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.’
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, 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:
 Ana Samways, ‘Twelve Questions: Niki Hastings-McFall,’ New Zealand Herald, January 29, 2015. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11393210
 Niki Hastings-McFall, Flock exhibition statement, Whitespace Contemporary Art, 2015, quoted in Kathryn Tsui, Flock west exhibition statement, Corban Estate Arts Centre, 2015.