Wednesday 15 June 2011

Jim Vivieaere

12 September 1947 – 3 June 2011

On Sunday 12 June 2011, the Fale Pasifika at the University of Auckland became the venue for a truly heart-rending and beautiful funeral service to honour the life of Jim Vivieaere. Hundreds of people gathered to remember and respect this exceptional New Zealander.

Jim himself was involved with all aspects of planning towards this gathering. The intimacy and palpable valedictory nature of this event conveyed the reality of Jim’s presence. His love for his family and friends, his respect for the lives of others, his cherishing of talent and his incisive mentoring - all became themes which were spoken of in a heartfelt testimony. So many of the qualities and emotions that we loved and admired about Jim were present in this memorable occasion.

When all had gathered and sung together the song ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’, the hau tonga that had been steadily gusting just dropped down to a quiet breeze. The sun emerged suddenly with quite some heat to it and brightly lit the fale’s sculpture of atafa, the frigate birds, which Jim had installed. With that song’s expression of ever-lasting hope, we all felt Jim’s company and his loss at the very same moment.

With Jim’s sudden passing, we have lost a wonderfully generous and hugely talented artist whose influence will certainly be on going. As an artist, a curator, mentor, arts advisor, cook and teacher, Jim was one unique and beautiful person. Not surprisingly, it took his passing for everyone to realise, at the forefront of their feeling and inside their heart’s own thinking, how central Jim has been to contemporary art in New Zealand and the Pacific.

Pele Walker was one of the many speakers to warmly share how much Jim has given to us all during his remarkable life. She spoke on behalf of the arts community and for Creative New Zealand, who Jim had assisted for many years as an exceptional mentor and incisive arts assessor.

Pele noted something that it is essential to know about Jim Vivieaere saying that he ‘is a pivotal figure in New Zealand’s contemporary arts community and in the Pacific arts community, he has been even more so. Jim was instrumental in raising the profile and recognition of Pacific Island artists in New Zealand and overseas. He was a mentor, a role model, a friend to many.’

In 2006, Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Arts Committee awarded the Senior Pacific artist award to Jim. The award stated that this was ‘to recognise his contribution, his achievements and his standing as a senior artist and an international curator.’ This reflects the fact that over many years, he has exhibited and taught internationally, and has always sought to profile the achievement of contemporary Pacific artists to the entire world.

Jim was one of the earliest recipients of the Möet et Chandon fellowships. Yet, as an artist, he never put himself first and this gave his artwork a wonderfully insightful and oxygenated shimmer. There was always a sense that Jim’s art was part of one on-going project that looked at how contemporary art could both reflect the Pacific and question it at the very same moment. This ability to both celebrate and review his own art became a signature of Jim’s art production.

For many years, his art maintained an on-going conversation about what oceans mean to us as inhabitants of the Pacific. As a Cook Islander brought up away from his own family and heritage, he understood diaspora and globalism more viscerally than most artists ever need to understand, let alone inhabit as a rationale both for their art and their identity.

I was lucky enough to be able to talk with Jim about an installation that he was always planning but which, unfortunately, he was not able to realise during his lifetime. This installation was going to be like an autobiography of voyaging across water to many cities, over many years and which encountered numerous people. Perhaps one day Jim’s vision of the ‘oceans in us’ will become manifested by the fulfilment of his art project.

To me, Jim was a brilliant curator, simply and intuitively. One of the best curators that I have ever known or are ever likely to know. His astounding curatorial work with Bottled Ocean in 1994 changed how we saw Pacific art and artists. The effects of that exhibition are still living among us and will continue to do so. I was privileged to work along side Jim in the presentation of this groundbreaking exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery and his instinctive and intuitive design for the presentation of Bottled Ocean remains one of the most important local innovations in the presentation of contemporary art in a public museum.

Jim was an old soul. A seer, a harbinger and a pivotal catalyst for the entire art community. It was no shock to see the outpouring of grief at the funeral. Everyone present realised that they had lost a rare and astonishing friend.

E te rangatira, Jim. Na te nui ou, nga te rongo ou, I heke ai te roimata.

Moe mai I to moenga roa. Na o hoa mahi o Toi o Tämaki.

Ron Brownson

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