Art Seen: December 2

BY ROBYN MAREE PICKENS

Madison Kelly + Motoko Kikkawa, Soft Stones, 2021
Madison Kelly + Motoko Kikkawa, Soft Stones, 2021
“Soft Stones”, Madison Kelly + Motoko Kikkawa

(Olga)


A soft stone is malleable and a little porous. It is less a meeting of opposites than a middle ground where softness meets the obdurate. A soft stone could be called a collaboration. It could also be called "canopy shyness", where the uppermost foliage of a forest canopy collectively yields so that all can receive the sun. A soft stone, a collaboration, canopy shyness; they are various names for a dual exhibition by two Otepoti-based artists: Madison Kelly (Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Pakeha) and Japanese-born artist and musician Motoko Kikkawa. Two works in the exhibition are made by Kelly and Kikkawa in direct collaboration, Soft Stones and little bird I filled in (both 2021), and epitomise the mutual yielding of a forest canopy. In Soft Stones, Kelly’s graphite drawings of rocks are suspended between vertical calligraphic wreaths in pink watercolour by Kikkawa. The combination shouldn’t work, but it does. Kelly’s naturalist-style, black and white drawings and Kikkawa’s abstract, pink forms caught between calligraphy and seaweed simultaneously hold their ground and oscillate in a generative tension. They are two magnets that are attracted, yet that have not snapped together. Soft Stones is animated by this tension, this "not quite touching".

It is tempting to consider the rest of Kikkawa’s works in the exhibition as a mini-retrospective, as there are early works, including one from 2015 — when Kikkawa first developed her distinctive meandering, calligraphic style — alongside recent drawings. In addition to drawings, Kelly’s oil pencil on sandpaper radiate.

Marilynn Webb, Baby and Fire, 1990
Marilynn Webb, Baby and Fire, 1990
"He reka te Kumara"

(DPAG)

The warmth of korero and connections between the four practitioners who worked together on "He reka te Kumara" is palpable and enriching. Madison Kelly (Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe), Mya Morrison-Middleton (Ngai Tuahuriri, Ngai Tahu), Aroha Novak (Ngai te Rangi, Tuhoe, Ngati Kahungunu) and Piupiu Maya Turei (Ngati Kahungunu, Rangitane, Te Atihaunui-a-Paparangi) have curated a significant exhibition based on kaupapa Maori, in which te reo, matauraka Maori (Maori knowledge), tikanga (custom) and ahuatanga Maori (Maori characteristics) are embedded throughout the gestation and resultant exhibition. This is an exhibition in which you can feel the energy and intention of the four practitioners. The gallery space is alive, as are the works and the connections between them. The mauri (life essence) of "He reka te Kumara" is activated by waiata (song) — as audio and wall text, purakau (story), and toi (art). In this exhibition, the gratitude evident in a wall text to mana whenua is as significant as the artworks themselves because whakapapa grounds and sustains all participants — from the curators, to the artists and the taoka (taonga) in all their manifestations.

Whakapapa begins with the text on the entrance doors, the low-light and sound of waiata, and is emphatically present in two monotype prints of a baby in the womb by Marilyn Webb (Ngapuhi). As Turei writes in the wall text for Baby 3 (1990), "this monotype is luminous". Areta Wilkinson’s soft lines of red ochre (kokowai) made by a kokowai and flax adornment (Whakapapa VI (1) and (2), 2019) echo blood lines.

Hurahia ana ka Whetu — Unveiling the Stars, installation shot, 2021
Hurahia ana ka Whetu — Unveiling the Stars, installation shot, 2021
“Hurahia ana ka Whetu — Unveiling the Stars” (DPAG)

Curated by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Paemanu (a group of Kai Tahu artists), "Hurahia ana ka Whetu – Unveiling the Stars" is a large-scale, eclectic exhibition of historical and contemporary artworks from the gallery’s collection. The exhibition begins with sculptural works by Cath Brown (Ngai Tahu) and rock art-style drawings by Ross Hemera (Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe, Ngai Tahu) that welcome the visitor and signal the mana of Ngai Tahu/Kai Tahu. From this semicircular space and down the stairs is one of the exhibition’s most compelling configurations of artworks. Most powerfully apprehended visually by juxtapositions of form and medium, this space includes works by Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa), Bill Hammond, Jacqueline Fraser (Ngai Tahu), Ani O’Neill (New Zealand Cook Islander), and Kalisolaite ‘Uhila (Tonga, New Zealand). Immense and resolute, Hotere’s two-panel, corrugated steel work, If (1995) is countered by the fibre grid of Fraser’s textile installation, Ko Aoraki Te Maunga (1991). The torn illustration in the centre of Hotere’s twin panels are picked up by the strand-ends of bows on the edges of Fraser’s work (or vice versa). ‘Uhila’s installation of forty-eight dented cabin bread tins organised in rows on a low platform (Kapa Ma, 2019), and Hammond’s five, horizontal acrylic-on-wallpaper panels stacked vertically (Five Day Week, 1989) are formally in dialogue with one another via their respective grid structures, and with Hotere and Fraser. The works in this space elaborate one of the four conceptual structures of the exhibition: the power of art.

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