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Letter from the editor: Considering natural life cycles of the #

I finished installing my work quite quickly for our group exhibition. I went into the other gallery space to see what the rest of my friends/the artists were doing. Louisa Afoa had a film triptych already installed. I sat down to watch it. I didn’t expect to have any strong feelings toward or against the work. It was more or less a way to spend time.

Surprisingly, siting on that ply wood bench turned out to be one of those gushy defining moments that everyone within the arts industry has. That moment when seeing something reaffirms why you too are involved in the arts. It’s not that the work itself was necessarily great—it was after all a student exhibition—but more a moment of realising what art can do.

HomeAKL the now infamous Pacific art exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki opened the night after our show, so our opening by coincidence had a really good turn out. Despite that great turn out I knew that no one would write about this work that felt so important to me, or even the exhibition as a whole. So I did that ‘Kiwi’ thing and did it myself. I wrote a review and published it on my then blog. This was my first interaction with criticism. TBH it was less criticism and more incestuous flag waving.

It was in these moments, as a third year fine art student I realised art is temporary. That artists slave away in studios just to have work on show for only a few weeks at a time. And, when no one writes about it, the work dies, with no way of entering into the canon of art history. Sure the work can be shown again, but that work in that context at that time is gone. Writing, in it’s many forms—the essay, the feature, the review—archives art in a way that nothing else does.

When Louisa and I started conversations about #500words, later that year in 2012, we were wanting to start a platform for writing by people like us about art like ours. The only other online contemporary arts reviewing platform (that we knew of) was EyeContact. It was a space that didn’t feel any affinity to.

We had a heaps of strange ideas. For one we started with no editorial control. While it was me who uploaded everything to the website we thought it was important to have a stance on no editorship based on an idea that we didn’t want to impose ourselves and our own ideas onto other peoples writing. Only in retrospect can we see how ridiculous this was, it meant no quality control, countless spelling mistakes and endless adjustments (after publishing). Being artists, it’s safe to say we didn’t know too much grammar either.

Another idea which is one we are better known for is our emphasis on short form reviewing or reviews of 500 words. We had this equally naive idea that we would have heaps of people wanting to write for #500words and so by having reviews at such a short length we would be able to publish three or four reviews of one show to emphasise that not one person or opinion is right or wrong. We’ve since learnt that art writers are few and far between in New Zealand and getting one review of an exhibition is a hard enough task.

#500words has evolved multiple times since we started four years ago. Our team has expanded and shrunk again. At our peak it was run by four people including Emil Scheffman as co-editor and Natasha Matila-Smith on our social media. We have been very fortunate to receive Creative New Zealand funding which has meant paying writers fees (although admittedly at a ‘koha’ rate more than a ‘fee’ rate) since 2014. We revamped the website and even released a print journal with another journal to come being released mid 2017. More importantly we have continually taken risks for better or for worse and provided a platform for emerging writers, spaces and artists.

#500words started the same time that Twitter grew in popularity. In 2012, everyone was talking about the #, and so were we, hence the name. While # is still a very useful tool for marketing specifically, the mystery and the interest behind it is no longer.

This long winded back story to the start of #500words does have a reason. Just as the # in many ways has run it’s course of being at the forefront of a digital media focus #500words has run it’s course too. Louisa and are sad to say that while the website will stay live as an archive for ever and ever this will be the last thing published on #500words, as we too have come to the end of our natural life cycle. I will continue to write about art for various platforms. I am also moving on to be the Visual Arts co-editor for The Pantograph Punch. And Louisa is taking some much needed time to be an artist.

We started, like many platforms and artist run spaces, because of a gap. That gap was an absence of young, diverse, brave voices. The online arts publishing landscape is far more diverse now than it was in 2012 with sites like The Pantograph Punch, Hainamana and Lokal Stories joining the cockroach that won’t die EyeContact, things are looking up. However as much as we would love to say that there are bountiful places for young writers to publish hence us not needing to exist that simply isn’t true. #500words ends blowing open the gap that we once filled, a place for the unpublished to test the waters of art writing.

