Gwynneth Porter

Mar 27 2024

Reality Has an Ephemeral Quality

Spring Time is Heart-break: Contemporary Art in Aotearoa

Ilish Thomas Indiras Birthday 2

Photo Credit

Ilish Thomas, 'Indira’s Birthday (ઇન્દિરાનો જન્મદિવસ)', 2022. HD video, sound, duration 8 mins 3 secs, lace. Courtesy of the artist.

Gwynneth Porter
Mar 27 2024

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 25 November 2023–19 May 2024 Curated by Melanie Oliver and Jane Wallace

Artists Emerita Baik, Wendelien Bakker, Megan Brady (Kāi Tahu, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Pākehā), Heidi Brickell (Te Hika o Papauma, Ngāti Apakura, Kahungunu, Rangitāne, Rongomaiwahine), Juliet Carpenter, Tyne Gordon, John Harris and Steven Junil Park, Priscilla Rose Howe, Abigail Aroha Jensen (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri), Jimmy Ma’ia’i, Sam Norton, Campbell Patterson, Tia Ranginui (Ngāti Hine Oneone), Luke Shaw, Sriwhana Spong, Ilish Thomas, Aliyah Winter

Anouhska Akel Click Hiss Rasp Howl 2023 Oil acrylic lithographic ink clay pencil and pastel on canvas Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett Gallery Auckland

Photo Credit

Anouhska Akel, 'Click Hiss Rasp Howl', 2023. Oil, acrylic, lithographic ink, clay, pencil and pastel on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett Gallery, Auckland.

The phrase Spring Time is Heart-break floats as a proposition. But because they are words from a line in an eighty-year-old poem, it becomes ghostly, spectral, to exist less in conventional sense. Read in its full form, it is personalised, an inconsolable moan.

Now I know that spring time is heart-break,

I like how the word springtime is pulled gently until it comes away into two perfectly functioning words, uninjured. Doing this emphasises time as a concept, and I am conscious of the wheel of life, of the seasons, and our impoverishment when we are bound to move to other rhythms. This second-to-last line in Ursula Bethell’s poem ‘October 1935’ is followed by another, an admonishment.

Now you have left me to look upon all that is lovely, alone.

One of ‘Six Memorials’, and not published until well after her death in 1945, it marked the sudden passing of Effie Pollen, whom Bethell referred to as her consort, in November 1934. The poem whispers to us of the green fecundity of spring in a private garden as witnessed by intimates, of ambiguous birdsong interpreted as possibly the expression of joy or of sorrow, or both. Then there is a colder, pained voice that cries out to another that they are horribly missed, that their absence is a violence to the writer’s person.

Megan Brady

Photo Credit

Megan Brady, 'Entangled and turning, we are river', 2023. Wool, hessian. Made with support from Creative New Zealand. Courtesy of the artist.

No matter where people live, whatever the latitude, in grief, it is hard to remove dust, as to the bereaved it holds the energies or being of the deceased. It is an agony to look at their clothes, let alone to know what to do with them, and as for ephemera, it is just heart-breaking to throw anything away that bears their traces, or might have held significance for them.     I am writing this in summer, and here, the grasses become dry and ripe with seeds, and make golden fields on the faces of hills. The contrast with rock and with evergreen foliage is pleasing, and even more so when the sky is blue and the water in the harbour a pale milky jade. The grass is golden because it is desiccated, so late summer is more like the ending of things rather than youth’s new life, a sign that autumn is not far off, and the days are shortening.     Writing in summer is to be treasured here as the one time of the year that it is possible to not know what day of the week it is. Delinquent thought relaxes, unclenches, receives different registers of information. Not a time for diligence or quick turnarounds, significance snakes differently in the long grass.     Because the plain of Waitaha is a temperate place, the seasons are differentiated in distinctly visual ways – spring is a riot of green and flower, and the autumn leaf colours of introduced trees can be vivid. The winter is cold enough to kill off the foliage of annuals or deciduous plants and cause small organisms to become dormant. After a winter like this, spring really can look like new life, because it literally is. And there is an attendant disorientation and confusion wrought by a pronounced seasonal cycle because of each abrupt newness. As a Sôin haiku on the calendar I received for Christmas ( January being a winter page) put it –

The old year goes away – and the things it takes along, what and what are they?

