Seeing Like A Forest
Xin Cheng, 2019
Single-channel HD digital video, colour, sound, duration 34 min 31 sec.
Camera: Jesús Pulpón
Calligraphy: Wigger Bierma
Courtesy of the artist
With thanks to Creative New Zealand
Everyday resourcefulness is central to the work of Xin Cheng. Her recent film Seeing Like A Forest was made in Hamburg. While living in the city for three years, she reflected on over a decade of research observing the small modifications to shared spaces made by non-specialists, around the Asia-Pacific and Europe. Walking, talking, doing and making, Cheng learns from close looking; in this work she shows some of the approaches people take to adapting their communal environments, examples of inventive resourcefulness and heartwarming waste minimisation.
An online series of moving image works exploring social distance and personal environments including works from Xin Cheng, John Chrisstoffels, Conor Clarke, Ronnie van Hout, Sonya Lacey, Janet Lilo, Sione Monu, James Oram, Nova Paul, Bridget Reweti, Sriwhana Spong, and Matavai Taulangau.
Considering the recent popularity of the word ‘bubble’, the Spheres series examines how we interact, and our emotions, thoughts and sensations in relation to our surroundings. German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk described societal structure spatially, as spheres expanding from intimate bubbles to globes and foams. These works offer different perspectives on social distance, personal environments and the close radius of home.
We invited artists to share something of their spheres, the ideas and places they live with and around. Their works touch on a variety of concerns, from environmental issues to consumerism and the importance of preserving cultural knowledge. Experienced online, they also reflect on representation and the contemporary circulation of imagery and information, the transfer to digital that allows us to reach out into the world.
Related reading: Covid-19
An online series of moving image works exploring social distance and personal environments including works from Xin Cheng, John Chrisstoffels, Conor Clarke, Ronnie van Hout, Sonya Lacey, Janet Lilo, Sione Monu, James Oram, Nova Paul, Bridget Reweti, Sriwhana Spong and Matavai Taulangau.
Over the past few weeks, I have been working with fellow curator Nathan Pohio on an online video project that we’ve called Spheres. I’ve only recently joined the Gallery, so it’s been helpful to have something to focus on from home as well as a reason to be in touch with some interesting artists.
Janet Lilo and Courtney Sina Meredith, 2020
Single-channel HD digital video, colour, sound, duration 9 min 23 sec
Courtesy of the artists
Contains adult language.
Artist Janet Lilo (Ngāpuhi, Sāmoan & Niuean) and writer Courtney Sina Meredith (Sāmoan, Mangaian) are constantly creating, and Aotearoa’s lockdown period proved no different.
Their new work is a talanoa between lovers, created from the results of a daily exchange riffing between the visual and the literal, interchanging weekly to work in the other's natural medium.
Over a month of bubble seclusion, released from the pressures of daily life, they develop an appreciation of working differently – not knowing the shortcuts, the tropes, the rules. What we are treated to is an intimate portrait of two people in the process of building a life together, while the world around them crumbles.
Nova Paul, 2015
16mm film transferred to digital video, colour, sound, duration 6 min 35 sec
Courtesy the artist
Originally commissioned by CIRCUIT Artist Film and Video Aotearoa.
Commissioned as a response to an untitled poem from the collection Like Love Poems by artist Joanna Margaret Paul, Nova Paul’s Still Light is a beautiful reflection on the domestic and intimate. Shot in 16mm film, the camera traces around objects and watches light shift across the surfaces, creating fluctuations in colour and flickering shadow. A fittingly tender soundtrack is provided by Nova's friend and sometime collaborator Bic Runga.
The room is close with mystery
heavy green folds of velvet curtain
are patterned with light
the sky breaks in panes of almost blue
& casts a white mirage upon the
mirror filled with things
the white dove-cote outhouse
received from another window
with its dark apertures
a mound of sunlit ivy
a light blue room
caught, held in the
round lid of some vessel
open on the dressing table.
Or so the room seems to be
heavy & punctuated with mystery
in the early stillness & I would
drift out & put on the room, the day
a close & heavy garment
for my pregnancy,
but the obdurate shape by my side
prevents my peaceful
mingling with the folded curtain & the light
the mirror the window the pale day…
Extract from an untitled poem, published in Joanna Margaret Paul, Like Love Poems: Selected Poems (edited by Bernadette Hall, Victoria University Press, 2006, pp.30–31).
Sione Monu, 2020
Single-channel HD digital video, colour, sound, duration 3 min 55 sec
Courtesy of the artist
Sione Monu is usually based in Canberra, Australia but after a round trip to Tonga, as part of a Christchurch Art Gallery / Creative New Zealand funded project due to have opened on 1 April 2020, he is staying with family in Māngere, Auckland. Producing short, sharp and witty works in video, Monu’s practice has the immediacy and energy of French New Wave cinema comprising every aspect that cellphone media can provide.
