Oceania, Part Two

By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman

Oceania: 2 exhibitions; 25,000 islands

Location: Wellington, at Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand) and at City Gallery Wellington, until 6 November.

(Images from Oceania website)

Oceania is two exhibitions, one called Early Encounters, at Te Papa, and the other called Imagining the Pacific, at City Gallery.

After my enjoyable, present-day encounter with Early Encounters at Te Papa, I toddled along the waterfront (about 10 minutes walk) to the City Gallery for the other part of Oceania, called Imagining the Pacific. From the brochure: “Oceania, Imagining the Pacific asserts the significance of the Pacific not only as a place of great navigators and seafarers but also on imaginative artists – voyagers of a rather different kind”.

There you have it. The strong photograph used as a title image for the exhibition is there – Sofia Tekela-Smith’s Savage Island Man with Pure, a powerful image of – whatever you want it to mean. The exhibition catalogue tells you what various works are about, however when it comes to experiencing art, sculpture and installations, for me its all about what resonates for individuals – everyone has a different response.

So, I won’t be telling you what the pictures are about, but how thought-provoking they were. As with the Early Encounters exhibition, there is a confluence of cultures and methods which make for some fascinating works.

I loved the installation by Shona Rapira Davies. Called Nga Morehu it is of 12 terracotta female figures, slightly smaller than life-sized. Eight of them are standing, performing a welcome dance, and I had an almost irresistible urge to stand in amongst them, to move around and experience their viewpoint. Sadly, galleries frown on this sort of interaction, so I righteously stayed behind the white line.

Another installation I enjoyed very much was Bill Culbert’s Spacific Plastics, made of Tupperware and fluorescent lit tubes. I will mention a note from the catalogue here – among other things, the work references the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is well worth a google or a click on the link if you don’t know about it – a shocking situation, not far from us.

Still on the plastics theme, there is Niki Hastings-McFall’s Too Much Sushi lei – a pretty lei, with its 8 petalled flowers made out of the little plastic fish that soy sauce comes in.

Then there is a wonderful photograph series Savage Nobility, photographs by Duncan Cole, concept by Shigeyuki Kihara. Again a mix of culture, fashion and history – worth a slow look at the details of the outfits.

The last piece I’ll mention is Ralph Hotere’s magnificent Black Phoenix installation. It too tells many stories, on many levels. They have provided benches, so it’s well worth having a sit, gazing at the work and thinking about what it is saying to you. I left the City Gallery feeling enriched, and with new thoughts and ideas buzzing around me.

The square I walked out into is inhabited, for a short time, by none other than the Christchurch Wizard, who is on a sort of sabbatical from Christchurch at the moment. I had to hear what he was talking about, so wandered over to hear a piece about how male animals were much more beautiful than dull female ones, so if the same were to be true for humans, women should be admiring men for their plumage, not the other way around, as it presently is with humans. Interesting idea – I’d often thought that men’s fashions were minimal and dull, compared to some of the excesses of previous centuries. The Wizard certainly wasn’t minimal and dull – his plummage was suitably wizardish, a long black robe and pointy hat. He’s one of New Zealand’s “characters” and it was nice to see him out and about and doing his thing…all part of our Oceania world.

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