Closer to the equator, there is no extreme cold, so spring is not such a fanfare of fertility, joy or foliage. It is also said that, in the tropics, language forms and hits differently – here, according to Joan Didion, writing of the human experience in 1970s Central America in A book of common prayer, nouns become less specific, and verbs do not describe the same action.     When the temperature is hot both day and night, the grammatical movement of verbs is differently forceful (could be thought of as humid), and lizards can lay small eggs that have shells like birds, but are like small, white sweets inside the aluminium window-frames. And paper and clay wasps build small habitations that hang in trees like fruit, and under eaves, and inside the crevices of hanging clothes that are unattended for periods.

AAJ springtimeheartbreak

Photo Credit

Abigail Aroha Jensen, 'R.P(V) Objet petit a', 2023. Muka, harakeke. Courtesy of the artist.

Spring Time is Heart-break: Contemporary Art in Aotearoa opened in late November, at the end of spring. The work of the 24 artists in it is presented in a merciful quatrefoil shape with no clear beginning or end. Though when I try now to think of a passage, an entry point that showed itself was Abigail Aroha Jensen’s R.P(V) Objet petit a. The work takes the form of a rope, its title from Lacan’s poetic psychoanalytic term for a specular image; a non-substantial other to things from our realm created to support desire and fantasy (a is for autre, or other), that hovers in the space between language and people.     A taura – its rolled muka made from harakeke gathered from outside Kirikiriroa Hamilton and from the Ōtautahi red-zone (its borderlands site-specificity electric) – rises from the floor to the ceiling in a gentle curve, becoming ecstatically narrow as if pulled tight and stretched at one end. Binding the space by invoking Hine-te-iwaiwa, atua of childbirth and of raranga, reproductive and affective labour becomes the privileged energy in the room.

Me aro koe ki te hā o Hine – Pay heed to the dignity and power of women

To start with such an affirmation of feminine power – I can be rallied by that. In fictioning the spirit anew in a braid of threads picked up from pasts, we make ropes to climb into the sky, or up out of the earth or the void. The work’s aural counterpart, Ache in time, is in a different room and reads both as a lamentation and something more radically accepting and expressive of the whakapapa of oro (said low and slowly).

Anoushka Akel install detail Springtime is heart break Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū 2023 Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett Gallery Auckland

Photo Credit

Anoushka Akel, (‘installation view’), 'Springtime is heart-break', Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett Gallery, Auckland.

Some works in Spring Time is Heart-break connect to discernible narratives, while others shift kaleidoscopically in their own being, apparently independent of any stable, self-assured utterance or subjectivity. There is a confidence in their self-evidential qualities, but they are not independent of all narrative; stories emerge from the gathered, altered and joined materials in the imaginations of their beholders.     In Animal Joy, psychoanalyst Naur Alsadir explains how objects or beings contain and emit registers of information that, in turn, spark perception in us. Alpha elements involve the expression of organised thought, whereas beta elements are raw emotional data that is processed by us to become available for thought.

Beta elements pass between people who are close – a parent and an infant, lovers, friends, siblings – but also strangers on the street, on the subway, at the checkout counter of a store. We project and contain beta elements, and perform alpha functions on those elements, without being conscious of doing so.

Having read this before seeing this exhibition, I see beta-rich objects everywhere – material, visual, aural, documentary – with discomforting emotions and sensation fixed into them by artists with practised facility for working at the level of intuitive knowledge production.     Tyne Gordon’s All the Courses of the Suns, work made from what looks like an umbrella skeleton and a washing machine agitator, with the aid of some air-drying concrete, or tile and grout that placed itself into a Byron Bay mosaic, makes its materials a distant memory. It may as well be the manifestation of the affective labour dream of a beach umbrella (wash, feed, watch, shelter) – it laughs at root causes, and its goodness, as Simone Weil asserted, exists (can only exist) in its self-less-ness.     This work (its name cribbed from a sundial) seems to whisper to some of the others, who agree, that the artist (any artist) is not the entity that produced any of these objects. They contain the externalised knowledge of a hallucinated trans-human form from the middle of a story that is as valid as any of our supposedly real existences.     There is a similar shifting life breathed into the elated curlicues of dried rimurapa in Heidi Brickell’s Wai Ata Āta Whāia. Fixed into the kelp, devotedly bound with acid-green thread, there is the joy of connection, of unleashed significance and creative invention – a physical picture, maybe, of descent lines called in. In its title, the words are broken gently apart in the hands like fruit, and its open-mouthed syllables each giving us a world, a reflection in water.