James Oram, 2020
Single-channel HD digital video, colour, sound, duration 22 min
Courtesy of the artist
Artist James Oram produces works that embrace the elegance of raw materials from which to draw out honest observations of modern living. This work is located within the tradition of the uninterrupted single take, no edits, preferring video as a direct document of an action over a constructed narrative.
Employing blue latex gloves and surgical tools, Oram carves a face from a square block of soap resting on a mirror to construct a clean, idealised version of himself. The work is reminiscent of lives configured for the best possible presence online, or of how we now protect ourselves when attending to daily banalities such as trips to the supermarket during lockdown. Either way our interface with the world has been transformed, what will the new you be like when we re-emerge in real life?!
Conor Clarke, 2020
Single-channel HD digital video, colour, sound, duration 1 min 28 sec
Courtesy of the artist and Two Rooms, with thanks to Krzysztof Wysocki and University of Canterbury Campus Security
For some years, artist Conor Clark (Ngāi Tahu) has been exploring the sleight of hand potential of photography. More recently she has experimented with video, bringing her photographic tendencies with her to draw out the sensuousness of moving image. Perceptions of nature and our relationships to water are also consistent themes for Clarke.
Shot on her cellphone, Reservoir Romanticism documents a range of water sources Clarke discovered within a one kilometre radius from her home. It is an experiential map of sorts, and an ode to hard-working waters.
Bridget Reweti, 2020
Single-channel HD digital video, re-coloured photographs, sound, duration 50 sec
Thanks to Flogging a Dead One Horse Town for their song 'Dork Tomahawk'
Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) often draws from her everyday experiences of being in a place and reflections on the history it contains, layering these ways of thinking about a site. Here, Reweti re-coloured black and white photographs taken on her state sanctioned walks to Tunnel Beach, the nearest to her new home in Ōtepoti. An old-fashioned technique, hand-tinting of photographs was common in the nineteenth century, and her use of this method reflects an ongoing interest in the history of photography, its role in documenting colonial life and landscapes as well as the agency Māori have within photography.
Sonya Lacey, 2015
Single-channel HD digital video, sound, duration 9min 7 sec
Courtesy of the artist and Robert Heald Gallery
Originally commissioned by CIRCUIT Artist Film and Video Aotearoa
Camerawork by Campbell Farquhar and Sonya Lacey
Narration by Fuyuko Akiyoshi
Music by Johnny Chang: folk music background (excerpt)
By Sea is a carefully constructed narrative on the merging of language and architecture, a literal unfolding of what it might mean to live inside a letter. It tells the story of a fictional seaside apartment building, part of a complex that forms the words Par Mer, written in a bold, italic typeface. Most filming takes place inside an architectural model intricately built out of cast salt. Originally commissioned as a response to the poetry of Joanna Margaret Paul.
Ronnie Van Hout, 2020
Single-channel HD digital video, colour, sound, duration 12 min 25 sec
Courtesy of the artist and Ivan Anthony
A quintessential film of the 1980s,The Breakfast Club is based on five stereotypical high school students – a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal – stuck together on Saturday detention in the library. This remake or ‘ghosting’, in which Ronnie van Hout plays all five characters, emphasises the awkwardness of our teenage years and offers some Brechtian comic relief on the idea of the social distancing that has become part of our everyday lives.
John Chrisstoffels, 2018
16mm film transferred to single-channel digital video, sound, duration 2 min 36 sec
Director/Editor: John Chrisstoffels
Camera: Alexandra Porter & John Chrisstoffels
Courtesy of the artist
Inspired by the David Bowie hit ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, Ritornello from John Chrisstoffels seems to embody the increasing claustrophobia of the lockdown experience. A ritornello is a repeated musical phrase and in the alternating camera shots, upstairs inside to downstairs outside, we are presented with an increasingly manic back and forth, a growing sense of unease at being both locked in and shut out. Chrisstoffels has described this work as a homage to filmmaker Maya Deren, De Stijl architect Gerrit Rietveld and philosopher Henri Bergson.
Matavai Taulangau, 2019
Online edit, two-channel HD digital video shown as single-channel, colour, sound, duration 4 min 41 sec
Courtesy of the artist
With thanks to the Tongan Community in Kaikohe and Okaihau
In this work Matavai Taulangau captures the harvesting of kumala, showing the connections of labour and cultural knowledge. Originally shown at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, the two-channel version of ‘Maʻu Pe Kai’ (2019) documented three kumala harvests: one by the Tongan community in Okaihau in Northland, one by the artist’s mother in nearby Kaikohe, and one by the artist in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. This newly edited version for online viewing offers us a glimpse into the hard work of harvest and the relationships forged through shared labour and food.
