With an established practice spanning from the handmade to the highly mediated, Stella Brennan prises open history, its losses and possibilities, interrogating colonialism, industrialisation and computerisation.
Dr Su Ballard describes how Brennan “knits together the embodied forces of consumerist desire, historical memory and utopian aspiration; her works grasp at the eco-histories of New Zealand. It is a practice in which home improvement (in its largest sense) is front and centre; where the materials used are determined by the labour of the local and at hand. And it is in these everyday experiences overwritten with the various faces of capital that Brennan locates an archaeological practice of love and repair.”
Brennan remains elusive; while her broad socio-ecological concerns remain utterly consistent, her avenues of expression are diverse. Relishing material and technical challenges, over the last two decades her installations have included video projections, soundscapes, sculptural constructions, light works as well as found objects. In her Walters Prize-nominated work Wet Social Sculpture, a fully functioning spa pool was installed in an art gallery and the audience invited in. Memory Hole, her solo exhibition at Trish Clark Gallery in 2015, delved into the materiality and effect of outmoded technologies, presenting for rumination the glossy surfaces and effects of our flawed interface with technology, alongside a ‘New Zealand-mythic’ landscape – a small tent in a sea of pine bark mulch, housing, in typical Brennan fashion, a tv that screened looping footage of an auger endlessly grinding its way into the earth.
In 2023 the City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi presented Ancestor Technologies a major survey exhibition of Brennan’s work which included her new photographic installation Threads Between Darkness and Light. The scope of works in this show queries how technologies of representation alter the ways that we see the work, and how they influence the ways that we mark time and construct histories.
Brennan has exhibited across Australia, Asia, North America, Europe and New Zealand and has been awarded Residencies including at Apex Arts in New York City, and Artspace in Sydney. After graduating MFA from the University of Auckland in 1999, and alongside her personal art practice and exhibitions, Brennan co-founded Aotearoa Digital Arts and co-edited the Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader, the first comprehensive text on digital arts practice in New Zealand; maintains a practice as a writer, and essayist for artists including Ann Veronica Janssens and Patricia Piccinini, as well as critic for magazines including Art Asia Pacific, the New Zealand Listener and Art New Zealand; been an advisory editor for Eyeline Magazine, Australia; and curated the exhibitions Nostalgia for the Future (Artspace, Auckland, 1999), Dirty Pixels (Artspace, Adam Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Waikato Museum of Art and History, 2002-3), and co-curated Cloudland: Digital Art from Aotearoa New Zealand (The Substation, Singapore, 2008).
Brennan lives and works in Auckland