The title of this work opens up the words ‘waiata’ and ‘atawhai’ to explore a constellation of meanings within the two, including: water, time, space, connection, dawning, reflection, shadow, patience, persistence and pursuit. The arrangement of this title as a sentence can be taken as an invitation to pursue a state from which waiata might emerge.

Isla Huia spoke in the first weekend of the exhibition about reo and its sonic nature, and she sounded it out that desire and its radical possibility is at the root of all things.

Imagine a nation of sleeping tongues. Imagine them just at the back of the teeth. Imagine them looking like dogs in the sun. Imagine that kind of potential. Imagine them all waking up, all at once. Imagine what they might have to say for themselves after all this time.

She explained that “According to Rangimotuhia Kātene, a tohunga hailing from my own tūrangawaewae of the Whanganui river, the whakapapa or words begins with wanting.”

I te tīmatanga ko te hiahia Mai I te hiahia ko te mahara Mai I te mahara ko te whakairo Ka puta ko te kupu e.

In the beginning was the desire From the desire came the remembrance From the remembrance came the conscious thought From the conscious thought came the word.

I was prompted to think about how, in making subjectivities perceptible, the politic of art-forms is necessarily aesthetic; how, as transforming beings, in being able to be seen and heard, we can take agency – and matters into our own hands. Stories give us oxytocin (no, not oxycontin), so it is in our very fabric that narrative, sound and words – mnemonics – carry necessary information forward across time.


I see, in some of the work gathered together here – I read it – a rebellious self-preserving streak that understands the opportunities that are given to the well-behaved, but has the courage and the intelligence to not act tame or play dead before stale power; to instead draw up the energy from a deeper self, community, history

Simone Weil was a political activist, philosopher and mystic whose investigations turned to the subject of the good in her agony facing WWII – calling for wisdom in how we might live better, ethically, fairly, free from the afflictions that enter with oppression. She pressed into the hardship of living non-violently on the receiving end of power, and the very illusion of holding power itself: “Thought flies from affliction as irresistibly as an animal flees from death.”

Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it.

Tia Ranginui The utu of tawhirimatea

Photo Credit

Tia Ranginui, 'The utu of Tāwhirimātea', 2023. Digital print on Hahnemühle photo rag paper. Courtesy of the artist and Laree Payne Gallery, Hamilton.

Told to be good or to behave, or not take up too much space, under duress – the standing threat of incarceration of obliteration or destitution – is one of the mechanisms of the colonial–patriarchal complex. I see, in some of the work gathered together here – I read it – a rebellious self-preserving streak that understands the opportunities that are given to the well-behaved, but has the courage and the intelligence to not act tame or play dead before stale power; to instead draw up the energy from a deeper self, community, history.     More than a louche non-compliance, there is reparative power in the ātua-semblances that populate Tia Ranginui’s photographs, The koera of Tangaroa, The breath of Uru-te-ngangana, The tangi of Rūaumoko, The utu of Tāwhirimātea. Powerful shape-shifting deities of light, sea, earthquakes–volcanoes–seasons–burns are channelled by young women in 80s or 90s formal dresses, the abandoned kind that wash up in op shops. They smoke in the bath and ruminate, light their cigarette with flame from their index finger, crackle sparks of static electricity from all that polyester, and focus their desire (in grills).     The male pronouns of organised religion provoke the revolutionary laughter of women from the cheap seats, from the magic zones of dust and mythic questing. Here, pūrakau spring into the contemporary material world in costume dramas, like in Jacques Rivette’s film Duelle where goddesses came to earth wearing high 70s fashion – seedy bars, dancehalls, stations and hotels – at the first full moon of spring to try to re-establish their immortality.

Who knows the pain of being cast in darkness better than waahine maaori?

