Saturday, October 10, 2009

Notes on recent works by Rangi Kipa

Back to the Future


I am constantly amazed at the ability of the human mind to revert to the cringing safety of the cliché. This observation is by no means a comment on the works created by Rangi Kipa (Taranaki, Te Atiawa Nui Tonu, Ngati Maniapoto, Pakeha) for an exhibition at the New York dealer gallery Goff + Rosenthal in 2008. But it does relate to many of the remarks about his practice, which only add to the well-trodden territory of contemporary Maori art discourse. There are the inevitable references to ‘customary carving traditions’ and ‘connections with the ancestors’, which, although overly used in Maori art rhetoric, nevertheless have an element of truth to them. These phrases can sometimes threaten to overshadow an artist’s practise by including it in a generic round table of truisms that do little to relay the significance of an individual’s achievements.


The tension between cliché and individual difference is also prevalent in the inevitable allusions to ‘the Maori art movement’, a movement which established Maori art and artists as key players in the New Zealand art scene in the 60’s and 70’s but has little traction in the post millennium polyglot of the international art market. Kipa’s works, however, are now viewed from both these vantage points. He treads a precarious tightrope between the ravenous requirements of a global art society constantly on the lookout for the next big thing, and the rather less imperative, but still highly emotive, expectations of local individuals, communities and whanau which provide the context in which he creates his works.


In his recent Parata series for Goff + Rosenthal, Kipa has taken the basic parata form from the tau ihu, (figurehead), found on a waka tīwai, (a light canoe used on rivers and estuaries) and used it as a conduit for his very personal take on the world. He chose this form particularly because it is often overlooked by carvers in favour of the more decorative figurehead found on the waka taua (an ocean-going war canoe). Kipa has stripped the parata back to the bare essentials - a small, softly modelled beak, a large, eyeless, duel-planed forehead, with some having just a hint of a nose. Worked in a high density plastic product aptly titled Staron™ each brightly coloured figurehead becomes the perfect canvas for Kipa’s highly individual graphic vocabulary.


The exhibition at Goff + Rosenthal Gallery included three sets of parata, each displayed in a distinctive formation mounted onto the gallery walls. It is as if the works emerge through a veil from another time and place rather than from the walls of the typical white cube gallery space. It is easy to see the relationship between the installation and the use of the parata as a symbol for new pathways and modes of engagement. Beyond this connection, however, each individual work also carries its own message. The bright colours and distinct graphic qualities of each form mark it as significant outside of these groupings, a reading that the viewer cannot help but see as a potential metaphor for Kipa’s view of his own place in the world – a part of it, but most definitely an individual.


The centrepiece of the exhibition is the work titled Navigator that acts as a focal point from which to negotiate the other works. Navigator is emblazoned with celestial maps; an addition with dual meanings, it is not only related to Kipa’s cosmological and ocean-faring Maori heritage, but also alludes to a more complex post-colonial relationship. Interestingly this is also one of the few pieces in the exhibition to be given the gift of sight – large stylized eyes which are always focused on the outward journey.


Navigator, 2008 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Elsewhere in the gallery a set of nine parata works are lined up in ranks, a grid formation which is reminiscent of an armada of waka coming straight at the viewer. Among these are works which have very personal resonance for Kipa.


The work cheekily titled Hokusai-Hukatai is a bright orange representation of the famous woodcut by the Japanese master Hokusai which depicts a small vessel caught in the trough of a tsunami size wave; in the background watching over the scene rests the enigmatic symbol of the perfect Japanese landscape, Mt Fuji. However, on closer inspection, Kipa’s image has been altered to show a more familiar setting. The wave is similar but without the floundering vessel and the mountain in the background has been replaced with an image of Mt Taranaki, Kipa’s turangawaewae (place to stand). The image is also reversed; it is only a reflection, a clever re-working of the idealized landscape that Hokusai created hundreds of years earlier. A final twist on this already heavily loaded scene is the use of Hukatai in the title which is surprisingly the Maori word for the white foam of a breaking wave.


