Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Completion date: 2016
Ashfield Architects & Paterson Architects
Paterson Architecture Collective
Public Art Agent
Rob Garrett Contemporary Art
New Zealand Glass
At a cross-road in the red-light district in Auckland New Zealand, the ‘Suffragettes’ occupy a street corner frequented by school students and commuters during the day and sex workers at night. In the heritage architectural space, the glass figures reflect the ebb and flow of traffic and pedestrians in a diverse and vibrant inner-city scene. The I-forms symbolise the nineteenth century activists who won the right to be defined as a ‘person’, gaining the vote for women and freedom to engage in public life. The group of pronouns assert a collective humanity, individual yet unified, and inclusive of every-one. Stationed at a cross-road, the abstract figures are both objects and participants, punctuating space – like a row of exclamation marks or a black picket fence. Aligned and organised, ‘Suffragettes’ occupy the street front in present tense.
Aiming to celebrate the freedom of movement and activity in public space made possible through a shared social contract upholding human rights, the artist created a reflective wall sculpture activated by people and traffic both day and night. Located at a major cross-road in the heart of a red-light district, the artwork reflects a diverse and vibrant community filled with paradox: on opposing street corners - a sex shop, Irish bar, corner store/milk-bar, and nearby, a church with a vivid red cross pulsating at night. The Architecture firm’s heritage ground-floor corner window is transformed into a transactional public art space. Using the white window frames, the artist created a multi-layered spatial field with seven ink-black glass I-figures looking out as they are looked in. The seven figures reference the mythical Seven Sisters and Pleiades/Matariki, a star formation guiding travellers at night. These pronouns have voice and offer a repeating refrain: ‘I’ or ‘aye’ inferring assent. Placed one step apart, the sequence mirrors the pace of people who see themselves framed and reflected as they pass-by. Also reflecting phases of traffic lights and ticking sounds from pedestrian crosswalk signals, ‘Suffragettes’ convey a sense of rhythm and flow of life and time.
To create a feeling of rhythm, the artist studied people and traffic movement around the intersection, creating models in studio to inform alignments and scale of the I-figures in the architectural space. Working with technicians from NZ Glass, the slender curved proportions of the I-form set by the artist were translated into mirror quality glass that would withstand being cut and tempered. Installation design and planning was led by Gatfield Studio working with public art curator Rob Garrett and Patterson Architecture Collective. Public safety was a key factor in the installation design with angles of night traffic movement being analysed to ensure headlights from vehicles crossing four intersecting roads did not produce glare in the glass elements. Assisted by PJ Construction, installation required navigating the narrow space between heritage window frames and interior walls to position and align the 'Suffragettes'. Using low level warm LED lighting beneath the inner ledge of the window panels, the artwork glows at night, complementing the night scene, and captures the changing hues of traffic lights on the sidewalk outside. By day, the artwork offers crisp reflections and entices passers-by to look within.
In a filmed interview with the artist, national art and culture commentators 13th Floor discuss the history and concepts behind the 'Suffragettes' project. On Youtube see: Gill Gatfield's 'Suffragettes'. Director: Marty Dudar. Interviewer: Liz Gunn. 13th Floor, August 2016