Drawing upon two very different histories of adventure and settlement, Rob Hood's 2007 video Samuel Butler (My Rifle, My Pony and Me) is an engaging work that effortlessly complicates our initial reading of the scene at hand.
Interested in what he has previously described as “the calamity of knowledge” Hood presents viewers with a scene that is “visually challenging and calls into question the process of viewing.”[i]
The work draws a line between the historic figure of Samuel Butler, an Englishman who journeyed to New Zealand and held a run in the High Country of the South Island from 1858‒64, and a song sung by the American crooner/teen-idol combo of Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in the John Wayne Western Rio Bravo (1959).
"My Rifle, My Pony and Me" was originally used as the theme tune for an earlier film called Red River (1948) which charted the drama and adventure of a cattle drive led by “a man who blazed the way for a new frontier”[ii]. Interestingly, Butler probably arrived in New Zealand with similar intentions but after familiarising himself with the land in and around the Canterbury region, and working it alongside many of the region's other early European settlers, he ended up being known first and foremost as the author of some of “the most perceptive and imaginative literature to come out of colonial New Zealand”[iii]
Filmed within the geographic region that provided the backdrop for Butler’s most well known satiric novel Erewhon, Hood captures a shimmering vision of a slippery scree slope reflected in a puddle. Ensnaring our attention with the lilting melody and honeyed tones of Martin and Nelson's shared refrain, the camera slowly zooms in to fixate on an inverted, rippling reflection of the sublime yet eerily empty scene.
Rob Hood graduated in 1998 with a Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. He has exhibited in numerous exhibitions including the 4th Auckland Triennial, Auckland Art Gallery (2010), Out of Erewhon: New Directions in Canterbury Art, Christchurch Art Gallery (2006) and the 2006 new artists show at Artspace, Auckland. He has also exhibited at various New Zealand artist run spaces and presented a major solo show Cognitive Pathological Rolled Oats Rotational Vacuum Idle Axis Error Index Consumer Runtime Stimulus Dada Glue at The Physics Room, Christchurch, 2009. Hood was awarded the Olivia Spencer Bower Foundation Art Award for 2007, has work in numerous national public and private collections and is represented by Jonathan Smart Gallery.
19 September–16 October 2011
Samuel Butler (My Rifle, My Pony and Me) 2007
Duration: 2:04mins, looped
Courtesy of the artist
This is the third work in 'Tidelines', a 16 week series of short video works linked by the idea of tidal currents, the waterline and the navigation of history and everyday daily realities.
[i] Taken from “hypothetical interview” by the artist and Harold Grieves in The John Dory Report, No. 7, January 2007, n.p.
[ii] Red River (1948) Trailer: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/12520/Red-River-Re-issue-Trailer-.html. Accessed 18 September 2011.
[iii] For further information on Samuel Butler's published work and Robert Hood's inclusion in the Christchurch Art Gallery's 2006 exhibition Out of Erewhon: New Directions in Canterbury Art which drew inspiration from Butler's writings, especially his anonymously published novel Erewhon (1872) see: http://www.outoferewhon.co.nz/Erewhon/. Accessed 18 September 2011.