Global flows in Ruth Watson's Geophagy

Ruth Watson, Geophagy, 2017, recycled pallets, seceond-hand clothing, monitors with 5 single-channel HD videos. Installatioin view, Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Courtesy the artist

The late geographer Doreen Massey once wrote that “the world is specific and structured by inequalities. It matters who moves and how you move.” New Zealand artist Ruth Watson has spent her 34-year career unravelling the disparities in agency that Massey alludes to. Preoccupied for the most part in an examination of cartography, its history and politics, her practice has more recently led her to explore the mapping of our environmental crisis and the systems of power that govern international flows of people. Her elaborate installation Geophagy (2017), the focus of a forthcoming publication, furthers this thread of enquiry as arguably her most ambitious and complex to date and provides a nuanced glimpse into the enormity of our current global situation.

Assembled in two different configurations, this large-scale sculptural and multichannel video work consisted of stacked wooden pallets enveloped in tonnes of second-hand clothing and was peppered by a variety of monitors. At the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland, Geophagy loomed above people as they entered the building’s 1930s Neo-Romanesque style lobby. Sited centrally underneath an ornate stained-glass dome, the work was assembled into a 5.5-metre high form resembling a ramshackle Bruegelesque spiralling tower of Babel. In Christchurch, at the Centre of Contemporary Art Toi Moroki (CoCA), Geophagy was remodelled into a labyrinthine field of 2.5-metre high hives in response to the gallery’s 1960s brutalist architecture and in particular its grid of large pyramidic skylights. Visitors who ascended CoCA’s central staircase encountered what seemed like an impenetrable wall of clothing that, upon their approach, dissipated into a maze of multicoloured fabric pillars.