Professor in landscape architecture wins national art writing prize

09 December 2021 | News

Lincoln University Landscape Architecture Professor Jacky Bowring’s expertise and insights have earned her the esteemed Michèle Whitecliffe Art Writing Prize.

The inaugural competition, run by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, had the theme of ‘wellbeing’ and Professor Bowring’s winning essay, Art Therapy, will be published in the gallery’s Art Toi magazine.

The competition was judged by international art critic Charles Darwent, who writes for The Guardian and presented the Netflix series Raiders of the Lost Art.

Mr Darwent said in a press release from the Auckland Art Gallery that Professor Bowring’s essay challenged accepted wisdom by asking the question, ‘what if art is actually not therapeutic but harmful’?

“It’s easy enough to catch the eye with a snappy first line, far harder to sustain interest having done so,” he pointed out.

“What impressed me about Art Therapy was its consistent and intelligent sacrificing of sacred cows. There was no falling back on easy assumptions, no reaching for critical jargon. The essay’s authority comes from the originality of its thinking. It needed no dressing up.

“The piece is also not afraid to entertain. It talks about a lived experience – of civic sculpture, wonderfully (and usefully) redefined as ‘compulsory art’ – in a language that is both lively and lived-in. I hugely enjoyed this essay and came away thinking differently because of it.”

Professor Bowring explores landscape through research, critique and design and specialises in memories and memorials. She said the competition was the perfect catalyst to write about issues she had been reflecting on in relation to statues and public art.

“As a landscape architect, I’m really interested in public spaces and how they are a mirror of culture in many ways, including how statues are so potent in their weighty symbolism.

“I wasn’t sure if that was what was meant by ‘art writing’, so it was amazing to hear my work had been recognised by a judge with such mana in the field.”

The Michèle Whitecliffe Art Writing Prize was founded to encourage debate about the country’s visual arts.

Read the full Auckland Art Gallery press release here.