RE: UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE
In a recent essay Zadie Smith wrote of language as a “verbal container” – like all containers it allows the emergence of some ideas while limiting the possibility of others. The words and terms we choose, or those which are offered to us, “behave as containers for our ideas, necessarily shaping and determining the form of what it is we think, or think we think.” She is discussing writing fiction, defending the right to, and value of, drifting into other imagined bodies and taking a good look around, regardless of their likeness to our own biographical specifics. It is an uncomfortable position to hold in a cultural climate where, Smith argues, “the old – and never especially helpful – adage write what you know has morphed into something more like a threat: Stay in your lane.”
Wellcome to Māoriland
London’s Wellcome Collection was founded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936) in the year he died. An incredibly successful US-born, British pharmaceutical entrepreneur, Wellcome had a penchant for collecting medical and health-related artefacts, which formed the basis of the Collection. He didn’t restrict himself to the more obvious examples of early medical technology, however, but also collected in the area of folk remedies and indigenous cultural objects, which were largely acquired through London auction houses. Browsing the Wellcome Collection’s online catalogue, Aotearoa New Zealand photographer Fiona Pardington (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe, Ngāti Kahungunu, Clan Cameron) encountered what at first glance looked to be a number of heitiki; however, on closer inspection they did not seem quite right.
Extinction has claimed nearly fifty per cent of Aotearoa New Zealand’s bird species over the past 650 years. The persistent myth has it that European settlement in the nineteenth century swept away a pristine past. And most obviously, because we know their names and can catalogue (literally) their infamy, that story includes the professional bird collectors as the cause of those extinctions.
Te Āhua o te Hau ki te Papaioea
The ‘Operation 8’ anti-terror raids in October of 2007 were the culmination of a police investigation that led to the raiding of homes across New Zealand. The raids were conducted after an extended period of surveillance, which was enabled through use of the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act. In 2013 the Independent Police Conduct Authority found that police had “unnecessarily frightened and intimidated” people during the raids.
As Stark and Grey as Stalin's Uniform
Heading along to the stunning Rita Angus: Life & Vision survey exhibition at the Gallery in 2009 I always had this nagging feeling that one work was missing from the walls – Angus’s Gasworks from 1933. This painting was one that I knew only through the black and white image that appeared first in a volume of Art in New Zealand in 1933; the same reproduction that was later used in Jill Trevelyan’s excellent biography of Angus and also in the catalogue for the National Art Gallery’s 1982 retrospective, Rita Angus. For the New Zealand art historian, Gasworks was a kind of legend – painted by one of the country’s best artists yet seen in person by only a very few. In 1975, when Gordon H. Brown curated New Zealand Painting 1920–1940: Adaption and Nationalism, Gasworks was listed as ‘location unknown’ in the accompanying catalogue. Amazingly the painting was also not included in the retrospective exhibition of 1982. We had grown to know this painting purely through a grainy black and white illustration from 1933. But the painting was never lost – Gasworks is a painting that has been cherished, protected and loved by the same Christchurch family since the early 1940s. And now, having been placed on loan to Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, it is available for the public to view for the first time since 1933, when it was shown at the Canterbury Society of Arts.
The World Tossed Continuously in a Riot of Colour, Form, Sound
One hundred and twenty five years ago, after years of political struggle, Aotearoa New Zealand granted all adults the right to vote by extending suffrage to women. To mark this anniversary, for this issue of Bulletin our curators have written about some of the Gallery’s significant – yet lesser-known – nineteenth and mid-twentieth-century works by women. Our intention is to make these paintings, and the cultural contribution of the artists, more visible in 2018.
An Undeniable Promise
There is such a burden of expectation placed on Anne’s painting, and on the exhibition… itself. I feel, like many women painters that she is being asked to prove an undeniable promise. This is unfair.
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.
Our Instinct Enhanced
What does Bridget Riley’s art mean? We might imagine that a wall painting titled Cosmos (2016–17) referred to life within a cosmos, an order than encompasses us, whether natural or divine. The designation connotes a degree of philosophical speculation, unlike the direct descriptions that Riley occasionally employs as titles, such as Composition with Circles. But whatever meaning we derive from viewing Cosmos will be no more intrinsic to it than its name. Attribution of meaning comes after the fact and requires our participation in a social discourse. Every object or event to which a culture attends acquires meaning; and Riley’s art will have the meanings we give it, which may change as our projection of history changes. Meaning, in this social and cultural sense, is hardly her concern.
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.’