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Lisa Reihana – Digital Marae

Lisa Reihana’s project Digital Marae is an ongoing conversation between the traditions of Maori marae carving and weaving with the use of digital techniques to create a modern visual language that honours the Atua and creates a space in which they can exist in a form outside of time on a continuum of past present and future. A digital marae with digital tukutuku panels, digital poupou, a whole digital wharenui.

Her large, singular portraits of import Atua are reminiscent of the carved poupou that hold up the roof, and the placement of her images plays around with conventions of both gender and importance of ancestors, determining their place within the wharenui.

In Devenport, R (ed) (2009) Digital Marae; Lisa Reihana. New Plymouth, New Zealand: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Reihana talks about the spiritual foundations of the marae and how she creates a welcome space within the wharenui by acknowledgement of the ancestors through the sacred karanga song;

“The karanga creates spatial form as the hosts and guests move through metaphysical zones of engagement.” (interview with Devenport, R. No page numbers)

The use of image, space and sound create an immersive installation space. I saw these works in Australia and found the size and luminosity of the works very powerful. There was a relationship between the atua and the human viewers through bodily connection – in my minds eye they were slightly larger than human, giving them an imposing otherworld quality. I appreciate the emergence of the figures out of the primeval darkness, the strong chiaroscuro effect and the richness of the colour and texture. I have always have an aesthetic fascination with the single figure portrayed in this way. They become a symbolic icon of an idea or archetype. It interests me how the Maori word ‘Atua’ is so similar to the word ‘Atu’; the term for the Tarot Trumps. Both are symbolic images that represent an archetype. I also see relationships to the work of Miria Kalman in the digital weaving; bright digital light, acidic, non-traditional colour, non-natural depiction of the weave.

There are certain Maori words I have picked up through my reading about Reihana’s work that I love;
ihi – powerful presence
wehi – awe
whare wanaga – house of esoteric learning

For me the images from Digital Marae with the most ihi are the 2 images where the Atua is facing front, is gazing at the viewer and has very little obvious digital manipulation.
Mahuika depicts an Atua who dwells in the underworld. She is fooled by the trickster Maui into giving him the fire that she carries at the tip of each finger (these powerful figures always seem to fall prey to the trickster!) Her dress smokes and runs with the lava of the underworld and her powerful gaze burns the viewer.

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Dandy shows a rather otherworldly figure, dressed in the garb of the Victorian gentleman, who engages with the viewer directly. He is a representation of takatapui (the closest western term would probably be transgender or non-gender). Rhine wanted to recognise and honour this section of Maori society by including them in the esoteric ancestral pantheon.


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Devenport, R (ed) (2009) Digital Marae; Lisa Reihana. New Plymouth, New Zealand: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.

Curnow, W. Leonard, R (ed) (2010) Unnerved: The New Zealand Project. Brisbane, Australia: Queensland Art Galllery.

Smith, H. (ed) (2007) Taiawho II: Contemporary Maori Artists. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press.

 

Work in Progress, April 2015

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This is a still from a series of short performative videos I shot this weekend with the help of my partner (he was very good as videographer and production assistant!). I’m currently working on the videos and ascertaining whether they do what I want, whether they work as art pieces, whether I want to do something else with them.

The Artist is Present – Marina Ambramovic

“When you perform it is a knife and your blood, when you act it is a fake knife and ketchup.”

Tanya and Yolanda suggested I take a look at some women performance artists and Marina Abramovic immediately sprung to mind. I was aware of her work at MoMA “The Artist is Present” but I hadn’t watched the documentary or really delved into her work in general. I was taken by surprise by how impressed and involved I became in the piece. I hadn’t thought of myself as being someone who was interested in performance art, but it’s always a mistake to make these assumptions about yourself or pigeonhole your interests and influences in that way!

Performance art is often thought of, and parodied, as the most pretentious and pointless of artistic practices. I always laugh every time I watch British comedy ‘Spaced’ when the tortured abstract expressionist Brian talks about his performative work done with artistic collaborator Vulva (whose look was inspired by Leigh Bowery). “We did valuable work” he says while a montage of them in absurd scenes is shown. I found ‘The Artist is Present’ to be stripped bare of any pretence.

