In making his decision not to allow irrigation at Cass, the Environment Commissioner, Robert Nixon, noted that the proposal would not serve to change the actual landscape painted by Rita Angus. But he agreed that the painting had “powerful symbolism”, and that the proposed land-use associated with irrigation could have a significant adverse visual impact on views from State Highway 73, around the area of the painting. Nixon cited the high landscape values of the area — variously shared, historic and recognised “significant natural science, aesthetic, and Tangata Whenua landscape values” — and declined the application to industrialise the landscape.
Art history 1: industrial irrigators 0, you might think. A rare decision. But it might equally be recognised that there is something of an irony to this. One of Angus’s purposes in painting the burned-off vistas at Cass was, like many of the more progressive artists of her generation, to depict the effects of modernity and economic progress on the landscape. Speed, transportation, telecommunications, industry: all are present in Angus’s modernist depiction of Cass. Her inclusion of telegraph poles and railway tracks reveals a landscape in the process of being altered — made modern — by its inhabitants.
… In citing Angus’s painting as a factor in the decision not to allow industrial-scale irrigation in the Cass landscape, there is clearly a gentle irony in a work of art concerned with the effects of modernity stalling contemporary economic “progress”.
It is too easy to veto others’ uses of their own property; too many want to turn the country into a still life.