Read a response to the work from Salome Tanuvasa here: http://enjoy.org.nz/blog/2020/04/new-landscapes-salome-tanuvasa-reflects-on-matavai
Sriwhana Spong, 2006
Super 8 film transferred to single-channel digital video, black and white, silent, 2 min 52 sec.
Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett
There is an avant garde tradition of embracing the nature of film's inherent material qualities. This methodology keeps every aspect of the material in place, every element remains intrinsic to the work. Here, we see an entire roll of Super 8 film exposed by hand across a 24 hour period.
Filmed in her parent’s garden, Sriwhana Spong condensed time through stop-motion photography in order to capture light falling across a group of shrine-like objects made using souvenirs from Bali and assemblages of fruit and everyday items. As the sun moves across the sky, we observe the accelerated passing of time in the small enclave.
Spong often incorporates timed musical sequences across the duration of her exhibitions, grounded in a cyclic Indonesian musical tradition. For us, her work will appear and disappear like a gong, chiming at month-long intervals from May through September.
On 28 April – 28 May
Off 29 May – 27 June
On 28 June – 28 July
Off 29 July – 27 August
On 28 August – 28 September
Artists Should Be Giving Business Advice
There has been a healthy debate going in relation to Germany’s Covid-19 emergency fund, which allocated the equivalent of NZ$900 million to artists and freelancers, with extra support from the Berlin municipality, leading some to call it an ‘arts-led’ (as opposed to ‘business-led’) approach to recovery. Some in Germany are claiming this will have better long-term economic outcomes, whilst addressing social and wellbeing recoveries at the same time. Others – without necessarily denying the first claim – fear gentrification and the instrumentalisation of arts, when it’s overtly being used as a tool for the economy.
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.
Welcome to the winter edition of Bulletin. This issue is special for a range of reasons; some positive, some less so. It’s an anniversary for us, and a rather big celebration—our 200th issue. Since Bulletin’s humble beginnings in 1979, under the directorship of Rodney Wilson and driven by then education officer Ann Betts, this magazine has grown to become an award-winning and industry leading publication that is highly respected by our peers. It’s now one of our most important means of communicating with you, our audience, and a vital place for us to collate our thinking.
With a welcome shift back to Level 2 in our collective fight against COVID-19, we are delighted to reopen our doors to visitors.
We finish our handwashing poems with R A K Mason's Song of Allegiance, read, as was the Keats sonnet that started this series, by me.
We are delighted to present Joanna Margaret Paul's House Rules, read by its creator's daughter Magdalena Harris. Dishwasher tension will, we are sure, be familiar to all.
The poet also created the painting you see, which is called Barrys Bay: Interior with Bed and Doll.
And although it's a day after Mother's Day, let's today salute all mothers and their efforts, especially over the last few weeks.
We don't want the poems to stop but dare we hope we are inching closer to re-opening? In the interests of playing it safe, let's keep washing our hands though, today with Visitor Host Dora Mullins and some exquisitely sad lines from Robin Hyde.
A beautiful poem today by Margaret Mahy, beautifully read by 10 year old Elsie Billington.
A minute of pure handwashing pleasure.
Today our Graphic Designer Peter Bray reads about the sound of the ocean when the wind dies down. Only Basil Dowling puts it lot better than that in A Calm Day.
We've had lots of poetry responding to nature but poetry's other great theme has been absent. We put that right today with a love poem by Robin Judkins. A simple expression of love you might say, but listen right to the end and then say with confidence what happpens next.
That will take a minute so your hands will be sparkling. Today's reader is Visitor Host Tim Hobbs.
Today our Business Administrator Jackie Heavey reads a poem by a compatriot of hers, William Butler Yeats, in which the innocence of childhood is envied.
Yes you can now go to the beach, but keep your distance and, of course, keep washing those hands.
It’s been interesting observing how nature has quietly but very quickly reclaimed the earth since we have all gone into Covid-19 lockdown. My social media timelines have been peppered with images of animals wandering where humans can’t, boars roaming in Barcelona, peacocks in Dubai, deer in Japan and schools of tiny fish in the now clear waters of Venice to name a few. Related of course are the clearing skies around the world.
Today our Visitor Programmes Co-ordinator Gwynneth Porter reads a poem by Charles Brasch that was written directly in response to a painting in our collection. We can still only visit these places in our minds, but here are 22 seconds of soap and water delight to assist in doing that.
Archibald Baxter's call to reason is kindly read by Kim Bathgate.
Thank you Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, for inviting me to contribute this art and wellbeing post. I would like to share with you one of my favourite therapeutic arts making activities, which is suitable for all ages. I call it contemplative art play, and since we are all in our bubbles (or extended bubbles when we move to level 3), I have added an additional layer of wellbeing into the process – nature.
