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Topic: Jim Allen: Small worlds; Tribute to Hone Tuwhare; Space plane, environment no.1

A sensory experience

Artist Jim Allen was a pioneer of post-object art in New Zealand during the 1960s and 70s.
Post-object art – generally known as conceptual art outside New Zealand – focuses on art as an experience, process, or vehicle for ideas. In doing so, it breaks with the traditional aesthetic presentation of an object.

In 1969, Allen, too, was seeking a break from the past. As Head of Sculpture at Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, he wanted ‘to open a way that gave permission for others to follow’. He began using non-traditional materials and making site-specific, temporary installations, sometimes incorporating elements of performance.

Allen wanted to create ‘a sensory experience’ for the audience. ‘Being ourselves part of Oceania, and enjoying a close … physical relationship with the natural environment,’ he said, ‘I think we are especially receptive to an art form that makes use of simple tactile media.’

These works are contemporary refabrications of ones that artist Jim Allen first presented in 1969. They are key examples of post-object art in New Zealand.

Allen originally designed the works for people to walk through – a challenge to the accepted understanding of sculpture at the time. By creating a ‘small world’ that could envelop the audience, he was proposing that sculptures could be environments for people to experience rather than just objects for viewing.

In Tribute to Hone Tuwhare, Allen incorporates lines from a poem by his contemporary, Hone Tuwhare (1922–2008). The poem, called ‘Thine own hands have fashioned’, echoes Allen’s desire to create a rich, sensory experience.

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