Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Development of Schools Programmes for Learners with Special Needs

Twenty students from Rutherford College’s Satellite unit visited the Gallery last term to participate in our Signs and Symbols (shape, pattern and colour) pilot programme – including a Gallery and Studio session.

We began with a quick impromptu tour of parts of the Gallery (I couldn’t not – the kids were so excited to be here!) They loved it! It was a good way to introduce the idea of symbols – particularly shape, pattern and colour and of course, the Gallery. It would definitely be good to do this each time they visit so we can reinforce ideas/experiences, give them opportunities to remember and draw on past experiences here and gradually extend their experiences, responses and understandings. I want them to feel at home here. Posing questions in each space gave them something to focus on.

We then spent time in one of the Gallery spaces, looking at these two artworks:

Sandy Adsett, Waipuna, 1978
Gordon Walters, Genealogy 5, 1971
We looked closely at the work and spoke about what we noticed. In small groups the children manipulated a selection of different coloured shapes to help them understand the work better. Then they made their own patterns using the shapes provided, which we compared to the artwork.

The art making session in the studio allowed everyone to feel proud of their work. Each student chose a symbol that said something about them (e.g. plane, computer, cat) and made a stencil which they drew around to make 8-12 identical shapes in a colour(s) of their choice. They experimented with pattern by moving the shapes around their chosen background paper. The use of more technical terms such as overlapping, reflecting and rotating then modelling what I meant was good for some of the students when making their patterns. They chose their favourite pattern and glued it in place.

They shared and reflected on their work. How can you tell who made this? What could it tell us about the person? Does this pattern/shape seem to match the person who made it? How? How do the colours tell us about the person who made it? Which patterns are similar? How? How could you describe the patterns?

Here’s some of the work made by the students in the studio session:





A focus on pattern, shape and colour seemed appropriate for this group. They were able to draw on prior knowledge and make connections with things they are familiar with. They could be successful but still had the opportunity to learn some new ideas through making comparisons, observing closely and participating in an activity related to the work.

Future considerations: 

I would like to visit the regular groups at their school so I can see how the teachers work and interact with them and the types of programmes they participate in. Also as a way of building my relationship with them, getting to know them and their needs better (and their teachers) and for my own professional development.

Where to now?

Five other schools have booked in to participate in this pilot programme over the next few weeks. Once I have taught everyone, received feedback from the teachers and made changes where necessary, I would like to make this programme part of our standard programmes permanently on offer to schools. Then on to the next pilot programme – Portraiture and Identity!

As the two artworks used above are no longer on show in the Gallery we will use the works below:

Jonathan Jones, untitled (sum of the parts), 2010/2014 
Michael Parekowhai, The Bosom of Abraham, 1999
– Mandy Jakich, Educator LEOTC

Image credits:

Sandy Adsett
Waipuna 1978
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1995

Gordon Walters
Genealogy 5 1971
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Gift of Dame Jenny Gibbs in honour of Chris Saines, Gallery Director (1996-2013)

Jonathan Jones
Kamilaroi / Wiradjuri people

untitled (sum of the parts) 2010/2014
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2010
Courtesy the artist and Tim Melville Gallery

Michael Parekowhai
The Bosom of Abraham 1999
Edition 2/14
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1999

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

On the Mend: Part II

An update on the conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath 

Before treatment began
Last week I described how the painting had been removed from its old stretcher and the excess wax carefully removed. The next steps in the treatment plan are to mend the tear in the canvas before lining the canvas for support and to enable re-stretching before retouching the loss so it is no longer a focal point.

Mending the tear 

The fibres around the tear were broken and in disarray and some were sitting on the wrong side of the canvas covering original paint. To have any hope of getting a flat surface (crucial for achieving a perfect retouching) and recovering the hidden original paint meant hours under the microscope, removing old fill and carefully placing the fibres back into their original positions. These were supported by the addition of a few new threads where threads had been broken or were missing.

1. Under the microscope the mess of matted fibres embedded in the white fill is apparent  2. Looking at the same area with transmitted light, after the fill was removed and the fibres were aligned and new fibres were being added to fill in gaps. 

This highly delicate work can only be achieved under magnification.
Filling and lining 

The old losses were then filled and the painting was lined onto a new lining canvas using a vacuum table and with temperature control. After lining, the painting could be stretched onto a new stretcher.

Lining the painting

1. During lining the painting is under vacuum 2. The painting is stretched and ready for retouching
Varnishing and retouching 

The final stages of the treatment are the varnishing and mimetic retouching which aims to make the new repair invisible to the viewer.

