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The Promised Land at Queensland Gallery of Modern Art

Promises, promises.  

Michael Parekowhai’s survey exhibition The Promised Land displays a finely tuned and impressive resume of artworks.  Parekowhai’s penchant for casting and repetition speaks of multiplicity – political, quantitative and accumulative.

The piece I am drawn to, Memory Palace (2015) is a replica of a 1930s Art Deco style Mt Eden state house.   I think all that noise about the Queens Wharf proposed public artwork Lighthouse in 2014 must’ve blown over, because here it is, Parekowhai’s opus Dei.   The exterior perfectly encapsulates the well-known state house aesthetic.  The model state house, a New Zealand relic, has in-built ramps on either side of the house, a concrete base and a weatherboard veneer.

The interior of Memory Palace is littered with miniature Kapa Haka security guard maquettes that act like little hovering flies on the wall, watching over the occupants and the interests of the colonial.  The giant proportioned The English Channel (2015) depicts a stainless steel James Cook, poised and casually sitting in the centre of the room.  “Is it James Cook?” I tried to enquire with the security guard, but the security guard was preoccupied with describing the piece’s shininess to another patron.   Apparently the shine can be attributed to never being touched.  He’s very excited because he has an insider trading secret.  He says “Parra-koh-fiiii” thinking his pronunciation is accurate.  It’s nice he tries, I suppose.

I am somewhat protective ofthe New Zealand culture in this instance as it feels more exposed and thus more vulnerable in this international setting.    The state house at present represents a very sensitive socio-political issue for New Zealand.  People, more specifically pensioners and beneficiaries, are being forced from their communities and their houses in some instances, are ripped from the land, so that the government may proceed with gentrifying the area.   I fear this very recent history is swept under the rug, or rather, under the house, for Brisbane audiences.

In true Parekowhai fashion, even a million dollar house work is an opportunity for plurality.  Memory Palace is a separate project from Lighthouse and manages to avoid the usual arguments of cost, taxpayer funding and the location creating an eyesore, because it is located in a Brisbane art gallery.  I’m sure we will be hearing about Lighthouse again sometime soon.

The inclusion of the state house in an exhibition titled The Promised Land is by no means an accident.   Parekowhai obviously considers each of his works very carefully.   Despite its quiet cynicism and cloaked political nature, Parekowhai’s practice is in major surplus of an endless possibility of ideas with Parekowhai consistently bringing almost impossible ideas into grandiose fruition.

Natasha Matila-Smith

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