Set Dressing

02 Mar - 16 Jun 2024

Christine Hellyar, Gary Cocker, Cao Xun

Gathering three generations of artists, Set Dressing examines photography’s capacity to harness, distil, and complicate desire.

Set Dressing 1 Photo Cheska Brown

Cao Xun, Dirty Boy, 2020, detail. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo: Cheska Brown.

In 1985, Christine Hellyar produced her first set of Apron sculptures, cotton garments on which were sewn latex casts of food—a plucked chicken, kūmara, flounder, squid, tripe. The artist conceived of these works as objects to be worn. To this end, she commissioned Gary Cocker, then a student at Elam School of Fine Arts, to capture the aprons in use. Cocker’s images feature his friends and then-lover posing in a range of locations from the beach to the bush. Read together, they seem to operate between documentation, performance and absurd fashion editorial, which trouble the garment’s association with women and the realm of domestic labour. These photographs transpose a queer sense of glamour onto Hellyar’s works, making all the more explicit the visual punning and erotic associations of Hellyar’s materials and their placement.

In Set Dressing, Cocker’s photographs of Hellyar’s sculptures appear in conversation with recent works by Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland-based photographer Cao Xun.

Cao trades in a visual language which employs gloss and glamour to consider the body’s relationship to the social and material world around it. Though appearing playful and pulsing with desire, Cao says his works circulate around ‘embarrassment.’ The human form—here captured partially concealed or turning away from the camera’s gaze—acts as a site of both shame and relief, pleasure and repulsion, self-effacement and revelation.

Public Programmes 

Sat 02 Mar 2024 | 1:00PM | Opening Weekend Curator Tour with Simon Gennard

Fri 12 Apr 2024 | 12:30PM | Taranaki Pride Week: Curator Tour

Sat 13 Apr 2024 | 1:00PM | Hidden and revealed: A photography workshop with Cao Xun

Set Dressing 11 Photo Cheska Brown No Power Points (2)

Works by Cao Xun in Set Dressing, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Ngāmotu New Plymouth, 2024. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo: Cheska Brown.

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Purchase exhibition catalogue:
Set Dressing 


By Gary Cocker, Christine Hellyar, Cao Xun.

Contributions from Kirsty Baker, Gary Cocker, Simon Gennard, Priscilla Pitts, Zara Stanhope, Samuel Te Kani.

Edited by Simon Gennard.
Designed by Ella Sutherland.

RRP $40.00 from the Govett-Brewster Store.

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