Further research

Before a treatment begins, the painting is subjected to a thorough examination, and throughout the conservation process the conservator naturally gains a pretty intimate knowledge of a painting. Examination under magnification reveals just how the painting was made, identifying pigments, revealing the build-up of paint layers and changes since execution. Occasionally samples of paint can be taken and looking at these under strong magnification can reveal the painting’s composition. Two samples were taken from Woman with a Floral Wreath using a method shared in a previous post.

These samples shed light on how the ground was applied – unusually, in three distinct and separate layers.

A tiny sample of paint from the flesh tones of Woman with a Floral Wreath. The upper layer of paint shows a mixture of red, blue, yellow, black and white pigments used to create an area of flesh in shade. The bulk of the sample is three layers of white ground. 
The information gained from these will hopefully make it possible to make an informed estimate of the origin of the canvas. It is hoped that this research into provenance through technical examination will be continued after the treatment is complete. The discovery of French newsprint on the old stretcher, the ground structure and identification of pigments are all great leads for further research on the provenance of this painting.

Fragments of newsprint on the old stretcher
Please check back later for further exciting developments, and to see the painting after the treatment is complete!

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer

Friday, 31 October 2014

On the Mend

The conservation of Woman with a Floral Wreath from the collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
 

Before treatment: the discolouration of old overpaint over a large tear in the lower right of the painting is very distracting.
Probably late 18th century, Woman with a Floral Wreath is a copy of the work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805). Scarred by an old tear in the lower right of the canvas – which had become raised and discoloured – our painting has lingered for a number of years in storage awaiting conservation treatment.

First steps

The impetus for treatment centred on that tear. The edges had begun to lift and the retouching was significantly discoloured, no longer integrated with the surrounding original paint. To improve the repair, the old retouching and fill needed to be removed.

But, to complicate matters, the painting was wax-resin lined (a second canvas is adhered to the original) some time ago, but the adhesion had begun to fail. Unfortunately the adhesive was applied unevenly which caused deformations in the original canvas. To remove these, the two needed to be separated and the glue removed. This also allows realignment of the fibres in the tear which would help ensure an almost invisible repair.

Removal of the lining

To protect the surface of the painting, a sheet of strong but flexible tissue paper was adhered to the surface.

Applying facing tissue
The stretcher and lining canvas were then removed. It was exciting to discover newsprint in French still adhered to the stretcher giving further clues to the painting’s provenance. The thick layer of wax resin adhesive was removed as far as possible. After which the painting regained much more flexibility and the deformations relaxed back into plane.

1. Removing the old stretcher  2. The lining canvas, made from cotton duck 3. The original canvas, with a layer of thick uneven wax-resin

Removal of the varnish 

To support the painting during varnish removal and while mending the tear, it was temporarily adhered to a polyester fabric around the perimeter. This was attached to a strainer, allowing safe handling, access to front and back, and air circulation during varnish removal.

The back of the painting made accessible while attached to a temporary strainer during treatment.
A film of discoloured varnish and much of the overpaint was removed, revealing the subtle tonal modelling of the painting.

Halfway through varnish removal, the left side still has a layer of yellowed varnish.

About me

A kiwi paintings conservator, fresh from training and working in Europe, I was looking to gain experience with fellow New Zealand conservators when the chance to be involved in this project arose and I have been preparing this French beauty for a return to the gallery wall.

In my next entry I hope to show the process of repairing the canvas and lining and retouching, and maybe dabble with some technical examination results. Check back soon!

– Genevieve Silvester, Paintings Conservation volunteer

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gough Whitlam’s cultural legacy – a game-changer for the public imagination


The ‘towering patrician’ and former Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (born 1916) passed away on Tuesday 21 October 2014 at the impressive age of 98. Much has been written and more will be said about this remarkable politician and key figure in Australian politics, both about his achievements and his miscalculations. I would like to make reference here to his formative contribution to culture.

In power for three potent years from 1972 before his dramatic dismissal on 11 November 1975, Whitlam altered the cultural and social climate and helped reshape public imagination. He increased Australia’s ties with Asia, recognised the People’s Republic of China, introduced the health system which later became Medicare, replaced ‘God Save the Queen’ with ‘Advance Australia Fair’ as the national anthem, established the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, ended conscription, introduced free university tuition and expanded justice for Indigenous Australians by granting land rights. He led a new focus on women, the environment and the arts.

