Art Scene: September 8


Tiaki’s Flukeprint (installation view), 2021 by Emily Parr.
Tiaki’s Flukeprint (installation view), 2021 by Emily Parr.
“Surfacing”, Emily Parr

(The Physics Room, Otautahi Christchurch)

There are many compelling works in Emily Parr’s (Ngai Te Rangi, Moana, Pakeha) exhibition at The Physics Room in Otautahi/Christchurch, which is made accessible through excellent documentation. Comprising 35mm film photographs and drawings that centre on whale migration, two photographs in particular stand out: one chilling, the furnace at the Waiopuka Whaling Station (Waiopuka Whaling Station (Furnace), 2021), and the other poignant (Tiaki’s Flukeprint, 2021).

Tiaki is one of the paraoa (sperm whales) Parr saw off the Kaikoura coast, and flukeprint names the fleeting patch of calm water after the paraoa has dipped its fluke back underwater. The poignant or arresting quality of this photograph is catalysed by the dynamic of absence and presence. While the paraoa is beneath the waves, Parr’s decision to omit Tiaki is at once respectful and melancholic, as his bodily absence gestures towards the precarity of all ocean life as water warms and begins to acidify.

This threat of absence and loss is amplified when considered alongside the hungry mouth of the whale station’s furnace, but correspondingly signals the potential for redemption, as campaigns to protect whales have been moderately successful.

Parr’s research and resultant artworks also extend to encompass her ancestral connections to Samoa and Tonga and correspondingly to the birthing grounds of paikea (humpback whales) at Vava’u in Tonga. Parr’s accompanying essay articulates Ngai Te Rangi connections to paikea, to rivers and whenua in ways that emphasise the linked lives of human and nonhuman beings.

Shifting Positions (detail), 2021, by Arie Hellendoorn.
Shifting Positions (detail), 2021, by Arie Hellendoorn.
“Changing Rooms”, Arie Hellendoorn

({Suite}) Tamaki Makaurau Auckland)

‘‘Changing Rooms’’ is a suite of paintings by Netherlands-born, Tamaki Makarau-based artist Arie Hellendoorn that meshes together immense scalar disparities to materialise an interconnected world. In Signal (2021) for instance, a woman’s body is formed from tree rings, and enlarged cellular strands appear as foliage through an open, window-like structure in Shifting Positions (2021). The surfaces, beings, and geometric shapes of other paintings are similarly constituted by or filled with patterns derived from leaf veins, hyphal networks of mycorrhizal fungi, and approximate dendrites and synapses that fire brain neurology. Despite the melding of different scalar entities (cosmological and cellular) the paintings are strikingly flat, punctuated only occasionally by objects (or devices) such as portals that suggest three-dimensional space. Otherwise the all-over patterning produces a flat surface that seems at odds with the writhing mass of corporeal beings. There is however a lot of “empty” space in mass, so perhaps Hellendoorn’s paintings manifest an apt portrayal of energy and matter.

Excluding three portraits in this exhibition, Hellendoorn’s compositions are busy — heightened by intense patterning. The online documentation of this body of work, however, includes details that enable the viewer to focus on a particular aspect of the whole. While this is the purpose of such documentation, it has the curious effect in this instance of offering a painting within a painting. Some of the details offer alternate variations of the original painting that could be independent works in their own right.

Salvation (Keyboard), 2006 by Jae Hoon Lee.
Salvation (Keyboard), 2006 by Jae Hoon Lee.
“Salvation (Keyboard)”, Jae Hoon Lee

(DPAG Rear Window)

In many respects, the decision to rescreen Jae Hoon Lee’s 2006 moving image work Salvation (Keyboard) in 2021 is as significant as the work itself. Essentially, Lee’s video pans a seemingly endless terrain of aged and modified computer keyboards. In 2006, the “salvation” of the work’s title could refer variously to Lee’s practice of collecting and recording (salvaging), to the technological salvation of computers in a functional sense (for speeding up communication and organising data), or it could offer cynical commentary on the fast-fading utopia of the global village and mounting e-waste. In the relatively short stride between 2006 and 2021, however, — and particularly in the context of Covid-19 — salvation necessarily moves beyond the functional to encompasses the social (mediated sociality) and the ecological (Covid-19 as yet another symptom of climate emergency). Rescreening Salvation (Keyboard) in 2021 is both timely and conversational.

From a social perspective, the computer (or digital device; the internet) in 2021 evokes the ambivalence, if not conflict, between screen-time and atomisation, connection and alienation. From an ecological perspective, the mounds of e-waste have only grown larger and the internet provides a platform for commodity culture and the corresponding decimation of “resources.” In socially and ecologically precarious times such as these, however, the internet has functioned as a form of salvation for many. Yet what kind of salvation is technology if as (also) a vehicle of extractive capitalism it erodes the foundations of life?

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