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Alchemy in the City

Press Release. Immediate release: 15 July 2008

Alchemy in the City

Wellington artist conjures magical urban landscape at Michael Hirschfeld Gallery

Enter the surreal and magical world of artist Joanna Langford in a new installation at City Gallery Wellington’s Michael Hirschfeld Gallery. The Beautiful and the Damned – Joanna Langford, 25 July until 31 August, is a startling miniature cityscape constructed from recycled computer keyboards, lit by hundreds of tiny LED lights.

Langford’s urban landscape is both realistic and imagined, implying a scene of diminutive city dwellers going about their everyday routines, yet there is a magical quality in the work which takes it away from the ordinary. Magic Realist writer Gabriel García Márquez said ‘My most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separate what seems real from what seems fantastic’; here the fiction seems to draw from both with ease.

Having worked in two recycle shops, Wanaka Wastebusters and now Wellington City Council Recycle Centre shop, and from a bedroom studio, Langford is often physically surrounded by inspiration for her art. Her practice promotes the use of humble or insignificant materials, not unlike the Italian Arte Povera (or ‘poor art’) movement of the 1960s, where artists improvised with whatever media they could get their hands on to create fantastical structures. The ‘magpie-ing’ of unwanted refuse is fundamental, and the materials dictate the form.

“I find it helpful being in a situation where I’m surrounded by potential art materials and objects and I enjoy transforming these “low” materials in to something magical,” says Langford in Art News Winter, 2008

Langford creates architectural structures that are stable yet at the same time wonky, teetering and temporary. The towering keyboard structures in this work seem precarious – they are optimistically supported by bamboo skewers and a web of glue strands. A makeshift aesthetic, improvised materials and seemingly ad hoc configurations are found in many of Langford’s works. In the past she has used plastic bags, plasticine, popsicle sticks, biscuits and sweets alongside other found materials, always attached with the ubiquitous glue gun. The title of the show makes reference to F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel of the same name.

Joanna Langford was born in Gisborne in 1978. She lives and works in Wellington and in October 2008 will take up a residency in Iceland. Langford completed a Bachelor of Media Arts (Painting) at Wintec in Hamilton in 1999, and in 2004 graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Master of Fine Arts (Painting). In 2006 she was awarded the Olivia Spencer-Bower Fellowship, and in 2007 the Tylee Cottage Residency at Wanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery, and the Royal Overseas League Residency in London and Scotland. Group exhibitions include: Private Park, Mary Newton Gallery (2008); Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, Te Tuhi, Auckland (2007); and Out of Erewhon, Christchurch Art Gallery (2006). Recent solo exhibitions include Brave Days, Enjoy Gallery, Wellington; Down from the Nightlands, Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui (2007); and The Quietening, Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch (2007). Langford is represented by Jonathan Smart Gallery.

The Beautiful and the Damned – Joanna Langford
25 July – 31 August 2008
Michael Hirschfeld Gallery, City Gallery Wellington
Admission: FREE


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