On the cultural front Whitlam elevated the Australia Council for the Arts to the level of a separate statutory authority with increased powers, he established the National Film and Television School in Sydney and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. In 1973 Whitlam purchased for the National Gallery, Blue poles, painted in 1952 by Jackson Pollock, at a cost of $1.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a modern painting at the time. The acquisition radically divided public opinion; Whitlam knew its significance and toured the painting across Australia. I remember my excitement seeing the work and its impact on the population, and being rather amused that in the face of outrage, Whitlam used an image of Blue poles as the official government Christmas card. Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret (who passed away in 2012) will be long remembered for their brilliant minds, enormous vitality and fearless vision.

– Rhana Devenport, Director, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki


Further reading:


Image credit: Gough Whitlam at Old masters – new visions : the Phillips Collection, Australian National Gallery 1987 Photograph: Whitlam Institute. Ref: Guardian Australia

Monday, 20 October 2014

Research and resources


We are Auckland’s wharenui/home for authentic and meaningful engagement with art for all... 

Over the past couple of years, we’ve started working on expanding what we can offer for secondary students and their teachers, and this statement – part of the Gallery’s new purpose/values/vision statement, really resonates with much of our thinking over this time.

We are very conscious that the Gallery and its resources have a lot of possibility for use in schools, with potential applications across a broad range of subject areas. And we know from our stats that many schools aren’t currently accessing these resources – a shame for many reasons, not least because they’re owned by the very people not accessing them!

So, how do we support meaningful and authentic engagement with this institution and its resources, by students and teachers in a diverse range of subjects? Especially when our subject speciality sits most specifically in the Visual Arts and Art History?

What we know is that you can’t have authentic, meaningful engagement if you don’t know your audience well – what’s happening for them, the challenges they face, and the needs they have. If you can understand that, you’re at a point where you can potentially respond to real needs – and ideally you’ve got a great opportunity to collaborate together, and share your varied expertise in creating the best possible resources and experiences for all.

So as part of this push we undertook a small research project earlier this year. We asked 18 teachers from nine schools, in Visual Art, Art History, English and History, to tell us about their experiences and needs. We also shared specifically the types of resources we have available (for example, the art, our physical environment, our staffing expertise, resources like our research library) and asked what they imagined we could do with these that could best benefit their needs. Lots of interesting data came out of these conversations . . . and even more questions for us to follow up in the future! I’ll share more about our findings (and further questions) in the coming months, but wanted now to share a few, and what we’re doing now to start to respond in one area.

All the teachers we talked to:
  • were enthusiastic about the possibilities of engaging with the Gallery and its resources in their subjects, and had lots of ideas about how meaningful connections could be made 
  • needed to teach students visual analysis skills 
  • said that help in doing this would be appreciated, as especially for English and History, this wasn’t something that teachers necessarily felt confident in doing 
  • identified how an important focus in the classroom is in developing students’ research skills 
  • found it difficult to locate accessible, reliable content that could be used to support students in this process; and in relation to art – a serious lack of information on New Zealand (and even international) art, artists and contexts 
In response to the last couple of points, we’ve started a process of developing some of this content, alongside support activities and resources that could be used or adapted for use by teachers both in the classroom and the Gallery.

For two upcoming collection shows on display at the Gallery during Term 4, 2014 and Term 1, 2015 (Age of Turmoil: Art in Germany 1900–1923 and The Social Life of Things) we’ve developed bibliographies of books, articles and websites students can access for further research. Alongside this, for Age of Turmoil, we’ve developed:
  • a PDF with an overview of the show, plus detailed descriptions of a good number of the key works 
  • two videos of the curator – one with him talking to a PowerPoint where he discusses the German context in the period 1900–1923, the other where he shares his curatorial process in developing the show (including photographic images of his planning process) 
  • curriculum aligned worksheets tailored specifically for students of Art History, Visual Art, History and English 
We intend to continue developing resources for future shows, and we’ve got many more ideas for how we could develop these even further, but we’d love your thoughts to help with this. Feel free to let us know any feedback you have on these resources – how they work for you, how they could be improved, plus any other ideas you might have for other resources of any kind.

We’d also love to hear your feedback on the findings shared above – do these reflect your experiences? Is there more you’d like to share, or a different perspective not represented?

Feel free to respond in the comments section below, or email us at education@aucklandartgallery.govt.nz with your thoughts.

– Christa Napier-Robertson, Schools Programme Coordinator

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Jonathan Ngarimu Mane-Wheoki (1943–2014)


It is with tremendous sorrow that Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki acknowledges the passing of Professor Jonathan Ngarimu Mane-Wheoki (Ngāpuhi/Te Aupouri/Ngāti Kuri), who died peacefully on the evening of 10 October 2014.

