Kate Newby: All the stuff you already know

26 May - 23 June 2018

How to distribute your bricks and virtue.


One will often see old compact discs tied with shoelaces throughout citrus orchards in Florida. The reflective surfaces interrupt birds’ flight patterns and disenchant the animals from feeding on the fruit. Ziplock bags filled with water are a feature of some midwestern American households, because unwanted flies are disoriented by the anomalous volume, and have been known to lose equilibrium and fall out of the air. In New England, soda bottles are cut in half and turned inside out to make an excellent trap for insects. Provisioned with a mixture of sugar and vinegar, the acidic solution attracts bees and mosquitos. Home gardens in the Atlantic states can be saved from moles by digging a small trench around the vicinity, but larger plots of land and farms require more drastic measures. Businesses in New York often mix broken glass into mortar to top brick walls and fences. The security measure doubles as a deterrent to pigeons, who the landlords fear will defecate on the property. Residents of the American Southwest often overlook the favourite hideout of snakes and spiders. Keep a close eye on backyard woodpiles. Floridians sprinkle crushed seashells around valuable plants to avert damage from slugs and snails. With regard to ant hills, which spring up in the Rocky Mountain states, simply flatten them for a temporary solution to yard problems. Sections of coarse rope are indispensable to Louisiana households. People living near swamps are wise to decorate their lawn with the material, because reptiles do not like the texture. In Texas, table settings that include a glass of water filled with pennies can expect an insect-free meal, especially important during the summer months. The bizarre, almost ritual appearance of chalk lines have been reported from Oregon to the Carolinas. They are known to stop ants dead in their tracks.


Vigilance, though, is the first line of defense against infestation. It is not inevitable. The solution to most of these pest problems might already be waiting in the basement, garage, or shed, and all it takes is a little bit of imagination to discover how these materials, native to a home, can be repurposed on the basis of their hypnotic effects on animals and insects. They are almost the home’s natural immune system, and their second life as protective talismans reveal the evolutionary hardwiring of a given environment. A vast almanac of home- science has been collected on the relationship between our dwellings and the natural world. The list above only reflects a fraction of the vast intuition that collectively arises from alternative uses for terracotta pots. No matter how elegant, inscrutable, mysterious or outright bizarre these interventions may appear, they give sense to an underlying purposefulness—a natural economy of means.


Kate Newby’s sculptures and installations represent a similar repository for the senses, creating scenarios that change states. The process is more humble, though, than it first appears. She generally sticks to a limited material vocabulary: clay, glass, earth, metal, or rope. Some of these she finds, some she purchases—in any case, it’s important that they came from nearby. The materials are not processed more than they have to be—a patina is as close as she comes to excessive surface treatment. When the final artwork is ready to be exhibited, it fills space subtly, and with respect to its given position. For her exhibition at The Sunday Painter, Newby selects clear glass for a mobile suspended in a gallery’s airspace or in front of a window. In another installation, she lays bricks on the floor with respect for their inherent mass, and provenance. No single choice leads to one of Newby’s sculptures. Instead, she patterns her decision making on the relationship between these simple, earthen materials and a given situation. The result is a room permeated by an unassuming virtue.


Though twenty-five tons of bricks would seem to suggest a natural order and form, Newby’s most recent brick platforms use the industrial material to perpetrate more dissonant forms of contact. At the Sydney Biennale, the horizontal brick bed held down a dusty dirt courtyard. Comprising thousands of bricks that Newby subtly vandalized before they were red, the installation permits no easy distance for reflection. The platform requires several moments to see the whole thing, though the central irony of A rock in this pocket is that the bricks were quarried from the same land nearby. For I can’t nail the days down, currently on view at Kunsthalle Wien, Newby installed another brick platform. Delightful, diffident, abrupt, minute, and sometimes silly, the idiosyncrasies arrayed throughout the meters-long platform give pause. But the scale is so long and wide, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a new scratch in the surface, or the same one seen twice.


M.F.K Fisher’s cookbook, How to Cook a Wolf was published in 1942, at the height of WWII. It shares recipes designed for wartime austerity, but what remains salient is Fisher’s adventurous, and slightly ironic tone that compels readers from their fussy eating habits, and asks them to think about cooking in three dimensions. If you want fruit, eat fruit, but save the rinds to freshen the pantry. Save bread crumbs to make scrambled eggs go further—pumpernickel adds savoriness. If you turn on the oven, dear god, set pans on top, inside, and below, because there is no reason to waste the gas rations. Yes, Fisher’s generation faced hardship, but her book collects enough good humor to convince readers of her pragmatism, and their own “good sense”.


Bits of wisdom accrue to Newby’s brick platforms, too, and her time at Northcot Brick, where she designed the brick platform for her current project at The Sunday Painter, exhibits Fisher’s same thriftiness and humour. Very little was left to waste: Newby saved the off cuts and scraps from the brick-making process and re-fashioned them into clay bibelots that resemble rocks. Broken glass was gathered on South Lambeth Road, then incorporated into the recipe, and red into the bricks and stones. All the stuff you already knowechoes the paving stones just outside the gallery, and, scattered across the platform, the earthen tchotchkes give the installation a commonplace appeal. Even when the would-be souvenirs glint like lavish decoration, they merely signal to watch your step. A stubborn continuity holds together Newby’s world. All it requires from us is some common sense.


- Sam Korman 2018


Kate Newby (B. 1979 in Auckland, New Zealand) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In 2012 she was awarded the renowned Walter’s Prize. Newby graduated with a Doctor of Fine Arts (2015) from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts. Her solo exhibitions include I can’t nail the days down, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2018) Swift little verbs pushing the big nouns around, Michael Lett, Auckland (2018); Let me be the wind that pulls your hair, Artpace, San Antonio (2017); The January February March, The Poor Farm, Wisconsin (2016); Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda, Laurel Doody, Los Angeles (2015); I feel like a truck on a wet highway, Lulu, Mexico City (2014); Maybe I won‘t go to sleep at all., La Loge, Brussels (2013); and Let the other thing in, Fogo Island Gallery, Newfoundland (2013); among others. Her works have also been shown in international group exhibitions, including at the 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018); Scrap Metal, Toronto (2017); Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Stockholm (2017); Sculpture Center, New York (2017); Casa del Lago, Mexico City (2015); Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland (2015); and Arnolfini, Bristol (2014).