‘It was just a random thing in a near empty Frances Hodgkins studio. What I saw immediately was a woman’s moko kawai, and I thought this is a tohu for me from women in the family.’1
But consider Pardington’s earlier work – family was her starting point, and then came a warp of lovers, mysticism, and a feminist form of eroticism that provided a responding critique of the male gaze. As she began to pack her work with the potential and opulence of dreams, her sense of responsibility to the politics of representation also unfolded. And then, in one particular case, came the indefinable. I mean, when is a water stain upon a blackboard not a water stain on a blackboard? When that stain is conceived by the artist as something else. For Pardington, the stain was understood as a sign, a point from which to pursue a particular pathway. From here, all bets for carrying the previous concerns forward were off, and Moko can be seen to be a transitional point, a pivot for the artist’s focus. It is from here Pardington initiates her desire to understand a Kāi Tahu world view and represent it within her work.
From this perspective, it is important to note that the work comes from a water stain, because water is a sacred element to Māori – a taonga left by the ancestors to provide and sustain life.
‘It’s like tears. I was thinking about the loss of land and the inter-tribal fighting, all the heavy stuff that went on. I was aware of what women went through and so for me too with the kind of issues I’d had trying to find my family it kind of all made sense.’
Now hold for a moment the idea that for Māori nothingness is relevant to every aspect of life; parallel to this is also the fact that nothingness as an idea holds considerable significance within twentieth-century Western art history. Conceptualism and minimalism expand and contract the notion of nothingness, from Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915), where the small canvas is hung across a corner of a given room, to the immense but intimate land-art works of James Turrell, which place the viewer in a roofless space where light and sky change colour and where they can contemplate everything and nothing without distraction. Nothingness is not empty but full of potential. Nothing, or the void, also holds important ground in photography: the chamber of the camera is where the light-sensitive material of film is protected. Light enters this chamber through the aperture and burns its unfixed image upon the exposed film. This poetic moment provides another relationship for Māori to explore in the world of art-making.
For Māori nothingness is everything. Nothingness within the Māori world view is within the many fields of Te Po – the void, the night, the place without light, but also the place where once light did enter and creation, or life, began. With this in mind the potency Pardington invested in the photographic moment saw two universes merge, and something of the European art world that so many urban Māori artists grew up in was met by something that led her towards her Kāi Tahu heritage, which had until then been quietly kept in the background.
‘For me it’s very much about what are the beautiful things you can construct out of the things that are shattered and broken. For me that wasn’t putting me off or too much of a downer, I just saw it as part of the journey and an acknowledgment that I was heading in the right direction.’
Fiona Pardington: A Beautiful Hesitation
A survey exhibition by a leading New Zealand photographer explores sex, death and the female gaze.
Hidden Light: Early Canterbury and West Coast Photography
Uncovering the remarkable, largely unseen work of early New Zealand photographers.
Representing Women: Ann Shelton’s Dark Matter
What is ‘dark matter’? For theoretical physicists it is matter that cannot be directly observed but whose existence is nevertheless scientifically calculable – productively present yet simultaneously invisible. In a similar vein, the everyday phrase ‘dark matter’ describes objects, conditions and situations that harbour unease or trauma. Trauma that is often concealed, repressed, or buried. Both definitions are active in Ann Shelton’s mid-career review exhibition Dark Matter, and they provide a rich point of entry into this compelling collection of her photographic work. These are photographs that bristle with intensity and refuse to let their subjects die a quiet archival death.
Ann Shelton: Dark Matter
An expansive view of Ann Shelton’s tightly conceived, large scale and hyperreal photography
New Zealand artist Laurence Aberhart is internationally regarded for his photographs of unpeopled landscapes and interiors. He photographs places redolent with the weight of time, which he captures with his century-old large-format camera and careful framing. But he’s always taken more spontaneous photographs of people too, particularly in the years he lived in Christchurch and Lyttelton (1975–83) when he photographed his young family, his friends and occasionally groups of strangers. ‘If I lived in a city again,’ he says, ‘I would photograph people. One of the issues is that I even find it difficult to ask people whether I can photograph a building, so to ask to photograph them – I’m very reticent. I also know that after a number of minutes of waiting for me to set cameras up and take exposure readings and so on, people can get rather annoyed. So it’s not a conscious thing, it’s more just an accident of the way I photograph.’
Aberhart Starts Here
Iconic and unseen early photographs of Christchurch by Laurence Aberhart
The Devil’s Blind Spot
Te Puna o Waiwhetū Christchurch Art Gallery has a long-standing tradition of curating exhibitions of emerging and early-career artists. We do this in order to contribute to the ecology of the local art world, as well as because – quite straightforwardly – we’re interested in the practices of artists at all stages of their careers, and would like to bring the work of outstanding younger artists to wider public attention. The Devil’s Blind Spot is the latest in this ongoing series, but unlike earlier exhibitions, it’s concerned with a single medium – photography.
The Devil’s Blind Spot: Recent Strategies in New Zealand Photography
Recent photography by an emerging generation of New Zealand artists.
Joyce Campbell: Flightdream
Joyce Campbell’s immersive video work takes the viewer on a journey into the ocean’s fathomless depths, exploring processes of creation and annihilation.
Death, sex, flesh and the female gaze are among the many themes explored in the Gallery’s newest exhibition, Fiona Pardington: A Beautiful Hesitation.
The Lines That Are Left
Of landscape itself as artefact and artifice; as the ground for the inscribing hand of culture and technology; as no clean slate.
— Joanna Paul
The residential Red Zone is mostly green. After each house is demolished, contractors sweep up what is left, cover the section with a layer of soil and plant grass seed. Almost overnight, driveway, yard, porch, garage, shed and house become a little paddock; the border of plants and trees outlining it the only remaining sign that there was once a house there.
Kamala, Astral and Charlotte, Lyttelton, March 1983
Laurence Aberhart's 1983 photograph of Lyttelton children is displayed on our Gloucester Street billboard.
Selwyn Toogood, Levin
I spent much of my adolescence in hospital, confined to bed due to a chronic illness. With a 14" TV beside me, I’d travel to imaginary places via the controller of my Nintendo games console. At the time, I couldn’t imagine walking to the letterbox, let alone experiencing the more exotic places of the world.
A generous, multimedia selection of animal-themed works, both lively and thoughtful.
Taryn Simon's known unknowns
In 2003, the American photographer Taryn Simon embarked upon a four-year heart-of-darkness journey. In response to paranoid rumours of WMDs and secret sites in Iraq, she turned her gaze to places and things hidden within her own country.