Flock west by Niki Hastings-McFall


I hope you are all surviving winter – it’s been mighty chilly in Auckland these last few months, though definitely not as cold as other parts of the country 😛

It’s always exciting when you come across an installation where the respective pieces meld together synergistically, to create a remarkable and stimulating work.  Flock west by West Auckland artist and ornithophile Niki Hastings-McFall, is an enlivening exhibition.  When wandering through Gallery 1 at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, the sights and sounds could be mistaken for the glorious outdoors.

The installation features simplified birds made from radiantly coloured acrylic, which are suspended from the gallery ceiling at varying heights.  A little natural light streams in from the windows producing tinged shadows that play on the walls.  The effect resembles the canopy of a forest: this is further enhanced by a recording of bird sounds that echoes through the space, and by a fan which delicately generates a breeze causing the birds to twirl.  Together these elements create the sense of a living breathing forest, a beautifully animated environment.  There is something delightfully serene about Hastings-McFall’s work, and I feel like I can breathe easily as I soak it all in – not unlike a good trek outdoors through our enviable native bush.

The choice of birds is significant on both personal and broader levels, as Hastings-McFall is an avid bird rescuer, her home acts as an avian refuge, and they appear in almost all cultures, such as the piwakawaka (fantail) in Maori mythology or the phoenix in Chinese lore.  Hence, they are creatures that all New Zealanders can identify with, a commonality across the multitude of cultures that make up our great country.  When discussing her fascination with birds in an interview with the NZ Herald earlier this year, she stated that ‘birds are in every culture’s fables or vernacular sayings, they’re the connection between the earth-bound and the heavenly.’[1]

Drawing upon bird shaped amulets and carved forms within the Pacific collection at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and H.D. Skinner’s Journal of the Polynesian Society,[2] Hastings-McFall has looked to pre-colonial sources for inspiration, again examining her own Samoan and European heritage.  She often reflects on cross-cultural exchanges in the materials she utilises, and in this instance she has modelled traditional items with a modern synthetic polymer.  So much of our identity is bound up with materials and objects, and by altering the materials, Hastings-McFall brings the sense of self into question.

Furthermore, as much of who we are relates to where we are born and raised, Flock west is also a response to the rapidly changing landscape.  Auckland in particular, is experiencing housing problems and increasing traffic congestion, which may lead to a greater number of highrise apartments in the suburbs and less space for habitats.  Through using creatures such as birds which all New Zealanders can identify with, Hastings-McFall emphasises what can be lost.  Let’s hope the calls of our native birds never becomes a rarity.  A tranquil, insightful exhibition, not to be missed.

Flock west is exhibiting at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson until Sunday 6th September 2015.  Public programmes include:

  • An artists’ floor talk on Saturday 29th August, 11am where Hastings-McFall will discuss her works along with fellow exhibitors Leon van de Eijkel and Jeff Thomson.
  • Saturday Gallery Club #7 (free for families with kids aged 4 +) on Saturday 8th August 10:30am-12pm, where they can make hand cut stickers of bird shapes out of reflective vinyl.

For more info on the exhibition and Hastings-McFall’s art, please click on the links to Corban Estate and Whitespace:

Some other great links are the Twelve Questions article in the NZ Herald and a Radio NZ clip from earlier this year:


[1] Ana Samways, ‘Twelve Questions: Niki Hastings-McFall,’ New Zealand Herald, January 29, 2015.

[2] Niki Hastings-McFall, Flock exhibition statement, Whitespace Contemporary Art, 2015, quoted in Kathryn Tsui, Flock west exhibition statement, Corban Estate Arts Centre, 2015.


Peata Larkin’s Towards the Light

I finally got around to seeing Peata Larkin’s exhibition Towards the Light.  Curated by Kara Wallace at Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson, it finished last Sunday the 27th before I had a chance to post.  I try to view and write about exhibitions before they conclude, to allow readers the opportunity to see the works for themselves.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out – there is not enough time!