To the writers, friends, supporters, funders and everyone who has been a part of the #500words life cycle, we are incredibly thankful for all of your time and your words.

Until the next life cycle begins.

Ia manuia le malaga. Malo malo!

Lana Lopesi with Louisa Afoa

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Morning musings

It’s 8.46am on a Wednesday morning and I’m siting inside one of the new cafes that has popped up on Karangahape Road.

I’m drinking a flat white because they don’t make mocha’s here.

My breakfast is in my bag. I’m balling on a budget.

There are two other people that are on their Mac Books. I make person number three.

The furniture is that kind of Ikea-wooden-exposed-table-top type thing.

The people coming inside are young and trendy looking.

Next door is the new cookie place that sells American style cookies for $3.50 (the Snickers and Nutella are my favourite).

The South Auckland girls that go to Auckland Girls’ Grammar are making tracks to school.

From my seat I can see the rainbow flags above family bar.

I remember my first time clubbing on K Road. Wasted, blurs of faces, lights and music that you feel vibrating in your body. Kebabs are the best at 4am.

The Samoan consulate has moved to Mangere. I don’t see as many Pacific people go into the building anymore.

Recently I heard that Rainbow Youth is moving, I wonder where they will go?

Who will be going next?

I don’t really go to Ponsonby that much.

Louisa Afoa

Fleshbag at Skinroom

The essentialists are having a hard time of it these days. It began with Simone de Beauvoir and her assertion that Susan was of the female “persuasion”. Later Foucault did some archaeological digging to expose the fabricated nature of sexuality, and theorists like Judith Butler have carried on the torch to do with gender flexibility.  

In art circles the spotlight gaze has been firmly turned around and trained on the viewer. Cindy Sherman is probably the quintessential artist who has done more than most to explore the issue of the chameleon nature of nature, the body, the role play of gender, and Fleshbag, a show currently running at Skinroom Gallery in Hamilton, continues that investigation.

This is evident particularly in the work of LarzRanda/Mainard Larkin. With titles like I am who I am and Yesterday when I was younger, this transgender artist plays with the internet medium and the phenomenon of the selfie to probe the manipulation of image and identity using 1990’s graphics and digital devices to render the self as now male, now female, now some point in between.   

Jaden Olsen, a 27 year old artist also confronts the problematic nature of identity in a work called, Watched, a small painting that depicts a naked figure crouched in the centre of a concentric arrangement of staring and judgmental eyes.

The ambivalence of gender is further surveyed in a pen and ink topographical study of a female nude in one work (Caught) by Ellie Lee-Duncan and in a second, What’s in a name, using a 1950’s schoolbook image of a young girl staring up at the enlarged first letter of her own name, as if questioning the nature of the given.

The identity issue is taken in the direction of race and culture by Leafa Wilson and Olga Krause in her photographic work which includes a white police officer and a Samoan woman dressed as a taupou. The artist provides them with equal standing by having each posed and gesturing in exactly the same way so that they become mirror images of one another. History and anthropological fetishisation thus becomes nullified.

The body can be read in multiple ways and Craig McClure confronts directly the physicality of his with a semi abstract rendering (ink on paper) that explores the discomforts of puberty where he was “far from comfortable in my own skin”.

So was Oliver Fiander Crafter who experienced medical complications producing anomalies in his body which resulted in various forms of social ostracism. The before and after photographs, accompanied by a zine text, present a biographical outpouring of self-depreciation as an artistic and personal response.

Such trauma might induce a self-cuddle and this is what Sam Timmings work, Here here projects in his ink and acrylic on paper – a psychological self-portrait interrupted with an enigmatic bold red abstracted line, signifying internal strain.

The volume of such tension is turned up a notch in the video performance by Jordana Bragg called, How to water the roses where the submission of the body in ritualistic practice assume masochistic proportions overlaid with religious symbolism. The artist slowly and methodically undresses then kneels on shards of glass in front of a small mirror and a rose which lies on a white mantle, evoking the Virgin Mary. It recalls the fetish of wound worship that Fiona Pardington has also explored in her work.