Hokusai-Hukatai, 2008 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Another bright orange work from this group also picks up on Japanese themes; titled Golden Hands, this parata form shows two carp, a larger and a smaller, circling each other. The work is a very personal narrative depicting the relationship Kipa shared with his father. It relates to the role his father played as the family provider spending many hours fishing for the extended family, a task that Kipa as oldest son was also expected to fulfil. Kipa’s father gained the title ‘Golden Hands’ for his unique fishing methods where he would deftly tickle eels and trout out of the stream instead of using fishing lines or traps. As with all of the works in this series, Kipa has invested Golden Hands with a complex layer of ideas. The carp in Chinese mythology travels upstream and when it reaches the source it turns into a dragon. The dragon in turn is the combination of all the mythical beasts and therefore the most potent and wise – it had the claws of the eagle, scales of the carp, head of a lion, and the body of a serpent.


This exhibition was not Kipa’s first use of the parata form. In October 2007, Kipa exhibited Radiáre as part of the inaugural suite of exhibitions for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. Radiáre was constructed as a whare (house) through which he intended to both explore and critique many New Zealanders’, and, in particular, Māori understandings of customary practices and art forms. In this work Kipa created a parata in place of the whare upoko, (ancestral figurehead) which sits at the apex of the roof. This lime green whare upoko sported lightly incised taa moko (tattoo) and the word ‘AO’ which among other meanings refers to the Māori concepts of daylight, the world and a newly emerging bud. This one, seemingly small, aspect of the impressively scaled Radiáre aimed to literally point the way forward and became a catalyst for the parata series that was to follow.


Radiare, 2007 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Kipa’s practice has methodically moved to the left of the carving techniques and traditions he trained in. He is quick to acknowledge his artistic roots, but expresses some sadness at the inability of many of his peers to push beyond the often limiting parameters of their craft. In some ways the Parata series is both an acknowledgement of and a departure from customary practices. Kipa considers these works to be a metaphorical comment on his own journey as an artist. It is a reference to moving forward, and away from what he considers to be the stasis of political discussions within whakairo (carving) circles regarding the role and adherence to customary practice. He feels there should be an embracing of cultural innovation, a trait which Maori were often acknowledged for by those they encountered during the fraught period of colonial interaction of the mid 19th Century. The tohunga whakairo (master carver) Te Hau O Te Rangi Tutua, a mentor and friend of Kipa’s, believed that if you wanted to replicate the practices of the old days you may as well use a machine, he was a firm proponent of progress and innovation, a principle which Kipa himself adheres to with conviction.


The Parata series is the physical manifestation of this idea, referencing the traditions of the past while progressing and adapting into the future. As Kipa succinctly states, “I’m not looking to re-validate our culture within the post-colonial social structure of New Zealand, but rather my position is that we’re already validated and must move forward”.


In some respects Kipa’s investigation of new techniques and materials has become something of a phoenix rising from the ashes, an artistic rebirth which has provided the artist with a new outlook on his practice. The highly symbolic use of the parata form was no coincidence; its place at the front of the waka, always looking forward and to the future, gives us a clear insight into Kipa’s artistic and personal positioning. His works show a confidence and sincerity which is the reason for much of Kipa’s success. They combine seemingly disparate subject matter but all share an inherent belief in the benefits of progress and an acceptance of traditional values. As I review Kipa’s impressive body of work, I can’t quite help but think of the old saying ‘in order to move forward you need to have one eye on the future and one eye on the past.’ I guess you can’t always avoid the dangers of the cliché trap.