Abramovic impressed me with her strength, resiliance and uncompromising honesty. I think it’s rare to see someone so fully committed to what they do – how many of us could handle 3 months of unmoving, seated eye contact with a revolving cast of strangers? The artist wasn’t just present in a physical sense, she was fully present in all senses and fully engaged with those who came to sit with her. You could see the power of the piece in the reactions of the sitters; tears, joy, confusion, elation. Abramovic talked about herself as being a mirror to every sitter where they were able to fully see themselves, so their reactions were an overflowing of those feelings coming to the surface.

The quote at the top of this blog entry is something which was said during the documentary that rang very true with me. There is a gulf between ‘performing’ and ‘acting’ that is not always recognised; performing strips away the masks, where acting creates them. I performed for years as a dancer and this is something I have discovered myself. The pieces I did that were the most successful and caused the biggest reactions from the audience (usually emotional reactions like tears) were those where I might have been dressed as a character, but I was performing an aspect of myself, not acting a character. I would need to prepare for the performance beforehand and it would be as if a much more intense aspect of myself came forward to connect with the audience. In that sense I understood a great deal of what Abramovic was doing but on a lesser level, like I had just scratched the surface of what was possible. I also used a lot of theatrics and costuming to influence the viewer, which is something I have witnessed in the work of both Abramovic (her later work mores than her earlier work with Ulay) and Matthew Barney. This has opened up a new avenue of potential practice for me that I had mulled over previously but not delved into. I didn’t have a proper outlet, venue or audience for what I wanted to create so I had to shoehorn it into the avenues that were available meaning that I couldn’t take the performance to the place I wanted it to go. Watching Abramovic has given me some insight into what could be possible.

Abramovic, M. The Artist is Present (2012) Akers, M. Dupre, J. (Directors)

Creamy Psychology – Yvonne Todd

Last weekend I spent a couple of days in Wellington and took time to see a few exhibitions of work including Yvonne Todd’s ‘Creamy Psychology’ at the Wellington City Gallery.

The gallery had given over the whole 2 floors to the exhibition and that really gave scope to the work. What I enjoyed most about seeing so many works from the same artist over a period of years was to get a really good idea of her practice and how that was expressed through numerous groups of works. I can readily recall the differences and similarities between groupings and how ideas have carried through and been articulated in different ways.

I enjoyed the poignancy in the portraits of the beauty counter ladies. The photos seemed like the ones that would have been rejected from a staff portrait session for being ‘not quite right’ due to the depth and subtlety of emotion in the women’s expressions. My boyfriend and I came up with the possible thoughts that looked like they might be going through their heads; things like “I always hoped to be a geologist.” or “I don’t think I can face yet another seasonal lipstick.”

The portraits of young girls dressed up in vintage gowns had the creep factor you get from child beauty pageants. The artists statement commented on how young girls dressed this way get a certain crone quality, and I agree this is true. There is something about girls in over-elaborate dresses and make-up that makes them appear shrunken and shrivelled, aged before their time.

Interesting to me was how different the portraits of the men felt in comparison to those of women. The boardroom portraits of CEOs and retired surgeons were comical and jolly, whereas I found pretty much all the female portraits to contain a range of negative emotions from sorrow to fear to disappointment and many mixed emotions. The male portraits appeared more straightforwardly as a pastiche of middle aged executive portraiture. It got me thinking about who has power in front of and behind the lens – the men seemed to have more agency and were able to express their own personalities (even if they were seen as figures of fun) in a way the women were not.

I also really enjoyed seeing the artist’s collection of vintage dresses that appeared in the photographs and the various items and images that had inspired her over the years. This gave an added depth to my understanding of her practice and what sparked the ideas for the images.

This is my first overview of this exhibition, but I feel I will return to it and have some more thoughts I want to express in the next few weeks.

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