These words stood out from Michelle Rahurahu and Essa May Ranapiri’s phenomenal ‘Whiro in Their Original Glory’. Their dialogue is infested with insects, the associates of whiro, who they argue is not evil so much as part of a system of highs and lows that make our existence possible, part of a cosmic rolling whole; or ‘the All’, as Carl Mika puts it, whereby all things in the world – that have been and will be – are interconnected. Darkness is the shadow part of existence, the important ‘insect’ half that ‘good’ people don’t talk about, that overflows the bath.

they spin on their carpet of dirt all manner of bugs spawning out of the churn it's Whiro all androgynous goth all spiritually mature just fucking moving in high heels the darkness Is hot like hell is hot they have drawn all the curtains and turned the music up painting great black lines across the walls building snakes and pushing all the legs onto millipedes skitter and scatter plugs the bass into the amp and vibrates every living creature into a kind of dust that you can see suspended in the light so thankful for such a brief moment before the fall Whiro does it all in the dark burns toast but eats it anyway their nails manicured by beasts


Given the sheer number of works in the show, and read through a sponged-up story of desire, narrative and seasons, I am shuffling through a pack of cards, through a cycle of life, a wheel of the year, from 0–10 and back around to 0 again – which is not nothing but from which everything comes – trying to rewrite my reality among visual slips, trips, and wild coin-showers of significance

CAG exh 1149 0575

Photo Credit

Sriwhana Spong, 'Badlands', (install), 2023. 16mm film transferred to HD video, sound: James Rushford. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett Gallery, Auckland.

‘Good’ as a played-out ethical value is raised with what could seem like wilful innocence when an artist alludes to a saint in their work – or in the case of this show, two artists and two saints. But Sriwhana Spong’s sometimes rouged femme-centric Badlands is filmed in an arid Italian landscape, and the footage interspersed with elements from a fresco in a Sienese Abbey depicting legendary ‘bad women’ supposedly sent to seduce St Benedict.     We see thin feral cats (oh god is that a dead kitten) and an abandoned complex of buildings, and what we are warned will happen to women who show desire: deprivation and destitution. Witchcraft and magical practices have their origins in poverty – such is the need to empower ourselves when starving for food, or more abstract yet still tangible needs, like to be safe from harm and the elements. For protection.     Then, lo! she comes over the brow of a hill – woman as spider, her doubled arms making the terrible muscular motions of the fast arachnid. With her comes the smoke of the tarantella – a dance, a ritual, a healing rite, an outpouring emotion, the absorption and transformation of a poison – and slips of unmeasured ribbons, in this case red, a staple of European folk magic, to increase the sense of a fever dream.     Lucy Meyle gives us a referential amusement park with a lot of no-touching stimulation in a sculptural rendering of depictions of St Jerome (patron saint of libraries, letters and translation no less) in art history. Every Green Herb for Meats is no simple human tale of the relationship between things and their likenesses. Everywhere there are mad arguments, and odd 17th-century legal petitions for the rights of humans and creatures (rats, locusts, caterpillars) in contestation. Pecking, whiskers, feeling and feeding, silvered sticks, a pumpkin trying to grow between deck plans, record-keeping – what sort of reckoning will bring us closer to the sort of enlightenment we’ll need to survive?

CAG exh 1149 0132

Photo Credit

Priscilla Rose Howe, (install), 2023. Oil pastel, acrylic and flashe on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Jhana Millers Gallery, Wellington.

    Any niceness is trampled on thoroughly by the sharp-featured femme protagonists of Priscilla Rose Howe’s paintings, A number of states, Festering in me, Different versions, different bodies, different words, and Shut your eyes and you’ll burst into flames. The perspectives are film-noir angled, and the exaggerated, fierce she-villains (of soap opera, high Hollywood or 80s glamour-weird cinema) eat eggs in the bath, bloody mary in hand, and what are you going to do about it?     The loose canvases are black framed like projection screens, and it is no mistake that for her artist’s talk we’ll be watching John Water’s Female Trouble (a filmmaker who said that his original fanbase was bikers, hippies and gay people other gays didn’t like). Their queer desire is awake and running, varied and ambivalent, their metaphorical teeth, nails and tusks are fully grown, and the moon is full. The obligation to be clearly visible and to make good (easy) sense is swept off the Log Lady’s.     Given the sheer number of works in the show, and read through a sponged-up story of desire, narrative and seasons, I am shuffling through a pack of cards, through a cycle of life, a wheel of the year, from 0–10 and back around to 0 again – which is not nothing but from which everything comes – trying to rewrite my reality among visual slips, trips, and wild coin-showers of significance.

