DONNA-MARIE PATTERSON – Oil and Water – 25 Feb-20 March 2020
Donna-Marie Patterson spends her time between Kaimata on the West Coast and Christchurch. She investigates aspects of ecology, as a realm of connectivity, between nature and humans. Ecological ideas are fused with scientific, historical, cultural and political concerns. Her works illustrate the complex processes through which the natural and human-made realms interact, the intersectionalities between nature, science, art and culture.
Sculpture above: When the play of life is over, the spectacular goes away
Both the oil and the water in the glass cylinders are from seeps on the West Coast. They were extracted from disused bore pipes and each oil/water combination has been kept intact. The cylinders bubbles as air is released into them from below. (This work was initially shown at the Ilam School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury in 2019, as part of Patterson’s MFA exhibition.)
The following photographs are of the naturally occurring bubbling in the bore pipes on the West Coast.
‘Rainbow colour patterning of natural oil-seeps meeting water are ever present near my home in Kaimata, located in a small area in the Arnold Valley on the West Coast of the South Island. The colonial discovery of petroleum in the Greymouth region was made in the 1890s. Commercial oil exploration continued in this area until today and the Kotuku seeps, near Greymouth, are said to be the largest natural oil seeps in New Zealand.
Water and oil are key protagonists in the story of the West Coast: time and time again they signal the untapped ‘commercial potential’ of this region of Te Waipounamu.
I have studied the colonial histories encompassing these resources creating a geological profile of Kaimata, to help understand our intrinsic place within the natural world. Yet equally embracing the landscape, material and the conceptual frameworks that they represent.’
Radio NZ interview link:
2019 – Painting with oil and water
Short essay by Hope Wilson, 2019
BP have sent me an email and it’s nothing about petroleum. It’s about coffee.
Donna-Marie Patterson’s Oil and Water offers an alternative to the sense of a global and homogenous black sea by assembling a physical portrait of a locale. Patterson’s work, first shown at Ilam School of Fine Arts for her Masters presentation, is a geological profile of Kaimata, a small area in the Arnold Valley on the West Coast of the South Island. The nearby Arnold River is the site of the Arnold Hydroelectric Power Station, commissioned in 1932, which has an average annual generation output of 25GW. Commercial oil exploration continues in this area today and the Kotuku seeps, Greymouth, are said to be the largest natural oil seeps in New Zealand with drilling having been undertaken on the West Coast for more than one hundred years, although these explorations have never progressed to commercial extraction.¹ .Water and oil are key protagonists in the story of the West Coast: time and time again they signal the untapped ‘commercial potential’ of this region of Te Waipounamu.
Patterson’s use of the natural oil seepages on her property is decidedly non-commercial involving time-consuming hand collection methods and a high level of deference to the natural rhythms of the environment—carbonisation, fault lines, geothermal activity. Patterson is well versed in the natural processes of this piece of land. These works bear out the fruits of many return visits to the boreholes and soda pools near her family property and highlight the mechanisms—natural and manmade—that control the conditions of her project. In Oil and Water we see the spluttering of oil, the bubbling of a soda pool, the different material qualities of unrefined oil.
Often when we talk about oil we don’t talk about the physical qualities of the thing. We have well developed languages for speaking about oil. Without realising we’ve stepped into convenient euphemisms. We talk about barrels and boreholes, prices and petroleum. Patterson engages directly with the sensuous potential of oil as a medium. Her drawings and sculptures are sumptuous and slippery to apprehend—speaking to an expanded field of ‘oil painting’. Her deliberate use of opposing elements, oil and water, gracefully signals her interest in the tensions and dividing lines which surround her chosen media. Oil and water are both referred to as ‘natural resources’ under the capitalist development discourse—a phrase which signals their latent potential for commercialisation and exploitation—and are, therefore, both highly contentious. In developing this project Patterson has worked between languages—learning the vocabulary of the natural environment—travertine, carbonisation, geothermal activity—alongside that of the government departments which dictate and demarcate our commercial relationship with oil.
Among the documents which Patterson collected while researching Oil and Water are a series of maps from the Ministry of Primary Industries which graph the New Zealand landscape according to latent potential for oil extraction and a map of the New Zealand Petroleum Minerals database which shows the sites of historic mining permits and the locations of these disused boreholes. Reports like these convey only some of the many ways we read and quantify our natural environment. Patterson’s practice deals with oil as both a commercially valuable resource and a familiar, indeed hand-harvested, material by teasing out particular tensions in the ways we think about, speak about, and value oil.
Oil and Water captures and mimics natural processes. The works in the exhibition use natural resources as material for exploration—exploration of the historic role of oil in the West Coast locale familiar to Patterson but also of the material qualities of oil, it’s texture and movement, the way it interacts with water, paper, gravity. Oil and Water presents a closely observed physical history of a resource by delivering a series of works which delicately and poetically synthesise the research Patterson has undertaken over the course of her Masters project. Among these works are a series of tightly composed and executed drawings, which use oil as ink with each drawing imitating the Moiré patterns of the medium’s glossy surface. Just as the oil samples from each bore possess different qualities, so too do Patterson’s drawings—each work has its own colour characteristics depending on the chemical and geological circumstances of the extraction site. Alongside these two-dimensional works are a series of sculptural works which replicate the chemical processes of the borehole. Inside the natural boreholes of Patterson’s property, water and oil are blended by the constant agitation of natural gases but once harvested the oil and water separate into two distinct layers. Patterson presents this naturally occurring oil/water mix, hand collected from her property in Kaimata, in a set of glass tubes arranged in a plywood platform. These replica boreholes recreate the movement of oil and water being propelled and mixed by gas––oil and water co-mingling inside a giant test tube. Mesmerising in their slow ascent, the oil globules bump and dance through the currents of the glass cylinder. Exposing the interior chemistry of the borehole, Patterson invites a close examination of the basic, material interaction of her key protagonists––oil and water.
Patterson’s work documents a mineral and material history of the oil seeps of her Kaimata property – drawing on research into the historical significance of oil to the local community as well as the history (and possible future) of oil exploration in New Zealand. Oil and Water posits a more familiar relationship with these controversial resources, inviting us into a one-on-one conversation with oil and water as elements.