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‘‘Pokai Whenua, Pokai Moana’’ is an exceptional exhibition by 2020-2021 Frances Hodgkins Fellow Bridget Reweti (Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi). Whanaungatanga (kinship) and whakapapa (genealogy) approach pervade every aspect of ‘‘Pokai Whenua, Pokai Moana.’’ It is present in the recorded sound of taonga puoro (musical instruments) by Alistair Fraser that welcome the visitor as they pause in front of three works (Aramoana Fossil series, 1980) by Marilyn Webb (Ngati Kahu, Te Roroa; 1937-2021) and a kawakawa offering for Webb on the floor beneath. Whanaungatanga informs Reweti’s invitation to four arts practitioners who each contribute a text introducing the four bodies of sculptural, moving image, and photographic installation that constitute ‘‘Pokai Whenua, Pokai Moana’’.
Each body of work materialises relations between people, whenua, moana, and living beings in two connected rohe (areas) explored by Tamatea, a significant ancestor of the Takitimu waka who Reweti descends from. From Tauranga Moana (Tauranga) in the north kaiarahi (leader) Tamatea-Pokai-Moana journeyed south to Murihiku (Southland): a whakapapa-based journey that Reweti reprises to work in the rohe of Kai Tahu. In various ways each body of work acknowledges whakapapa relations with whenua and moana; that is, the artist also acknowledges the mauri (life force) of living more-than-human ancestors such as the mountains and lakes of Fiordland.
Reweti’s aptly deployed museological aesthetic is evident across the exhibition, including the series Summering on Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri (2021). Here whanaungatanga, whakapapa, and conceptual-formal modes coalesce to warm the whenua in one of many restorative acts.
The “everything” that sunlight lies across in Georgina May Young’s textile works and Rebecca Hasselman’s paintings is the more-than-human world of rocks, grasses, trees, flowers, and land formations. In Young’s work, the sunlight also grew the madder roots and lichen the artist used to dye the linen support she wove by hand. Such a thorough approach to process is similarly evident in the meticulously hand-embroidered compositions Young stitches to create intricate textures. In some instances the colours and densely layered stitches evoke the mottled surface of lichen on rocks, while in other works the round of the sun is comprised of meadow grasses and flowers. In these two examples Young deploys the combination of colour, texture, and pattern to form both realistic scenes (lichen on rock) and imaginative or allusive figurations (sun of meadow flowers). This mutability is also readily apparent in Young’s approach to scale. In Totara Resonance (2021) for example, an outsize totara seedling hovers over a considerably smaller abstracted lakeside scene. The precision and mutability of Young’s works draw the viewer in towards the compositions and invoke a meditative quality.
While several of Hasselman’s paintings elicit a comparative calm, works such as Ripening (2021) seemingly open outwards beyond the canvas: an effect attained by apparent rapid brushstrokes applied radially from the centre of the composition. Shifting between abstraction and (highly abstracted) figuration, the presence (or absence) of land and riverine formations or plants relies on spare brushwork and an earth-bound palette.
Arguably one of the best exhibition titles, the short declarative phrase “my hands are here” has been adopted from a unique folded pencil drawing by the artist Joanna Margaret Paul. Near this phrase Paul has drawn a partial outline of several fingers as if observed while in the process of drawing another subject. The incorporation of the artist’s hand in this instance is neither a trope nor a conceit, but signals Paul’s democratic and inclusive approach to making art, and to presence, ephemerality, and documentation.
In the watercolour and pencil drawing Time of Day, noon to 2 P.M., 3-4 P.M., Oamaru (1997), the demarcation of time recorded in the title is registered formally by a divide in the picture plane. A smaller segment on the right-hand side of the work corresponds to the one-hour period from 3pm to 4pm. While the arc of the blue harbour and pencil drawing of the township are treated similarly across both time periods there is nevertheless a rupture, but one that makes sense in the context of the title.
It may be too much of a general statement to suggest that much of Paul’s artworks “make sense” or work, when often it seems as if they shouldn’t. So much hinges on the proximity of two lines for example in Untitled (reflected figure) (c1990s) and the relationship of one of those lines (the red one) to a larger red line that amplifies the duality of a reflected figure.