Lucy Meyle

Photo Credit

Lucy Meyle, 'Every Green Herb for Meat', (detail), 2023. Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist.

It is this creative, or queer relation to the past (that recognises how multiple and discontinuous and indeterminate it is anyway) that I see carried through into a lot of the work drawn together into 'Spring Time is Heart-break'

Aliyah Winter Rock Thorn cryptogram 1

Photo Credit

Aliyah Winter, 'Rock, thorn, cryptogram', (still), 2023. HD infrared video; duration 5 mins 8 secs. Courtesy of the artist.

Bethell called in the history of lyric poetry to voice, phrase and summon her own, and channelled a litany of religious thought and feeling. And if we follow Elizabeth Freeman’s reasoning in Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, it is the gleeful sampling of the past that liberates the subject from restrictive adherence to continuous, singular, linear time. It is – straight–calendar–clock–workweek time – after all, only one way of organising reality or a way of life.     Freeman wrote this text through the study of the work of artists that “… cherish not only history’s flotsam and jetsam but also the excess generated by capital, its castoffs, and the episodes it wishes us to forget. … In their own version of trench warfare, they collect and remobilize archaic or futuristic debris as signs that things have been and could be otherwise.”

This is the legacy I wish to honour here, that of queers as close enough readers of one another and of dominant culture to gather up, literally, life’s outtakes and waste products and bind them into fictitious but beautiful (w)holes. … Queer temporalities, visible in the forms of interruption I have described above, are points of resistance to this temporal order that, in turn, propose other possibilities for living in relation to indeterminately past, present, and future others: that is, of living historically.

Different channels between the past, present and future are embodied in Aliyah Winter’s video-work, Rock, thorn, cryptogram, named with a string of words from an Ursula Bethell poem. An earlier work of Winter’s was titled October 1935 after the Bethell poem, and likely sparked the framing of the Spring Time is Heart-break exhibition.     Poetry can be cannibalised for its ability to live and proliferate in language’s surplus of meaning, as information’s uncontrollable sibling, as liberated excess. The emergent qualities of Bethell’s work were given clothing in the rapid vegetal imagery of ‘Time’ – a green shoot, a burning fuse, the flight of desire and transformation. I feel she knew that all experience is disturbance, and what the implications are for an essential feminine plasticity.

Those that come after me will gather these roses, And watch, as I do now, the white wistaria Burst, in the sunshine, from its pale green sheath.

Winter’s title demonstrates, by the incantatory uttering of nouns (animal, vegetable, mineral, thought-form, element), the potential of poetry to affect a kind of magic. The artist is transformed into an avatar playing minor deity in a volcanic landscape, and our vision is tipped into an infra-red spectrum. The sound we hear is the song of the riroriro, the ambiguous bird–guardian Bethell drew into ‘October 1935’, but slowed to an earth’s-core bass as if the rumbling instrumentalised bed of a horror film.

CAG exh 1149 0271

Photo Credit

Jimmy Ma’ia’i, 'Paradise', 2023. Milk crates, PVC downpipe, ‘hula’ umbrella. Courtesy of the artist.