But I wanted to write about Larkin anyway, as her art is fascinating, lusciously tactile and sublime.  I greatly enjoyed listening to her discuss her process and work during her artist talk.  I hope it will capture your interest and inspire you to see her artworks the next time she exhibits 🙂

What instantly drew me to Larkin’s works was her technique. Using a mesh grid, she pushes acrylic paint from the back to form patterns.  This colourful paint bursts through the grid’s holes, like bubbles flooding to the surface.  This gifts the paint with a three-dimensional sculptural quality, they are thick enough to cast their own shadows, and the orderly, controlled matrix is challenged by the unpredictability of paint spreading and sprawling.  There are echoes of Georges Seurat and Pointillism in Larkin’s style.  Not only does her work look sensational up close and at a distance, but who doesn’t love the idea of squishing stuff through a sieve?

Larkin is represented by Two Rooms Gallery in Auckland, please check out their website for some great close ups of her works:

There is a strong sense of storytelling in Larkin’s oeuvre – she communicates through these viscous baubles of paint.  Individually they resemble DNA, pixels, binary code; they can be seen as containers of information, ancestors on a family tree.  In their entirety, her works draw influence from Māori tukutuku panelling patterns, such as patikitiki (diamond/flounder fish pattern) and poutama (stepped/stairway to heaven pattern).  Larkin is reflecting on her own lineage (Tuhourangi, Tuwharetoa and Ngati Whakaue) as well as the way that we visually disseminate knowledge and history through pattern.

Towards the Light featured a mix of Larkin’s new and old works, all of which examine her interest in light. For instance Patikitiki 6 (X Factor) (2007, acrylic, mesh, fluorescent lights, lightbox, private collection) was her Master’s thesis and is actually mounted onto a lightbox.  Along with her other lightbox work, Starry Starry Night (2010, acrylic, mesh, flexiface, LEDs in lightbox, Two Rooms Gallery, Auckland) they appear lit from within, humming with their own life force.  These are in contrast with her new Wahine series (8 works, 2014, acrylic on mesh on canvas, Two Rooms Gallery, Auckland) where the natural light from the room illuminates them – four of these works are placed in the window sill, filtering the light and casting shadows to fabulous effect.  I particularly loved her Wahine artworks: each represent a woman left behind when the Māori battalion fought in Italy during World War II.  The colours in one work were drawn from the colours of a medal awarded to the soldier.

Larkin bridges a number of interesting dichotomies in her works: the two dimensional and three dimensional, the controlled nature of the grid and the spontaneous plasticity of paint, artificial and real light, close up and distance, and tradition and technology.  I enjoy the process of viewing her art, of marvelling at the beads of paint at a close proximity and allowing the eye to reconcile the magnetising pattern from afar.

I look forward to her next exhibition!



Sam Mitchell’s First is Last, Last is First (and a little on the New Grads Show)

Oh my how time flies, a belated Happy New Year to you all!  Did you all have a fun and relaxing holiday?  I hope 2014 is everything you wish it to be 🙂

It has been quite a while since I last posted – all the usual Christmas and New Year’s madness – and there were also a few distractions, such as Auckland’s epic sunny weather and Sherlock season 3 (holy shizz!)  But I’m back, and now that the galleries have reopened, it’s time to get perusing again.

The first offering that I checked out for 2014 was First is Last, Last is First by Sam Mitchell at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, and curated by Kara Wallace. Wandering into this exhibition, Mitchell’s larger than life portraits give the impression of being in a candy coloured tattoo parlour 😛  These sleek glossy works are created with acrylic on Perspex sheets and are actually painted in reverse – the final flourishes are daubed first, hence the title.  Each vibrant portrait hosts a legion of imagery adopted from comics, cartoons, fairy tales and magazines.  These icons of pop culture are etched upon the faces of the portraits, forming a collector’s dream if you will.

