Category Archives: Exhibitons Currently Touring

‘We are each made up of one hundred million million cells, none of which have any idea who we are.’ Marcus Chown

For the past 30 years, sculptor/installation artist Elizabeth Thomson has been drawn to such areas of scientific knowledge as botany, micro-biology, oceanography and mathematics. From there her works take flight, offering a sense of mystery, beauty and the sheer exhilaration of being alive in a universe that is itself living, sentient and ever-responsive.
The works in ‘Cellular Memory’ attest to a career-long commitment to grappling with both natural history and the human condition, fueled by poetic imagination as well as by much research, field-work and long hours in the studio. The result is a body of work which asks some fundamental questions: How does humanity fit within the broader realm of nature? To what extent are we are a part of, or distinct from, our environment?
Spanning three decades, the works in the exhibition have also been shaped by extensive travels in Europe, the Americas, the South Pacific and New Zealand.  Alongside art commissioned for the present project, the exhibition features numerous works created after Thomson’s involvement in the 2011 ‘Kermadec’ art project, which began with a voyage, by Royal New Zealand Navy vessel, from Auckland to Tonga, via Raoul Island. These ‘Kermadec’ works are central to Thomson’s planetary meditation,  just as the ocean itself is the crux of life on Earth.
It is this wider view of life on the planet and beyond that her recent art has continued to explore. To such an end, she often starts with the smallest details—bacteria, blood cells, fish and moth species, or close-up segments of beach or desert. Using sculptural elements as well as photographic processes, Thomson’s work presents fields of visual information in which boundaries between human, flora and fauna are dissolved.
Viewers are exposed to new realms of seeing, feeling, understanding and perhaps even remembering. As human beings, we are familiar with our own patterns of memory, and with motor- or body-memory which allows us to repeat physical movements. The idea of ‘cellular memory’ raises the possibility that memories might be stored in cellular structures. In Elizabeth Thomson’s ongoing conceptual and imaginative engagement with Nature, we begin to recognise the curious intelligence and sensibility of our planet, a many-layered environment of which we are a part.

The Artist

Elizabeth Thomson (born 1955, Auckland) graduated with an MFA from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 1989. Since then her work has been exhibited widely throughout New Zealand and abroad. A major survey exhibition, ‘My hi-fi my sci-fi’ opened at City Gallery Wellington in 2006 then toured nationally. Based in Wellington since 1991, she works in a converted factory in the suburb of Newtown.

The Exhibition

Cellular Memory has been curated by Gregory O’Brien. The exhibition was originally comprised of 22 works ranging in a variety of compositions (multiples) and mediums.
There are a number of large installation works that demand substantial wall space and artist participation/oversight. These works are still mostly available for tour, however to make the exhibition more accessible to a wider range of venues it was decided to allow these works to be optional.
It is proposed to have venues collaborate with Greg on the selection of artworks that will be tailored for their gallery space whilst maintaining the integrity of the exhibition concept. Therefore logistics and tour fee issues will vary and be arranged by negotiation.

Public Programmes

Elizabeth Thomson is available to carry out artist talks and other related engagements at the conclusion of the installation. Exhibition curator Gregory O’Brien is essential to this aspect of the exhibition experience and is also available to attend and support particular events.

Publication

The exhibition is accompanied by a hard cover 80 page full colour publication with contributions from Gregory O’Brien, Lloyd Jones and Jenny Bornholdt.

Messages of support for tour

‘Working at the forefront of eco-aesthetics in Aotearoa, Elizabeth Thomson’s work is ambitious and understated. For over thirty years her thought-provoking images have zoomed between micro and macro examinations of natural forms. Her great skill lies in her ability to allude to natural realms by deploying innovative materials to create an elegance of form. As an artist, she makes it her business to draw attention to the patterns in nature – from massed moths to watery waves – and its astonishing beauty. Creating environments that are responsive to light, she revels in making art which seduces the viewer into a sensory experience. Recently she has turned her attention to contemplating our near future of intensified global warming, desertification, acidification of the seas with the corollary precipitation of the extinction of species. Now, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels a third higher than pre-industrial levels and growing unchecked, her work has never been more urgently important’. 
Linda Tyler