The fetish of the female nude is something artist Kari Schmidt confronts in a work that gives the show its title, Fleshbag. Eight white empty frames challenge the viewer to look elsewhere, in this case, inside a zine positioned on a small plinth on the floor. Here the viewer can access photographic nude images that are accompanied by a text taken verbatim from each model. The distancing effect of art is deliberately reduced while simultaneously referencing another medium. The gaze thereby becomes subverted.

Tyla Jane Armstrong via her surreal paintings of the female nude (flesh and skeletal forms), Amanda Watson’s abstracts and Paris Curno’s photographic silhouettes all address the question of the body and destabilise conventional readings in their various ways.  

Drawing on myth and folk tale, Jane Siddell investigates the symbolism of body transformation in her embroidery work while Matthew Wrightman attempts a gender transformation in his video piece where he confronts the viewer like some ranting Old Testament prophet on the subject of “toxic masculinity”. Pro-wrestling culture is invoked to provide a clever satirical edge.

One of the sculptural works in the show, (besides Adam Ben-Dror’s inflatable pool with fountain) is Delaney Parker’s,  All relative, which uses colourful Pop Art inspired configurations, (two ‘wrestling’ and penetrating abstract 3D forms) that present allusions to bodies and their binary interplay.

The body as “site of discourses” and the complexity of human subjectivity are all canvased in this intriguing show where all mediums are engagingly employed to consider the nature of human constructions. Curated by Kari Schmidt and Ellie Lee-Duncan. A show full of contemporary challenges.

Peter Dornauf

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Greetings from Canada at RM Gallery

The phrase ‘time is of the essence’ is something I have difficulty understanding. I heard it a lot during my time at university. I understood this saying to typify western constructs of time, to signify the idea of time as the byproduct of all things. However, to my brown skin and my cosmic being I understand a different kind of time. The phrase ‘island time’ has always been important within my family. If a family function started at 12pm it would mean the function would start at 1pm real time.

You might be thinking what does that even mean? Well, if something doesn’t feel right, then it will cease to occur, unless all the cosmos is succinct within oneself, and it is only then, things will begin.

People might think island time is funny, stupid or unprofessional, but that’s not true. It is something beautiful that all Islanders will inevitably intuitively share with others (only when the time is right, I might add).

It has been three weeks since I was asked to write a review for an exhibition and since then I‘ve become busy with various jobs taking up my time. You might be asking “Why now?” My answer is “Well, why not?”

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Greetings from Canada was a solo exhibition by artist and curator Cora-Allan Wickliffe, shown at RM gallery, from 26 October to 12 November. I received an email invite from RM gallery with the beautiful writing of Wickliffe’s time in Banff. She told a story of meeting an old native man from the Buffalo Museum who had never met a Māori person. He gifted Wickliffe a necklace and said “I’ve never had a Māori granddaughter before, you can call me Mohsum it means grandfather.” Reading that memory was humbling. Immediately I felt connected.

Within the Banff inspired exhibition there is a mixed-media installation work that shares the exhibition title, Greetings from Canada, 2016. The work includes a fridge with postcards. The postcards have images of Aboriginal children and people with red coloured text saying Greetings from Canada. One postcard that is still vivid in my memory is an image of a child who is in their native costume and the other is dressed in western attire.

The fridge reminded me of my family’s fridge, outdated and full of magnets and stickers. The family fridge for us, is a proud display board where certificates, drawings and family recipes are shared for extended family and friends to acknowledge and talk about. This fridge was Wickliffe’s mothers.

Along the gallery wall there was another mixed-media installation, this time titled, My Culture is not a Costume, 2016. White t-shirts hung with printed statements designed in blocks of black and white coloured fonts. One t-shirt said “WE WORE THEIR CLOTHES, THEY CUT OUR HAIR, SPEAKING ONLY ENGLISH.” These statements, reminded me of my parents and their struggle leaving their motherlands of Tonga and Samoa for the promise of a good life within Aotearoa. The t-shirts non-verbally communicate the pain of indigenous people being forced to discard their cultures in order to adapt and survive within the western system.

