It’s not every day that you find a monolithic black hut in a Gallery renowned for its neo-classical architecture. Step inside and you’ll find yourself surrounded by something even more surreal – a 360° vista of a painted Antarctic landscape, complete with snowy floor underfoot and sky above. The Paradise Project is by Wanganui-based artist Sue Cooke who visited Antarctica in December 2006 when she joined a two week expedition for Climbers and Photographers travelling to the Antarctic Peninsula. Over the last six years this trip has been a source of inspiration for an on-going exploration of Antarctica, through drawings, prints and paintings. The Paradise Project is Cooke’s most ambitious work to date, relating to Antarctica and has been in development since 2009. The scene is a composite landscape, inspired by Paradise Harbour on the Western side of Antarctica where Cooke spent time during her trip.
Our usual experience of a painting in a gallery is to stand in front of it and consider its composition, meaning or message. Time spent in front of each work is entirely up to the viewers willingness or interest to engage with the piece before they move onto the next artwork. The Paradise Project is more ambitious than a conventional framed painting in that the artist places us the viewer inside the painting. Not in front of it, but surrounded by it. Cooke provides us with an experience of what it might be like to be in Antarctica and in doing so wants us to consider Antarctica as an unspoilt environment. Reminding us of the importance and urgency of issues relating to global warming, care of the oceans and waterways and just how fragile our planet is.
Over the last twenty years Cooke has been a committed environmentalist, recycling, growing and eating organically and encouraging those around her to do the same. Cooke’s hope for visitors to The Paradise Project is not that we each go home and radically change the way we live our lives. Rather that if we each take small steps to care for our immediate environment then we will make an important contribution to the well-being of the planet. One way that the artist and the Gallery are hoping to effect change at a grass-roots level is through the delivery of an education programme for school children in partnership with Horizons Regional Council. This will also be supplemented by a series of talks, for adults relating to Antarctica and environmental issues.
This ambitious project has been made possible with the generous support of sponsors, whose names are represented on the exterior of the hut. The artist and the Gallery would like to heartily thank them for their financial support, without this, the project wouldn’t have been possible.
The Gallery would like to congratulate and thank Sue for her hard work and commitment to making this impressive project a reality and for taking Gallery visitors to the gallery to a place that most of us will never have the opportunity to visit.
Curator and Public Programmes Manager