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Awash with Light

Polynisation series (various works)
In flyte exhibition shot
In flyte exhibition shot
Mark Amery on the reverse colonisation of the work of Niki Hastings-Mcfall.

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Reviewed by Mark Amery

In a video interview accompanying this fifteen-year survey of her work, Niki Hastings-McFall recalls seeing a convolvulus like creeper covering everything from trees to telegraph poles in Samoa. She describes it as colonisation, paralleling that which has occurred to Pacific peoples.

Hasting-McFall’s work is a form of reverse colonisation, one celebrating and making very fine art out of the resilience and adaptation of Pacific Islanders to change. She explores a contemporary sense of place, through the now mixed language of Western and Pacific patterns and forms, employing contemporary disposable materials.

In the least successful works in this exhibition from 2005 Hastings-McFall recreates the corner of a domestic interior. It’s one she might have grown up in – from tables and chairs, to a telephone and ashtray. Except in this interior everything is covered in a colourful patchwork of plastic flowers plucked from lei, with the walls bedecked in green plastic leaves as 3D wallpaper. It is, as the series it comes from is called, a case of Polynisation.

I say least successful because on the strength of this beautiful survey her work with plastic flowers and, more recently, reflective road sign adhesive has elsewhere been more nuanced and delicate, and only got stronger.

Employing light as her other principal material, the work is deceptively simple. Difficult or mysterious it may not be, but simplicity belies the fine craft she employs in bringing out the complexion of colour and pattern to be found in plastics. Contemporary artist Bill Culbert is her poetic Western bedfellow. Hastings-McFall has taken both European and Pacific Island traditions of adornment and rendered them up large with the delicacy of jewellery.

The works are bound by strong central themes that speak to us as Islanders, but those who cross the Pacific in particular. In Home from the Sea (the title taken from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem that marks his Samoan grave) a line of white painted lampstands have their shades puffily festooned by white plastic flowers. Lit from within they reveal themselves as a subtler palette of pinks, yellows and greens. They appear as a floating island, our land of the long white cloud but one of different hues. They are also reminiscent of the cloud banks clouds we view when we travel by plane from one island to the next. The lampstands root these visions in our sense of place and home.

The whiteness recalls the church holiday of White Sunday, when all dress in white. Through forms and patterns the way Samoans have brought together their aesthetics with that of the church is gently present in Hastings-McFall’s work. A grace and gentleness marks Hastings-McFall’s work generally, a lightness that amplifies the work’s humanity.

Beautifully hung the exhibition is also a tribute to curator Helen Kedgley’s experience. It is sensitive in its placings to the importance of light with the work. It is a wash of pathways across sea and sky, leading to warm home beacons in between. While the flower works glow from within, the navigation-themed reflective road sign grids are polished and preened to perfection to create sometimes dazzling changes in colours and tones as you cross their path across the room. Close-up, the recent works’ industrial surfaces have intricate braidings and beadings that, sometimes with a layering of acrylic sheets, create tattoo or cellular like intensities.

The exhibition also demonstrates Hasting-McFall’s humour and willingness to push her practice into new territory. After a brush herself with serious illness her Vanitas series sees her play with the plastic materials of the grave memorial, plastic skeletons cheekily defying death and growing unruly in their small caskets.  

  • In Flyte, Niki Hastings-McFall, Pataka Museum, Porirua, until 16 June

NOT TO BE MISSED

Finding beauty in the unstable, this installation uses a rubble of material from the domestic home’s exterior and interior, from piles of scoria to layers of ceiling tiles.

Experience Tells Us
, Eve Armstrong, 30 Upstairs, until 2 March

 

Written by

Mark Amery

1 Mar 2013

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