Documentation through Drawing

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Friday 3 June 2011
Anna Parlane

In 2009, artist Fiona Connor produced a series of drawings recording the demolition of the Gallery’s Edmiston Wing. The seven works in the Documentation through Drawing series were commissioned for Reading Room, the journal of art and culture published by the Gallery’s E.H. McCormick Research Library. They form a delicate and poetic response to the demolition of the Edmiston Wing, a part of the building that Connor had known since she was a child. The drawings are a personal record of a chapter in the Gallery’s life and Connor’s role as witness and documentarian.

With Documentation through Drawing, Connor explores the transience of things that seem permanent. She layers images to show time passing, and mirrors the cuts and perforations occurring in the Gallery’s architecture by physically cutting and removing sections of paper.

In this interview, Connor talked to me about her experience of making these beautiful and elegiac drawings:

What sparked your interest in this moment in the Gallery's life? Can you tell me how the project was initiated?

At the time I was working at the University of Auckland in the Classics and Ancient History Department and would visit Albert Park to eat my lunch. The demolition of the Edmiston Wing was incredible, like this sanctuary for art that I grew up with being deconstructed before my eyes! So I perched on the slope above the building site and took some pictures and made some drawings. Around the same I had a conversation with Sue Gardiner who encouraged me to push this further so I approached the Gallery and asked for access to the site which was granted on condition that I did a Site Safety Course.

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Documentation through Drawing: Demolition at the Auckland Art Gallery 4, 2009

How do you use drawing in your practice, and what led you to use drawing as a method of documenting the demolition?

I was thinking a lot at the time about how photography gets used a trusted form of documentation but how drawing does not get used so much. I really enjoy drawing. For this series I would go really early in the morning to the building site. When I finished up I always had this feeling like: well what ever else is going to happen in the day I am already really satisfied. So nice to have this time to sit, watch and be in observation mode.

Can you describe how it felt to be in the partially-demolished building?

It was really energising to be amongst all the action. Sitting in the galleries watching these incredibly familiar surfaces (the brown tiles on the second floor, the carpeted stair case in the lobby, the Victorian architrave and fret work in the permanent collection) all being peeled back layer by layer to reveal their materiality. One morning I was sitting in one of the tiled galleries when the roof was ripped off and the ceiling became the gusty blue spring skies; it was like a perfect Situationist moment! Amazing. For me there was this lingering nostalgia for these times or moments in art history.

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Documentation through Drawing: Demolition at the Auckland Art Gallery 5, 2009

I especially like how in one of the drawings you include the clock face in the Gallery's tower, and it shows two different times. Can you talk about how, rather than producing each drawing in one session, you returned to them at different times?

Most of these were done in one or two sittings because the site was changing so rapidly. Like I would do some drawing then come back and the spot that I had been sitting on was literally gone. Most of the drawings took about three hours which is about how long I can stay focused before I start sabotaging the work. This constraint of time and the materials I chose gives the series a consistency.

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Documentation through Drawing: Demolition at the Auckland Art Gallery 1 2009

I think there is a sadness in the way that your drawings are so physically tangible, especially through the collage and cutout elements, but they show the building being demolished and physically removed. It's almost like they are fragile stand-ins for something that no longer exists. Do you think of them as melancholy?

That is funny for me I can’t remember any melancholy. When I made the cuts I was thinking about dealing with the paper as an architecture in itself.

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Documentation through Drawing: Demolition at the Auckland Art Gallery 6 2009

Documentation through Drawing: Demolition at the Auckland Art Gallery 6 2009