Warwick Brown, Seen This Century: 100 Contemporary New Zealand Artists, Random House, 2009, pg 408 – 411
99. Kate Woods
Born Auckland 1981
BFA Elam 2002
Lives in Wellington
Kate Woods is interested in the real, the artificial, and combinations of the two, with a dash of art history thrown in. A viewer looking at one of her paintings or photographs of landscapes has an immediate reaction of recognition, followed by a sense of disquiet. Something is wrong. The paintings of mountain scenes are curiously lacking in detail. The photographs of forests, farms and scenic views seem faded, and contain odd crystalline structures, either piled up, or generating across them like some silicon-based life form. Woods describes her images as ‘places you will never physically arrive in, and yet seem so familiar’.
We see such places every day, in photographs, in magazines or travel brochures, or on the television. Some philosophers have gone so far as to propose that, for many of us this replicated world is indistinguishable from the real world. What if someone artificially alters this world? Newspapers are cracking down on digital alteration of photos – they distort the ‘real’. Woods has no such qualms.
Woods’ paintings of the period 2002-4 are based on found scenic photographs. She presents them as if they were camouflage material, all the elements being rationalised into irregularly shaped solid colours, with a severely limited palette. Foreground, middle-ground and distance become confused, because everything has equal weight. We can recognise a waterfall, mountain range or canyon, but we cannot suspend reality and lose ourselves in such features, making them ‘real’ in our minds.
We have different problems with the photographs. They look like tinted White’s Aviation photos, or poster photos with the reds faded out, and that’s what they are, collected by the artist from junk shops. However, they contain strange accretions of prismatic forms which, although part of the photos, seem to have a greater dimensionality than the other elements in the picture. That is because the accretions are cardboard constructions, made by the artist, placed on the ‘original’ found photos and then rephotographed. A typical work of this series will be four stages removed from reality. The original photo was first, followed by a period of natural fading that altered what was there, followed by Woods’ additions, followed by her photograph of the altered photograph.
The art history element arises from the Earth Art movement of the 1960s, where artists altered the landscape physically, or erected temporary constructions that altered the ambience of an area. Such works often survive now only in photographs. Woods makes models of the original sculptural forms and puts them into her found photographic landscapes. At this level, what was artificially done to real landscapes, then recorded, is now done artificially by Woods to reproductions of real landscapes. Woods has left the philosophers far behind.