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 (lux.org.nz), I can see that the tour must have been a treat.
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.
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]