Jonathan will always remain a deeply respected and greatly loved curator, academic and historian in the fields of art, architecture and culture. Since 2010 he has been a pivotal member of Haerewa, Auckland Art Gallery’s Māori Advisory Group, offering invaluable advice and generously sharing his extraordinary knowledge.

Along with his exceptional ability to work effectively and elegantly across the spheres of art, academia and museums, Jonathan has been remarkable in offering both a Māori worldview and a European perspective. His specialist fields deftly spanned art and architecture from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. He has been a highly influential pioneer in the development of contemporary Māori and Pacific art and art history within university and curatorial contexts. In essence, his nuanced understanding defied the categories of academic disciplines and spanned centuries. Jonathan’s contribution is enduring and profound.

Highly respected at home in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally, Jonathan will long be remembered for his brilliant oration and his powerful intellectual support of and advocacy for contemporary Māori art practice, alongside his passionate Māori voice in the fields of art history, architecture, fine arts education, cultural exchange and critical writing.

Although his health was failing, 2014 proved to be an extraordinarily fertile year for Jonathan in his tireless and determined pursuit to advance the place of Māori and Pacific art. In March he travelled to the United Kingdom to speak at an international conference on Pacific art in Cambridge and to contribute to the advisory group for a major forthcoming exhibition, Oceania, at the Royal Academy in London. He also participated in an important colloquium with the Centre Pompidou in Paris which examined the legacy of the formative 1989 exhibition, Les Magiciens de la Terre. These projects reflect the level of esteem in which he was long been held within the international cultural community.

Earlier in 2014, Jonathan contributed a pivotal and spirited essay to the catalogue for Five Māori Painters, an exhibition organised by Auckland Art Gallery. Also this year, Jonathan was deservedly made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts. Recently, in September, he was awarded a medal as Companion of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the citation of which reads: 

‘…Jonathan has contributed significantly to academic and museum circles and has held senior positions that situate him at the forefront in ongoing dialogue about New Zealand’s history and expression in the arts. Through his work at the University of Canterbury from 1975 to 2004, as Senior Lecturer and Dean of Music and Fine Arts, Jonathan has had a major influence on a whole generation of our scholars and curators who themselves are now leaders in the field. His depth of knowledge and his willingness to foster debate and research continue to be an inspiration across our sector.’

Jonathan has published extensively; developed exhibitions, presented lectures and seminars on art, museums and cultural heritage both nationally and internationally. His expertise is widely sought and he has served on numerous advisory and governance bodies throughout his career. In recent years he has divided his time between academia and the museum profession in leadership roles at the University of Auckland and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.’

Jonathan will be greatly missed by a wide community of friends, colleagues, artists and students, all of whom benefited from his remarkable insight, generosity, encouragement, faith, passion and intellectual acumen.

Our thoughts and aroha are with his partner of 35 years, Paul Bushnell, and his sister Moea

Kei konā te aroha me te whakaaro

Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa

– Rhana Devenport, Director, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Friday, 12 September 2014

Ralph Hotere's Godwit/Kuaka at City Gallery Wellington

If you're a fan of Ralph Hotere's artwork and will be in Wellington between now and 23 November, I'd highly recommend that you visit City Gallery Wellington.  We're very excited about the City Gallery's exhibition of Godwit/Kuaka, a much-loved large-scale mural by Ralph Hotere.
 

Installation view, Ralph Hotere  Godwit/Kuaka 1977  enamel on board  Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Auckland International Airport Ltd, 1997
This artwork, part of the Chartwell Collection, was last on display at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki as part of the exhibition Toi Aotearoa from 2011 to 2013.    

Ron Brownson, Senior Curator of New Zealand and Pacific Art, wrote about Godwit/Kuaka on this blog after Ralph Hotere passed away last year, and shared the essay that was published about the work in 2011.  

For more information about the Wellington exhibition, see City Gallery's website.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Recent acquisition – Una Garlick



In 1921 Una Garlick became the first woman member of the Auckland Camera Club; later renamed the Auckland Photographic Society. She was awarded their annual medal in 1926, following on from her many successes at the Club’s monthly competitions.

Garlick exhibited internationally to acclaim between 1925 and 1931 and this success resulted in her becoming an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. Such recognition meant that she ranked with Gerald Jones as one of New Zealand’s most famous camera artists of the period.

