Perfect fading moments

GAIL TRESIDDER
Last updated 13:53 31/10/2012
Moana Lee1
PATRICK HAMILTON/FAIRFAX NZ
LOST IN TIME: Emma Bass reminds us of beauty’s impermanence.

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Residency pays dividends Time taken is well spent Difficult conversations laid bare Dramatic work by serious artist A move to unfamiliar waters Kiwi scenes conjure sense of adventure Exhibition sparks, but doesn't catch fire Nice, new, but where's the young blood? Intelligent engagement with audience Doors open to creative minds

REVIEW: Imperfect An exhibition by Emma Bass Red Art Gallery, until November 9 Reviewed by Gail Tresidder

This new work is radically different from the still-life portraits of flowers that have been loved and collected for generations.

In these photographs, taken at home using a Canon 5d Mark 2 camera, Emma Bass confronts us with the here-today-gone-tomorrow reality of life.

Her flowers are just past their best, with drooping and fallen petals, withering stalks, blown dandelion heads and drying, curling fern fronds.

They are exquisite, the more so because of their fragility. We are reminded that as there is beauty in imperfection, so there is beauty in ageing. Each flower arrangement is inscribed with the exact time it was taken - Pohutukawa 8.01am, Rhododendron 11.41pm - and in a little play on words, Peony with fly (sitting on the vase) is "also available without fly".

In limited editions of eight for the large and 20 for the small photographs, these works are printed on 300 watercolour paper, achieving phenomenal clarity. Great bursts of colour are set against a soft dove-grey background and are sympathetically framed with matching white mounts.

Once relatively commonplace and now collectable, a variety of Crown Lynn china vases, including their iconic swan, is used for all the flower portraits, reinforcing the poignant message that businesses grow then fade and die, as do flowers, as do we all. Recently, in an erudite article on the symbolism in Emma Bass' work, David Lyndon Brown quoted Robert Herrick's famous lines

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying,

And this same flower that smiles today,

Tomorrow will be dying.

A haiku, by Pai Ta-Shun, perhaps written at a similar time (16-17C), also outlines the inevitability of ageing in a simple way:

The days and months do not last long

The springs and autumns follow one by one,

And when I watch the fall of the flowers

And of the leaves and of the trees,

I know that even the loveliest person

Little by little must change.

Perpetrated by television commercials and women's magazines, to name but two culprits, we live with the alluring myth of sustainable youth. It is such a magnificent con. Today as I was placing a colourful bunch of deliciously smelling sweet-peas in a vase, one of the blossoms fell - and was left there, a part of the whole.

For reminding us that a fading flower and a lined face also have their place and their beauty, thank you Emma Bass.

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