"Pretty Bloody Visceral"

by James Mack
The Wairarapa Gallery Newsletter, November/December '98

In the Athene Gallery in Greytown there has been a glorious show by Dale Copeland of Taranaki. It was a very special show and one of those exhibitions so charged with professionalism at every level that anyone in Wairarapa interested in the arts should have been to have a look.

By professionalism I mean the ideas, the objects that make those ideas happen and the way those ideas are presented. All of the pieces in the show were conundrums - they were not just simple easy viewing things. You looked at the intricacies of the objects Dale Copeland had made, enjoyed them at the aesthetic level. Then you read the labels and realised that she was ganging up on you with some really quite deep, gutsy stuff that needs to be said.

Athene Gallery, in a former chuch in Greytown, is putting on some of the best exhibitions in the district at the moment. You have artists dealing with people who handle the work professionally, present it professionally in an environment which is not architecturally easy for art.

In terms of the intellectual aspect of her show, Dale Copeland, who is doing doctorate-level studies into Chaos Theory, displays an intellect of considerable power. She says that when she turned 43, she started making art full-time and she and her partner now make most of their living outof art and a couple of Internet-sites that they run. (These are Virtual TART Internet site at http://virtual.tart.co.nz and Puniho Art Internet site at http://outofsight.co.nz)

The works in the Athene show were simply spectacular. For examples, the Crystal Midden (Semi-silvered and half-seen. Sparkling detritus.) which played hologram against real object made to look like hologram, objects inside objects reflected against each other. It allowed the viewer to see into the intricacies of the making, and then stand back and see that it was redolent with the most glorious considered aesthetics.

The 37 works, works made out of found objects, were in the tradition of the American Joseph Cornell, who made box constructions from found objects in the twenties and thirties which are now considered to be some of the icons of American art of that period. Although Dale Copeland's pieces are nothing like his work, they have the same incredible inellectual capacity. You have on the one hand the extrememly bright, clever person, the forward thinker at many levels who is without doubt a magpie of the very best and the very worst kind who has a household full of stuff which some might call junk but which she calls treasure. It sits there until the time comes for the intellectual process to assume it and consume it and turn it back to the world in a work of art.

Those who did see the show at Athene would have needed time, because beyond the art works was some really good writing - a couple of books Dale Copeland had written. One was about assemblage art, which she has written because she couldn't find one on the subject anywhere else. It is dedicated to "those who see treasure".

One of the really tough pieces in the show was the Woman as Receptacle. This incorporated an old ceramic urinal or bedpan into which a doll's body had been stuffed, on top of which a plastic doll's arm and hand had been attached along with three small hanging photographs of pregnant women. On the reverse of each were images alluding to containers. As well, the work included small pieces of gold jewellery and gold chain, and some leather stuffed into the cavity of the urinal around the doll's body to hold it all together.

The sub-title of the piece was: '"Women as mere carriers?" - leave out the "mere" and be proud.' This was pretty bloody visceral, working on many levels. This is characteristic of Dale Copeland's intellect, and all of the things she does have inherent intellectual fortitude and power. Her pieces, as this one did, contain stratifications of various kinds. And on one hand she can giggle, or inspire a giggle about the piece, because it has a profundity in its rotundity - it's haughty. But it was also very, very serious. The serious element isn't quite reached until the label is read, which reveals the integral involvement between subject, making and title, which is what good art is all about.

With a piece such as Remembrance of Things Past, you get to a sub-title which says "I think Proust would have liked that dry little mouse", and there's a dehydrated, extremely squished and dessicated mouse which she has found somewhere and tucked away and then used with an ugly little vase, a piece of bone, a bit of copper wire and some Chinese soapstone fruits.

These had been laid down on a very tatty book cover on a piece of velvet and some ivory slivers from old piano keys. The whole was framed and became wonderful, and I think Proust would indeed have loved the little mouse.

What Ponce de Leon Really Found included a Victorian glass dust cover, like an inverted bell jar. It hearks back to a time when there was liberation happening in society and there were fewer servants available to do things like dusting, so women covered things with glass domes to keep the dust off and reduce the need for constant dusting. In the glass dome, Dale Copeland had put a primitive carved wooden fork or comb inverted in a bird-nest.

Mounted on the fork was an extremely well-preserved bird skeleton. The sub-title read: "The explorer - he looked for the fountain of youth but found Miami." This had to be good. But once you moved past the things like this which brought a smile to your lips, you had a work of delicate strength, a work which stood proudly and with great power.

It would have been possible to go from work to work, with the same enjoyment and discovery, but the pieces touched on above give a fair rounding on the show. Dale Copeland is a fantastically clever woman - she knows absolutely what she is about, which is in itself the ultimate test. You have to know that this is someone who is not precious, who wants to share, to draw us into a phenomenal realm of discovery beyond the normal aesthetic realms into which we venture.
James Mack

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