Di ffrench: Light and Illusion

15 December 2000 – 14 January 2001

The first retrospective exhibition of this significant and innovative New Zealand artist.

It is fitting that the last exhibition to be held at the McDougall Contemporary Art Annex will be a retrospective exhibition celebrating the innovative and challenging work of artist Di ffrench (1946–1999).

Almost exactly ten years ago, the Annex was the venue for Di ffrench: Black and White Photographs and Cibachromes, an exhibition marking ffrench's time in the Arts Centre as the Trustbank Canterbury Artist in Residence. The last exhibition of the ongoing Colloquium series (organised by the Gallery in association with the University of Canterbury), Light and Illusion bears testimony to the diversity of ffrench's practice and will include photography and sculpture as well as documenting several of ffrench's most significant performances both in projected images and in physical artifacts. The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive catalogue featuring essays by Jennifer Hay and Rob Garrett.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, ffrench came to New Zealand in 1963 and trained at the Auckland Technical Institute. She began exhibiting her work in the mid-1970s and by the 1980s had become a regular participant in national, individual and group exhibitions. In addition to her artistic practice, ffrench was also an arts educator, working as a tutor at the Otago Polytechnic's Oamaru Arts School and contributing to numerous conferences and workshops throughout New Zealand. Ffrench received several Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Grants, including an award to travel to the 1983 ANZART event in Tasmania and a major Individual Grant in 1985–6.

Although based in Otago for most of her career, ffrench had many artistic connections with Canterbury. In 1981, she presented the installation and slide presentation Gut Reaction at the University of Canterbury and participated in the ANZART exhibition at the Christchurch Arts Centre with the performance Fontanel. In 1984, ffrench presented The Opinion, (a work originally devised as an artist's project for the Auckland Art Gallery incorporating objects, film and sound), at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. She returned to the Gallery in the following year, participating in the successful Spare Parts exhibition with an installation/performance.

Ffrench also participated in both solo and group exhibitions at what was originally the Jonathan Jensen Gallery and is now the Jonathan Smart Gallery. In 1993, to commemorate the centenary of Women's Suffrage in New Zealand, ffrench was commissioned by the Christchurch City Council to design a wall hanging depicting aspects of women's lives over the years between 1893 and 1993. Embroidered by 100 members of the Canterbury Embroiderers' Guild, the hanging took eight months to complete and was exhibited at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery between 25 September and 7 November 1993, before being installed permanently in the Christchurch Town Hall.

The Gallery is very grateful to Peter Nicholls, who has provided invaluable access to information, images and artworks for the exhibition curators and the authors of the catalogue. Several of the cibachromes represented within this retrospective are part of the large number Nicolls placed on permanent loan at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery after ffrench's death. The generosity of both Creative New Zealand and the Otago Polytechnic in supporting the production of the catalogue is also greatly appreciated.

Felicity Milburn

This exhibition was held at the Robert McDougall Contemporary Art Annex in the Arts Centre.