Indigenous artist residency manifesto, 2016 is a black picture frame, and in it a piece of white paper with the title INDIGENOUS ARTIST MANIFESTO. On the sheet there are twenty statements. Wickliffe had spent two years working at the Banff Centre where she had found this same list on a door within the gallery. She shared with me how she found this working document and decided to bring this back to Aotearoa. It is displayed in the exact same way as the artist originally encountered it. Two statements that stuck with me during my time in the exhibition were 18 and 19.

#18 Our work shall not be appropriated

#19 We as people shall not be appropriated

I felt empowered from this manifesto. It is hopeful of the type of support institutions can offer, why do we not see more of these?

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Towards the RM Gallery windows there is Drawn to Nature, 2016. This installation and performance consists of two easel’s and a performance on the opening night in collaboration with Pilimi Manu and Makahn Warren-Chapman. This work speaks to a kind of collaborative art practice which Wickliffe has established both in Banff as well as here in Aotearoa.

On the opening night Manu and Warren-Chapman both stood and sat behind their own easels, drawing from a 360 virtual image of a landscape from Banff by wearing a virtual reality headset. Wickliffe drew on the origins of the Banff Centre, with its history in life drawing. Communicating with friends back in Banff they choose the location and Wickliffe asked them to send the image. Manu, a close friend (who has studied Visual Arts with Wickliffe) drew this landscape using a drawing ink pen. Warren-Chapman who is a relative to Wickliffe’s partner (and who is also studying Visual Arts) used charcoal on paper.

Both these artists come from different backgrounds, one is native to Turtle Island and the other is of Pacific decent. There is a sense of understanding, dislocation and connection through the realisation of the landscape.

In retrospect, I find my memories of this exhibition becoming increasingly cemented in reality. Wickliffe’s Greetings from Canada is an exhibition, which brings forth the structures within art institutions that manage indigenous knowledge.

Salome Tanuvasa

In conversation with Andrew Matautia

Andrew Matautia is a Wellington photographer who seeks to capture candid moments through his ethnographic photography practice. Born in Samoa, Andrew’s family migrated to New Zealand in 1988. Recently completing his Masters in Design Innovation at Victoria University School of Design, Andrew spends every moment observing and documenting the world around him.

Georgie Johnson: How long have you been practicing photography, and what got you into it?

Andrew Matautia: My father use to shoot on a Minolta SRT 101b back in the day, and he took that to every family and church gathering we ever attended, and I think that rubbed off on me throughout the years. So it has been something I have always been interested in, looking back at the things I have photographed I’ve just recently realised that I actually started shooting way back in 2007, taking photos for my brother’s wedding on a wee Sony Cyber-shot. I finally decided I would take it seriously in 2011 when I purchased my first DSLR. I just started teaching myself from there.

G: Why photography? What makes photography special to you as a creative?

A: I have a fine arts background in printmaking and drawing, so when I lost access to the print room photography became another outlet for me to creatively and freely express myself. Since picking up the camera it has been awesome to be able to tell cultural narratives through my lens.

G: A lot of your projects focus on indigenous culture. Tell me a bit more about this, why does it interest to you?

A: The majority of the research done throughout the Pacific has been done has been from a Western lens. I feel that approach has been subjective and has not told the stories of Moana people accurately and truthfully. So being passionate about my culture, I feel it is my duty to tell these stories about the Pacific from a Pacific lens. There have also been many cases where Pacific cultures have been misappropriated and I feel obligated to highlight these issues so people are aware.

G: In your series Cultural Appropriation you explore the appropriation of materials and objects. What were the ideas behind this project, and how would you say this is significant in society today?