Karl Chitham

This article is an unpublished draft commissioned by the artist in 2008.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Making and Meaning: Craft in the 21st century

Doomed if you do …

The title of the exhibition Making and Meaning: Craft in the 21st century gave me pause to consider what it means to be living in a time that should by some predictions resemble a world not too dissimilar to that of Buck Rodgers and his shiny-white-robot-filled-universe or the even grittier and more terrifying confines of Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. As a child I was led to believe that these alternative futures were not only possible but inevitable. So it is with some disappointment but ultimately an overwhelming sense of relief that I have not had to endure a post-apocalyptic event or the hugely anticipated interaction with alien life-forms. As a species we have indeed made significant advances in the last 300 years, yet in the scheme of things it appears as if very little has changed. Technology and science have progressed at great speeds and with art and cultural pursuits rarely out of the mainstream we could be forgiven for thinking that we are in the throes of a renaissance period. However, the difference between the time of papal extravagance and now is that the arts and in particular the contemporary visual arts have become somewhat self-referential and appear to lack the sense of innovation and invention necessary for any phase of significant advancement. An exception to this observation is that of contemporary jewellery practice.      

New Zealand has had a dynamic craft, and in particular, jewellery history since the onslaught of the 1960’s craft movement. The sector has moved from strength to strength in a relatively short period, and developed into a robust and extremely critically aware community. As New Zealanders, our apparent isolation has led us to develop an unassailable sense of unjustness and low self-esteem, traits which have both helped and hampered our progress on the world stage. As a post-colonial nation we are fiercely competitive, while simultaneously self-deprecating. So it seems astonishing that we have managed to develop and sustain a group of makers who are savvy, analytical and confident enough to be able to completely disregard the narrow confines of stereotyped parameters.

Another of our more contentious hangovers is cultural identity. Along with many other nations in the world we are torn between imposed colonial traditions, which have now become fully ingrained societal frameworks, and our indigenous obligations.  New Zealand has developed a rather unhealthy Oedipus complex in its relationship with the British motherland. This has become simultaneously a symbol of the only recognizable genealogical heritage for many New Zealanders and one of tyranny and deception for the indigenous Maori population. This dichotomy poses an inevitably convoluted dilemma which has both influenced and confronted New Zealand jewellers and artists alike for decades. Into this morass of controversy and political correctness have come two makers who have responded to this question of culture from what many would consider opposing perspectives, but share surprising similarities in their approaches to the unavoidable question of identity.

Warwick Freeman is a jeweller of distinction. He is quick to distinguish himself as an individual voice that intuitively responds to his cultural environment yet there is an obvious awareness of how he interprets and manipulates the symbols he employs. It is a form of semantics that is ever present in his work.

Freeman’s practice grew out of the burgeoning craft movement of 1970’s New Zealand, a time when, like much of the rest of the world, social, political and economic change were having a huge impact on how we as a nation were positioning ourselves in an international context. From this developed a number of initiatives which were to pave the way for craft practice to become a sustainable reality in a small, isolated and seemingly backward society. One of the most significant was the establishment of Fingers Collective, formed by a core group of jewellers who had come to the discipline via routes other then the traditional formal silver or goldsmith training. This group was initially influenced by international makers with a more modernist approach including the work of Kobi Bosshard who immigrated from Europe in the 1960’s, but this was to change significantly in the coming years.

In the 1980’s came a veritable flood of craft and design courses offered by technical institutions which were to reach their heady heights in the 1990’s. Their popularity began to decline post-millenium with the onslaught of inter-disciplinary ‘design’ courses which encouraged the breaking down of discipline specific definitions and challenged the 19th Century fine arts division with other forms of the visual arts including jewellery and other craft practices.   

Prior to this the 1980’s spawned two significant exhibitions: Paua Dreams and Bone Stone Shell which would act as catalysts for craft and more predominantly jewellery to become more visible, and would later be entrenched as diviners of the archetypal symbols of our cultural identity. Both these exhibitions were pivotal in establishing a code of response that was to typify New Zealand jewellery for the decade that followed. The primary element of these events was the use of natural materials, in particular the use of paua (abalone shell) and pounamu (jade) as valid jewellery materials which sat outside of European jewellery traditions. The jewellers that participated in these exhibitions, including Freeman, were in effect reclaiming cultural territory through materials which had only been associated up until this point with the unadulterated consumerism of the tourist trade or the dusty displays of museums.

