Que Sera Sera

April 16 - May 11, 2013

Margaret Dawson


Saintly (triptych)  Saintly (triptych)  Saintly (triptych)

Christchurch artist Margaret Dawson's latest body of work is deeply imbued with the nature of ritual and mystery. With friends and family as models and collaborators, Dawson investigates the connections between some of the ways human beings use to re-enchant or make liveable the mundane reality of life. Ritual manifests itself in many ways in these photographs, in allusion to Masonic rites, Christian symbolism, contemporary and historical art, and even the repetitive physical exercises of elder care. Ritual acts raise us closer to the transcendental.

Preparation for a second degree floor clothAll of this hints at a ritual story-quest of challenge, transformation, and initiation into some powerful mystical secret - like the chequered cloth that represents the difficult path for the Entered Apprentice in Freemasonry, or the obvious fragilities of age -  the act of viewing these images is to enter the Chapel Perilous and be invited to discover something about ourselves.

Thematically Dawson's oeuvre often resembles a record of an amateur performance of an unknown play, or a group of children imitating some mysterious aspect of the adult world they don't quite understand with a combination of naïve awe and workaday practicality. And yet the actors seem to know more about what is going on in the images than the audience does - a cunning reversal of roles. Settings seem improvised, make do, which gives each scene the aura of authenticity. We get the sense that we are touching the hem of a secret. The simplicity of the props and the amateur actors suggests an undermining or subversion of the high seriousness of the rituals and perhaps the masculine world they represent.


Like a mystery cult or a secret society, Dawson's photographs hint at a fully formed syntax that the audience is not, and may never be privy to, but the symbolism is handled with the lightest of touched and encompasses all of the significant cycles of human existence: life and death, youth and age, public and secret, the mystical and the mundane. These great cosmic verities are visually encoded in tableaux constructed in a vocabulary of the found and the ordinary. A particular theatrical magic is conjured from the most commonplace sources, spiced up with moments of specific wit.

Eastern Mystic (sepia)What are we looking at? What is happening? The work seems to invite the viewer to make their own interpretations of the mysteries. Dawson asks difficult, self-conscious questions about how the unflinchingly realistic eye of the camera lens may interact with the mystical experience, the role of the auteur, the instinct to be included and involved, and the sacred and profane.



Additional works

untitled    Preparation for a third degree floor cloth    


List of Works

Preparation for a Second Degree Floor Cloth
unique photograph,  1300 x 850mm

Eastern Mystic (sepia toned)
230 x 260mm

Secret Handshake
260 x 350mm framed

Preparation for Third Degree
450 x 300mm framed

Eastern Mystic (black & white)
600 x 400mm

Fortune Teller
470 x 340mm framed

760 x 500mm framed

Saintly (triptych)
1300 x 600mm

Preparation for a Third Degree Floor Cloth
850 x 560mm

450 x 630mm framed

No 1
390 x 300mm framed

No 2
390 x 300mm framed
All photographs are either black & white, sepia toned or coloured
digital images printed in 2012 - 13. The framed works are printed
on paper and the unframed works are printed on canvas. 
All works are editions of 3 unless otherwise stated.