Today's handwashing poem comes from the sequence of verse called Sarah's Train by Elizabeth Smither. Sarah in the poem is Sarah in the painting.
This one is for all of you have been looking after children for the last four weeks. One of those is the reader, our registrar Gina Irish. We salute all parents who have got through this ordeal.
Paris seems further away than ever when all we see at present are the streets we can reach on foot. But with the help of two Charleses, Brasch and Meryon, we can perhaps fancy ourselves there again. Paris and its cathedral are no strangers to loss and suffering and we all hope for better times in the future.
Today our Education and Visitor Programmes Team Leader Lana Coles takes us to the banks of the Seine for just under a minute. Just long enough to...you know the drill.
If you grew up in Christchurch before the city’s gasworks was decommissioned in 1982, you'll almost certainly remember the grimy industrial building that dominated the scene next to the Waltham Street overbridge. It was maybe the most industrialised site in the city, where dirty columns of smoke bellowed out from chimney stacks signalling coal being fired to create gas for residents and businesses. It was a subject that captivated painter Doris Lusk. She had previously painted the Dunedin Gasworks in around 1935, and also turned her hand to painting many other industrialised sites – hydroelectric stations, Christchurch’s Pumphouse, sluice mines at St Bathans, the wharf at Onekaka, and numerous roads and railways slicing their way through the green countryside.
Lead curator Felicity Milburn reads the poem Prepare by Ursula Bethell
Visitor Host Debeorah Hyde reads The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson. The painting by Sir Alfred East was, Deborah reports, the first painting she saw when she began working at the Gallery back in 2003. Stevenson is of course not a New Zealand poet but he did come here briefly in 1890. The exertions of a morning's shopping in Auckland apparently rendered him prostrate for the rest of his stay here.
We heard yesterday that isolation requirements will be very slightly eased next week. But for now and, in the future, scrupulous hand-washing remains important. Think of the moon while washing yours.
While our Frances Hodgkins exhibition remains closed, let's hear Mary Kisler, its curator, reading a poem about one of the works that is in it.
First published as an occasional piece in Parson's Packet, the magazine published by Wellington bookseller Roy Parsons, it passes a savage commentary on the rejection of Pleasure Garden. It appeared in Fairburn's Collected Poems with this dry observation:
The Art Gallery Committee of the Christchurch City Council rejected 'The Pleasure Garden', by Frances Hodgkins, on the advice of three experts. (It was later bought by public subscription and now hangs, without much civic honour, in the MacDougall Gallery.)
Well it now hangs in our gallery with considerable honour but with the lights off and no visitors to see it. We long for this to change and continued hand-washing will hasten that happening.
This fantastical guardian creature sits on top of the north tower of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Some say it's a ghoul and others a vampire. Whatever it is, it looks a bit cheeky with its tongue poking out!
Usually on a Friday morning, our team would be enjoying some whanaungatanga at waiata practice. We’re missing seeing each other and singing together, so today's poem is the karakia Whakataka Te Hau, which doubles as one of our favourite waiata – a perfect way to start the day. Kia pai ō rā e te whanau.
This screenprint by Eileen Mayo is of Cuningham House, the big glass house in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The building is kept warm all year so that the plants inside stay healthy and grow well. Have you been there? What sort of plants did you see?
Melanie Oliver is our new curator. It's obviously pretty hard to introduce her properly when we're in lockdown, so we asked Gallery staff to each ask her a question so you could get to know her.
In March 1943 Rita Angus spent several weeks staying at a friend’s family bach in the small settlement of Wainui in Akaroa Harbour, a refuge in the midst of World War II. It was here that she produced some of her most accomplished watercolours, small gems where the landscape is so delicately defined it’s as if she painted them whilst looking through a telescope. There are five known watercolours of Wainui and the surrounding Akaroa Harbour from this period and the Gallery is fortunate to hold four of them.
Did you know this work is based on a poem? You can listen to Sir Ian McKellen read it here. You might recognise his voice from the Lord of the Rings and X-Men movies!
You are invited to take part in Blue Globe: Stories from Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. It’s a chance to feed your curiosity, feel inspired and challenge your creative side. And it’s easy. All you have to do is choose any artwork from the Gallery’s collection online and create a short piece of writing inspired by it.
Kia ora koutou. Hello.
I want to let our supporters and art lovers know what we are doing in these difficult times, and how you can still find moments of relief and escape through art. Like much of the world, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū is temporarily closed to our visitors and our staff. Like many of you are experiencing in your own lives, we’ve needed to figure out new ways of working, staying connected as a team, and working out what we can offer and ways that might help us to engage, inspire and connect you with great art and ideas.