A: I believe it is morally wrong when a global conglomerate benefits from indigenous cultures. If these global conglomerates were giving back to the cultures from which they are taking from and helping with the local economy then, yeah I would be marching out there with my pom poms. But all the profit goes back into their pockets and feeding their own bellies.

In 2013, Nike took inspiration from the Samoan traditional men’s tattoo and placed them on women’s leggings. This was culturally inappropriate and culturally offensive. In the Nike case, the Samoan community banded together and were able to stop the production of these leggings. In light of recent events and conflicts surrounding the new Disney film, Moana, I feel projects like this are very relevant. How can they continue to take and not give back? It is like colonialisation never really stopped.  

G: Your two projects La Flaneur and Gender Roles present an ethnographic approach where unstaged moments are documented and individuals are explored in their natural environments. Does authenticity play a role in your photography ethos?

A: I think to tell and document another person’s story in it’s truest form one has to be emotionally disconnected to an extent. You need to be able to remove yourself from any given situation that is happening around them in order to document these stories. But at the same time you have to be able to connect with the people you document. That is what I try to do in all my photographic research or visual ethnographic projects. Because, in my opinion this eliminates any personal input you might subconsciously place onto those narratives, you need to let the narratives speak for themselves.   

G: Does your commercial work present any conflicts or challenges with your art practice?

A: I think my commercial and personal practices work in tandem with each other. I have been able to use skills that I have learnt in both fields that compliment the other. My commercial work has given me the ability to have another platform from which to creatively express myself. This is most evident in the work I did for my thesis research, which I hope to make public in the very near future.

G: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a creative?

A: I think one of my biggest challenges is trying to stop myself from following trends and doing what others find ‘cool’. Because then you’re just gonna be another Cartier-Bresson. But a story like Vivian Maier motivates me to keep doing me. Another challenge is writing my own briefs to keep the creative work going because that’s the only way for me to stay motivated, and it can be very challenging when there is so much else to get done. So I want try and keep my personal work going as much as I can. And I feel I speak for a lot of creatives when I say this, but many of us live humble lives and sometimes, money can be hard to come by in order to support the creative work you want to do. So a lot of us work part time jobs to keep that hustle going which can be very challenging and also mentally straining.  

G: What are your plans or hopes for the future?

A: For any creative it’s to be established and create a name for themselves, which is what I hope to do one day. My biggest dream coming out of college was to own my own gallery, and I would love for that to come to fruition in the near future. Through this gallery I hope to help young up and coming Pasifika artists find their own voices within the creative world, but for now I will continue to document the world around me.

tavai-ofa-lr

Image credits: Andrew Matautia, Tavai & Ofa, 2016 and Andrew Matautia, Masters Taualuga, 2016 (above).

Inhabitation at Collective studio

Soft surface and depth in Watson’s Inhabitation

Large paintings on both paper and canvas consist of smudgy yet subtle build ups of filmy translucent layers. Amanda Watson’s solo exhibition, Inhabitation showed from the 11-13th September in Collective studio and gallery, Hamilton. Using a dry brush to scuffle lightly across the surface of the works, the result is ambient and smokey, with shapes remaining soft and indistinct, but with depths of colour and shade existing within each form.

Collective studio is a tucked away pearl within the growing art scene in Hamilton city. Situated up a narrow flight of stairs on Victoria street (above where Browsers bookstore was previously), is a beautiful old house repurposed as artist studios. Watson’s exhibition started within her studio spilling out into the foyer and hallways. Viewing her works within this communal studio space was inviting and homely, away from the antiseptic atmosphere of white cube galleries.

Watson’s process consists of a preliminary background of ink, charcoal, and compressed pigment scribbled to give depth, followed by thin multiple layers of paint. Lastly, by adding paint inside taped off areas, Watson creates formalist triangular rays which incise each work with their crisp edges.

Hung in a small hallway off the foyer were close up photos from a scrap metal yard, showing textured layers of springs and metal filings, with the same zips or rays collaged on top. These act as concept drawings, used to create the compositions for her paintings, while also existing as works in their own right.

