Ava Seymour / New Zealand b.1967 / House at Cannons Creek (from ‘Health, happiness and housing’ series) 1997, printed 2007 / Digital colour photographs on paper, ed. of 5 / 73.5 x 92cm / Purchased 2007 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Ava Seymour

Ava Seymour
House at Cannons Creek (from ‘Health, happiness and housing’ series) 1997–2007

Not Currently on Display

The sense of unease and ordinariness is most explicit in Ava Seymour’s ‘Health, happiness and housing’ series, which she produced after touring New Zealand state houses from Invercargill to Auckland in 1997. These basic weatherboard and brick dwellings came to prominence during the 1930s when the then government began a program of subsidised housing for the disadvantaged.

During the 1990s, economic reforms radically shifted the situation for these tenants, who found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to pay market-rate rentals. Seymour is careful to assert that her series is not intended as a critique of the New Zealand housing experience, but rather the worsening condition of government-sponsored housing schemes in general and, ultimately, the deterioration and failure of the inherent social dream.

In ‘Health, happiness and housing’, the fragility and disabilities of Ava Seymour’s inhabitants are proudly on show. Seymour inserts composite images of distorted figures, pieced together from limbs and faces found in old medical textbooks, into the foreground of her stark physical sites. The coupling of these strange residents with their locations creates an uncanny disjuncture.

Ava Seymour’s photomontages are an ambiguous mix of satire and sociopolitical significance. Seymour began making photomontages in the early 1990s while based in Germany.

Drawing on various photographic traditions and cultural signifiers appropriated from magazines and other publications, Seymour assembles scenes of disparate bodies, architectures and forms. The effect is a powerful play on our expectations, blurring context and meaning to create formal studies reflecting an often contradictory engagement with the world.

Seymour has described her approach as creating a ‘raw emotive portrayal of the joys, integrity, angst and suffering of the lives of mortal creatures responding to their environment’,1 and her photomontages in turn balance depictions of the absurd and the grotesque.


1. Ava Seymour, Health, Happiness and Housing [exhibition catalogue], Auckland, 1997, unpaginated.