Garlick liked experimenting with photographic printing media; soon venturing beyond conventional gelatin silver printing papers toned with sepia to the use of a bromoil technique, the extremely challenging vehicle of platinum printing and onto sheet fed gravure. Her ability with these difficult printing techniques makes her images frequently appear very velvety yet also matt and metallic. She moved away from interleaving negatives with sheer tissue towards a deeper and sharper focus.

Una Garlick’s stylistic shift towards the unambiguous image parallels what had already occurred during the 1920s in America (with Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz) and Germany (with Albert Renger Patzsch and August Sander).  I sense that the lessons of American Precisionism and German Neue Sachlichkeit gave her a fresher perspective than almost all of her Auckland Camera Club cohorts. 

There is no question that Una Garlick was familiar with copies of The Studio, Das Deutsche Lichtbild and Camera Work. Maurice Lennard recalled for me some decades ago that she had consulted his copies of Das Deutsche Lichtbild and Camera Work on a number of occasions. Meetings of the Camera Club always involved discussions about what was happening off shore photographically.

An anonymous donor has recently generously gifted a fine late landscape by Una Garlick to the Gallery’s collection. The raking afternoon light is seen from the summit of Remuera (Mount Hobson). With its semi-sharp and deep focus has a full register of tones from dark brown to white, this image is a bravura example of Garlick’s habit of incorporating cloud portraits into her landscapes. In many ways, Garlick transitioned from her early pictorialism to a sharper photographic focus that is much more in tune with what was occurring in California during the 1920s and 1930s.

Image credit:
Una Garlick  (1883–1951)
Auckland c1935
sheet fed gravure
74 x 100mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of an anonymous donor, 2014

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Lab: If you were to live here...


A year ago this month the 5th Auckland Triennial, If you were to live here… closed after receiving the highest Triennial attendance to date of 90,000 visitors to its nine sites. All venues were free for the first time, which had a significant impact on attendance.

An electrifying component of the Triennial was The Lab, located in the Chartwell Gallery on the top floor of Auckland Art Gallery. An initiative of curator, Hou Hanru, who described it as ‘the brain’ of the Triennial, The Lab included an open laboratory space for interactions and dialogue between local and international communities of creators.

This month a beautiful publication, The Lab: If you were to live here… was launched at the Gallery co-published with the University of Auckland (RRP $30 available from the Gallery shop).

The Lab was a design-based trans-disciplinary laboratory offering a unique opportunity to develop Auckland’s architectural culture. A joint project between the architecture and spatial design/visual arts faculties of AUT, The University of Auckland and UNITEC, this laboratory unfolded throughout the Triennial as a series of rolling workshops, lectures, exhibitions and a roster of related events – including lectures by international guests Teddy Cruz (Estudio Cruz) and Bijoy Jain (Studio Mumbai).

The Lab’s role was to act as an intellectual catalyst considering the questions: What role do the creative disciplines play in developing the urban realm? How might they bring about a different quality of life? How might we live here, ‘better’?

Placing these speculations within our broader urban culture, The Lab sought to ignite ongoing thinking, discussion and action within our cities.

The Lab space was designed by Mike Davis, as part of his PhD research, with Sara Lee and Sasha Milojevic of the School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland, creating a flexible framework to purposefully, and economically, enable the exhibition of 5 distinct projects, yet giving a coherent memory and relationship between the projects; and relating two sites - the ‘operations’ or exhibition space and reference library. The exhibition design is a finalist in the 2014 Best Awards. This physical space was supported by the design team of INDEX, Jonty Valentine and Amy Yalland, and their risograph printer, who produced signage systems, event sheets on demand, produced one-off artworks and manually updated the wall panels. INDEX also designed and produced The Lab book.

Hou had expressed a desire that the work of the Triennial would leave a physical legacy or evidence of transformation in Auckland.

Kathy Waghorn, editor of The Lab publication, recalled at the book launch a number of changes and successes that had arisen out of the Lab projects:

Project 1: Muddy Urbanism, led by Kathy Waghorn and Teddy Cruz, culminated in a publication and two subsequent exhibitions – one in West Auckland, the other at Woodbury University Gallery in Los Angeles – and discussions held in The Lab with city councillors and local board representative has led to the establishment of a new trust to take on the task of developing the ‘muddy’ environment of the Whau River.

Project 2: led by emerging architect Sarosh Mulla. During the project he gave a lecture on a speculative idea for a ‘Welcome Shelter’ at the Longbush Ecosanctuary in Gisborne. The Welcome Shelter will be built before the end of the year – through the commitment of Triennial patron, Chartwell Trust, alongside 5 other financial partners and many volunteers.

