Energies and anxieties from the threshold of the new millennium.
A major new exhibition of contemporary works from the collection, Your Hotel Brain focuses on the cohort of New Zealand artists who came to national – and in some cases international – prominence in the 1990s, many of whom had a particular association with Christchurch. The title of the exhibition is a phrase drawn from Don DeLillo’s epic novel of the 1990s, Underworld. It gestures towards the way that pieces of information float through your mind, checking in and out, everything demanding attention, everything happening all at once – a metaphor for postmodernism in the 1990s and for the increasing criticality and slippage of context in the digital era.
- Curator: Lara Strongman
- Exhibition number: 1042
Shane Cotton is one of the country’s best-known contemporary artists. With history, politics and bicultural identity as his subjects, he’s achieved international recognition and a New Zealand Arts Laureate Award.
Shane Cotton: Baseland
Christchurch audiences at last have the opportunity to experience the complexity and ambition of Cotton's latest work in this two-venue exhibition by one of the biggest names in New Zealand art.
Your Hotel Brain
We recently opened a new collection-based exhibition, Your Hotel Brain. Curated by Lara Strongman, it focuses on the cohort of New Zealand artists who came to national – and in some cases international – prominence in the 1990s. The title of the exhibition is a phrase drawn from Don DeLillo’s epic novel, Underworld, published in 1997. It gestures towards the way that pieces of information float through your mind, checking in and out, everything demanding attention, everything happening all at once – a metaphor for postmodernism in the 1990s and for the increasing slippage of context in the digital era. The 1990s were a time of great social and cultural change in Aotearoa New Zealand, set against a broader backdrop of globalisation and the rise of digital technologies. Artists, as ever, registered these cultural shifts early. We asked a number of people who were working in the arts at the time to recall their experiences of the 1990s.
When we asked Tony de Lautour to produce a new work for the Bunker—the name Gallery staff give to the small, square elevator building at the front of the forecourt on Montreal Street—he proposed a paint scheme inspired by Dazzle camouflage. Associated with the geometric near-abstraction of the vorticist movement, Dazzle was developed by British and American artists during the First World War to disguise shipping. It was a monumental form of camouflage that aimed not to hide the ship but to break up its mass visually and confuse enemies about its speed and direction. In a time before radar and sonar were developed, Dazzle was designed to disorientate German U-boat commanders looking through their periscopes, and protect the merchant fleets.
Senior curator Lara Strongman spoke with Tony de Lautour in late January 2016.
Underworld 2 was painted in Tony de Lautour’s central city studio, a converted office building in pre-quake Christchurch. It was very nearly the same size as the wall on which he painted it. “It was the weirdest and most uncomfortable studio I’ve worked in, all brand new carpet and white walls that I had to cover with plastic, and surrounded by people paying huge rent to sit in those doomed-to-fail small businesses.”
De Lautour started painting in the top left corner of the canvas, and worked from left to right, down and along, gradually filling in the canvas with what looks like a mind map or a complex diagram of related forms. A giant flickering screen of digital code, perhaps, in which every line is of equal importance. He used a similar approach for several works of the time: “It seemed more factual to do it like handwriting. It also took away some of the compositional decision-making that can hinder a work.”
One of the largest paintings in the Gallery’s collection, Underworld 2 is a vast lexicon—a visual index—of the forms that have populated de Lautour’s works over the past twenty-five years. Lightning bolts, human heads, lions, empty speech bubbles, trees, mountain ranges, cobwebs, stars, smoke plumes, letters, numbers, crucifixes and dollar signs float freely in black space, a universe of symbols drawn from both ends of the visual register—from home-made tattoos to modernist abstraction by way of colonial landscapes.
De Lautour’s work has never been linear in its development, instead looping and swirling back and forth, picking up old ideas and deploying them in new contexts, reworking recent concepts in the light of earlier enquiries. Underworld 2 is like a stocktake of his pictorial inventory, humming with the energies of an immense cultural network. (Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)
In the 1980s, you could smoke almost anywhere you liked in New Zealand—on aeroplanes and in schools, at restaurants and at work. An Act of Parliament introduced in 1990 and extended in 2004 banned smoking from most indoor public places. Grant Takle’s painting responds to the 2004 anti-smoking legislation, seeing it as a symbol of the change in the old order which had been echoing through New Zealand society since the early 1990s.
There were other public controversies in the air in 2004. The Foreshore and Seabed Act, which vested ownership of the coastline in the Crown, was the subject of protest. ‘Haters and wreckers’, a phrase on the right-hand side of Takle’s work, refers to the heated public conversations that swirled around this issue, while the scuba diver, Takle says, “is a kind of Aquarian Icarus diving into the convoluted depths and undercurrents”. No Smoking is full of coded symbols that refer to hot-button politics in Aotearoa New Zealand. “The card pips and the acorn are all seeds from which larger issues grow. And the flames relate to land ownership and occupation, as well as the passion of heated discourse—there’s no smoke without fire.”
Takle used silver galvanised paint to draw a netting-like skin on the work, in response to seeing the Belgian lace made and collected by his British ancestors. “There was something I responded to in this craft that I integrated into my work. Its patterns and repetitive motifs dovetailed into my own practice. They were web-like nets that held images in place. There was a tension that created energy fields, currents of cause and effect as well as knotted connections and family ties.”
