Museum and Heritage Studies, 2021.
Kate Newby’s artwork You got to write a song and I got to be in it was created in 2021 as part of her solo exhibition YES TOMORROW, held at the Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi. It is a rectangle of terracotta bricks, which Newby has playfully altered by scratching into, writing onto, and adding glass pieces to the tiles. The tiles were made by the team at Middle Earth Tiles in Matakana, using clay from a local seam. Newby adjusted their surfaces before they were fired in the industrial-scale kiln. Middle Earth Tiles are the only company in the country who creates products like these using local material.
You got to write a song and I got to be in it wasn’t always where it is now. When the exhibition opened, this artwork was installed in the Adam Art Gallery’s loading dock at the rear of the gallery. In that spot, it was visible from the gallery windows so that visitors could look out and make the connection. However, it was an awkward spot, and the artwork could easily be missed by passers-by. There was also a delightful aspect however, as it was such an unexpected intervention in what is a relatively ‘ugly’ back alley; in the context of that location the inscribed ‘YES’ was particularly optimistic and energetic. Now found in the Hunter Courtyard, it is more visible, so more people will be able to interact with and appreciate its gestural, fun qualities. Enveloped in the red brick courtyard, the artwork feels more harmonious with its surroundings, and provides an opportunity for those who use this part of the campus to encounter art in public space daily.
YES TOMORROW (2021) was an exhibition that used installation to rewrite the gallery space using subtle yet decisive gestures. There were seven installations of varying scale. These included 1000 windchimes, strung up next to one of three windows cast with organically-shaped holes in them, allowing the elements to come inside the gallery space. There was also a strip carved into the gallery’s floor, filled with small pieces of clay fired with glass to make little ‘puddles’. The exhibition’s most striking piece was the blue screed floor that covered the entire lower level of the gallery, altered by Newby in a similar way to You got to write a song and I got to be in it. Still remaining is another external artwork at the Terrace Tunnel Park, made using 198 ‘thigh tiles’.
This work exemplifies several key aspects of Newby’s artistic practice; site-specificity, collaboration, and use of the elements.
Newby is constantly travelling, and her work always reflects the environment that she finds herself in. YES TOMORROW is yet another in a string of exhibitions that have taken her all around the world, instilling in her a desire to “make work that can respond to other things happening… [not] stagnant work” that can be boxed up, shipped to and exhibited in any space. Her works incorporate local makers and materials. Similarly, collaboration is significant to Newby’s creative process. The thigh tiles and clay puddles were made with assistance from friends and volunteers from around Wellington and were fired in local kilns. This human connection continues in the way You got to write a song and I got to be in it encourages viewers to walk over and experience the work in a physical way, rather than standing separate to and distanced from it.
Lastly, Newby is inspired by the elements and extreme weather. The works are all grounded by their earthy materials, yet they respond to and reference their immediate environment, whether it be through the effects of wind, rain or simply people walking over it. In Newby’s words, “my work is so much about bringing things from the outside in and then equally inviting people to leave, cause I always install artworks outside of gallery spaces too, not wanting to reinforce one over the other.” Although the indoor works are no longer there, the continued existence of the two outdoor artworks keeps the memory of them alive, and they act as a celebration of the work that went into YES TOMORROW.