Project 3: led by Carin Wilson and Rau Hoskins of UNITEC’s Te Hononga Centre for Māori Architecture and Appropriate Technologies built a Paparewa on the Auckland waterfront during 2013’s Matariki, providing a ‘real-world’ encounter and dialogue between the city, the people, and the 19 Tāmaki iwi as to the ways the tribes will reposition themselves in term of their kaitiaki roles and begin to assert their identity in the physical environment. This giant structure gained the attention of the city and has assisted much needed korero around the representation and visibility (or lack of) mana whenua in our city, and confidence that future projects will build on this kaupapa (agenda).

Project 4: AUT brought together 80 thinkers, collaborators, makers and designers to re-think the role of ‘the social’ and the ‘public’ as real spaces of conscious exchange and encounter to engender imagination and community values, through 34 projects staged over 21 days. This event has led to further projects of event based and social participatory practices including a symposium Engaging Publics/Public Engagement, 13 September, co-hosted with the Gallery.

Project 5: led by Andrew Barrie, with exhibition design by Melanie Pau, sought to address the impact of the Christchurch earthquake – using church facilities as a case study to reconsider how their land and facilities might better serve contemporary needs. During the exhibition, students presented their ideas to various Bishops, priests, representatives of parish councils, and congregation members. Following the Triennial, they continued to work with several parishes moving through the rebuilding process, eventually leading to Andrew being commissioned to design a multi-million dollar complex to replace the quake destroyed facilities of the Oxford Street Baptist Church in Christchurch.

– Louise Pether, Manager Special Exhibitions

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Curator’s response: Kalisolaite ’Uhila’s Mo’ui Tukuhausia

Presented Bruce E. Phillips, Senior Curator, Te Tuhi, on 10 August 2014 at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, as part of a series of public talks in relation to the Walters Prize 2014.

This is the story of Kalisolaite ’Uhila’s project Mo‘ui Tukuhausia as it originally occurred at Te Tuhi in 2012.

I was first introduced to Kalisolaite through my friend and colleague James Pinker who had worked with him to realize Pigs in the Yard at the Mangere Arts Centre in 2011, which was his first performance in a public art gallery. Later that year I began researching for an exhibition called What do you mean, we? to be held at Te Tuhi. This exhibition aimed to explore the psychology of prejudice through the practice of artists who take on strategies to draw out suppressed bias. Artists included in the exhibition did so through social intervention, linguistic deconstruction, psychoanalysis or by working through the spectres of past trauma. Kalisolaite’s emerging practice at the time fitted well into this context and so I arranged to meet with him to explore the possibility of his inclusion.

During this meeting I learnt that he employed an experiential approach in his practice rather than the head-in-book style of research that is so much more common these days with Fine Arts graduates – ‘my library is my heart and my mind’ he would later share with me1. At this time he was engaging in opposing aspects of participatory research into homelessness by spending the odd day or night living on the street while conversely working as an inner city security guard often required to move homeless people off private property. These experiential tests would build upon his knowledge of urban survival but also of how public space is implicitly controlled via social conditioning and more overtly through forms of legal and political enforcement.

This fact was reinforced to me when he mentioned that on one such occasion of research he was ushered out of the Auckland Art Gallery due to his appearance. This story fundamentally challenged me because it revealed that those of us who are in charge of what should be thee most tolerant public institutions are also complicit in maintaining the veneer of social acceptance. Despite this, my colleagues and I took on Kalisolaite’s challenge of allowing him to live ‘homeless’ around the grounds of Te Tuhi – an action that could render Te Tuhi politically vulnerable and liable for his safety.

Kalisolaite’s inclusion in the show What do you mean, we? was important as it was the only live performative work that would engage with the public and place of Pakuranga where Te Tuhi is situated. Real time engagement with Pakuranga was integral, for it was one of the driving motivations of the exhibition.

Originally a burgeoning suburb for the white middle class of the 1970s, Pakuranga along with neighbouring areas in the precinct have since diversified demographically. Due to this tensions had been stirred up by conservative white factions of the area in opposition to Māori and also the growing Asian community. Notable moments indicative of these tensions included Pakuranga being one of three areas in New Zealand chosen by the Right Wing Resistance to distribute their ‘Asian Invasion’ pamphlets2. Other moments of controversy at the time included the resistance to a whare to be rebuilt in Howick3 and also the formation of the area’s new Super City political ward to be named after the prominent Māori Chief Te Irirangi4. Kalisolaite was aware that he was walking into a situation charged with various social and racial tensions. However, the reality of bearing witness to these tensions was something else entirely.

