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Dirt, cat food and clickbait

Mata Aho Collective with a portion of their monumental, handwoven sculpture, Aka
Thread My Fresh Wounds by Frankie Chu at Blockhouse Bay Library
A cold heart is a fragile one even when it’s big, by Weilun Ha
Tocca La Terra by Imagine The Land Project
Mark Amery rounds up the bold and beautiful in arts news from New Zealand and beyond in this week’s Lowdown #71.


International Collective Creation

Last year, the Māori women’s art collective, Mata Aho, made a splash with an 11m textile work for the Oceania exhibition at London’s Royal Academy. This year, they have produced AKA, a towering 14m column woven from green marine rope, evoking both the ocean and Māori tradition. The piece is a centrepiece of Abadakone at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa — a major international exhibition of contemporary indigenous art. International media coverage includes this Globe and Mail review (with great images), an APTN television news item, a piece in the Edmonton Sun and a critical look at the show from the New York Times (note paywall). 

Back home, Mata Aho Collective have been commissioned with Andre Te Hira by Wellington City Council to create a new work around the closed Central Library. The work, an 80 metre, tri-colour vinyl that will be adhered to the hoarding, will celebrate the life of the late poet and former librarian, JC Sturm — recognition much welcomed for a woman who spent her living in the shadow of husband James K Baxter. The work will incorporate Sturm’s poem On the building site for a new library, “which references the construction of the Central Library and also Wellington city’s land reclamation where Civic Square was once underwater,” says Mata Aho Collective. Sturm was one of the first Māori women to receive an undergraduate degree and a wahine writer trailblazer. The library building has been closed since March due to earthquake risk. New mayor Andy Foster has stated his resolution to see it reopen there

Thread My Fresh Wounds by Frankie Chu at Blockhouse Bay Library

And in other knotting news, Thread My Fresh Wounds, a collaborative project between the community of West Auckland and artist Frankie Chu has been installed at Blockhouse Bay Library. The large-scale sculpture is made of recycled fibre strings and based on traditional Chinese knots. Chu says the knotting in the project, which was carried out by local residents, “acts like a kind of code… a silent way to carry people’s unspeakable, suspended emotions and build intuitive networks.”  

Kiwis in Oz

Meanwhile, a rather unique art event takes place in Hobart next week: the Hobiennale. It’s a coming-together of 21 Australasian artist-run spaces in one festival, with New Zealand represented by Wellington galleries Meanwhile (with Aliyah Winter) and play_station (with Elisabeth Pointon). Pointon will be doing two flyovers of several of her giant banners (pictured), which are about to appear at City Gallery Wellington.

Also in Australia, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust have collaborated with Melbourne’s Blak Dot Gallery gallery for a shared exhibition. The spACE betWEen us is co-curated by Rosanna Raymond and Kimba Thompson and runs until December 1.

Tongan-New Zealand artist John Vea is in Sydney raising awareness of the plight of migrant workers, as discussed in this excellent ABC Story. Vea’s pointedly titled If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back? runs until December 15 at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Banners for the exhibition state ‘New Zealand Land of Plenty’, and feature crates of fruit surrounded by seasonal workers with their faces cut out. The project included a performance as part of the Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art, with a stall featuring fruit and promotional images outside Carriageworks Arts Centre opposite the farmers markets.

Rocks and soils

At the MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, New Zealand’s Imagine the Land Project has created another large-scale temporary installation from soils. Collaborators Karma Barnes and Ekarasa Doblanovic created Tocca La Terra from soils hand-gathered from Rome and Tuscany. Visitors were invited to create clay vessels, cover them with soil pigments and walk barefoot into the artwork along a soil pathway to place their vessels. This five-minute Youtube video of the creation of the work if highly recommended. See Imagine the Land’s previous land art projects, many of them in Australia and New Zealand. 

Tocca La Terra by Imagine The Land Project 

Also in Italy, Dunedin artist and designer Matthew Galloway has been on a residency at Turin’s Cripta747, making work about the nearby Nebiolo type foundry, which once produced metal typefaces. Kari Schmidt wrote about the project for Contemporary Hum.

In Wellington, Raewyn Martyn’s Greywacke Love Poems: returns sees the artist making “plant and bacterial bioplastic paintings that will appear and dissolve back into the landscape” out at the Owhiro Bay quarry site on Wellington’s South Coast. The project runs until November 17th, with a book by the same name launched last weekend. Follow this interesting project and see how these paint polymers on rocks are made here.

In a nice move from a dealer gallery, Matakana’s The Vivian are supporting inspiring K-Rd pop-up Everybody Eats’ first permanent home in Onehunga, opening this week. Everybody Eats uses food donated by restaurants and supermarkets and gets professional chefs to make meals for anyone on a pay-what-you-feel basis. It allows everyone to “sit at a table and enjoy a meal with dignity,” says The Vivian’s Scott Lawrie. The Vivian will provide a contemporary art experience to match, with new shows every two to three months. First up is Monique Lacey. Work is for sale with the full dealer commission going to Everybody Eats. 

A fresh approach

New Zealand Opera will not be serving the “same old cat food” in 2020, General Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess told RNZ Concert on Tuesday. De Mallet, who has called for more diversity in programming, is known for an innovative approach and comes to the company with the mandate for an overhaul. That will see NZ Opera perform Poulenc and Cocteau’s The Human Voice in hotel rooms in the regions next year, Handel’s baroque opera Semele at Auckland’s St Mary’s Cathedral, opera in parks this summer and Eight Songs for a Mad King performed at Auckland and Wellington Festivals, and in Christchurch in smaller, unusual venues. The full programme is here

Chloe Geoghegan has been announced as a Curator at Te Uru, Titirangi from February, leaving the Hocken Collections in Dunedin. A recent curatorial project of her Lost in the Air is currently on display on the Courtenay Place Park light boxes in Wellington.

A cold heart is a fragile one even when it’s big, by Weilun Ha

Congrats to Weilun Ha who has taken out the Campbell Smith Memorial People’s Choice Award at the 2019 National Contemporary Art Award exhibition for ‘A cold heart is a fragile one even when it’s big’, an ink and pigment work inspired by porcelain on fabric. The award honours former director and playwright Campbell Smith, who was generous in his support of fellow artists throughout his life.  

Great Reading 

A great personal essay on getting a baby brother from Rose Lu on Pantograph Punch from her new book All Who Live On Islands.

Peter King’s custom lathe cut records are currently on display at Auckland’s Objectspace, and Kiran Dass has written this great tribute on The Spinoff  to a true back-country pioneer. Lynn Freeman at RNZ spoke to designer Luke Wood about the handmade album covers of King Records and the exhibition. The show will also appear as part of New Zealand Festival at the Dowse Art Museum in February.

Felicity Monk has written this strong Sunday Star-Times feature on Auckland’s Petra Leary’s award-winning drone photography.  

Here is the strong-as-ever roundup of visual arts highlights by Warren Feeney for November in The Press.

Finally, worst art clickbait story of the week: figures obtained by Stuff under the Official Information Act found more than fifty items at The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa had been damaged from 2014 to September 2019. To which you might ask, given they belong to us, is that all?

Written by

Mark Amery

14 Nov 2019

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.