Warwick Freeman
Sentence Various Dates

Gina Matchitt, a contemporary Maori maker, diverges from this formative view by engaging an indigenous perspective. Matchitt utilizes the icons of western popular culture and subverts them to take on a Maori focus. In this way her work connects with the dilemma of appropriation by claiming corporate and religious identities and imposing on them a reformatted Maori brand.


Gina Matchitt
Kiwi Mo Heihei (Kiwi for Chicken) 2005

Although trained as a jeweller, Matchitt has moved beyond the parameters of this sometimes limiting discipline to make works which utilize the stuff of the everyday in a way which is restricted only by her ideas. Her practice responds to an understanding of a cultural position as Maori and underpins her ability to move from craft maker to artist which can be seen in works from Geyserland Hotel (2004), Where Everyone Gets a Bargain (2005) and E kare, you’re so colonised (2007). Matchitt does not view herself as having moved completely beyond jewellery, but considers it only as a means to communicate her ideas. Matchitt is comfortable traversing diverse media which supports her position in the contemporary art sector. It is not an issue for her of art versus craft as she has emerged from an education which encouraged an understanding of an art practice beyond the confines of definitives. While this approach reflects her education and individual perspective it also marks the primary divergence between Matchitt’s and Freeman’s practices.


Freeman’s unabashed use of the title ‘jeweller’ reflects his acknowledgement of a historical tradition which spans thousands of years. He engages with these traditions in every aspect of his practice, and references the craft movement which has helped to shape the foundations of contemporary jewellery in New Zealand. Freeman is adamant that his work is well and truly entrenched in the culture of craft. He is first and foremost a jeweller - a maker of jewellery - regardless of the labels and associations that may be projected onto his work due to his representation by a significant contemporary art dealer. Yet he is also fully aware of the effects that his decision to show in a gallery has on his practice. His work is not only considered by some to have reached the elite heights possible in a small centre like New Zealand, he also now has achieved a fiscal level unattainable by most in his field.


The positioning of both makers’ works is a strategy of markets in which wearability and function give way to the freedoms of installation and sculpture. It is also an opportunity to indulge in indepth conceptual territories not always appreciated in the fickle tastes of jewellery consumers but encouraged by the collectors of contemporary art. A number of other makers have also made this shift including Octavia Cook, Areta Wilkinson and Joe Sheehan. Freeman, although comfortable in his place within craft, has not limited the context in which his works can be read. Matchitt has also embraced her art persona with open arms and feels no sense of loyalty to prescribed definitions or titles.  


Matchitt and Freeman have produced works which use symbols and icons that can be read as references to a particular New Zealand identity, be it intentional or not. This language of signs, although created locally, is nevertheless recognizable on a global scale with all the implied connotations and multiple meanings inherent with common cultural symbols. It is the ambiguity of both makers’ works that allows for their practice to be read on an international scale and beyond the confines of the craft traditions they have grown out of.


Over the last five years there has been a proliferation of craft-related practice featured prominently alongside contemporary art in a number of major exhibitions. It appears that few contemporary curators see a distinction in current art trends between craft and fine art arenas. With the advent of indie-craft events and artists becoming less afraid to relate stories from their own family craft traditions it is no surprise that the craft vs art debate has receded. However there are still some residual issues which question the ‘craftsmanship’ of these new practices. It is not in question that these works respond to historical traditions, but the emphasis is on conceptual territory as opposed to technical expertise. Freeman and Matchitt have managed to avoid this discussion through the nature of their specialist training and the particular sensibilities they both explore in regards to cultural identity.


It seems miraculous that in this phase of immense technological advancement we are still in a state of reconciliation in regards to many issues. The materials and approaches may have altered but the underlying messages still remain the same. In the 21st Century we are still struggling to define who we are and how we fit into an ever changing world. Rather then being more comfortable as part of the global village we now endeavour to make ourselves distinct from those around us. As a society we have a tendency to divide everything into categories and box them within prescribed boundaries in order to make them more accessible. Although makers such as Matchitt and Freeman appear to shift easily between parameters they are still subject to the same issues of stereotyping and the connotations that subsequently arise. It would be easy to make associations between their approaches. Both have made jewellery, show in dealer galleries, respond to specific cultural perspectives, and come from New Zealand. We could even be forgiven for calling them New Zealand jewellers or contemporary artists but neither title suggests the complexities and immense depth associated with their individual practices. It begs the question as we now move into a time of relative change and expansion for the craft sector and its practitioners: how do makers transition beyond the definitions of the past? The craft vs art debate may well have been put aside for the time being but if that were the case then why do we still persist in using this kind of terminology?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Princely Sum - Installation

