Fiona Pardington

Tui on a Byre of Flowering Sage and Wild Roses
1400 x 1120 mm
pigment inks on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag
Edition 5 of 10
Signed on verso
Courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite,
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Estimate: NZD 10,000 — 15,000

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Fiona Pardington (Ngāi Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Ngāti Kahungunu, Clan Cameron of Erracht) holds a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Auckland. Since the 1980s Pardington’s photographic practice has become central to the development of the photographic canon of Aotearoa New Zealand. Her bodies of work, frequently large format still lives of taonga, have been exhibited internationally, perhaps most notably at the Musé du Quai Branly, Paris. In 2016 she was named a Chevalier de l’ordre des Artes et des Lettres, the only artist from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her work featured in the exhibition Oceania at the Royal Academy, London in 2018.

Tui on a Byre of Flowering Sage and Wild Roses (2012) presents as an exultant yet mournful arrangement of death and fresh cut flowers: a meditation on mortality and beauty. The juxtaposition of indigenous fauna in the form of the Tui and introduced wild roses act as metaphors for the complexities of the colonial experience in Aotearoa New Zealand. Such tableau, carefully arranged by the artist in her studio, are designed to be ‘read’ in much the same way as 17th Dutch still life canvases of the ‘Vanitas’ genre — their display of abundance, ravishing blooms and game for the table articulate cycles of life and our all too fleeting mortality.

Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:


One Hundred and Fifty Ways of Loving (group), 22 February — 11 March 1994, curated by Ann Shelton, Paul Booth and Kirsty Cameron


Pardington was included in One Hundred and Fifty Ways of Loving, a catalogue published in 1994 on the occasion of an exhibition of the same name, edited by Ann Shelton, Paul Booth and Kirsty Cameron.

Fiona Pardington


Over three decades, Pardington has gained national and international recognition for her innovative photographs.

From the mid-1980s, she planned and constructed photographic tableaux utilising hand-made frames, toned gelatin silver prints, and often combining collage and visual narratives within the image, mount and frame. Her work is enacted using a female gaze to address sexualities, the body and passion.

Fiona Pardington has received many fellowships, residencies, awards and grants, including the Moët et Chandon Fellowship (France), 1991–92; the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, 1996 and 1997; the Ngāi Tahu Artist Residency at Otago Polytechnic, 2006; the Quai Branly Laureate award, La Résidence de Photoquai and the Arts Foundation Laureate Award, both in 2011. She is a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and a Knight (Chevalier) in the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres).

— Artist bio courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Fiona Pardington; Against Denial by Sam Te Kaani, 2021

In this time of intermittent lockdowns and a fracturing status quo, artist Fiona Pardington’s photographic still-lifes—her gorgeously florid and baroque vanitas in particular—speak to a globally funereal mood. Funereal in as much as complaisant future projections that once trusted in modernity as an incrementally-advancing telos have all but evaporated, a residual assumption of the future in which the threat of collapse was a mere hysterical ambience—threat that now buzzes in the foreground like a rabid siren heralding rocky catastrophes. The conceptualising of these vanitas assemblages dates back to pre-Victorian times, in which everyday items were assembled like pyre-fuel, representative of the vanity of these material pursuits when we’re all doomed to die—a constellation of earthly delights equal parts shiny and ephemeral. Flowers were a staple of these assemblages for obvious reasons, as were skulls, fruits and other perishables. Anything that might demonstrate life’s temporariness. Pardington’s own compositions play with the character of her chosen materials, deploying evocations which braid colour form and texture—think plastic drinking bottles and blue glass, glossy vegetable protuberances and translucent beads. Her vanitas go beyond the cataloguing of life’s ‘vanities’ which despite their luminescence run like glitter-sand through the hourglass, disappearing as they’re consumed much as our own bodies in time’s inexorable march.

Not just a virtuous reminder of the ticking of the clock, Pardington’s versions of the vanitas emanate a lusty appreciation for the mundane, invoking mortal urgency by way of re-enchanting matter—exhorting her audience to forage around them for that shine, to slant their eyes just right and see their world for the savagely beautiful garden which it is. Before it’s too late . . .

Pardington’s photographic work has also tracked fauna and flora which in any canon reads as decidedly New Zealand, her bird work being particularly iconic. Rather than subscribing to given nationalisms though, the artist’s imaginary gives us moody decidedly gothic meditations on wingspans, oily eyes and beaks, renderings which fall somewhere between the in-situ grandeur of David Attenborough and the poetic verisimilitude of taxidermy. The fact that taxidermy is frequently used in Pardington’s vanitas stills is telling here in as much as the artist bears her fixations openly—faded beauty, the archival, the preservationist. Fashioning profundity from morbidity, mining that which we have entrenched and compulsive avoidance of towards better relationship with the natural world—in a word, Death.

As a provocation, what would it mean to naturalise an aesthetics of death, separating it from the abject or clinical which seem to be death’s only tolerable mainstream packaging? To beautify death, to reincorporate its inevitability as normality. Perhaps in our schizophrenic treatment of death and decay, filtering these facts to the margins where they gather exponentially, where they gain a spectral power over us in their banishing—perhaps, in the givenness of this manoeuvre the underlying missive is the mainstreaming of denial. Denial as utility and virtue. Denial as the buffer towards sustaining normative, and flawed, hermeneutics. Perhaps inadvertently, Pardington’s work in offering an aesthetics of death resists denial and posits gritty holism. In a time of such global volatility, when the problems of the world beg for increased collective acumen, this is laudable. And more importantly, in Pardington’s hands, beautiful.