Kirsteen Pieterse

Kirsteen Pieterse
Photographed at
Martin Browne Fine Art

Kirsteen Pieterse deliberately sets out to make structures in the scale of architectural models. Specifically they are models of walkways that may facilitate our passage through a landscape; structures that are doomed to fall into a state of disrepair and then collapse. She is continually working back from a mental construct of the landscape where negative space determines the outcome of the sculpture. The constructions reference heroic 19th century bridge building techniques and iconic structures like the Brighton Pier.

She studied at the Glasgow School of Art and completed a Master of Arts (Art in Architecture) at the University of East London. She came to Australia five years ago and apart from her sculpture, she has worked as a lecturer in media and design at Macquarie University and The University of Western Sydney as well as working as a film technician in Special Effects at Fox Studios. In 2004 she won the Peoples’ Choice Award at the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize, and in 2005 she was a finalist in the National Sculpture Prize & Exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia.

The following interview was conducted at Martin Browne Fine Art by Harvey Shields for during the time of her exhibition 18 Jan-12 Feb 2006.

81 x 55 x 36 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art


HS: There seems to be a certain consistency between the pieces. It seems you are trying to find a space somewhere between structure and topology.

KP: Yes

You can really see this in the drawings, because first you draw in a structure, then you overlay it with this landscape or topology. Are you working to any plan?

No, I tend to try and enlarge the landscape formation that I’m trying to suggest, but it’s a very woolly picture I’ve got. The sculpture will decide for itself, when you’re making it, where it is going to finish up and how deep your chasm is going to be for example or and how long your ravine can be.

So you’re working on a table?


You work out the dimensions as you go?


This one has much more of a triangular shape (Gully 2005).

This one is called Gully because it’s filling up a gully.

That’s like what you were doing in Glasgow, using the negative as the piece; you’re filling in a mental space.

Yeah, exactly, that’s right.

Gully 2005
80 x 110 x 15 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art


Undone 2005
Ink on paper
102 x 115 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art

Do you know the work of Agnes Martin?

Yes I have quite a few quotes of hers in my sketchbook. I was reading an interview with her and she was talking about where the line finishes, where you decide to lift the pencil off the page; it seemed to be one of the driving ideas in one of her shows. That really appealed to me, like the decision where to stop rather than the decision where to start. It’s actually the process involved in making things. With Agnes Martin there is this shear persistence in her work. When I was making these pieces there was a similar thing happening to me. It is really hard coming into the studio to keep making these things because it becomes really dull…

…and where does it all break down, is it at that point where you are becoming obsessed?

When I can’t do it any more…

…then it turns into chaos?

Then I must do something to activate it…

…but when do you get to that point where it starts becoming loose and chaotic?

That’s at the end it does that. I’ve got to get it to a point of collapse.


The collapse is all built in; it is very purposeful isn’t it; there is nothing accidental about it?

No, it takes just as long to make the collapse as the rest of it.

Well that’s what I was trying to get at, it takes just as long. If you like, the tedium continues, except it is a different kind of tedium.


You’re actually constructing the collapse in the same sense as the rest of the structure.

Yeah. It comes from pictures of the Brighton Pier when it collapsed into the sea. We used to go there on holiday when we were kids and when it happened my parents sent me these photographs, saying, look what happened to the Pier, and there were these beautiful collapses, and that is what started this body of work.

It collapsed in a storm?

Yes heavy seas in 2002. Then you have that connection with the pier as a construction so the upper classes could experience the sea without getting their feet wet. I think my pieces are similar types of construction, like how do you get through a landscape without really dealing with the landscape.

I also think there is nostalgia for that era of construction. The Brighton Pier, the trestle railway bridges in the west of the United States, they have become symbolic of 19th century construction.


Ravine 2005
79 x 70 x 24 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art

Yes we can’t afford not to think like that. So you’re trying to make that connection between the natural environment and the built environment?

Yes, my husband and I took a walk through the Tarkine forest last March and it totally changed my way of thinking. It is the most amazing landscape, and when you are in the middle of it you are thinking, this is the most remote experience I’ve ever had. Then you come across a bridge over a river, and it may be just logs which were felled say 70 or 80 years ago for trucks to cross over, and you’re thinking, oh my god, there is no such thing as wilderness anymore. There is always that evidence of where we’ve been, so you have to start dealing with these problems and try to negotiate a solution.