Princely Sum, a collaborative work by Green Mountain Archery Club (Karl Chitham & Emma Smith), was created for the exhibition titled 'Its a Draw' at Artstation, Ponsonby, Auckland. The exhibition opened on Tuesday 28 July and ran from 29 July to 15 August 2009. The exhibition featured works by Mark Braunias, Gina Ferguson, Simon Gamble, Kristy Gorman, Frances Hansen, Miriam Harris, Hadley Hodgkinson, Lonnie Hutchinson, Susan Jowsey, Karen Krisp, Esther Leigh, Toni Mackinnon, Allen McDonald, Kim Meek, Miranda Playfair, Marie Shannon, Monique Redmond & Janet Lilo, Mandy Thomsett-Taylor, Sam Walters, Marcus Williams.

Princely Sum

Princely Sum detail

Princely Sum (Mrs Hobson) detail

Princely Sum (Dargaville) detail

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Diana Suite by Mark Curtis

A Bitter/Sweet Revenge

By Karl Chitham

I remember fondly the day Diana Spencer became the Princess of Wales. The outrageous spectacle of the occasion was certainly not lost on me at the rather impressionable age of 7. It seemed at the time to be the event of the century and in retrospect was certainly well up there on the list of things I consider to be truly memorable. The lasting image I have from this particular T.V. marathon is of Lady Di struggling up the isle trailing a ridiculously unwieldy train of over 7 metres of the best quality ivory silk.

Two things struck me about this scene. The first was the incredible opulence of the entire affair - gold carriage, jewels, choirs and the list goes on. The second was the crowd. A conservative estimate put the attending hoards along the route of the royal procession at 600,000. The air of hysteria was almost palpable even via the remote capabilities of the television – millions of people worldwide were frantically admiring, analysing and soon-to-be deifying this poor defenceless woman, (or so I thought her to be at the time). The entire display did not appear to fit with this image of a shy, softly spoken, well-bred twenty year old that we had been force-fed for months in the lead-up to the wedding. What was the appeal of this pretty but unremarkable girl? She was later described by her infamous wedding dress’ designer Elizabeth Emanuel as "a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis [with] a beautiful cherubic face” (1). It seems that most people were happy to buy into the hype and illusion of the fairytale come to life.

At the same time in another part of New Zealand somewhat reluctantly huddled around the T.V. with his pro-monarchy family was the then 15 year old Mark Curtis. This event was to begin a life-long relationship with the Princess of Wales. A woman he would never meet but would be forced to share his family with. Curtis speaks with a hint of chagrin about a particular birthday over 10 years ago, where the usual practice of his parents phoning from the motherland to praise him for making it through another year, was mysteriously absent. When he did eventually hear from them two weeks later, he was dumbstruck to find that his parents had neglected him because they were overwhelmed with grief over the death of Lady Diana Spencer. They had even travelled all the way to London to lay flowers at the gates of Buckingham Palace for a woman they knew only from the tabloids and television.

It is this incongruity that Curtis explores in his installation titled The Diana Suite. This work takes the form of a carpet of glitter, a familiar medium in the repertoire of Curtis’ practice. Earlier glitter carpets by the artist introduced audiences to the many religious, cultural and social references of glitter and ephemeral floor coverings used throughout the world. However, The Diana Suite has taken this investigation in a new direction. This work, which at first glance appears to be a homage to the ‘People’s Princess’, takes on a satirical edge when examined more closely. The familiar soft, sweeping hairstyle of the silhouette with its lolly pink background could give the impression that this work is some form of dedication to the fallen princess. This notion quickly dissipates on closer inspection. The gothic design of the carpet, although balanced and harmonious, references a time in history when violence, superstition and death were part of the everyday. Curtis makes use of black glitter for the first time in one of his carpet works. The dull shimmer of the void created by this non-colour adds an ominous nuance to an otherwise innocuous appearing work. At each intersection of the design sits the menacing image of a skull, a symbol which is repeated in a series of 3-dimensional glitter covered works mounted on a nearby wall.

