Fiona Pardington insists that each of her photographs is a ‘sovereign world’ carrying its own logic, experiences and pressures. A Beautiful Hesitation is the first exhibition to comprehensively map the larger sovereign world of Pardington’s entire practice. This is the largest gathering of her photographs yet, spanning thirty years. It includes all the bodies of work that established her as one of our most important artists, from her pictoralist-inspired eroticism of the late 1980s to the photographs of hei tiki, ornithological specimens, and life casts, which return to the world objects and presences previously hidden in museum store rooms. The exhibition’s four sections—‘Becoming’, ‘Flesh’, ‘Stilled Life’, and ‘A Language of Skulls’—open up the rich imaginative and conceptual terrain of Pardington’s work.
The exhibition brings all of this work together to draw out its key threads—the core elements or concerns that sit behind or impel Pardington’s more overt engagement with specific subjects or processes. It moves across chronology, bodies of work and formats to reveal the ways that Pardington’s work has built, shifted and even pushed against its own symbolic and aesthetic languages over time and across subjects and cultures in its relentless pursuit of photography’s power to move through and problematise the material world. This is the first exhibition to look across Pardington’s practice in this way.
Pardington constantly seeks to upset the relationships her photographs establish with the viewer and to the world. A Beautiful Hesitation replays some of Pardington’s own strategies for shifting these relationships through display and presentation. One Night of Love—her series of found, re-presented photographs of female nudes destined for men’s magazines—is represented in multiple ways in and beyond this exhibition. The artist presents one of these nudes on the gallery floor to be walked over or around. Another found its way onto a billboard, high above Cuba Street.
A Beautiful Hesitation toured to Auckland Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery. In each case the exhibition was augmented to draw out specific connections to place. The Christchurch exhibition was especially significant for the ways it strengthened understandings of the Ngāi Tahu dimension of Pardington’s work and its impact on how she harnesses the powers of photography as a portal between the material and the immaterial, the past and the present and the known and the unknowable.