Can you help identify the yellow sack used in this artwork?

This afternoon I have been sitting down to write a wall label about New Zealand artist Don Driver’s incredible work in Te Papa’s collection Blue and green Pacific (1978). I’ve become rather hung up on a particular detail: the yellow sack in the centre. I’d dearly like to know what it might have originally been used for. Can anyone help?

Don Driver, 'Blue and green Pacific', 1978,  plastic tarpaulins, ropes, plastic sack. Purchased 1981 with Ellen Eames Collection funds, Te Papa

Don Driver, ‘Blue and green Pacific’, 1978, plastic tarpaulins, ropes, plastic sack. Purchased 1981 with Ellen Eames Collection funds, Te Papa

I’m guessing that Driver found this sack in or around New Plymouth, where he lived, at some point in the 1970s. The words that are visible on the sack read ‘PACIFIC / P.D.V. SCREENED / GRADE V43 / THROUGH 36 MESH 425 MICRONS / CERTIFIED TO B S S 998′. I’ve been wondering if it might have held an agricultural product. Is ‘Pacific’ a brand name, or a product?

I really cannot explain my passion for doormats and old bags. My wife says I should see a psychiatrist.’ – Don Driver, 1979.

Why is it important to know what sort of bag Driver used in Blue and green Pacific? Well, of course, it may not be in terms of understanding or appreciating Driver’s work. However, I am intrigued by Driver’s re-use of found objects and the sorts of materials he was drawn to. For example, consider his use of ‘Huttons skin and bone meal’ sacks in another work from Te Papa’s collection… not to mention the possum skins.

Don Driver, 'Huttons skin and bone', 1984, mixed media assemblage. Gift of the Goodman Suter Biennale, 1986. Te Papa

Don Driver, ‘Huttons skin and bone’, 1984, mixed media assemblage. Gift of the Goodman Suter Biennale, 1986. Te Papa

It’s reasonably uncommon to find examples of contemporary New Zealand art that engage with the role that agriculture plays in New Zealand’s economy and society. Perhaps this is what gives Driver’s works some of their punch; while they are very much ‘of this place’, they reveal a side that we don’t often put on display.

Sarah Farrar
Curator of contemporary art

3 Responses

  1. Sarah Farrar

    I think you’re right, Athol, because I’ve just spotted another Driver work made in 1977 called Pacific Salt featuring what I think are the same sacks. They’ve been cut up into strips and are white rather than yellow, but the printed name ‘Pacific’ is there and the work’s title seals the salt connection. The work is in the Sarjeant Gallery‘s collection and it’s illustrated on page 13 of Driver’s With spirit catalogue.

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  2. Athol McCredie

    I’d guess it is a bag that contained salt. A bit of Googling turns up the info that PDV can stand for Pure Dried Vacuum in relation to salt. Pacific Salt is a sub-brand of Cerebos, though whether that brand existed in 1978 I don’t know. BS 998 is a (British Standards Institute) standard used for vacuum salt for food use.
    On the other hand BS EN 998 is one used for mortar, so an outside possibility is that the contents were a premixed concrete, which would also fit with the wording about screening, and there is a Pacific Cement Co. based n the Phillipines. PDV might stand for ‘product delay variation’. Salt sounds much more likely though.

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  3. phil sole

    haha. incredible indeed. but the sack – i understand some emperor wore it for a while immediately prior to getting a new set of clothes.

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