The glitter skull has also appeared in a previous work by Curtis titled For the love of god give me head a finalist in the 2007 Trust Waikato Contemporary Art Award. In this early manifestation Curtis happily plays with references which align sexual humour with religious critique, a thread which weaves itself throughout his practice. Sexuality and religion have become inherent in the relationships Curtis makes in his works. The use of glitter immediately popularises the content of the work and the intent of the artist. “In popular culture it goes back at least as far as Glam Rock of the seventies with Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’, or Gary Glitter, linking it to androgyny. This psychological blurring of genders, and perhaps even physiological too, is part of the aesthetic of camp or queer culture” (2). The Diana Suite speaks volumes in relation to this difficult marrying of idea to materiality. Diana was respected for her undisputed duty as a mother, her humanitarian and charity work and for her emotional and financial generosity, but it was her role as a gay icon, fashionista and business savvy, media darling that cemented her place as a popular culture idol.

This is not the first time Curtis has played with the notion of the ‘Queen of Hearts’. An earlier work titled Rosemont which was a finalist in the 2006 Trust Waikato Contemporary Art Awards was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the icon’s effect on the world following her well publicised death. The installation, which consisted of 4000 French-made plastic roses piled into the corner of the gallery, was an obvious reference to the thousands of flowers, gifts and messages left for Diana following her death in Paris. The work was given a subversive twist with the addition of pop songs mixed with crash sounds, (verging tentatively on the inappropriate) wafting from within the heap of dated artificial offerings.

The Diana Suite is in some ways a rather poignant comment on the cynical world we have become. While many people were overcome with immense and, as Curtis’ parents attested, overwhelming grief at the loss of this saint-like pillar of society, (admittedly with a few faults). Others were quick to point out the dichotomy of the Lady Diana persona:

“She mirrored our personal anxieties, and the perennial anxieties of the young - for it is hard to believe she was 36 years old. She was truly a cliché of the age itself. Much of the angst of this troubled fin de siècle was indexed in her brief life. Wars and poverty, sickness and prejudice, uncertainty and despair - this daughter of an earl, this mother of a putative King of England was paradoxically familiar with them all: and when the end came, it was a properly symbolic end as, with her playboy lover, she was driven at midnight by a drunken driver much too fast in a Mercedes through a city underpass, pursued by photographers on motorbikes” (3).

It is true that she cast glamour, a bedazzling spell, which attracted us to her. The real life blinding flash of cameras, dazzling smile and the sparkle of diamonds acted in much the same way as Curtis’ glitter portrait. As onlookers we were, and still are, lured by the shimmer; the momentary brilliance and sense of wonder that we try to hold on to. But it is only an illusion after all. The carpet is not real. The twinkling wonder disappears when the lights are turned out, you cannot touch it as it sifts through your fingers and in the end it will be swept away. It is a sad tale, but Curtis tells it with a clever wit and a deft hand. It may be a parting shot by the artist, a final blow as payback for earlier indiscretions, but there is no denying the fact – nothing lasts for ever.

(1) Alfano, Sean, A Wedding Dress To Remember,

(2) Hurrell, John, Walking on a Glitter Carpet, beneath the Jesus Crucifixes in the Sycamore Trees, Ultra Glister exhibition catalogue, 2003.

(3) Morris, Jan, The Naughty Girl Next Door,


Far Far Away - Installation

Far Far Away - Romance, Anxiety and the Uncertainty of Place opened at the Hokianga Art Gallery on Saturday 27th June and ran until 30th July 2009. The exhibition featured a diverse selection of works which were accompanied in the exhibition catalogue by the clever, dark narratives of Bronwyn Lloyd. There were works by Emma Smith, Stephen Brookbanks, Sam Mitchell, Warwick Freeman, Alexis Hunter, Josephine Cachemaille, Octavia Cook, Matthew McIntyre Wilson and Crystal Chain Gang.

