Weighing the Light | Mark Hutchins Gallery 2009

Adrienne Martyn's ‘Horizon’ photographs and film work ‘Tora’ demonstrate a remarkable eye for the weft of light, water and texture.

In the three ‘Horizon’ images the focus is softened, blurred slightly. The affect not only coaxes the viewer into the print, and the grained sky, it draws the eye to the horizon. That defining line, ‘the end of the earth’s long breath’ is slightly blurred; the softness is compelling.1 The eye rests in that line, which evokes further spaces of possibility.

Martyn's recent work has traced sites in part by using the supposedly empty spaces near them (her recent City Gallery show, ‘Looking for the Subject’) or using the infinitesimal as a way in to larger concerns about oceanic ecosystems (her re-presentation of tiny sea-floor nodes in the ‘Ore’ series). ‘Horizon’ delves into the into the sky. The air is full of itself, spangled was it's own becoming, a grainy absence that calls up and distils the desire for focus.

We flowed forth into this world from the ocean of timeless waters. William Marks. The holy order of water.

Sea-faring poet Denis Glover once described Wellington harbour as ‘lightly scarified.’2
Martyn's use of course-grained film draws attention to the sea is texture. The prints evoke the complexity of emotion, interrogates the flow and the life-giving water cycle and water as ‘aliquid. Each hydrogen bond is broken and reformed, on average, once every billionth of a second.’3 The light that gently graces the waves gives more heft to the ‘wine-dark sea.’ Colouration further concentrates the eye on the vast fact of the earth and ocean, hinting at a narrative the current keeps shrugging off.

Without geographical or maritime markers this coast is easy to identify with: it might be your favourite vantage point. The un-peopled site belies the scale of the human effects beneath the surface, above the clouds. So Martyn’s colouration, ever so slightly artificial, makes us look more closely (more apprehensively?) at the view. Things are (and are not) as they should be.

With the ‘Horizon’ images and ‘Tora’ that power is not at our back or out the window, but before us. We are poised forever above an enduring sea. Gestating in briny lichor, our salted blood stirred by the surge of current - ‘the dorsal change / Of energy - we are bound by ocean.4 These images remind us of our dependence on this vast current, and continue to both link us and abstract us from it - bringing us again to that comfortable, uneasy knowing that composes modernity’s dialogue with water.

For all at last to the sea - to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the overflowing stream of time, the beginning and the end. Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us.

Charles Dawson

Charles is the New Zealand contact for the international literature and environment network ASLE, and maintains a strong interest in environmental histories and stories and images of water. He is grateful for discussions with Adrienne about her work.

1. Dinah Hawken. 'Today.' Water, Leaves, Stones. VUP, 1995
2. 'Wellington Harbour - A Shepherd's Pie.'
3. Philip Ball, Life's Matrix: A biography of water. P 327.
4. Hart Crane, 'Cape Hatteras.' The Bridge. (1930).