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WgtnLUX Digital Wattle 05I don’t know about you, but for me 2013 has been one of those bewil­der­ing years… but luck­ily there is always art.

This year, the best art turned up when I was least expect­ing it. One night in deep­est winter I came down the steps from Para Matchitt’s bridge. Across the lagoon a crowd of people had gathered around what appeared to be a cloud of lights. As I approached, I could see that it was actu­ally a little forest of trees lit by blos­soms that changed col­our – from greens to blues, apricots and pinks. And it droned.

Warm and ador­able like a car­toon, Digit­al Wattle (2012) was a hint of spring in the no man’s land of winter. Designed by Fresh Concept, an Auck­land-based com­pany, the work was part of the Lux Fest­iv­al, organ­ised to mark Matariki. On the shortest day, you could take a tour of the 24 works installed around the city for the fest­iv­al. Digit­al Wattle and Free Beau­ties by Kristin O’Sullivan Per­en were the only pieces I saw. Peren’s work was a wedge of ‘ice’ that lay on the ground in Te Aro Park, lit from inside by rain­bow col­ours. Look­ing at the Lux web­site (, I can see that the tour must have been a treat.

WgtnLUX Digital Wattle 11            Around the same time, I went along to an exhib­i­tion at the New Zea­l­and Academy of Fine Arts, Matariki: Star & Cloak. The Academy is not a place I usu­ally vis­it for thought-pro­vok­ing art, but this exhib­i­tion brought togeth­er about ten artists work­ing in tex­tiles. High­lights included poi from Ngah­ina Hohaia’s Roimata Toroa series, Ron Te Kawa’s Matariki quilt, and a per­form­ance work by Suz­anne Tamaki. In Tani­wha, a group of dan­cers in lumin­es­cent body­suits scuttled and slithered around the exhib­i­tion space to the accom­pani­ment of taonga puoro. The per­formers wore boas and korowai made of plastic that shushed and rattled with the sound of the flutes. It was hyp­not­ic and gorgeous.

Two oth­er per­form­ances top my list of high­lights for 2013. The first, by Korean artist Sam­in Son, was part of his exhib­i­tion Sam­in Son TV at the New Zea­l­and Film Archive. Tooth­paste Action Series reflects on Son’s train­ing in the South Korean army. In front of a video in which he cleans a bath­room with a tooth­brush, he per­formed push-ups on his knuckles and sprin­ted up and down the gal­lery. In real­ity, he had to per­form these tasks without a word, but in his per­form­ance he was able to voice the screams and protests he felt. It was a power­ful human response to mean­ing­less bru­tal­ising tasks.

The second per­form­ance was by Chicks on Speed at City Gal­lery Wel­ling­ton in March and April. It was staged in the exhib­i­tion space shared with Wel­ling­ton artist Lisa Walk­er. The install­a­tion com­prised fluor­es­cent string that tied the space up in an entangling cat’s cradle. The duo crawled and climbed through the string, singing and put­ting on Walker’s jew­ellery. ‘Piles of Shiny Art at the Art Dump’ also has to be the year’s most mem­or­able song. Here’s look­ing for­ward to a less bewil­der­ing 2014.

WgtnLUX Free Beauties 01


Decem­ber Art Recommendations

If you haven’t seen it already (it runs until 12 Janu­ary), Te Papa’s Col­our and Light: Impres­sion­ism from France & Amer­ica is worth a look. There’s a good story about how import­ant Impres­sion­ist works ended up in Boston, and the exhib­i­tion is full of French Impres­sion­ist works that you don’t often see repro­duced, and works by less­er-known Amer­ic­an Impres­sion­ists. It includes pieces by Mon­et, Céz­anne, Ren­oir, Piss­arro, Degas, Rod­in, Whist­ler, Cas­satt, Homer, Has­sam, and more.[/info]

Mary-Jane Duffy

Mary-jane is a Paekakariki-based poet and essayist, and FishHead's art columnist. She teaches poetry and academic writing on the Whiyireia Creative Writing programme, torturing students with half-rythmes and pantoums, zombie haiku, and line breaks, referencing and structure. Duffy has a background in museum and gallery work, making a lucky escape from the basement of the City Gallery Wellington in 2002 and opening the Mary Newtown Gallery with Paula Newtown in 2004. Art (across all the disciplines) feels like the closest thing she has to religious experiences - seeing, reading or hearing things that make her brain fizz.

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