I keep coming back to Jane Zusters’ work because it is art that takes the wider world as its subject. But rather than merely appraise the world, Zusters investigates and breaks down the artificial barriers between art and politics, art and society, art and life. There is no space in between: what happens in the studio has a responsibility to reflect what is going on outside of it. Zusters has been working to this end since the very beginning of her illustrious and diverse career which now stretches four decades.
During this time Zusters has worked across a range of media including drawing, photography, and painting. Her practice has never been confined to one particular process or technique; adopting this pragmatic approach has allowed Zusters to pick and choose the most effective visual and semiotic tools to convey her messages. The simplicity of her early photographic work Wet Flower (1979) and the iconic Portrait of a woman marrying herself (1977) elegantly and poignantly examine the sociology of gender and sexuality.
More recently – through both painting and photography – she has been exploring deep ecologies with a goal of illuminating humankind's ongoing impact on the environment. In the exhibitions Bird Talk in 2008 and Return of the Moa in 2010, Zusters meshes artificial systems with natural systems resulting in an inability to separate Nature from the rest of our milieu.
In his book Ecology without Nature (2007) on art, literature, and ecocritique, US-based academic Timothy Morton stated that in effective visual art, ‘There is nothing between background and foreground. And there is nothing between frame and contents. Radical juxtaposition plays with the frame and its contents in such a way as to challenge both dualism (their absolute difference) and monism (their absolute identity).’ In the double exposure Mirage in the farmhouse, Waitaha (2008) the interior and the exterior blend together – artificial light and the boat’s reflections on the water beautifully blur the lines between presence and absence; home and away. There is no space in between to ignore your surroundings.
In Zusters’ most recent work the barriers that once divided one space from another have disintegrated due to the Christchurch earthquakes of September 4, 2010 and February 22, 2011. The framework literally disappears in the digital photographs, capturing a sense of displacement and impermanence. At Home Christchurch 2012 is a confronting juxtaposition where a peaceful snow-covered cemetery stretches from the crumbled walls of an abandoned house. There is a tangible sense of despair, but also a circularity and remembrance that things pass and will return again: the snow will melt away; the cemetery will continue to colonise the land around it and have its inhabitants disturbed by the roots of neighbouring trees; the house will be torn down and new structures built. At a fundamental level Zusters is an artist of change, and a proponent of great hope amongst this change.
Essay by Jamie Hanton
Education: Master of Fine Arts in Photography (Hons), Whitecliffe College of Art and Design; Bachelor of Arts in English, University of Canterbury
Awards/Distinctions: Artist in Residence, Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery and Arts Centre, Picton (2011); William Hodges Fellow, Southland (2004); Whitecliffe College of Art and Design MFA Award (2003); Sarjeant Gallery, Lilian Ida Smith Award - Joint Recipient (1994); Artist in Residence, Canterbury University (1995); Goethe Institute Scholarship (1992); Artist in Residence, Rita Angus Cottage, Wellington (1991); Montana Art Award – Winner (1984); Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Grant (1986, 1979)
Collections: Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa; Auckland Art Gallery; Christchurch Art Gallery; Te Manawa, Palmerston North; Waikato Museum; Auckland War Memorial Museum;University of Auckland; Victoria University, Wellington; University of Canterbury; Lincoln University, Canterbury; Aigantighe Art Gallery, Timaru; The James Wallace Arts, Auckland; The Suter, Nelson; Forrester Gallery, Oamaru; Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Invercargill
Public Exhibitions: Where the home is, Forrester Gallery, Oamaru (2012); Quakers, Aigantighe Gallery, Timaru (2012); The Murray River Matters, The University of Newcastle Gallery, NSW(2011); Artists as Activists, NZ Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington (2010); Wall Talking, Aigantighe Gallery, Timaru (2009); C/-Te Karita Rd, First Kaik Moeraki, Forrester Gallery, Oamaru (2007); NZ Contemporary Art Exhibition, Art Taipei, Taiwan (2007); Who can say..., Southland Museum, Invercargill (2005); Where did you go to my lovely..., Pataka Museum, Wellington (2005), Out of the Woods: Te-Wao-Nui- a-Tane; Te TuhiCentre for the Arts, Auckland (2004);Mystery of life, The Suter, Nelson(1992); Auckland artists, Govett-Brewster Art Museum, New Plymouth (1988); Content/Context, National Art Gallery, Wellington (1986); The Nude exposed in NZ Photography, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch (1982)
Publications/Articles: Dunn, Michael, Gil Docking and Edward Hanfling, 240 Years of NZ Painting, Auckland: David Bateman, 2012; Zusters, Jane, Where the home is: the Christchurch earthquakes 2010-2012,Christchurch: Hoe Pres, 2012; ‘Live Nature: recent work by Jane Zusters’ by Jamie Hanton, Art NZ, Spring 2011, No. 139; David Eggleton, Into the Light: a history of NZ photography, Nelson: Craig Potton, 2006; Dunn, Michael, Contemporary Painting in NZ, Australia: Craftsman House, 1996; Brown, Warwick, 100 NZ Paintings, Auckland: Godwit Publishing, 1995; Anne Kirker, NZ Women Artists: a survey of 150 years, Australia: Craftsman House, 1993; Dunn, Michael, A Concise History of NZ Painting, Auckland: David Bateman, 1991; ‘Jane Zusters: painting it over’ by Priscilla Pitts, Art NZ, Spring 1989, No. 52, pp. 62-65 (Cover Feature); Evans, Marian, Bridie Lonie, and Tilly Lloyd (eds), A Women’s Picture Book: 25 Women Artists of Aotearoa, Wellington: Spiral Group, 1988; Bett, Elva, NZ Art: A Modern Perspective, Auckland: Reed Methuen, 1986