‘Thomson is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists with major exhibitions across this nation and internationally. With a long and impressive exhibition history and list of achievements under her belt, she continues to push her practice in new and experimental ways. This constant pushing of media and art practice is something that sets her apart from many of her peers. Thomson never allows her practice to sit in one space for too long, it is constantly evolving and morphing into new forms and areas of practice.
Conceptually, Thomson’s works over the past decade have taken a strong environmental interest and this new series continues this investigation on a molecular scale. This interaction between the micro and the macro, between art and science, is increasingly important in the age of globalisation and climate change. In exploring how small local phenomenon are impacted as a result of larger global phenomenon happening elsewhere in the world, Thomson shows us how artists operating at a high international level can become a voice for Aotearoa and the Pacific on the world stage’.
Reuben Friend

Elizabeth Thomson offers glimpses into the natural world that are at once breath-taking in their accuracy and intriguing in their abstraction. Her command of her craft is remarkable, as is her ability to adapt new image-making technologies to her vision. This exhibition offers an excellent introduction to her recent work, capturing its variety and consistency.
Christina Barton

The poet Allen Curnow once said that every poem needs a necessary minimum of mystery and magic, and I think the statement is true not just for poetry but for all art forms. This statement immediately came to mind when I began to think about the art of Elizabeth Thomson which I have followed with admiration and interest for many years. Her recent work in particular, as inspired by her own Pacific voyaging (at least in part) often arouses in me a feeling of wonder and intrigue. What am I seeing? Is it painting? Is it sculpture? It seems to be both at once. How on earth was it made? It is impossible without specialized knowledge to answer such questions. But the work is so sheerly beautiful and magical in its effects, so absorbing as sensory experience and intellectual conundrum, that such questions start to seem irrelevant, and one is content simply to immerse oneself in the exquisite visual and textural effects, while feeling that somehow the supreme beauty of the earth and the oceans have magically been captured and translated into objects of great subtlety, charm and wonder. I feel that an exhibition of these recent works of Elizabeth’s (rather like Lisa Rihana’s recent work on Pacific voyages) could reach a much wider audience than sophisticated contemporary art is usually capable of. Her work seems effortlessly, without pandering to easy effects or indulging in ‘dumbing down’, to bridge the gap (which yawns widely with much contemporary art) between maker and audience. This is a rare achievement and worthy of recognition and support. Although I have not seen her recent exhibition at Aratoi, I have seen similar work at exhibitions at Two Rooms in Auckland and I have also seen the superb book/catalogue by Gregory O’Brien and others which documents the Aratoi exhibition, and I would strongly support the proposal of Mark Roach of Exhibition Services to tour the exhibition more widely.
Peter Simpson

I’m in the main gallery of the Aratoi Museum of Art and History. Two or three people are standing in front of one of Elizabeth Thomson’s works. They had been walking past it and suddenly they have stopped. Their attention has been caught by something. They start to move away and…there it is again. The surface of the art work has changed. Or did it? A sort of dance ensues. Backwards and forwards they go, watching patterns of light shift and reassemble in time to their movement. These folks are now leaning forward, searching the work for…what? They move away and examine the work side-on. The surface appears to have undulations. Back they go to stand in front of the work. They lean forward again, examining the surface, noting the tiny glass beads floating above…what is it? Sand perhaps? And where exactly is the surface? They are captivated.
This quality of Elizabeth Thomson’s work – the way it engages the viewer – is something I have witnessed in other, very different, circumstances. In his essay for the book Cellular Memories, Gregory O’Brien recalls the “Kermadec” exhibition held in a school hall in the village of Hanga Roa, on Rapanui (Easter Island). It was an unusual event – something out of the ordinary for the people of Hanga Roa, and a large crowd attended on the day of the opening. Prompted by something that I can only guess at, a young girl very carefully placed an empty bird’s nest on the floor beneath one of Elizabeth Thomson’s works. The nest remained in place for the duration of the exhibition – a tender witness to a shared sense of wonderment.
It’s a mysterious thing, that power of attraction. Where does it come from? How does it manage to communicate across differences in age, place and circumstance? Perhaps there is a clue in the exhibition title, “Cellular Memory”, because every element of Elizabeth Thomson’s work is imbued with qualities that are consistent throughout her art practice – a phenomenal work ethic, an uncompromising standard of excellence, respect for the materials she works with and ideas that are elevated and uplifting.
Dame Robin White

CONTACTS
Warwick Hadwen
027 7730971
warwick.hadwen@gmail.com

Gregory O’Brian
wellington.plains@gmail.com
027 7373233

Elizabeth Thomson
elizabeththomson001@gmail.com
027 4412862

 

 

 

 

The seventy-five statues and masks that compose this exhibition challenge our ideas about art, belief, tradition, and culture. The works are from ethnic groups in nine countries ranging from Ivory Coast to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the emphasis on minkisi power figures from the lower Congo. These statues, bristling with nails and laden with magical charms, have given the exhibition its name and much of its impact. Anthropomorphic or zoomorphic, sometimes as big as a man, they project authority and power.
Sculptures like these which so influenced Picasso and friends a century ago are still largely misunderstood. Traditional African art has been neglected, misinterpreted and destroyed for decades, burnt by colonial administrators and missionaries, treated as curios by travelers. Only lately has it taken its rightful place in the galleries and museums of the world. Recently an exhibition featuring minkisi figures at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kongo: Power and Majesty, attracted record attendances. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2015/kongo

How should we look at these objects?