It is this creative, or queer relation to the past (that recognises how multiple and discontinuous and indeterminate it is anyway) that I see carried through into a lot of the work drawn together into Spring Time is Heart-break. Human identities quiver and wobble and refract, and start to meld with other beings, like Spong’s spider–woman. Like the red of Spong’s work speaking across to the glossy red taro – red like the painted pandanus seeds in ’ulu fala – in Jimmy Ma’ia’i’s work Paradise, and it is just as precious, magical and honouring. It produces new life, new experience, new subjectivities.     Anoushka Akel’s Click Hiss Rasp Howl paintings could chew over a renaissance drawing, Anguissola’s Asdrubale Bitten by a Crawfish (c. 1554), but what might be a simple cautionary tale became a meditation in the present on attention and feeling; on biting, the blue of indigenous kōura, what it is to have an exoskeleton, the postures of pain in flesh, affective labour, the sounds a crustacean might use to raise alarm.     Take notice, they also seem to say, of the attention children are asked to pay as they are inducted into societies, given that a Sunday school noticeboard has become one of the works’ support. Heed the blue crayfish leaving its own semblance as traces on a linen shroud, above a pall of colour that is the red that it would be cooked, or of arterial blood. There is an appendage atop two hairy legs that could be a finger or something without a bone that a lobster might nip: take care as you exercise your desire.     Sorawit Sonsataya’s Unnamed Makers is a two-channel video work screened in the round and sets close inspection and digital rendering of three antique ceramic objects from Japan, Thailand and China against photogrammetric reconstructions of Waitaki limestone. Such painstaking, self-determined research, and mysterious gathering of information – and it being presented as if for a technical forum of fellow analysts versed in other knowledges – seems like it could be threatening for some powers that be, even heretical.
    Juliet Carpenter’s The Sun Is Not to Be Believed strikes me as something of an epistemological fairy-tale, even a horror of the commonplace. There is footage of an older woman (the crone?) moving about an allotment in what looks like late autumn before the summer’s growth has been cleared, and the light is grey and chill. There is a cut section of a branching stick on a stone table with a knife, like a proposition. The figure (a crone–witness in post-digital culture?) cuts hazel – traditional for protection, divination and wand-making – and searches in the earth with her hands for a small unspecified object and disrobes as starlings flock.     The film, a technical collaboration with Róisin Berg, cycles through footage four times with an algorithm disturbing the frame rate and editing eerily so there is the sense of the development of parallel timeframes; of near-and-far pasts and futures. They fold in on themselves and layer as though acting out the feeling of trying to accommodate multiple alternative realities, each as true as the other. The black and white positive flips to negative like the images left on our retinas after staring at something, listening, for a while.     Reality has taken on an ephemeral quality – at odds with conventional ideas of sanity and certitude – which co-opts machine-thinking to show something of the discontinuity of internal trans-human mnemonics (or is that just her magic?). From time to time, the sound stutters rapidly, and the editing jumps between shots like an error, and such quickening can be felt pressing on the chest like a heart beating too fast before elation breaks its hold.

Juliet Carpenter The Sun Is Not To Be Believed 2

Photo Credit

Juliet Carpenter, 'The Sun Is Not To Be Believed', (still), 2022/23. HD video with recursive editing algorithm (MSP patch), duration 23 mins 19 secs. Courtesy of the artist.

A thread I am now seeing running through this collection of new works are instances of ‘edge of town’ behaviour. This is the fey zone in which we can work between humans and nature, the material and other more elusive realms we learn to tune into, rather than behaving like better (insensible, pliant, dulled, clock-alert) units of capitalist labour. The body, instead, is imaged as going beyond its supposed edges or limits, as Sylvia Federici explains in her Beyond the Periphery of the Skin: rethinking, remaking and reclaiming the body in contemporary capitalism.

This is a body that expands beyond the periphery of its skin, but by appropriating, ingesting all that is eatable in the world, in an orgy of sensual pleasure and liberation from all constraints. My conception is equally expansive but of a different nature. For what it finds, in going beyond the periphery of the skin, is not a culinary paradise but a magical continuity with the other living organisms that populate the earth: the bodies of humans and the not-humans, the trees, the rivers, the sea, the stars. This is the image of a body that reunites what capitalism has divided, a body no longer constituted as a Leibnizian monad, without windows and without doors, but moving instead in harmony with cosmos, in a world where diversity is a wealth for all and a ground of commoning rather than a source of divisions and antagonisms.

Sam Norton As Long As Someones Watching 3

Photo Credit

Sam Norton, 'As Long As Someone’s Watching', 2023. C-type print on 3mm aluminium dibond. Courtesy of the artist.

A touching aspect of this exhibition of work by predominantly younger artists is the number of works that refer to family and to whanaungatanga. One of the greatest critical tasks of our short-circuiting technological society is to repair the broken connections between generations.