A few snaps of Sam Mitchell’s exhibition were taken by artsdiary:

You can find more information on Sam Mitchell below:

The most instantly recognisable portrait is of a young, Jackson Five era Michael Jackson, replete with an impressive afro that is filled with a design reminiscent of stylised Japanese waves.  Another is of a modelesque blue-skinned blonde (sort of a cross between Ursula Andress and Mystique from X-Men) with an identical design applied to her golden locks.  The final portrait is a large skull loaded with images of death and horror, yet curiously juxtaposed with beautiful flowers.  They all rest against a colourful geometric background that propel the heads forward in space, as if they are buoyant and disconnected, waiting to be addressed.

Many of the characters inked upon these works are identifiable: Skeletor from He-Man, Richie Rich, Bambi, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a unicorn, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, Dracula, Vishnu, St George and the Dragon, the list goes on.  But beneath this bright pop veneer and taste for nostalgia, Mitchell has constructed spaces to examine deeper political, social and gender concerns. 

For instance, Mitchell makes reference to current affairs by inscribing the words ‘E.U. Bailout’ and ‘Snowden Leaks’ within the portrait of Michael Jackson.  The images that adorn the pop star can be seen as indexes of his inner thoughts, or how people perceive him.  Bambi could allude to his childlike naiveté, the literal deer caught in the headlights of fame; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could represent his ever changing appearance, or the battle between private and public selves.

Similarly, the blue-skinned woman displays the words ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, along with images of damsels in distress and a figure who I think is a Golden Age Wonder Woman.  These illustrate the various influential sources that shape women’s innermost desires, their expectations of their societal roles, as well as providing points of difference.  This is achieved with a sense of irreverence and whimsy, and Mitchell essentially twists portraiture on its head: rather than solely showing the symbols of wealth, power and status, she instead reveals things that we perhaps don’t want people to see.

You can easily spend half an hour staring at a work, looking at each image and searching the recesses of your mind for the original source – kind of like combing through designs at a tattoo parlour.  There is level of transference with Mitchell’s works: she lays out clues, and asks the viewer to complete the work with our own narratives and interpretations of the images lain before them.

Sam Mitchell will be giving an artist talk on Saturday 15th February at 11am, be sure not to miss it!

Though this post is mainly about Sam Mitchell’s exhibition, I couldn’t help but pop into the other rooms and look at works by the latest graduates.  Curated again by Ms. Wallace, Auckland’s various art schools are well represented and the exhibition showcases the varying media used.

The standout work from this exhibition would be Paula Schaafhausen’s Tuvalu (2013).   It features eight statues of the Polynesian god Tagaloa, and each are hand moulded from coconut oil and koko (pure cocoa).  You will smell this work before you see it, and the fact that they look like white and dark chocolate is very appealing 🙂  Over the six week duration of the exhibition, they will gradually melt into oblivion, affected by time and temperature.  Their melting represents the disappearing islands of Tuvalu due to rising sea levels.  The alluring scent of coconut and cocoa will linger in the air, and along with a mass of marbled liquid, will be all that remains of this installation.

I liked the ephemeral nature of this work, and found Schaafhausen’s message to be effectively conveyed.  I have visited the work on two separate occasions, and already found myself mourning their disintegration.  Every viewer’s experience of this work will be different – they may be indeterminate blobs by the time you visit them, and you would have missed the intricately formed Tagaloas in their full glory.  It’s also quite a funny work, as the first to melt is a certain part of the human anatomy 😛

The first link is Tuvalu on the evening of the exhibition opening, the second the day after:

There are many intriguing works in the New Grads Show, do check it out 😀

First is Last, Last is First and the New Grads Show is on at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson until Sunday 2nd March 2014. There will be a Kids Art Workshop relating to the New Grads Show on Saturday 22nd February, 11am.




Absence is all that is left behind by Robert George

One of the things I love about art is how it constantly surprises me.  In particular, when I stumble upon an exhibition that catches my attention, more so than one I have seen advertised and planned to see.  This was indeed the case when I wandered into Robert George’s exhibition curated by Kathryn Tsui, at Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson.