The duration of the piece also proved to be an integral development that was finalised only a month prior to the show opening. In a meeting, I remember trying to float the idea with Kalisolaite of periodically coming and going from Te Tuhi over the period of the exhibition. In retrospect I realise now that I was trying to tiptoe around the very real implications that actual living onsite might cause. It was Te Tuhi’s assistant curator at the time, Shannon Te Ao who argued the importance of Kalisolaite dedicating to a solid period of full time occupation: “if you are going to do this you do it full time or not at all” he said – or something to that effect. Kalisolaite agreed to this and we bit the bullet.

For Kalisolaite the action began at 6am on the 19th March, the moment when he closed the door of his house leaving his wife and daughter behind. He had only what he needed – a small bundle of belongings and just enough spare change to catch the bus to Pakuranga.

Kalisolaite told me that time stopped the moment that he walked out that door5. For Te Tuhi staff the passing of time was also altered, as we were kept busy facilitating a food bank, answering a barrage of questions, deflecting abusive confrontations with the public, and in my case sleeping with my cell phone close by in case of emergency.


On a daily basis Kalisolaite’s presence ignited responses that could have been produced by a 1950s social science experiment where the very best and worst of our local constituents were eked out. Public responses varied greatly and within a day had become instantly polarised. He was referred to as ‘that Thing!’ by one visitor, was spat on by another, and even accused of not smelling enough of ‘urine and faeces’.

Kalisolaite was periodically visited by friends, family and supporters but was on the most part left alone to exist day and night in the open like many other people do in urban centres around the globe. The necessity of learning urban survival is amongst the most insightful of his accounts to me. He told me:

A key aspect to survival is to be aware of your surroundings … I was doing a lot of sitting, a lot of observing, just listening and being aware of what was happening around the area. That was when I realised that I didn’t really need to know the time, because this was my time. By paying attention to what was going on around the area I would notice life happening like clockwork … but it is more like a shadow of time. People had the time but I was moving in their shadow. They would be moving but I was moving at my own different pace.6

This required him to develop an intimate knowledge of the area. He sought shelter from the wind and rain, located safe nooks in which to hide, and found warmth in patches of sunlight between buildings to air out his clothes. On his first day it happened to be raining and Kalisolaite told me that he saw the rain as a blessing as it forced him to think about finding shelter. He found part of an old broken tent, that we had for some reason kicking around the office, and by accumulating cardboard he established himself a sheltered spot beside the building in which to sleep.


Through this deeply attuned observation he gained a perspective on the workings of society passing around him. So well was his knowledge of the area that I found it hard to keep track of his movements.

As you can see in some of these photos he did well to linger out in the open but camouflaged in the shadows. This survival strategy was intended to protect himself against adverse attention from other people – which I find a revealing of how vulnerable the human body is to the potential physical and physiological abuse of other humans. I think about this and consider how poignant the title for the work is – Mo’ui Tukuhausia – a Tongan phrase which means life set aside.
_____________________________

While Kalisolaite’s survival was dependent upon his own deeply attuned knowledge of the area, he was in fact also dependent upon the local community for one crucial thing – to support his existence through a food bank located at Te Tuhi’s reception. This food bank was his primary food source and a very smart strategy to give the community the responsibility to keep him alive.

Te Tuhi advertised Kalisolaite’s work and the need for donated food but it took a couple of days for the idea of giving to take effect. Ultimately, it was Kalisolaite’s presence that was a trigger for people to give. Often people would strike up conversation with staff and would learn about the project and would then be compelled to give. By the start of the second week Te Tuhi received more food than Kalisolaite could eat so our Director James McCarthy started making daily donation trips to the Auckland City Mission down town.

So while Kalisolaite received heated opposition to his presence he also received overwhelming kindness and generosity. Even weeks after the performance had ended I found gifts of food left outside his tent.

It is important to note that Pakuranaga being a suburban area typically does not have many visibly homeless people. Due to this and also to recent issues of racism in the area, Kalisolaite became sensitive to the fact that people would associate his Tongan ethnicity with being poor or destitute. To avoid this racial profiling, he decided to cover his face hands and all exposed skin in black clothing so that he would simply be an unidentifiable figure.
_____________________________

From the outset Kalisolaite and I decided that the work was to be an experiment – an opportunity for him to try something radically new, to test his limits, to test Te Tuhi and to contribute a true challenge for the exhibition. As part of this experimental ethos Kalisolaite’s presence around the building changed overtime.