The Hokianga Art Gallery resides in a commanding, historic building on the harbour's edge in Rawene. While viewing the exhibition you could look out over the harbour and imagine the turbulent events that shaped some of New Zealand's early history.

Josephine Cachemaille Town Hall (Courtesy of Sanderson Contemporary Art)

Sam Mitchell Untitled - Watercolour Series (Courtesy of Anna Bibby Gallery)

Back to Front: Octavia Cook Her Imperial Highness, The Tsarina (Courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery); Alexis Hunter Jugs (Courtesy of Whitespace Gallery); Stephen Brookbanks Untitled (Courtesy of Private Collection)

Left to Right: Emma Smith Tin Grew (Courtesy of the Artist); Warwick Freeman Various (Coutesy of the Artist); Matthew McIntyre Wilson Price of Change (Courtesy of the Artist); Josephine Cachemaille Various (Courtesy of Sanderson Contemporary Art)

Left to Right: Josephine Cachemaille Various (Courtesy of Sanderson Contemporary Art); Josephine Cachemaille Town Hall (Courtesy of Sanderson Contemporary Art); Crystal Chain Gang Budgie Boy & Predator Man (Courtesy of the Artists)  

Left to Right: Alexis Hunter Jugs (Courtesy of Whitespace Gallery); Stephen Brookbanks Unititled (Courtesy of Private Collections); Emma Smith Tin Grew (Courtesy of the Artist)

Front: Stephen Brookbanks Untitled (Courtesy of Private Collection); Back: Emma Smith Tin Grew (Courtesy of the Artist)

Far Far Away - Catalogue Introduction

Early European promotion of New Zealand often focussed on ideas of distance and romance. Offering an escape from the extremes of poverty and overcrowding, the antipodes were to be a colonial paradise filled with natural wonders and exotic natives, located in the expansive reaches of the South Pacific Ocean. However, this land, which promised so much, quickly proved itself to be a formidable and harsh host. Many of the unwitting settlers were totally unprepared for the difficult challenges of establishing a new life out of the dense interior of the New Zealand bush.

This was one type of landscape in which the German romantic poet and philosopher Friedrich von Hardenberg, also known as Novalis, would have felt completely at home. A place of dark towering forests filled with mystery and untamed imagination. New Zealand was real life, the antithesis of his enlightened scholarly foes, who he felt reduced nature to “…a petrified, enchanted city”(1), rendered static and lifeless by the scientific world view popular during the late 18th Century.

The wild vigour of the natural environment was regarded with respect by the indigenous population and with a measure of uncertainty by the immigrant settlers, who were intent on preserving themselves in the face of its sheer strangeness. It also acted as a shining beacon to those that shared idealistic attitudes towards the antipodes, attracting adventure-seekers and starry-eyed globetrotters to the other side of the world.  Each was a character destined to add their own dark, compelling tale to the history books. Many of these accounts grew out of a combination of the potent legends of Maori inherent to every aspect of the natural environment with the romantic appeal embellished by would-be fortune hunters.

The stories that evolved in the ensuing years have fused with the imaginations of authors and artists alike, to be retold or reinvented in ways that continue to reflect a relationship with the New Zealand landscape. Writer and maker Bronwyn Lloyd has created a clever assemblage of fictional narratives to accompany the works in Far Far Away… Romance, Anxiety and the Uncertainty of Place. Some have a very antipodean flavour such as the stories that accompany the works of Josephine Cauchemaille, The Crystal Chain Gang and Matthew McIntyre Wilson. Others delve into the idiosyncrasies of the human condition as with the works of Stephen Brookbanks, Sam Mitchell and Emma Smith. The remaining accounts attending works by Octavia Cook, Warwick Freeman and Alexis Hunter draw on the fairy tales we inherited from our European ancestors.