Whether we know it or not, we all have cultural codes that affect our way of looking. When we contemplate an object from a culture foreign to our own, we sometimes have to make a conscious effort to understand the visual language of the artist who made it. To do this we need insight into the artist’s life, society and beliefs. An example of cultural misinterpretation is our sense that nails hammered into a statue represent evil intent, a confusion rooted perhaps in Hollywood notions of voodoo. Despite their fearsome appearance, the role of minkisi is mostly a defensive one. Villagers consulted them to obtain protection from illness and other misfortunes, and to swear oaths and forge pacts.
This exhibition’s aim is to introduce unfamiliar cultures and aesthetic values to antipodean audiences. Minkisi works on several levels; while most of us respond to the immediate visual impact of these exotic and powerful objects, a curious visitor is inevitably sensitive to a deeper spiritual dimension. With this in mind, brief texts are provided for each object, enabling greater insight into its function and meaning, referring when necessary to the complex and sophisticated belief systems condescendingly referred to as Animism.

Where do these objects come from and how did they get here?

In many African societies a mask or statue can outlive its magic. This is especially true for the baKongo and their minkisi. If a statue is considered to have lost its spirit or power, it is abandoned to the weather and termites, or sold. If sold, works that have a religious function are de-consecrated in a ritual performed by a nganga, (priest-diviner-healer). Traces of de-consecration libations are visible on many of the works in this exhibition.
The nucleus of the collection was assembled by Frenchman Paul Le Lay, who from 1946 to 1959 was posted in all of the capitals of French territories in Africa. After Le Lay’s death his collection languished in an attic in Burgundy. Years later it was recovered by his son-in-law, Desmond Bovey, a New Zealander who worked in France as an Art Director and illustrator. During his 30 years in France Bovey’s fascination for these objects grew. In his turn, he made repeated trips to West Africa in a quest to understand the works and the belief systems that produced them. Back in New Zealand, it is Bovey’s wish that these objects, so little understood, and the unknown artists who made them, be accessible to a wider audience.
The result has been a stunning visual experience at the participating NZ venues to date. Minkisi has great pulling power and attracts visitors beyond the usual gallery habitués, including international visitors, who have responded particularly well. Many return for repeat visits. Dramatic and powerful, minkisi provides a new and exciting range of experiences for discerning visitors. In the words of one visitor: “No wonder we talk past each other; the way we make meaning of life is so different.”
Following its success in Whanganui (extended due to popular demand) Timaru and Nelson, Minkisi is now being made available to galleries throughout New Zealand and Australia.

Endorsements

“Minkisi is a global exhibition that examines cultures far from ours. It is challenging. It makes us think twice. And that is the role of galleries and museums. The Minkisi season has been extended significantly due to popular demand. To Desmond Bovey I give my congratulations and thanks. A grand show, a grand theme and a magnificent presentation.” Dr Eric Dorman, Director, Whanganui Regional Museum,

“The exhibition was very well recieved by the public. Comments passed to us by many visitors that it was a priviledge to have such an exhibition in Nelson totally accords with our view. It was a priviledge! International visitors remarked that they wouldn’t be able to find such a comprehensive selection of African material even in major cities in Europe. It was also great to see people sketching in the gallery – which promotes close scrutiny and appreciation.”
Julie Catchpole, Director, Suter Art Gallery, Nelson,