In another studio room, were several experimental works constructed out of paper. Several were hung sculptures, shaped in plain white paper, producing folds and ridges similar to clouds, avalanches or mountain peaks, or the erotically charged petals of O’Keefe. Another features a canvas stretched over a wooden frame, taut and glossy with rabbit skin glue. These white works hang over the internal windows, allowing you to view the floating framed shapes from the foyer.

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Three large scale paintings were displayed within her studio, and explore boundaries of interior and exterior, body and physical space, landscape and cityscapes. Each revealed a subjective response to external factors and interrogates what constitutes a person’s physical existence. Watson travelled for 7 months, backpacking with her family and following back streets and alleyways in new cities worldwide (1). The sharp contrasts of light and shade, small alcoves and zips of light between buildings permeate back through these works.

They appear like Turner’s skies, cut away from the lower landscape aspects of his work. Here, light and shadow flicker in a complex choreography over the surface, recalling works such as Turner’s Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, where sky, land and sea become indistinguishably whisked together.

Watson’s largest works were the most successful in realising the tension between surface detailing and brushwork, and the illusion of depth created by darker translucent layers. With several of her smaller works, including the photographs, the eye drifts over the surface – here, the viewer is drawn into the large forms and variety of patterned techniques. This large format lent itself more to the slow gradations of chiaroscuro than the smaller works, engulfing the viewer with the interplay between light and dark, surface and depth, allowing the viewer to be lost in the larger pools of shade. The flickering, almost vibrating charcoal lines and brush strokes creates an emotive response to these works. The abstract nature of these larger paintings eliminate the representational, and instead allow for a subjective response to the detailing, forms and the internal space created within the works.

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It’s not only Watson’s experience of these physical spaces that is evident in her works but also the motion of her body as she reached and stretched to do the painting itself. Displayed next to her brushes, palettes and paints, the works invite scrutiny of the individual brush strokes. Altogether, these works are as much about the documentation of experience itself, as the physical documentation of Watson’s own bodily motions.

Ellie Lee-Duncan


  1. Interview with the artist, Hamilton, 9th September, 2016.

Today as A Female

Over the past ten weeks I have conducted nine hour long interviews. The aim of the interviews has been to open up a conversation about what it is like to identify as a contemporary female today by documenting women in their homes and asking them a series of intimate questions

Is there ever a time at home that you feel your gender influences your responsibilities?

“Mostly at my boyfriends. I’ll probably end up cooking for both of us because he doesn’t cook, and I’m hungry. I’ll do all the cleaning up. He doesn’t make comments or anything like that, it’s more that sometimes I feel like I’m automatically put into a position where I have to do female roles because, he’s not going to do it for me. If I don’t end up doing it, then it’s not going to happen, sooo…”

Do you like having your picture taken?

“No. Unless it’s me and I have like a thousand practices before. I mean not really, I’m not like afraid of the camera, like if we were at birthday or something I’d jump in, but like this, there is a degree of discomfort. Only because [I] have a good side and bad side and right now it’s on my bad side haha…”

Do you like receiving gifts?

Yes and no. Ahh I do like gifts, but I’m picky. I like handmade gifts like cakes and stuff, not ‘here’s a big expensive product’. Like, if someone came back from the beach and gave me a little rock and said they thought of me when they found this rock I’m like awww…”

Do you dress differently to when you’re at home and not at home?

“Definitely. The clothes I have that I wear when I go out are totally different. I wouldn’t want to damage them and when I am home I am always doing things like cleaning, cooking or feeding my son.

Do you want to be famous?

“Not famous. I’d like to be well known for something that I enjoy doing, you know? But I’d hate to not be able to go about my life normally because of who you are, you know, like, not be able to go to the supermarket…”

Can you explain what it feels like to cry?

My most recent experience of crying is like heartbreak. That’s awful, thats actually a feeling of lurching, you some how feel like your heart is crying itself.”

Is there anything you do to make yourself feel beautiful?

