Walters Prize finalists on show
The Walters Prize
Auckland Art Gallery
Until October 30
The Auckland Art Gallery is showing the work of the four artists who have been nominated as the finalists in this year’s Walters Prize.
The Walters Prize is dedicated to presenting the very best of New Zealand contemporary art with finalists chosen on the basis of work created over the previous two years. While in the past the artist was required to re-exhibit the work, the rules have been altered so that more recent work can be exhibited instead.
The winner of the award receives $50,000, while each finalist receives $5000.
This year all the works make use of moving images in various forms and address issues of history, memory and myth-making.
The first work encountered is the large lightbox by Nathan Pohio, Raise the Anchor, Unfurl the Sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun" situated in the forecourt of the Auckland Art Gallery
The image depicts the arrival of Lord and Lady Plunket (then Governor-General of New Zealand and his wife) in central Christchurch where they were to be escorted on to the Tuahiwi reserve and the marae for their pōwhiri by the local iwi . Grouped behind them are 11 Maori mounted on horseback replacing what would normally have been a military guard of honour.
The work was originally installed in Christchurch’s Remembrance Park on land owned by Ngai Tahu where there is an Anzac memorial. This establishes a connection to the Land Wars of the 19th century as well as the Boer War and the Great War where horses were used including the progeny of the horses depicted in the photograph.
The event links to the North Island companion event of 1901 when the visiting Duke and Duchess of Cornwall were escorted from Greytown to Rotorua by the Wairarapa Mounted Rifles, a Maori contingent based on the East Coast.
The work (and the sole white horse) also references the prophet Te Kooti who had a white horse, Pokai Whenua (travel the land). That horse, along with his black horse, were believed to be two of the horses of the Apocalypse.
The work makes many other references, such as to the western, Shakespeare, the Land Wars, and military traditions as well as the impact that colonising powers had in using horses like the Conquistadors in South America.
The artist notes that image has connections to The Magnificent Seven, imbuing the historic image with another imaginary scenario in which a form of indigenous cinema borrows and extends upon the genre of the Revisionist Western
In producing his large sepia coloured work, Pohio has not only represented history but also created an almost mythic image.
This creating of a history or myth can also be seen in Lisa Reihana’s dual screen work Tai Whetuki – Houser of Death, which is something of an extension of her multi-screen work “in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (iPOVi).”
In that work she depicted Tupaia – the Tahitian navigator and priest who accompanied Captain Cook aboard the HMS Endeavour and made a drawing of the Chief Mourner’s costume. Using this and accounts of the role of the chief mourner in the Polynesian rituals involved with death and mourning, she created “Tai Whetuki – House of Death Redux”
The work depicts the story of a dying warrior who is avenged by the chief’s mourning party as well as presenting other Polynesian practices associated with death. These include the roles and traditions of women during mourning through haehae (laceration of the body), hahunga (an exhumation ceremony including cleaning of bones), the karanga (ritual chant) and the figure of Hine-nui-te-pō (goddess of night and death). The backdrop for the actions and its almost surreal composite of these rites and rituals is the lush bush and marshes of the Karekare coastal area in Auckland, near the site of an 1825 massacre.
The ideas of the individual passing from life is seen in various cultural rituals such as the ancient Greek idea of Charon guiding the individual across the river Styx to the underworld, with Reihana depicting a similar event occurring in the swamps of Karekare.
Reihana can be seen as continuing the tradition of the priest and shaman inventing a religious belief and mythology around death to try and explain the unknown.
Joyce Campbell’s “He Miro, The Thread” is a continuation of her photographic series “Marianas,” in which she imagines the landscape of the world’s deepest ocean trench, creating a sense of organic life through the chemical decomposition of small silver objects.
The images are accompanied by the reading of a short story written about the Marianas with photographs by science-fiction writer Mark von Schlegel,l which tells of one man’s journey into the depths of the ocean and the monstrous forms he imagines might inhabit that place. The narrative is full of enigmatic phrases which make the images seem as though we are in a dream world or lost in the cosmos.
Shannon Te Ao has two works in the show Two shoots that stretch far out for which he was nominated a finalist and a more recent work Okea ururoatia (never say die).
In Two shoots that stretch far out, we see the artist reading the words of a 19th-century waiata to different animals. As he speaks, he also performs a series of translations – from the te reo Māori of the waiata to English, from song to speech and from a female.
The animals – ducks, geese, swan, rabbits, chicken and a wallaby are a conflation of Noah’s procession of animals with the medieval bestiary where animal are symbolic of relationships and have historical, religious and allegorical meanings
These are then linked to a garden the artist has created with Okea ururoatia (never say die) where various indigenous and foreign plants sprout and wither. Again each of these as well as having symbolic meanings have medicinal qualities as well as being associated with rituals of life.
The judge for this year’s Walters Prize is Doryun Chong, deputy director and chief curator at Hong Kong’s new M+ museum. He was previously associate curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA in New York. He will announce the winning artist at the Walters Prize award dinner on September 30.
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