The Fisher Gallery has an installation of the sculpture by Dunedin based artist Peter Nicholls.
Entitled Crossings, the initial works in the exhibition take aspects of river journeys and crossings as their source and in particular the river journeys of Nicholls' missionary ancestor Richard Taylor. Taylor charted the Wanganui River and also introduced poplar, oak, and willow into the Wanganui region - hence the use of these woods in the sculptures.
The central work is called Whanganui from the indigenous spelling. The artist says of the work that, ‘I had decided on a narrative work or a visual poem centred on Richard Taylor' s first trip up river on the 7 June 1843. The sculpture took the form of a river of wood which [snakes] through the gallery nine meters in length. It is made from driftwood selected from South Beach ... scaled down to the river journey from Putiki to Pipiriki [which is] 90 kilometres.’
A brass compass set into the sculpture orients it North in the gallery as by the river itself. References to journeys are embedded into the wood of the sculpture, and include a number of artifacts as symbols or signifiers of both physical and spiritual survival.
Crossings refers not only to river crossings but also to many other meeting points, among them the crossing of cultures and religions - the Maori and the introduced Pakeha, symbolised in Whanganui by the crossing of native rimu and totara with introduced willow and poplar.
A further bicultural reference in Whanganui is the juxtaposition of an adze head with Nicholls’ own last used axe, both embedded in the work.
A concurrent theme which runs through the exhibition is that of our fragile ecosystem. Nicholls himself is committed to the process of repropagation of our naive forests. Many of the steel wall sculptures in the exhibition take their source from the natural shapes and forms of the forests and countryside.
Documentation in Crossings includes maps and historical photographs of the Whanganui river and Richard Taylor. This is a fascinating exhibition with many layers of references which combines historical references within contemporary sculpture.
→ Peter Nicholls: Crossings, 1992, publication
→ A journey into the past, New Zealand Herald, 14-05-1992
→ Construction that defies convention, New Zealand Herald, 1992