From the visitors’ book, The Suter
“Fantastic! Reminds me of the Menil Collection in Houston.”
“Magical, wonderful, true art.”
“Astounding and immense, impressive collection!”
“Sensational, so lucky to see it.”
“Stunning. Very well displayed.”
“Congratulations over and over!!”
“The best collection of traditional African art in Australasia.”
“Eye-opening.”
“Inspiring, very expressive,beautifully creative in many materials. Thank you for sharing them!!”
“Powerful, alien, fascinating!”
“Wow, so privileged to have this exhibiton here – troubling, though.”
“I love this. It has been an amazing experience.”
“They are all amazing!!”
“Very thought-provoking show.”
“This is the most wonderful collection of African statues I have ever seen. The beliefs are expressed in a symbolic harmony with mystic, but real, works of art.”
“A very strong presence.”
“Powerful.”
“What amazing creativity. Thanks for sharing it.”
“No wonder we talk past each other; the way we make meaning of life is so different.”
“Powerful and intriguing show. Beautiful.”
“My second visit – amazing. Never seen these before, and I lived in W.Africa!”
“Awesome. Wicked!!”
“Fucking badass!!!!”
“Wonderfully informative and enlightening.”
“Excellent exhibition. First class pieces!”
“Brilliant! Thank you so much to Bovey for lending them out.”

Education

-Desmond Bovey is available for a talk about his voyages to Africa and his quest for understanding of the works in his collection and the belief systems that created them.
-Educator Ester McNaughton of the Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, brought classes to discuss and draw statues and masks. In 5 weeks 730 children visited the exhibition. (Total visitors: 7570.)

Publication

A small but informative catalogue was produced for the Whanganui Regional Museum exhibition, 28 pages with 2 cover flaps, colour-coded to the 3 regions around which the exhibition is organised. Created in InDesign, it could easily be adapted for reprint.

Links

For more information:

desmond.bovey@gmail.com / +64 6 3439519 / +64 21 02442 000
Mark Roach. Exhibition Services. 027 4998952. artwork@paradise.net.nz

 

 

Peter Bush

New Zealand’s leading rugby photographer Peter Bush describes capturing an All Black game as ‘a total workout’. His powerful photographs are hard-won: the result of chasing the game up and down the field, while others set up their cameras and wait for the game to come to them.

As a young cadet at the New Zealand Herald in 1949, Peter Bush photographed a game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Auckland. Since then he has photographed hundreds of matches at home and overseas. No other photographer has had such privileged access to the great All Black teams, on and off the field. His work has appeared in countless publications world-wide, and he has also published three books, including The Game for all New Zealand: through the lens of Peter Bush (1989).

Peter Bush’s iconic photographs capture the great moments, games and players, and all the drama and emotion of New Zealand’s favourite sport over a 60 year period. The All Black legends are all there, documented in his work: Bob Scott, Sir Wilson Whineray, Ian Kirkpatrick, Colin Meads, Graham Mourie, Jonah Lomu, continuing on to the current crop of New Zealand’s top professionals. Great players from other rugby nations are also well represented.

But there are layers of history and social comment embedded in Peter Bush’s work. His photographs capture the All Blacks in apartheid South Africa, in Belfast during the ‘Troubles’ of the early 1970s, and during the Springbok tour in 1981. Bush’s career spans a period of growing professionalism in rugby and changing technology in the media. Before satellite television, however, his wired images were some of the first images of far-off matches to be seen by local fans.

Bush is an outstanding raconteur with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rugby, who maintains close friendships with many former All Blacks and players from other countries. His story will feature in Hard on the Heels, as well as his personal view of famous moments and personalities.

New Audiences

Hard on the Heels has great potential to attract new audiences to galleries and museums.

Peter Bush is happy to participate in public programmes and corporate events by request. The exhibition could also act as a magnet for past and present All Blacks who might be enticed to share their time and experiences either at corporate functions or in-house public programme events.

The Exhibition

The exhibition will consist of over 100 mounted photographs, as well as a set of mural size works of around 1m x 1.2m. The images will be drawn from Peter Bush’s vast library of photographs, and will include his personal favourites: great moments, the controversial and contentious, and humorous behind-the-scenes shots of teams relaxing after games or while on tour.

Audio-Visual

The stories behind selected photographs will be captured through an audio visual project to be produced especially for the exhibition. Peter has a natural ability to communicate his many experiences, particularly those of being in the slipstream (or hard on the heels) of the All Blacks. A must see for the die hard fans or anyone wanting an entertaining inside story (not to mention a great laugh!).  We are proposing a 20 min DVD format (continuous loop).

Publication

Due out later this year, ‘Bushy’ (as he is affectionately known to his friends and colleagues) will chronicle Peter Bush’s long relationship with New Zealand rugby culture and offers another reference point for many of the images in the exhibition. It will also document the other side to Peter’s remarkable career as a free-lance photographer.

Merchandise

Postcards and signed photographs will be available. TBC

Availability
Available from early 2010 up to and beyond the Rugby World Cup 2011/12. Maximum of eight week time slots or by negotiation. Hard on the Heels is being developed and produced by Exhibition Services Tours in association with Peter Bush.