Starting with a sadness, but spurred on by the idea of a body overcoming its lonely dimensions via happenstance, Sam Norton’s As Long as Someone’s Watching, glossy, large-format photo-prints of Skype-call screen-grabs show the complexity of technological existence. Are we only real when someone else is watching, or when we can see ourselves in the screen? How do we reach each other? What control do we have over our reality by selectively archiving our pasts? The works have the form of the short story in that we are plunged straight in and spat out again after a couple of passages, all control suspended for the flight.     Her two-channel video-work When Love is Not Enough gives us the common-enough but no-less-painful tragedy of two entitles – a stick and a wading bird – that cannot meet, cannot reconcile, because they are stuck each in their own screen/film/reality/frame of reference. It’s genuinely hard to watch, this display of the inability to connect because of fundamental differences, despite what we think we love or want to love, as its tonal sound-bed reaches for the ears of the future.     Through the wall is Campbell Patterson’s two-channel video work Nowhere that logs the activities of a person with an unspecified goal, apparently trying to optimise or track actions in a closed circuit. An index of what a body does – how it acts and is acted on by things supposedly outside of it – is written on a piece of masking tape in each screen that is then erased and written over in an endless chain of effort, as if trying to get in the right zone to produce in splendid solitude. It is a little like how, in Dracula, Harker’s incarceration produced a minute focus that was for him enthralling.

I was at first interested and somewhat amused, for it is wonderful how small a matter will interest and amuse a man when he is a prisoner.

Etanah Lalau Talapā Loto Faafetai

Photo Credit

Etanah Lalau-Talapā, 'Loto Fa’afetai, Loto Fa’atuatua', 2021. 3D digital projection. Courtesy of the artist.

A touching aspect of this exhibition of work by predominantly younger artists is the number of works that refer to family and to whanaungatanga. One of the greatest critical tasks of our short-circuiting technological society is to repair the broken connections between generations. Here, as if in answer, we have a sweet family story made into a large reflective reverb unit in Luke Shaw’s SUN TURN (Sugarloaf towards Lyndhurst). It carries the story of how his grandparents would communicate between his workplace high on a hill to her at home on the flat in morse code flashed from shiny metal or mirror.     Family is referenced obliquely in Norton’s and Ma’ia’i’s works, yet it is the very fabric of Ilish Thomas’ video work NAMASKAR & Merry Xmas. This reads to us as a scrolling letter, the last written by her grandfather to her mother before he passed and carries his wishes and worries about financial security to his family. It lays out what he has tried to do to protect investment, the hard work, ageing and illness, joy of parents, and his hopes for prosperity for them in a time of profound economic injustice and precarity for the many.     Etanah Lalau-Talapā’s Loto Fa’afetai, Loto Fa’atuatua abstracts motifs and patterns from tapa, and registers strong emotion and love-stories in smooth animated forms, a little like perfumed sugar shells for the protection of ‘autalavou laiti, for youth. Made at a time of great change and loss and renewal – the death of her father and the birth of her first child – feet and arms become prows of vaka to cross oceans of feeling, time and signification. It calls us to fall in love with life-givers (including ourselves) and our symbols when we wake, and to say thank you when we stop to sleep.     Angel C. Fitzgerald’s Forever video is a joyous remembrance of a day with the family we make for ourselves as we go out into the world, or stay up all night with just ’cos, or because we are leaving the next day – a departure only possible because of the person we have been able to be in their company, in the torch-beam of their love. We can drive to the beach, to complicity forever, and let a spider walk on your hand, and replay it whenever.     Steven Junil Park and John Harris’ The Round shows how two can co-exist, each bringing their traditions and obsessions to the table. Park’s intricate patchwork curtain of second-hand sheets sewn by hand in the manner of Korean jogakbo work, and Harris’ electrical wizardry and love of turntables come together to make sonic space for a group to achieve some circular dream-state musical form.     Emerita Baik’s glorious soft, fabric flower sculptures Towards the Sun I and II sit against the wall looking out at us, their faces telling ours of Korean traditional quilting techniques that are made for warmth, tiles made for protection for travellers, and her mother’s jewellery box. Flowers die and their seeds are scattered around them year after year, and when they grow, the children resemble their parents.

CAG exh 1149 0003

Photo Credit

Emerita Baik 'Towards the Sun I and II', 2023. Fabric, batting, acrylic paint. Courtesy of the artist and Robert Heald Gallery.


I am reminded to look for a way out, and of Emily Dickinson’s myriad small and dense poems about flowers and spring (A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King, / But God be with the Clown – / Who ponders this tremendous scene – / This whole Experiment of Green – / As if it were his own!). Cut from the end of ‘Bloom’ –

Great Nature not to disappoint Awaiting Her that Day — To be a Flower, is profound Responsibility —

CAG exh 1149 2008

Photo Credit

Wendelien Bakker, 'Catching a Grid of Rain', 2023. Steel. Courtesy of the artist.