He decided to be mostly silent during his time at Te Tuhi but he also wanted to establish some sort of communicative engagement with the public. He started by leaving behind cardboard signs asking for spare change as he had observed others do during his research. This form of communication evolved rapidly in scale and message to the extent that Kalisolaite was beginning to take over the building with messages written in chalk and signs put up around the neighbourhood.


Kalisolaite’s signs replicated words of condemnation that had been said to him directly. Other messages were more defiant reminding people that he was indeed a human being. What was most intriguing about these signs is that they oftern were intentionally humorous and witty. "Lets do lunch u buy" said one. "Homeless attraction" and “Homeless on show $2” said others.

This sign making reached new heights when he established an impromptu homeless sign making workshop during Te Tuhi’s annual community carnival day. Kalisolaite simply sat on the ground and without saying a word children naturally gathered around him and started making signs of compassion, encouragement or statements of good will.
_____________________________


Kalisolaite was motivated to gain a lived understanding of homelessness. However, it was the provocation of his performance that triggered the enforcement of social order. As the title of the work implies, the action placed him outside of what is socially acceptable and due to this he was deemed someone to be corrected or deterred from being as he was. This reality was evident through the many police visits he received, which were the reason his performance ended a day earlier than its planned conclusion. Kalisolaite told me:

I was stopped three times by the police. They called me an ‘unusual suspect’. Each time they stopped to question me I would challenge them in very simple ways. I wasn’t intending to be smart, I just wanted to make the point that I am human and to ask the police ‘Are you human?’ – and if we are both humans, then we can talk together on equal grounds. The experience on the last day of my two weeks was the best ending to the project. I was out in the middle of the night about to write on the pavement, a statement in chalk to conclude my time. But before I wrote anything the cops turned up and I knew that this would be the end of it. The cop came up to me and I gave him my letter from Te Tuhi that explained what I was about, it was like my passport, and the cop just ripped it up and told me to move on. I realised then that they had their eye on me from the beginning, even though they were not harassing me all the time. They had their killer eyes on me from afar. So I just thought, This is it the end, I have done what I came to do. I just rang my wife to pick me up and it was over.7
_____________________________

Two years on and Kalisolaite’s original iteration of the work still strikes me as being profound for its ability to fracture the veneer of social niceties through such a passive action. In New Zealand there are some who consider it unfashionable to embrace emotion or humor in contemporary art. I don’t know why this is, perhaps it is a modernist hangover or that emotion and humour is deemed not serious or academic enough. It is also considered unfashionable to earnestly stand for a cause. However, it is for all these reasons that Kalisolaite’s work has been influential to others. I also understand that it is for these reasons that this year’s selection committee nominated this work for the Walters Prize 2014.

In art, sometimes it is the simple actions that are the hardest to execute but more often than not they are the most important and powerful. Through simplicity and humility, Kalisolaite puts his body and mind towards an artwork that has a single strong message that cuts to the heart of a complex issue that we are all responsible for and complicit in creating.

– Bruce E. Phillips, Senior Curator, Te Tuhi
_____________________________

Footnotes: 
Bruce E Phillips, ‘Discussing Mo’ui Tukuhausia’ in What do you mean, we?, Bruce E Phillips and Rebecca Lal (eds), Te Tuhi Centre, Auckland, 2012, p47, http://www.tetuhi.org.nz/downloadfile.php?filename=files/downloads/What%20do%20you%20mean%20we.pdf, accessed 21 May 2014
TVNZ One News, ‘Anti-Asian Leaflets Leave Community “Very Alarmed”’, 11 May 2011, http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/anti-asian-leaflets-leave- community-very-alarmed-4166648, accessed 20 May 2014
TVNZ Te Karere, ‘Ngai Tai in Howick Demolish Te Umupuia Meeting House’, uploaded 18 October 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3963bBGIwjs, accessed 21 May 2014
TVNZ Te Karere, ‘Ngai Tai Iwi Are Happy a Ward in Auckland Will Be Called Te Irirangi’, uploaded 22 March 2010, https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=tpnTUgBYtU8, accessed 21 May 2014; Lincon Tan, Howick: Name Game Over – Now Who Will Lead’, New Zealand Herald, 25 August 2010, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10668616, accessed 21 May 2014
Phillips. p52
ibid. p 47-8
ibid. p50

Image credits:
Kalisolaite ’Uhila
Mo’ui Tukuhausia 2012 (documentation of a two-week performance at Te Tuhi, 19 March – 1 April 2012)
Commissioned by Te Tuhi, Auckland
Photos: Bruce E. Phillips