“Oooooh.. that’s just something I’m avoiding at the moment. I haven’t felt beautiful in a very long time and I think I’ve given up on trying to make myself feel beautiful, I think beauty is a standard I’ll never reach because I’ll have to dress up as something that I’m not. Yeah, that’s a tricky question.”

Jessica Philbrick

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Chan Wai Ching, still from Today as A Female by Jessica Philbrick, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist.

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Amber Hankins, still from Today as A Female by Jessica Philbrick, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist.

(Featured image: Bella Ivos, still from Today as A Female by Jessica Philbrick, 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist.)

Lonely Island at Te Tuhi

I have fond memories of filling up water bottles and stocking up on canned foods, batteries and first aid kits with my family. The ‘end of the world’ paranoia brought my family together and with it revealed the worlds futuristic anxieties. It was the year of the Y2K bug (also known as the Millennium bug). The fear was brought on by the media who stated the reason for the world ending being ‘the practice of using two-digit dates for convenience predates computers, but it was never a problem until stored dates were used in calculations’ (1). Technological life seemed to flourish soon after the four digits 1999 rolled over to 2000. It was a global relief that all bank machines and computers didn’t get wiped out and reset. Regular life continued.

I remember on my first day back at intermediate school, everyone was talking about Jennifer Lopez’s green dress, from the 2000 Grammy Awards. Designed by Donatella Versace, it was described as “jungle green”, “sea green” or “tropical green’’ a green dress with touches of blue to give an exotic appearance (2). Googling images today has become somewhat normal as I find myself scrolling, curious to see how many and how few images a Google search can detect. As I research the origins of the ‘Google Image’, I learned that it was actually the demand to see Lopez’s green dress in the year 2000 that was responsible for the creation of the Google Image search (3).

Natasha Matila-Smith’s Lonely Island uses Google images to question the Western concept of the tropical and the exotic. Lonely Island is a triptych series of works commissioned by Te Tuhi on exhibition from the 13th of August to the 23rd of October. The idea of intercepting images that symbolise a projected Pacific identity based on Western ideas, is at the foundation of Lonely Island. Matila-Smith uses stock images that are commonly associated with the Pacific aesthetic specifically coconuts, frangipani and hibiscus flowers. Matila-Smith then adds brightly coloured backgrounds and digital filters. The digital filters are used to distort these images as they glitch and yet remain static in form, as if to suggest they are on the verge of disappearing.

“The Pacific stereotype have become notions of savages, exotic maidens, and an island paradise instantly filled by European imaginations, brought upon Captain James Cook’s return to England in the 18th century. Since then, these ideas have been encouraged through literature, art and film” (4). As technology advances, so does the opportunity to resist previous ideas of the past. Lonely Island uses digital imaging technologies, which is where an image is created virtually, processed, compressed, formatted and printed. To continue with Karen Stevenson, “a Pacific Island cultural aesthetic has developed over the past millennia, changing as new materials and methods become available” (5).

Matila-Smith’s work is a reflection of modern technology, a prominent aspect of Western culture and globalisation. Lonely Island uses these technological advances to comment on our stereotyped identity. Writer Mark Fisher, puts it well in a chapter fittingly titled: It’s easier to imagine the end of the world… and states, “Traditions counts for nothing when it is no longer contested and modified. A culture that is merely preserved is no culture at all” (6).

Salome Tanuvasa

Image: Natasha Matila-Smith, FUTURISTIC FRANGIPANI, from the Lonely Island series. Courtesy of Te Tuhi


  1. “Year 2000 Problem.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. web. 30 September 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2000_problem#Programming_problem

  2. “Green Versace dress of Jennifer Lopez.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. web. 6 June 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Versace_dress_of_Jennifer_Lopez

  3. “Google Images.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. web. 4 October 2016.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Images

  4. K. Stevenson., The Frangipani is Dead: Contemporary Pacific Art in New Zealand. Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2008.

