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 (www.freewallpaper.co.nz/places)