What about the Great Wall of China, is that pleasing?

Yes it is, it is one of the pictures I have on my wall.

It is such a strong structure and yet it is so organic, it follows that ridge like it is meant to be there. Do you want your structures to represent the idea or does the idea just inform the way you create these structures, so that the audience can make what they like out of it?

I’m quite keen for the structures to say what I’m thinking. I’m quite keen that they talk about existing structures where something has happened, but also that they are seen as pristine models, architectural models that function as proposal for something that might be built. For me they function as models of failed structures that have collapsed and I’m setting them up as structures that might go on as something else.

I think in a way when we are building bridges and these types of things, we are imposing our own power over the landscape. Obviously the Industrial Revolution happened and there were some fantastic feats of engineering, but I think at the point where we are at now, with all the stuff that’s happening with the environment, it is interesting to think, what if we stopped building roads and bridges and instead got our feet wet and actually dealt with the landscape. We should think more about the effect our building is having on the landscape.





Ridge 2005
80 x 118 x 25 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art

Chasm 2005 (detail)
57 x 53 x 42 cm

You can imagine them in a park somewhere, full scale, where people could visit and interact with them.

I think the scale of them allows you to do that, the scale of the model that is. The smaller scale allows you to get inside it and imagine it in your head as bigger, but I imagine myself more on top of them, as things you can walk over, rather than getting into the guts of them. Like this one where you are walking around half way up the trees, and this one is a small bridge that has fallen away from you; that is where I picture myself, on top of them.

That draws on the sensation, when you have cliffs dropping away beside you, the sensation of precariousness, which connects back to the precarious situation with the environment.

Well that’s exactly right, that’s where I started out when I was building these tall thin ones; there was fear involved with that. I’ve been on things where it’s all falling away from me, and the work has come from that notion that I am up on that walkway and it is insecure, unstable…

…and you’re very unsure of where you’re going, and if it will support you…

… yes it’s like an architecture of insecurity; these structures are baseless, they are standing on nothing.

Chasm 2005
57 x 53 x 42 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art

Stile 2004
137 x 52 cm


Does this come from a drawing? (pointing to Stile)

Yeah it’s from a drawing. Actually I made a few structures in 97/98. I made one structure out of cardboard, which was a staircase that joined onto a car-rack type thing. Like it was two structures that moved together to make a composite. Stile started by projecting a slide of the staircase section, a slide of the drawing, then I worked over the drawing projected on the wall. I like to find the connection between the drawing and the sculpture. Before I start making the sculpture it’s like I know the drawing has to go somewhere so this is like an intermediate stage, it is like part of the process, between the drawing and the sculpture.

This way you can play with perspective, architectural or isometric perspective, then you arrive at a point where it starts to break down and the whole structure just ebbs away into space.

I think it’s a different problem to take it into sculpture. That’s what I like about making something; the bottom line is you’ve got to make it stand.

But the material is light enough and I was thinking, looking at those landscape type drawings and extrapolating them to sculptures, you could forget about the base and take it in your hands and just keep adding to it in an organic sort of way.

Yeah, make things in sections and keep them in sections and keep turning it around.

Tarkine Falls 2005
Ink on paper
111 x 150 cm

Image: Martin Browne Fine Art

You can see the potential in that drawing over there (pointing to Tarkine Falls), it is really nice what you’ve captured there, and the way it makes contact with the background. The shapes are not floating, for you can see the contact with the paper, and yet they are starting to come off the paper, without obvious reference to depth of field.

Just working with shades of dark and light…

…the way it flows through and starts to take on a three dimensional effect, it’s very sculptural.

Yes, I was doing this about the same time I was working on Fell with those holes, the holes with the landscape underneath. That’s what I’m drawing in that one (Tarkine Falls), the holes.

I see, that is why I didn’t see them as being solid; they retain aspects of the sculpture.

Fell 2005
35 x 150 x 50 cm
Image: Martin Browne Fine Art




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