Warning: I’m going to make a reference to the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) particularly Season 6.  If you haven’t seen this season or the show at that (you should) it’s probably best to skip that paragraph until you watch it 😛

Displayed in a darkened room, George’s exhibition is bipartite: two videos run in succession.  They are projected onto white sheets suspended in the middle of the room, hung at a right angle to each other to form a corner.  The video featured on the left is the titular Absence is all that is left behind (2013, digital video and sound, 10 min.) and on the right is The Embrace of Night (Go To Sleep) (2013, digital video and sound, 10 min.)

Absence reveals itself slowly in a singular continuous shot.  A meditative chime rings out as if calling for silence.  Everything is bright white, burning the screen up like hot magnesium.  As your eyes adjust, a figure begins to just distinguish itself by the barest outlines.  The chime reverberates at regular intervals often timed with the figure’s graceful gestures.  She begins with her hands clasped almost in prayer; at other times her arms are outstretched, inviting you like a sensuous, otherworldly siren.  She ceases with arms crossed over her chest, content to drift into a tranquil slumber.

There is a sense of serenity and peace that emanates from this video.  Beautiful, enthralling, and introspective, it raises questions as to whether this is the afterlife or simply a dream.  And if so, is this George’s vision of the afterlife or a snippet from his dreams?  I think he presents a fairly neutral space void of detail, which allows the viewer to infer as they choose and develop their own narrative.

[Buffy spoiler alert in the paragraph below]

Watching this awoke a number of memories and thoughts.  I felt that the work was like a visualisation of Buffy’s description of Heaven after her resurrection in season 6 – somewhere warm, where she was at peace and nothing had form.  Additionally, George’s video is reminiscent of Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Cloud of Unknowing (2011) that was recently exhibited at the 5th Auckland Triennial.  In particular, the colour white bridged the link, which not only brings about associations of purity and innocence, but also mourning and funerals, as it is understood in Asian cultures.

The other work is similar in its visual and sound dynamic, and treatment of notions such as mortality and consciousness.  I found Embrace to be a much darker work: it looks as if it is set underwater with multiple figures (mermaids?) one which appears to be performing a dance; others look as if they are swimming… or perhaps drowning.  The video is quite jarring, a chop and change of a multitude of scenes.  Some are sped up, some are slowed, and others are repeated, reversed or mirrored.  This unsettled sensation is furthered by aggressive, clamouring sounds.  And like Absence, the experience differs depending on the viewer and what they want to see.

This work made me think of the space halfway between life and death.  The submerged aspect of Embrace I found especially haunting and ominous, at times evocative of Inhale | Exhale (2012) by Vincent Ward.  The sounds are rampageous and scratchy like amps gone bad, or that time I went Spookers (I’ve only been once, which was probably enough for me 😯 ).

Yet you cannot help but watch it, as there is a certain tragic beauty to the video.  It requires a number of viewings to absorb the fragmented imagery, each viewing offering up something you hadn’t seen the previous time.  I found the expressions of the figures greatly contrasted the shadowy ocean depths, and like the figure in Absence, they appear animated and almost at ease.  But perhaps that is further evidence that what we are seeing isn’t quite real.

By projecting onto near translucent sheets, it makes the videos seem dreamlike and hazy, leading you to question what it is that you are seeing.  This translucency is compelling, allowing the works to materialise on the walls behind the sheets, generating a ghostly spectral effect.  The use of sheets could also be a reference to beds and sleep, where the unconscious mind can be unleashed.  Even afterwards when I left the room, the imprints of the videos remained in my mind like phantoms.  Though I am curious about how my memories of George’s work will alter over time.

Have you heard of artsdiary? It is a great website filled with photos of local exhibitions.  The link below is of an image of George’s videos:

Robert George’s exhibition at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, is until Sunday the 1st December 2013.  Guest performance artist Terry Faleono will be providing a live performance this Saturday 9th November from 11am – 1pm, be sure to check it out!