Category Archives: Proposed Tours

The Us project is a photographic portrait exhibition of men and women from New Zealand and Australia who have experienced sexual violation. When Megan Bowers-Vette started this project she decided that for those who participated, there would be no anonymity. Show your face, say your name, be proud of who you are, speak your truth. Anonymity sends a signal that there is still something to be ashamed about. It is normal and understandable to feel guilt and shame about what has happened, but Megan wanted to connect with people who had worked through those feelings and were ready to show up and stand in their truth.
The conversations within the project aim to foster a much deeper understanding of many different aspects of the spectrum of sexual violation, how it affects people’s sense of self worth, their mental health and their relationships with others. How our justice and mental health systems help and hurt survivors. Survivors deal with a myriad of issues ranging from anxiety, depression and PTSD, to not being able to have healthy relationships with partners, family and even friends. Children of abuse grow with very warped ideas of sex within society, and a very skewed idea of who they are and what they are worth.
The focus of the stories is the validation of the person offended against. Who are they? Business people, colleagues, performers, parents, lovers. People passionate about standing up for what they believe in, fighting for a better world for their children, wanting to share their story to help others who find themselves in the same trap. Their stories are beautiful accounts of love and freedom against the odds, of finding light in the dark, and providing that for others. It is an incredibly moving chronicle of the acts of love performed by these people, putting their own pain aside to create a loving safe community for those who need it the most.
Megan’s personal interest within the project has not been about the offender at all, as she learnt that to many people, identifying the offender is the same old sensationalising we have grown accustomed to through the media’s portrait of assault victims. Once you start to listen to these stories, naming and shaming of offenders hasn’t always brought any healing at all. Survivors are forced o negotiate their way through a far more intricate web of self discovery than a court case can deliver.
The stories in the project are not about wielding pitchforks and exacting revenge against a perpetrator, they are overwhelming stories of love, forgiveness and freedom. To understand this project is to understand the fact that these are stories from real people, with beautiful open hearts and minds. These people don’t want revenge, they want their voices heard.

For further details see:   www.usproject.online
Contact:  meganbowersvette@gmail.com   0224123733

The Exhibition

The exhibition is comprised of 50 framed diptych photographic portraits, each 440h x 615mm. These are hung alongside each other with a reasonably generous spacing in-between. In addition to the labels provided, twenty selected (edited) testimonials from the publication on A2 panels will offer the viewer with more in-depth information on these portraits without the need to refer back to the publication. Several copies of the publication will also be available for perusal which will require a communal table and chairs.

Selected quotes from testimonials on perspex strips can be placed around the exhibition walls as required plus a large specially made hard covered comments book will encourage viewers to share their thoughts about the exhibition. A wall mount for the book will be produced and travel with the show.

Note that the artist is keen to be available to attend openings, public programme events, and to carry out media tasks if required.

Publication

The exhibition is accompanied by a 270 page full colour publication containing 50 true and brutally honest stories from experiences of sexual violation.
The book will be helpful to many in society who wish to understand the mind of a survivor. From ‘experiencers’ who wish to find validity in how they have reacted to what they have been through, to those who seek to understand their loved ones and offer the right kind of support. The publication gives voice to an experience society doesn’t want to acknowledge, and in doing so validates survivors, letting them know their voice is important. It provides a safe space for truth.

Artist Megan Bowers-Vette

Megan Bowers Vette was raised in Whangarei, Northland. An influential photography and art teacher at high school sparked something of a curiosity in her, so much so she left high school on an early acceptance to Wellington’s Massey University Bachelor of Photographic Design.
After spending some time abroad, Megan returned to Whangarei, where she met her husband, and decided to complete Northtec’s Bachelor of Applied Art. Here she met New Zealand art photographer Ellie Smith, who became a long time mentor.
Since returning to New Zealand, Megan became involved in the local Northland art culture, having several solo exhibitions, as well as experimenting in sculptural photographic forms. This resulted in entering a solid resin and photographic breastplate into Wellington’s World of Wearable Art Awards. “Betty Botanica” ended up spending three years at the Nelson WOW museum, as well as featuring in the “Bizarre Bra” best of publication.
After the birth of her son, Megan worked as an events and projects manager for the Old Library Arts Centre, and during that time set up The Shutter Room, a community photographic studio, gallery and gathering space that still goes strong today, and has a membership of over 100.
In 2014 Megan attended the scholarship program at Auckland’s Kingsize Studios, and began taking on commercial photography roles in Auckland.

Megan started the Us project in 2016, starting with a Youtube video in which she shared a little of her own journey with sexual abuse, and called for others to take part in the project. Not knowing what the response would be, she was overwhelmed when she received over 200 replies to her video. Through her process, participants were whittled down to the number she had originally set for herself, exactly 50.
A large number of the participants were blocked or discouraged from taking part in the project from family or loved ones, and the stories of people threatening to disown the participants started flooding in. Others became embroiled in court battles and realised they wouldn’t be allowed to participate due to restrictions with mandatory name suppression. For some it just became too dangerous to take part because their perpetrator had violent tendencies.
Megan spent two years flying around New Zealand and Australia, interviewing participants and correlating the information into a 270 page book. As time went on it almost became a scientific study of sexual abuse and human reaction. This was funded partially by Megan herself, as well as some help from crowdfunding and creative communities. The Us project held its inaugural exhibition at Whangarei Art Museum.

Us has been made possible with support from Creative Communities and Epson New Zealand. Special thanks also to Whangarei Art Museum

‘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, fuelled 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 carefully curated by Gregory O’Brien. The exhibition is comprised of 22 works ranging in a variety of compositions (multiples) and mediums. See website images and publication for full scope of the artworks on offer.
Several of the works are sensitive to gallery space dynamics and require the artist to attend and participate in the installation. This expense is covered in the exhibition tour fee. From experience it is estimated that at least three handlers are required for a 4-5 day installation period. In particular the works The Fearless Five Hundred (fish installation) and Invitation to Openness—Substantive and Transitive States (moths installation) require careful considered placement.

Size requirement for the exhibition is currently 150 linear metres
but the full composition of the show at each venue is negotiable.

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 will also attend and support particular events. This expense is covered in the exhibition tour fee.

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