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Ann Shelton’s Dark Matter

Robyn Maree Pickens, 2017
Art and Australia

Review: Ann Shelton’s Dark Matter

Curated by Dr Zara Stanhope. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 26 November 2016 - 17 April 2017

Ann Shelton’s retrospective exhibition Dark Matter prompts me to muse on the Ice Age word Bärenschliffe, which has been sounding through the Twittersphere recently.(1) Evoking perhaps Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the word describes polished rock surfaces in caves that have been worn smooth by the passage of bears. At the level of touch, the surface of an unframed photograph would feel, one imagines, as smooth as cave walls soothed into soft by the slow, regular gait of bears. But although the caught-light surfaces of photographs may be smooth to the touch, they can bristle with what, however erroneously, certain cultures have labelled ‘darkness,’ to describe troubling, difficult or violent events. Dark Matter makes evident Shelton’s focus on troubling and violent events as diverse (yet interrelated) as: the loss of curative or ameliorative plant knowledge (including abortifacients),(2) and the women who were killed for their knowledge; the invasive panopticon of mental institutions and rehabilitation centres; the Nazi regime’s instrumentalisation of nature’s purity through the gifting of oak saplings to Olympic gold medallists at the 1938 Berlin Games; the death of anarchist and suicide bomber Neil Roberts who attempted to blow up the Wanganui Computer Centre in 1982,(3) and geographical locations where murder or violence, whether historical or fictional, took place.

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