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Challenging notions of migration, race and border: new exhibition suite at The Govett-Brewster

Candice Lin, A Robot Spoke What My Father Wrote, 2019, Photo Ian Byers-Gamber
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre continues to lead contemporary art with its latest exhibition opening


The Govett-Brewster debuts exhibitions by acclaimed US-based artist Candice Lin and the first of three Govett-Brewster Artists ‘In Residence’ of 2020 - Sorawit Songsataya - alongside a Len Lye’s never-seen-before kinetic sculpture installation Sky Snakes and the largest exhibition of Lye’s film-making practice The Absolute Truth of the Happiness.

“The opening sees the Gallery back to full strength following the COVID-19 lockdown, quite possibly one of the first institutions in the world to resume full operations,” says the Gallery’s deputy director Antony Rhodes.

“This suite of exhibitions offers something for everyone – Len Lye’s compelling kinetic sculptures, a glimpse into the way Len Lye created his pioneering film works, the latest in global contemporary art practice, and a fantastic new project by a New Zealand artist, created during lockdown.”


Candice Lin: Pigs and Poison

As the world grapples with closing borders and historic racial tensions since lockdown, the Govett-Brewster debuts Candice Lin’s first solo show in the Southern Hemisphere, which examines the effects of migration, race and borders through generations.

Pigs and Poison brings together new and existing works by the Los Angeles-based artist, exploring her own Chinese heritage and weaving together stories of Chinese migration with the history of American and British colonialism that offers candid insight into issues of relevance today.

One suite of paintings references the outbreak of plagues in San Francisco and Honolulu at the turn of the 20th century which were blamed on Chinese citizens, who were who were subsequently victimised.

Another work is a monumental trebuchet, or catapult, that fires projectiles made of oil, lard, wax and bone black pigment – made by burning bones - re-performing infectious acts of war and creating a violent painting on the gallery’s back wall. The trebuchet will be launched in the gallery space daily.

The trebuchet (catapault) has been linked to the spread of viruses since the 14th century, when they were was used to launch dead bodies infected with plague over the walls of Caffa (now Feodosija, Crimea). From there, historians have tracked the weapon’s spread, decimating populations across Europe as it had in Asia.

“In an age where we still see the racialization of disease, most recently with references to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’ or the ‘Kung Flu’, the ideas and works in this exhibition are particularly topical,” Teresa said.

Pigs and Poison premieres at the Govett-Brewster before traveling to partner institutions Times Museum, Guangzhou, and Spike Island, Bristol. 


Sorawit Songsataya: Rumours (Mermaid)

The Govett-Brewster’s annual artist in residence programme was impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown this year, but the residency responded to this with three New Zealand-based artists chosen for month-long residencies in their own studios or homes. The resulting works will be presented on digital platforms by the Gallery, supported by Creative New Zealand and New Plymouth District Council.

The first project - Rumours (Mermaid) by Auckland artist Sorawit Songsataya – will open in the Gallery’s street-front Open Window Gallery on 8 August.

Rumours (Mermaid) features a digitally modelled half-human, half-fish character to examine how humans separate themselves from the natural world while also wanting to reconnect to the environment.


Len Lye: The Absolute Truth of the Happiness Acid

A celebration of Len Lye’s filmmaking, this exhibition presents the most comprehensive survey of Len Lye’s films.

Produced in collaboration with Berlin-based exhibition designers Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik, the ‘happiness acid’ invites us inside Lye’s films and their processes, to feel the energies at play in his experimental, handmade approach to filmmaking.

An accompanying programme of his best-known short films has also been compiled. Len Lye's Experimental Cinema will be screened daily in the Len Lye Centre Cinema, until December.

Often dubbed 'the father of the music video', it was Lye’s filmmaking that resulted in the most international acclaim for the artist.

Lye painted directly onto film with little to no camerawork involved. His bold, rhythmic and colourful abstract films arrived at the end of the silent era and were seen by millions in British cinemas.


Len Lye: Sky Snakes

Debuting at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is the installation of seven ceiling-mounted spinning Sky Snakes.

Lye conceived the first Sky Snake in 1965, and this new large-scale, dancing kinetic sculpture from the Len Lye Foundation and Team Zizz! takes that work to compelling new levels.

“This work has been on display since the Govett-Brewster re-opened in May, and has already proven a hit with visitors,” Teresa said.

Sky Snakes performs half hourly, with each performance taking 10 minutes, and is supported by a number of other kinetic sculptures by Lye.

All exhibitions are on display until November 2020.

Written by

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

19 Aug 2020

Interests The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is New Zealand's premier contemporary art museum and home to the collection of modernist filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye. Admission is free.