Virus inspires artistic exploration of the unseen

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by Hamish Maclean

INSPIRATION came to Timaru artist Brian High the way it does to many New Zealanders.

As he was sitting down to have a cup of tea on a cold morning, a shaft of sunlight streamed through the window and hit the steam rising from the boiling jug.

In conversation with Aigantighe Art Gallery exhibitions curator Hamish Pettengell, Mr High had been thinking about how he could represent the significant moment in time the Covid-19 pandemic presented.

How could he as an artist represent the virus that was disrupting everybody’s lives?

As Mr High tried to figure out what the virus was on his own terms, he started thinking of it as just one of a million things that floated through the air in the space between people.

“There is a whole other equal if not more complex environment that we exist in but we just do not see consequently disregard,” Mr High said.

That was the basis of his 13-minute video-art installation at the Aigantighe Art Gallery, In Visible

The installation took six months to complete.

Mr High used four projectors to cast the synchronised piece on three walls of the gallery room and on a section of the floor.

The original composition by Micah Templeton-Wolfe, of Timaru, that accompanied the piece was at times soothing, yet at others strange and unearthly.

Mr High said there was a narrative that ran through the work and a crescendo at the end, but he left the piece vague enough to give the viewer space to interpret what they saw.

Nevertheless, views of clouds and sky at the end of the 13 minutes were intended to convey optimism, he said.

There was nothing computer generated in the video; instead, 15 layers of overlapping video created abstract visual effects.

Clouds overlapped with water vapour, steam, which appeared to be recorded at a molecular level, drifted across the gallery walls.

“I’ve had people say that they’ve seen outer space, some people say they’ve seen the internal workings of the human body,” Mr High said.

In Visible is part of a larger work, In Reflection, also orchestrated by Mr High.

A freelance news videographer and photojournalist, he asked people to send in self-portraits to capture moments in everyday lives during the pandemic.

The selfies, full of intimate details of people’s lives, were envisaged as a time capsule.

Now those portraits fill the remainder of the gallery space.

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