Jo Ogier is an artist, painter-printmaker, environmentalist, and educator based in Christchurch. Her work is concerned with the delicate balance of ecosystems that are constantly under threat due to the depletion of native flora and fauna and the introduction of foreign species and plant life. Much of her work is site-specific, speaking directly to the unique species from that area with the aim to increase public awareness about them in the hope that they will be valued, cared for, and protected by the community for future generations.
Ogier graduated from Otago Polytechnic School of Art with a Diploma of Fine Arts and Honors in 1993. She credits Marilynn Webb and Chris DeJong for preparing students for the business side of the arts industry, arming them with the business skills and practical experience needed to navigate and survive in the art world. Graduates were required to put on their own exhibitions, doing everything from fundraising to framing their work. During her final year, Ogier and a group of her classmates set up an arts cooperative consisting of an art studio and gallery, so they had a space to create and exhibit upon graduating. Later Ogier teamed up with Inge Doesburg to create Printmakers Studio in Dunedin.
With the idea of finding employment in something that would complement her personal arts practice, she spent a year studying scientific illustration at the University of Newcastle, Australia. This sparked an interest in early natural history illustrators and their voyages all over the world collecting and recording specimens. Having her heart set on visiting the Subantarctic Islands* she set off in 1998 on an expedition with her fellow artist and friend Sandra Morris. Working closely with Department of Conservation (DOC) the intense twelve-day journey gave her access to remote wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves providing the inspiration and source material for her master’s thesis show in 2000 at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery.
The exhibition was comprised in one room of large copper plate etchings of intricately drawn flora and fauna encountered during her trip. Miniscule marks purposefully left on the copper plate mimicked the pages from natural history books, partially hand-coloured with water colours to bring the images to life. In another room was an installation of five large skeletal boat forms, one for each of the Subantarctic Islands. Long sheets of organza were suspended from the oars down to floor, printed with the wildlife unique to the area. Visitors could navigate their way through the islands by following a map projected onto the gallery floor accompanied by a soundscape recorded during the voyage.
Through collaborative conservation projects with DOC, Ogier has had the opportunity to carry out further research on numerous islands over the years. On a ten-day journey into the Dusky Sound, Fiordland, she accompanied DOC staff who were tasked with checking and rebaiting approximately 6,200 traps, working tirelessly from dawn to dusk in heavy snow. The work made from this trip was sold to raise money for the Dusky Sound Restoration Trust, which included a limited edition run of giclee prints. A separate expedition with “Pure Salt” Charters NZ also produced a series of giclee prints guaranteeing the purchase of a rat trap and baiting for two years with every print sold.
Her concern with protecting endemic species, can be seen her extinction series where native birds are surrounded by an array of imagery relating to their demise. Huia and kākāpō wrestle with the gun of Andreas Reischek, a taxidermist at Canterbury Museum in 1877, who was responsible for hunting vast quantities of native species that were sent back to Europe where it was fashionable to collect exotic objects from faraway lands. Pictorial elements include a bird trap from the Canterbury museum, a cloak with over 10,000 kākāpō feathers from a museum in Scotland, a perfume bottle referencing the bird’s strong musky smell that helped dogs track them, and a map of Resolution Island which was one of the first eco-island sanctuaries established in 1894. However, when appointed caretaker and conservationist Richard Henry relocated many kākāpō and other flightless birds there, stoats managed to swim across from the mainland, completely decimating the Kākāpō population.
Ogier often takes a humorous approach to what would otherwise be quite a disheartening topic. In one work, a cigarette box reads ‘Huia Cigarettes – Extinction Guaranteed’. In another, a tin of soup states ‘Kōkako Soup – Extra Rare’ , something Reischek claimed to do with the kōkako he caught. A series of seed boxes feature weeds introduced by early European settlers, playfully inventing names such as ‘The coloniser seed company’.
When starting a new body of work, Ogier will often first visit the site to draw and sketch specimens sometimes taking photos to capture the colours or, with permission, collect samples of plant species that she will press back in her studio. To capture the detail of animal fur and bird feathers she has used museum specimens and even roadkill. One series of woodcuts on hand-made harakeke/flax paper was inspired by the birds that would flit past her studio window. The colourfully woven backgrounds speak to the interwoven qualities that exist in nature. Like all her relief prints, her bold use of colour draws the viewer in. Each bird appears to shimmer, taking on a high-gloss effect resulting from numerous layers of ink applied to the paper. To keep the colours vibrant, Ogier uses a separate block for each colour and a different key block for the background and the foreground. This also means she can experiment with different colour combinations.
Ogier is currently working on a new site-specific project based on the Mataura river in Southland. The river has been so heavily modified that there is little of the original vegetation or species left. She has already been a couple of research trips talking with local rūnanga, botanists and other specialists to examine pre-European gathering sites including the mouth of the Waikaka and Waimumu streams. Existing records show the resources that were fished, caught, and harvested in those specific areas. She hopes that the exhibition will reveal the diverse array of flora and fauna once found in and around the Mataura and its importance as an incredible life force. The show will be at the Eastern Southland Gallery in Gore, early next year.
*Note: The New Zealand Subantarctic islands are comprised of Bounty Island, Antipodes, Campbell Island, Auckland Island and The Snares. Collectively they are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Eastern Southland Gallery
Wanaka Autumn Art School
Southland Community Nursery
Dusky Sound Restoration Project