Across Spillway to Ohau Canal
Although Wayne Barrar’s ongoing exploration of
the landscape is primarily executed through the
lens of a camera, it is from the vantage point of
both science and art that he pursues his ideas.
Barrar first graduated with a Bachelor
of Science from the University of Canterbury
in 1979 before later completing a Postgraduate
Diploma of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine
Arts in 1996 and an MDes (2005) from
He is currently associate professor and director
of photography at Massey University’s School of
Fine Arts in Wellington but is also a frequent
traveller, regularly undertaking residencies in
such places as Iceland, Utah and New York State.
His works include remote scenic vistas, vast
industrial sites, biosecurity case studies and
subterranean cities, all questioning the
relationship between nature and culture, people
and the environment. What is unsettling about
these images is the way enormous alien
structures become an accepted, almost
integrated feature of the landscape, making
fences and dams seem as picturesque as cliffs
and cathedrals. His ambivalent portrayal neither
condemns nor celebrates industry.
In an Art New Zealand essay, Elam senior
lecturer Gavin Hipkins has described Barrar’s
work as occupying an uneasy position in relation
to the romantic landscape tradition that is so
central to New Zealand art history. Instead,
Barrar adopts the romantic legacy of entropy
and abandoned ruins, of former glories and
Describing these humanised landscapes,
Barrar states in his 2001 book Shifting Nature:
“Land is a resource that must ‘perform’. It is
expected to produce food, electricity and timber,to encourage tourism and to provide a venue for
our leisure activities, while at the same time
remaining stable and reliable in business terms.”
Energy production is a recurring theme in
Barrar’s work so it is no surprise that his work
features in the exhibition AC/DC: The Art of
Power, at the Gus Fisher Gallery to 3 October.
These works are from his 2006 show The
Machine Room, which primarily documented
underground power stations in New Zealand.
The scenes depicted are from the coal mine that
supplies the adjacent Huntly thermal station.
This links both his previous explorations of
underground sites, including American and
Australian underground dwellings, and his earlier
works which contrasted industrial and natural
landscapes, including power stations in Iceland
and Think Big hydro projects in the South Island.
In 2003 The University of Auckland Art Collection
purchased a suite of five works that fall into the
latter category, contrasting New Zealand’s
much-promoted pristine South Island scenery with
evidence of human occupation and adaptation.
Whether it is the built walkways that allow us to
admire Fiordland waterfalls or the canals and
spillways that feed our hydro power systems,
Barrar challenges us to reconsider the
complexities of how we occupy our environment.