Far Far Away… Romance, Anxiety and the Uncertainty of Place reflects many of the stories that grew out of this era of exploration and interchange. New Zealand then and now is a place of wonders, which must still be negotiated with caution. There is a shadowy side to all tales and as many of the works in this exhibition suggest this should not be taken lightly.

(1) Friedrich von Hardenberg, Schriften 3: Das philosophische Werk II, p.564.


Pompallier Point, Totara Point, Kohukohu, Hokianga by Mark Brimblecombe (

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time in a land not too far from here, lived a boy and a girl. This land existed for the sole purpose of making Ends meet. The Ends, who were a grouchy and largely uncooperative lot at the best of times, would hang out at either end of the land in large, gated residential estates. They would only come together during the tedious and extremely unimaginative high season that often, but not always, culminated in the Ends meeting ritual. 

The Ends were cared for by a tribe called the Smilers. These porcelain veneered, laptop toting danger men and women were raised from birth for this sad and lonely role. The Smilers were greatly admired for their skilled use of the Ends language which also attracted many admirers from other lands far and wide. Over the years the Smilers had gained a powerful position in the land forcing the people who lived there to do their bidding. This generally involved tasks which were very serious and altogether boring.

As the years passed the Smilers had made so many changes to the land that the people had forgotten what it was like before the Ends meeting ritual began. The boy and the girl had not forgotten and dreamed of a land where the people could be happy and have fun. They decided to travel to a neighboring land to learn the secret to banishing the Smilers and saving the people from a life of depressing regularity. 

So one afternoon they hid in the girls house and began making plans. They packed a snack of bacon & egg pie flavored with a pinch of curry for courage and a blueberry cake with bright pink icing to light the way when things got tough. That night, just as they were about to sneak out of the door they heard a voice hiss "sssstopp!" They froze in the doorway thinking they had been discovered. As the boy anxiously looked over his shoulder he saw the girls cat, eyes glowing from the corner of the room. The cat walked around them and sat in their path, barring their exit. He looked up at them and said "You cannot leave until I have given you the words of power which you can use to stop the Smilers in their tracks should you be discovered." The cat carefully said the words of power making sure to enunciate each syllable, (he may have been a talking cat, but that was no reason to be a lazy linguist). The cat then explained to the children that these words held all of the untapped potential of the land and its inhabitants. They would only work if the children believed in themselves and those they were trying to aid. The children thanked him and quickly made their way out of the town and towards the End's beige colored villas on the lands border. 

As they quietly tiptoed their way past the last of the houses, the boy looked over at the girl and gave her a smile of reassurance. Just then a light came on in the nearest house and the boy and the girl were caught from behind by a strong pair of hands. They were roughly turned to face their assailant. A huge set of smiling teeth reflected the light from the window and all that could be heard was the thumping of the children's hearts as they considered what was to come. The Smiler continued ginning at them as he said in an amicable voice that only lightly masked his unsavory intentions, "Where might you be off to children?". He waited for a few seconds, grinning maniacally all the while, then continued, "You obviously don't have to answer, but I am nevertheless curious to see two such charming and talented young people trying to leave this perfectly adequate and very well structured land for the chaos out there." He motioned towards the border dismissively with his chin, the grin soiled slightly by a small snarl that escaped the corner of his mouth. 

The girl, who had always been the more brave of the pair, defiantly stood her ground and replied, "but it is boring here and no one has any fun!" The Smiler's face contorted and he made a grab for the girl's neck snarling, "we decide the rules here little lady....Not You!".  The girl ducked quickly and yelled for the boy to use the words of power. The boy stood rooted to the spot unable to make his voice work. By this time the Smiler had the girl by the hair and was dragging her towards the house. An End had its head poking out of the door and was grumpily eyeing up the scene. The boy saw the girls face, a mixture of pain and sadness. He drew in a huge breath, taking into his lungs all of the potential that had been wasted over the years of the Smilers rule. He continued to suck in more and more air and just as he was close to blacking out he screamed the words of power at the top of his lungs... 

To Be Continued