  5. ibid

  6. M. Fisher., Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative? UK: OBooks, 2009.

Crystillizing Universes at Skinroom

A load of old bricks at suitably named Brickbat Bay and their historical significance prompted artist Ziggy Lever to think about some of the big questions: Time, memory and metaphysics.

T S Eliot was thinking something of the same when he began writing the Four Quartets in 1935.

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

The backstory for Lever is the site of what was once a thriving business; Amalgamated Brick and Pipe, a nineteenth century pottery factory that was later deliberately destroyed in the twentieth century when the company had depleted all he clay reserves in the area. The remains of the works, huge chunks of the kiln and other detritus were simply discarded, dumped on the beach and for the last 100 years the sea has gradually reclaimed them, becoming home to mangroves, crabs and molluscs.

It gets one thinking.

It got Levers wondering about subjectivity, perception and time.

The rocks become, in the artist’s hand, reimagined as meteorites or asteroids, the exploded kiln, a sort of local Big Bang, linking cosmological time to more abstract notions of duration.

It was Einstein who said that time was an illusion and the French philosopher with a mystical bent, Henri Bergson, roughly concurred. Time, the philosopher claimed, was not, as normally perceived, made up of discrete numerical units. Such musings about the non-linearity of time has found recent expression in a model of the cosmos called “Crystallizing Universe” and Lever appropriates that as the title for his show currently running at Skinroom Gallery, Hamilton.

Such theories combine the Alice and Wonderland world of relativity and quantum mechanics that postulates the dissolving of time where past and future coalesce into the present, a single entity, a fixed space-time block.

Lever responds to these theories in a parallel way that saw the advent of Cubism respond to the shattering of classical physics in the early twentieth century. Here Picasso and Braque began constructing figures and objects, presenting multiple facets of time simultaneously in a single image, using different cubic picture planes.

These esoteric and paradoxical ideas are the things on which Ziggy Lever builds his conceptual installation pieces.

The first installation is placed on upturned pieces of carpet on the floor as a base. The grey/brown textured look of this ground reminds one of arch conceptualist, Joseph Beuys and his use of felt. On this support are set randomly arranged lumps of rock (pieces of debris from the exploded kiln). These are the artists asteroids at the centre of which a Len Lye type mechanism (long steel rod with rock and foam rubber attached each end) rotates. It gives the appearance of some astronomical model of orbiting planets. Time on a loop, perhaps.

The second installation consists of a very large roughly configured white ball suspended inside a contraption that allows it to turn, run by a motor on a long elaborate belt. The ball, or planet, slowly rotates. If this is a revolving planet in a solar system, it is a phenomenon that marks out the primordial division of time for any inhabitants. It may also may connote something of Nietzsche’s “eternal return”.

The third gallery space contains a slide show worked by an old rotating slide projector throwing up images of the beach setting (flora and fauna) accompanied by a spoken text (quotations from various sources on the theme of time, space and their coordinates).

Circularity is the controlling trope in this series of works.

The foundation of Western metaphysics hinges on the attempt to escape time, flux, change and mutability. The realm of stasis first offered to humanity was the world of Platonic Forms, that later morphed into the Christian Heaven, where in T S Eliot’s words, “all time is eternally present”.

The new Crystallizing Universe model posits something similar; the notion of past and future equally present in a Zen-like now. We are on a carousel that denies times arrow, a great wheel that turns but at the centre there exists a motionlessness and stillness.

The circularity of things that happened at Brickbat Bay, where fired clay and brick returns back to clay, was for the artist, an object lesson, a prompt, a microcosm of larger realities.

The installations are an attempt to realise these concepts that challenge conventional perceptions. It’s a place where modern physics and imagination intersect. Conceptual art has become a site of show and tell and Lever has constructed worlds and mechanisms that both resemble and abstract the site of historic events.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that reality was a sliding door. Lever posits more of a revolving one in this interesting and complex show.  Such complexity however needs some helpful introductory explanatory material for the gallery viewer to facilitate full appreciation on their part. That none was on offer was a miscalculation on the part of the artist.

Peter Dornauf

Photos courtesy of Geoff Clarke