Sense of scale

Gavin Hip­kins takes over The Dowse

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With 25 years of ex­hibit­ing behind him, The Dowse is now stag­ing an am­bi­tious ret­ro­spec­tive of Gavin Hip­kins’ work, which will fill all eight of its galleries. “He makes re­ally in­tel­li­gent art,” says di­rec­tor Court­ney Johnston, “which is also a plea­sure to spend time look­ing at.”

Hip­kins’ work cov­ers the seem­ingly quo­tid­ian and the ev­ery­day. What gives it power?

It’s trite to say artists work­ing in this way make us look twice at the world – but also true. I love how scale and sig­nif­i­cance get played with: a tiny ob­ject is pro­duced as a heroic im­age, the cre­ation of a sense of grandeur by pil­ing up dozens of mun­dane things, the de­ci­sion to pho­to­graph a dio­rama of a land­scape instead of the real thing.

This show is tak­ing over the gallery?

Gavin of­ten makes multi-part works. ‘The Habi­tat’ is made up of 72 pho­tos, ‘The Colony’ of 100, ‘The Field’ of a whop­ping 1500 pho­tograms. We re­alised early on we would need a lot of space to do jus­tice to his work.

What will vis­i­tors come away with?

I hope peo­ple get a sense of the in­tel­lec­tual and aes­thetic cu­rios­ity that drives him. He’s al­ways re­sisted be­ing pi­geon-holed as mak­ing a cer­tain kind of work, and I think that’s in­trigu­ing.

Hip­kins is of­ten de­scribed as a ‘tourist within pho­tog­ra­phy’. What does that mean?

On one hand, it speaks of him as an artist who has sam­pled from all the gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy. On the other, it de­scribes how lit­eral travel, cam­era in hand, from Ro­torua to Shanghai, West Coast beaches to Ber­lin, is core to his work. There’s al­ways more than one idea at stake in a Gavin Hip­kins pho­to­graph.

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