Identities of Journey and Return
It was the novelty of seeing white people rendered by a Japanese artist that tickled me when I first saw Utagawa Sadahide’s woodblock prints of foreigners in Yokohama in the 1860s. There’s something slightly clumsy about the Westerners’ exaggerated noses and the forced rounding of their eyes. You can sense, in these images, the artist’s struggle to detach himself from the conventions of Japanese art and beauty; his lines waver here, unlike his assertive depictions of long, flat Japanese faces in earlier prints.
It’s been a very strange time. We’ve spent the last month or so asking after each other’s bubbles, and imploring people we barely know to stay safe. Depending on your beliefs, this was the month that the world demonstrated that we could put the interests of people above those of finance, or the end of freedom. Everyone, in every industry and every sector of every society has been affected in some way. But our core business is art, and we’re very conscious of the effects of a global shutdown on artists. It’s too early to know what changes this will bring to our sector, so we’re concentrating on the here and now. If your life is focused on making art, how are you going? We asked eighteen New Zealand artists to send us a picture of their lockdown studio set-up, and asked them a few simple questions.
What’s your Covid-19 studio set-up? Is it the same as pre-lockdown or are you in something more makeshift?
How are you finding this time? Is it hard, or is it a gift of time, or maybe a bit of both?
What are you finding essential during lockdown? Is there a piece of equipment/view/song you couldn’t have lived without?
Here are their responses.
Where in the World? Placing New Zealand in the Pacific
“It is a strange fact that New Zealand can be literally all at sea in the Pacific Ocean, and yet pay that ocean, and neighbours and relations within it, so little attention.”
— Damon Salesa, Sāmoan historian
“… this small and very British country is producing some honest and lively artists whose eyes open upon a land not at all like England, but whose minds are formed in the living tradition of Western culture.”
— Helen Hitchings, New Zealand gallerist
The Seas are Rising: So Are We
In Te Ao Māori the whakataukī “He toka tū moana” pays homage to the rock that withstands the sea as a metaphor for human strength in our cultural or political beliefs, whatever may come. But while the rock is steadfast, the octopus Te Wheke is a shape-shifter, canny and malleable.
Bulletin Turns 200
A cover photograph of a set of storage racks, a six-digit phone number and a simple address: Botanical Gardens, Rolleston Avenue. The first issue of Bulletin, sent to members of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in the early months of 1979, was a no-nonsense, four-page, black and white, bi-monthly newsheet promising an informative diet of “news, views and reviews of activities” at the Gallery and “important visual arts news from Christchurch”.
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.