(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)
One of the most critical ways we understand our personal identities is through drawing connections to other people and places. Yuk King Tan began to explore her Chinese heritage while still at art school in Auckland, initially wrapping everyday objects in red tassels, or dipping them in red wax. The masks followed soon afterwards.
The characteristic red of Tan’s works is a powerful colour for Chinese people, symbolising good luck and happiness. The tassels are recognisably Chinese, and part of international popular culture—the kind of thing you might find in an Asian food warehouse in New Zealand, or in a street market further afield. “I’m fascinated,” she says, “by how things of significance get translated to other places through global commerce. People think of them as mementoes or souvenirs, but I put more weight on them. That’s why I change them or mutate them in some way.”
Tan made this pair of works while living in Kassel, Germany, on an artist’s residency. Kassel is the home of the Brothers Grimm, and the plastic masks she bound with blood red tassels are representations of their fairy-tale characters Hansel and Gretel. Masks, of course, conceal personal identity; but in Chinese culture they also allow ritual communication with the spiritual realm. New Zealand, Chinese and German cultures are overlaid and intertwined, establishing a shared point of poetic and ancestral connection that reflects the lived experience of the artist. “Concerning the ideas of identity in my work, the thread that passes through them is that there is nothing sure or easy that can be said. What happens is a multifaceted balancing act of finding associations,” she has said. Untitled (Red Masks) points towards the continuous renegotiation of identity that an evolving globalised society requires of its members.
In 1997 Saskia Leek travelled around the United States with a group of friends who were touring in a short-lived band called Spacedust. Back in New Zealand, she painted a series of works inspired by the trip.
“In Detroit they played at a café which didn’t sell alcohol but let you BYO. It was still daytime, but my friend and I were told by a local that we shouldn’t walk alone the two blocks to the bottle store to buy beer. She showed us the knife she’d been carrying in her bag since being attacked. Another friend we met there told us how her house had been burned down by arsonists on Devil’s Night, which is the night before Halloween. That rust belt area across Indiana and Michigan was pretty spooky and dystopian. I remember pulling off the road in the wrong place and driving through street after street of boarded up houses in the pitch black. Huge industrial chimneys on the horizon spewing fire into the sky. I liked Detroit a lot.”
Leek, who studied in Christchurch, observes that the 1990s were a time when “New Zealand culture was changing from being dominated by British media to becoming more focused on America, for better or worse. There was a swell of discontent from the students at the art school who were waking up to the fact that the dominant brand of British modernism there didn’t reflect the kinds of loaded up cultural reference points coming at them from every angle.”
(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)
This article first appeared as 'Painting offers a multiverse of symbols' in The Press on 21 June 2017.
This week we've been installing a new collection exhibition, Your Hotel Brain. It replaces curator Ken Hall's elegant meditation on architecture and memory, Above Ground, in the contemporary collection galleries.
Tony de Lautour's large painting Underworld 2 has taken shape in an even larger format as part of the wall of shipping containers protecting road users from rockfalls on the way out to Sumner.
This article first appeared as 'Ghosts in sunglasses' in The Press on 8 October 2008
This article first appeared in The Press on 5 April 2006
One of New Zealand's most significant contemporary printmakers, Jason Greig studied under Barry Cleavin and Denise Copland at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts during the early 1980s and graduated with Honours in Engraving. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s Greig favoured more technically challenging printmaking processes such as etching and lithography as opposed to the less complicated medium of the monoprint. It is the monoprint however that he has worked with almost exclusively over the past thirteen years.
Bringing the Soul
As an eleven-year-old boy from Whāngarei, sent to live in Yaldhurst with my aunt in the late seventies, Christchurch was a culture shock. Arriving in New Zealand’s quintessential ‘English city’, I remember well the wide landscapes and manicured colonial built environment. It was very pretty but also very monocultural, with no physical evidence of current or former Māori occupation or cultural presence, or at least none that I could appreciate at that time.
Te Tihi o Kahukura: The Citadel of Kahukura
Selected works by Bill Sutton considered from a Kāi Tahu perspective.
The Devil’s Blind Spot: Recent Strategies in New Zealand Photography
Recent photography by an emerging generation of New Zealand artists.
A small but poetic exhibition looking at early European and Māori representations of seafaring vessels, with the Charlotte Jane as a focal point.
Five significant works of art that look to traditional Māori architecture to inform modernist and contemporary Māori art practice.
He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land
Canterbury modernist landscape painting from the collections of Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery, poignantly revised from within a Kāi Tahu perspective
Speaking sticks and moving targets
New works by Shane Cotton
The Hanging Sky brings together Shane Cotton's skyscapes from the past five years. But the core of the exhibition is a big group of freshly made works of art. Senior curator Justin Paton first saw them in completed form during the show's installation in Brisbane. Here he describes his encounters with a body of work 'at once beautiful, aggressive, protective and evasive.'
Back on 20 September 2011, when our public programmes team began setting up the Hagley Park Geo Dome for a talk with Shane Cotton, they put out about sixty chairs and would have been glad to fill them. After all, it was a cold night in Christchurch, the roads were rough, the Geo Dome was off the beaten track and the quake had long since broken the rhythm of the Gallery's old Wednesday night programme of public talks.
New Zealand in the Biennale of Sydney and the Biennale of Sydney in New Zealand
and the Biennale of Sydney in New Zealand