This is a story of two moments – a day and a night. The first happened a year ago in the famously bright sunlight of Aotearoa New Zealand. At home in his rural Amberley studio, 45 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch, Youle wrote a poem that reflected his sense of personal and professional contentment: at peace and happy with where he found himself in life. That feeling was in stark contrast to another poem he wrote, which recalled a night in Sydney, Australia a decade before. Sullied by intoxication, self-doubt and disgust, it’s a feet-in-the-gutter reminder of how quickly the heights of success can be eclipsed by humiliating lows.
To make 40 Days and 40 Nights, Youle broke each poem into 40 lines, letting the phrases split instinctually, some into single words, others into longer fragments. He then paired each text with an image; using high-resolution scans taken from a large set of second-hand slides he has collected from a range of sources over the last eight years. He wanted the process of juxtaposition to be as random as possible and the accidental marriages between word and image opened up a range of unexpected, yet oddly precise meanings. Some previously care-free scenes took on a darker edge; in others the floated text introduced an absurd humour or surprising poignancy. We never come to art unencumbered, of course. What we see is framed and nuanced by our upbringing, culture, gender – even our age and stage in life. Youle in his studio waves to another version of himself all those years ago in Sydney, separated not only by time and distance, but by experience, including fatherhood, and by a solid line of practice that reaches out behind him. We can’t shake off our shadows, but at the start of every day we can return to the work of putting ourselves back together again.
Felicity Milburn, 2019
Curator, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū