28 October to 18 February 2024

Eerie Pageantry 

Eerie Pageantry calls forth the folk-horror-infused art of Julia Robinson and Don Driver. Both artists channel and explore the dualities that sit at the dark heart of the folk horror genre: sacred and profane, the living and the dead, landscape and place, ancient beliefs and the modern imagination, birth and rebirth.

The exhibition is a cornucopia of folk horror and art played out through a ritualistic meeting of made and modified materials, textures, colours, tools, bodies and nightmares. Robinson and Driver's assemblages and sculptures form an elaborate ceremonial procession in the gallery space—an eerie pageantry of the Antipodean Gothic.

Adelaide-based Robinson traces her fascination with folk horror back to her English roots. Her paternal grandparents live in Essex where the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins once conducted his 'Godly' business (he is buried in the cemetery of a neighbouring village). Robinson connects to this lineage through her use of sewing, crocheting and costume-making techniques handed down by her mother and paternal grandmother.

Don Driver's mother was a milliner and doll maker. He belongs to an earlier generation, and explores the conflicted Pākehā mythologies of modern Aotearoa. The dark energies of his work are drawn straight from rural Taranaki (and a wider interest in magic and ritual). It was here he would stop the car to collect roadkill to use in his work, and once advertised in the local newspaper for some goat skulls he needed to complete an installation (a taxi driver/hunter delivered the goods). This is the region that also brought us New Zealand folk horror masterpiece The Scarecrow with its disarming opening line 'The same night our fowls were taken, Daphne Moran had her throat cut'.

Robinson hasn't seen this film, but her work features both scarecrow and blade motifs. She has seen others. This body of work started as 'a love letter to The Wicker Man'. We can only assume that Driver saw the Robin Hardy classic. His widow, Joyce Driver, once wrote ‘a horror movie couldn’t come to New Plymouth without Don going to see it’.

Eerie Pageantry brings together the work of Driver and Robinson as kindred practices reaching out to each other across time, cultures and countries, as well as artistic traditions and film genres. Both bodies of work carry hints of violence and darkness (Robinson describes her processes as 'slashing', 'cutting', 'suturing' or 'scratching'— terms that might also be applied to Driver's work). Yet, there are also moments of breathtaking beauty and wonder — especially achieved through exquisite colour and material combinations. This blend of violence and beauty is another of those dualities that speak to the enduring pull of the folk horror genre, and, especially, to both artists' ability to inflect and transform it through art making.

Eerie Pageantry is curated by Aaron Lister and Dr Chelsea Nichols as part of their project Curator of Screams which explores connections between contemporary art and horror films.

Eerie Pageantry is on display at City Gallery Wellington (Te Whare Toi) from 28 October to 18 February 2024.