Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History December 2013
Tina Rae Carter essentially belongs to the Symbolist tradition in painting. Although this movement officially began and ended in the late nineteenth century, it’s one of those tendencies that re-emerges in various epochs and individual artists, just as you can see Expressionist tendencies in some Byzantine paintings as much as twentieth century art.
This exhibition also exhibits a sympathy with science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s. By this, I don’t mean fantastical stories of deep space and far into the future, but the vision scientists and artists had of the ocean, and space, just as they were beginning to explore both.
You can see this in the colour photography of strange deep sea creatures , television series like Stingray, and the voyage of Kon-tiki, and voyages of Jacque Cousteau’s Calypso. There’s a sense the Earth’s oceans, like space, offer worlds yet to be discovered, with boundless possibilities.
Fast forward to 2013 and there is a growing dread (amongst those who care), that this limitless expectation has been replaced by a finiteness, and accelerating consumption of the oceans’ resources. With this comes a melancholy, and sense of loss, that can be felt when viewing these paintings.
Carter has layered symbols and meanings amongst and over each other – turtle backs, opaque membranes, eels, kowhai trees, small fish, all co-habitat within the same environments. The intense but recessive colours accentuate the dreamlike qualities, the mood helped along by the sound track from Vincent Ward’s nearby installation playing nearby.
For the most part, Carter’s environmental themes play out very subtlety, but one of the best works, Anadarko, by its name alone baldly states the fact of deep sea drilling off New Zealand and what it forebodes. Like all Symbolists, Carter hides hundreds of elements within the paintings that you don’t notice at first, such as the face on the body of a seal, and the a fish who looks directly at the viewer.
The Kermadec Necklace, a sequential arrangement of paintings and framed photograms, takes its name from one of the deepest places on Earth, only just now being explored, location of a suggested marine reserve, and undoubtedly under threat, as are all the world’s oceans. The small paintings are perhaps creatures found in the Kermadec trench, and the photograms various symbols of human exploration of the deep from periscopes, to an old fashioned diving suit, to an astronaut on the moon.
Carter ultimately takes the exhibition to level of the psyche.
When sound vibrations are applied to salt, it forms mandala-like patterns. Salt is about Epic journeys, and the exploration, whether environmental or just human desire for change. Sometimes the best journeys are driven by a primal urge, with nothing but a notion of identity, and the push and pull of the tides. Everything seems to fall into place, and whatever is needed seems to appear just at the right moment, as if it was there all along.
With this statement, Carter builds a metaphorical bridge between the personal inner world and the oceans. We are moved by currents but we are also one part of them. When we let ourselves go to them, they take us home, just as New Zealand’s long finned eels in Carter’s paintings let the ocean’s currents to take them to a secret spawning area somewhere near Tonga where they mingle (providing there are still enough of them left) with the elvins then letting the currents bring them home to New Zealand’s rivers again.