The Optimist's House

Photographs by Cathy Tuato'o Ross


CATHY TUATO'O ROSS Glass half full 2011
Colour photograph, 540 x 390 mm.

Determined optimism treads a fine balance between hopefulness and hopelessness. Optimism is often paired with naivety, dim-wittedness or wilful blindness. But I don’t think it should be. I am a reader. Optimism, realistic or misguided, is a state of mind that colours narratives and is often evoked through the use of idiomatic expressions. A collection of worn out words and phrases has provided the starting point for this body of work. The Optimist’s House is an ongoing series, of which 16 images were first exhibited at Photospace in Wellington, October 2011.

There was a student in my class, in my first year of art school, who used her bedsprings to make a random object of wonder. After an uncomfortable night on the floor she unsuccessfully attempted to twist the bent wires back into the semblance of a bed. She was one of the few students who had young children. At the time I was critical. Now, as the mother of four young daughters, I think I understand better the urge to work with what is around you.

I cover my kitchen in royal icing, starting with the cake but creeping over the cups, the dirty saucepans, the dishes from last night, the crumby school lunchboxes. It is now white, clean, undulating and sweet-smelling. If I squint, I can imagine snowy landscapes or pretend that I have created a large abstract sculpture. In fact, Peter Robinson’s Snow Ball Blind Time springs to mind. The dishes underneath are forgotten. I have made something beautiful.

I am an optimist. I am surrounded by art. The end-of-the- week vegetables lurking limply in the bottom of the fridge hook out a memory of Fischli and Weiss’s Quiet Afternoon (1984-85). The washing on my line compares favourably with the best colour field abstract paintings. The hundreds and thousands dance like animated pixels, in glorious technicolour that even Sara Hughes would envy. The newly-dead thrush, fallen from its nest before it could fly and found by my cat, is warm in my hand. Annette Messager may have knitted a little jacket for it. I relish gestures, good intentions, attempts, beginnings of ideas. Photography, with its innate ability to make big small, and make small big, is the perfect medium for this project.

CATHY TUATO'O ROSS Icing on the Cake 2011
Colour photograph, 540 x 390 mm.

CATHY TUATO'O ROSS Silver-lining 2011
Colour photograph, 540 x 390 mm.

CATHY TUATO'O ROSS Bowl of Cherries 2011
Colour photograph, 540 x 390 mm.

CATHY TUATO'O ROSS Spoon Full of Sugar (the Optimist's Child) 2011
Colour photograph, 540 x 390 mm.