Baik’s flowers were for you by the door, turning their heads to the sun outside (the terrible foyer). They want us all to be amateurs in the true sense of the word – ones who love. We could walk out over Megan Brady’s Entangled and turning we are river that gives us a braided awa carpet where there once was a pond which was probably a trip hazard anyway.     There was the sound coming from Madison Kelly’s Kohu! Karaka! Braid! that carefully addressed the kakī, an endangered river-wading bird species from the North Otago McKenzie Country, and the breeding programme that releases chicks into the wild. As adult birds and chicks call out to each other, we were invited to make sound with soft mallets on pillars of glass filled with water – our own calls to hoped-for futures.     Wendelien Bakker’s Catching a Grid of Rain appeared to me only as I was leaving, a drain positioned on the top and down the sides of a small bunker in the gallery’s barren forecourt. Taken this way, it seemed ultimately very civil, like an invitation to take what you want, and let the rest flow away. A sensation heightened by discovering that it was the same temperature outside as the climate-controlled interior, like a lukewarm body moving in tepid water.

CAG exh 1149 0008

Photo Credit

Luke Shaw, 'SUN TURN (Sugarloaf towards Lyndhurst)', 2023. Steel, timber, sound. Courtesy of the artist.

References. Nuar Alsadir, Animal Joy, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2022. Ursula Bethell (as Evelyn Hayes), From a Garden in the Antipodes, London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1929. –––Time and Place, Christchurch: Caxton, 1936. Ursula Bethell, Collected Poems, Christchurch: Caxton, 1960. Emily Dickinson, ‘A little Madness in the Spring’ (c.1875) and ‘Bloom’, The Single Hound, Martha Dickinson Bianchi (ed.), Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1915. Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977. Sylvia Federici, Beyond the Periphery of the Skin: rethinking, remaking and reclaiming the body in contemporary capitalism, Binghamton, NY: PM Press, 2020. Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: queer temporalities, queer histories, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2010. Isla Huia, ‘Watch Your Tongue’, Bulletin 124, 2023. Carl Mika ‘Where Do We Stand When We Know? Mātauranga Māori and its Translation as “Science”’, The Philosopher, vol. 109, no. 2 (‘Authority and Knowledge’), Spring 201. Michelle Rahurahu and Essa May Ranapiri, ‘Whiro in Their Original Glory’, Pantograph Punch, 26.07.21. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, London: Bloomsbury, 2003. Jacques Rivette, Duelle, Sunchild Productions/Les Productions Jacques Roitfeld/L’INA, 1976. Bernard Stiegler, Taking Care of Youth and the Generations, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008. Bram Stoker, Dracula, London: Archibald Constable: 1897. Jane Wallace, ‘Silver Screen: notes on moving image and editing in Spring Time is Heart-break’, Bulletin 124, 2023. John Waters, Female Trouble, New Line Cinema, 1974. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a declaration of duties toward mankind, New York: Putnam, 1952. Robert Zaretsky, The Subversive Simone Weil: a life in five ideas, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Tyne Gordon

Photo Credit

Tyne Gordon, 'All the Courses of the Suns', 2023. Found objects (washing machine agitators, beach umbrella prongs), concrete, resin, grout, tiles, ribbon, tinsel), and 'Bright Waters', 2023. Oil on aluminium, pewter frame. Courtesy of the artist, Jonathan Smart Gallery and Jhana Millers Gallery.

Gwynneth Porter

Gwynneth Porter is a writer and editor from Ōtautahi Christchurch who recently became the librarian at Christchurch Women’s Prison. Writing essays since the mid-1990s, her practice has involved persistent experimentation with forms, methodologies and subject positions – auto-theory, ficto-criticism and dialogue – for art writing and book development with artists. With a long history of collaborations with artists in publication situations and artist-run projects, she has a background in art school teaching, visual arts publishing, and art museum curatorial and public programmes work. She recently completed a PhD through Monash University in Melbourne’s Department of Art History and Theory with a thesis titled ‘Delinquent palaces: Adolescent museum visitation in literature.’ As an editor, with designer Warren Olds, she started and ran Clouds publishing, an art-book press based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

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