The Domain by Gavin Hipkins
Wellington: VUP (2017)
RRP: $70. Hb, fully illustrated, 240pp
Reviewed by Andrew Paul Wood
Gavin Hipkins’ photography first came to the attention of the art world in the early 1990s, intriguing in their fetishism on the banal and mundane, concerned more with the metanarrative of photography itself, and the photograph as artefact in its own right, rather granting particular significance to subject. Gavin Hipkins: The Domain is generously illustrated and with new essays by George Clark, Courtney Johnston and Robert Leonard, and archival texts by Barbara Blake, Peter Brunt, Blair French, Heather Galbraith, Giovanni Intra, Robert Leonard, Trevor Mahovsky, William McAloon, Karra Rees and Laurence Simmons.
Accompanying a major exhibition at the Dowse earlier in the year, the book covers 20 years of Hipkins’ practice across photography, slide transparencies and moving image, and his most critically-important bodies of work: The Habitat (1999-2000) cataloguing the brutalist architecture of Aotearoa’s university campuses, The Homely (1997-2000) touring the quaint and kitschy in Australia and New Zealand and nominated for the inaugural Walters Prize, Erewhon (2014), his first feature-length film and others. There really isn’t the space here to go into the essays, but as an archive of images it is a profound achievement and it’s only en masse that we truly appreciate the overall project.
Hipkins is best when directly intervening in the way we experience photography, whether that be their carefully considered installation in patterns on the wall as in The Pavilion (2011) or as a punning cascade of vertical strips of machine prints in Zerfall (1997-8), or in the direct optical intervention in the images as in The Sanctuary (2004-) or the menacing floating beads in black and white touristic landscapes in New Age (1993-2003). I struggle with the book design itself – the thick boards do nothing for me.
Andrew Paul Wood is a Christchurch-based art writer and critic. He is takahē arts and essays editor.