He is best known for four ‘‘ mirror ball’’ sculptures outside Te Papa which attracted violent attention in 2009 but Peter Trevelyan’s latest show is strictly no-touch.
Tenuous, at Pataka until November 19, is all about fragility and is physically delicate – the sculptures are made of hundreds of retractable pencil leads painstakingly glued together.
Wellingtonian Trevelyan, 39, made his name with his public artwork Mimetic Brotherhood, threemetre round mirrored blobs which became punching bags when installed on Te Papa’s four plinths three years ago.
The Tenuous sculptures might be hands-off, but they should spark just as violent a reaction in people, Trevelyan says.
‘‘It should be a really visceral, gut reaction.’’
The main sculpture is a looming hollow cloud of pencil leads, which Trevelyan hopes will startle onlookers, if not give them a sense of vertigo.
‘‘It’s pushed itself too far and it’s on the verge of over-extending itself,’’ he says.
These gut reactions contrast with the cerebral inspirations behind Trevelyan’s work. The self-confessed ‘‘book nerd’’ is inspired by philosophy and theories of social structure.
Social systems are made up of hundreds of small decisions, like his sculptures are made of individual pencil leads. The result is sometimes an out-of-control behemoth, hence the sinister sense of unease in the artworks.
Climate change, the world financial collapse, 2011’ s Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan are all systematic monsters the average person has little control over, Trevelyan says.
‘‘Things are ending but we’re still using tools we’re suspicious of.’’
Trevelyan is deeply fascinated with the process of drawing, and has staged several exhibitions constructed from pencil leads.
‘‘I’m really talking about drawing itself. I’m talking about drawing as a learning tool and a technology,’’ he says.
The sculptures in Tenuous resemble architectural plans, and Trevelyan says he is interested in the futility of maps and models – the only true model is 1:1, or life-size and therefore redundant, he says.
Despite these gloomy comments on social and political structures, Trevelyan denies he is a pessimist. ‘‘Because I’m making art I’d have to say I’m an optimist. I’m a pretty grumpy optimist, a cynical optimist.’’
Grumpy optimist: Peter Trevelyan explores dark themes in his exhibition Tenuous at Pataka but says making art is a hopeful act.