that might sell, says- he.

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One such piece is Anna Dalzell’s fishing net woven from linen, which reaches two stories from a wooden hairbrush. It was based on a story Dalzell heard from the Auckland Islands where a woman died alone on a shipwreck, Mahon said.

“It’s a story that is important to Anna, but she could never hope to sell it.”

The art wasn’t “just entertainment,” Mahon said.

“It’s part of the deal here.”

Femen by Rory McDougall, carved granite with a round bottom, symbolizes women in Ukraine who do not have status in the community.

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Femen by Rory McDougall, carved granite with a round bottom, symbolizes women in Ukraine who do not have status in the community.

The exhibition will be held at Mahon’s home in Waikari between November 20 and December 12, featuring works by Ashley Smith, Matt Williams, Tim Main, Alison Erickson, Tony O’Grady, Rory McDougall, Anna Dalzell and Chris Reddington .

McDougall’s piece, titled Femen, symbolizes women in Ukraine with no “status in the community.”

The round-bottomed carved granite does not stand upright, and the fluids flowing from the granite represent “the cervix and the vulva and the seeds”.

Mahon said McDougall has created a “huge, powerful container” that cannot stand because “it’s in a community that doesn’t accept that these women have a voice.”

“Having him tell that story was such a cool thing.”

That’s what it was all about, says Mahon.

“Artists saying what they think art is and the reason for doing it – that’s the ‘why’ of art, and that’s important to me.”

Mahon has raised a few eyebrows in the past using her art to protest. In 2016, his bronze sculpture of conservationist Catherine Sitenie, who died in 2014 included a pointed critique from Environment Canterbury vice-chairman David Caygill.

Mahon has had controversial sculptures in the past, including a very large statue of Nick Smith defecating into a glass.

David Walker / Stuff

Mahon has had controversial sculptures in the past, including a very large statue of Nick Smith defecating into a glass.

In 2017, Mahon’s name became synonymous with Smith, now Mayor of Nelson, when he created a life-size sculpture of the then environment minister pooping in a glass, symbolizing his feelings about the freshwater management in Canterbury.

Unusually at its last exhibition, the artists’ works are commission-free, which means they will pocket the full price instead of demanding to give the exhibitor a discount.

Mahon said the commission was around 20%, but nowadays artists can expect to donate up to 50% of their earnings to the gallery.

“Artists are going through a pretty tough time, especially after the shutdowns.”

The exhibition Sculpture at The Mill Waikari runs from November 20 to December 12.

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