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Three New Exhibitions at the Whangarei Art Museum

Three new exhibitions at the Whangarei Art Museum - Yuki Kihara, Jill Sorensen, and Megan Bowers-Vette.

Significant Others - Jill Sorensen - 28 August–26 November

Significant Others is an installation that draws in equal measure from the gender-neutral term for one’s partner and from Donna Haraway’s 2003 publication The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, people and significant Otherness.
While the term ‘significant other’ smacks of overt political correctness, it is interesting in that it acknowledges not only that the gender of a person’s partner need not be specified, but also that a person’s primary intimate relationship may not be sexual in nature. It allows space for intimacy that is separate from sexuality and the strongly enforced normal of ‘romantic love’.

In The Companion Species Manifesto Haraway employs her personal experience of the relationship between dogs and their owner/trainers to muse on the dynamics of relationship in a wider sense both within and between species. She also critiques the array of accepted modes of human projection/understanding/construction of animal-ness, from the controversy around anthropomorphising to the limitations of the animal rights movement. Central to this discourse is a strong valuing of the two-way activity of relating. “I believe that all ethical relating, within or between species, is knit from the silk-strong thread of ongoing alertness to otherness-in-relation. We are not one, and being depends on getting on together.” (Haraway, 2003)

Sorensen approaches the humans, animals and plants with whom she cohabits with compassion and alertness to difference, striving to locate the singularity of each relationship. These moments of relationship are brought together in an experiential installation that allows us to glimpse the small intimacies that arise through the mundane daily acts of caring. The installation asks its audience to engage their bodies as well as their eyes. The open door of the tent invites the viewer to enter its intimate interior and spend a moment in contemplative imagination. The artists hope is that, in this contemplative space it is possible that the human might meet these significant others, just for a moment, as individuals rather than as generic members of another species.

A Study of a Samoan Savage - Yuki Kihara - 28 August–26 November

The new series, A Study of a Samoan Savage, is comprised of two broad themes – the histories of motion photography and anthropometry - explored together. Presented in film noir cinematographic spirit, this powerful, allegorical series features a mythical character (Maui), a Polynesian demi-god performing a variety of movements, documented as ‘motion-photography.’ These movements explicitly reference rugby and the furore in April 2012 surrounding Pat Lam and the Blues rugby team, historical representations of Samoan men, Samoan cultural dances and the study of human movement through photography seen in the pioneering works of Muybridge and Marey. The historical role of photography and the key role it played in establishing classifications in the study of race, gender, the human body, the science of movement and human evolution is everywhere evidenced in A Study of a Samoan Savage. Collectively, Samoan men were depicted as exotic savages, fetishized as a subject and as an object, colonised and treated as commodities.

Anthropologists used photography as a tool to establish a systematic process of collecting data and thereby propound various scientific theories, such as the existence of racial hierarchy, the enduring myth of Aryan superiority and Eugenics. However, those measuring systems and associated photographic techniques in turn became a primary means of subjugation.

Layers of symbolic meaning in Maui’s performances also draw upon the 19th century Samoan colonial experience of the human zoo, the ‘Volkerschau,’ popular then in Germany and Europe, a form of exotic entertainment and colonial theatre where Samoan men’s athleticism and prowess was presented as if in their primitive state. A giant man-made water slide featuring Samoan bodies ascending and descending it was also presented within the zoo. This 19th century circumstance provides another of the conceptual threads of the series. It is explicitly acknowledged in two works, the photographic work Maui Descending a Staircase I (After Duchamp) and the silent video work Maui Descending a Staircase II (After Duchamp). Both works reference Duchamp’s A Nude Descending a Staircase II (1915) and reprise Muybridge’s use of sequential motion. The video work is all at once breath-taking, captivating and beguiling. It reveals multiple layers of narrative content, as well as numerous art, political and social dialogues with distinct developments from the critically acclaimed Siva in Motion (2012), in Kihara’s signature stylistic techniques: repetitive fragmentation, outline and overlay with a directness of gaze that – inevitably – elicits then seduces the viewer’s participation.

A native of Samoa, Yuki Kihara is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is characterised by investigations into memory, post/de/colonialism, temporality and aesthetics often exploring the experience of peoples in the Pacific region and their diaspora; and the varying relationships and intersections between gender, race, sexuality, culture and politics.

A Study of a Samoan Savage (2015) series has been presented at Milford Galleries, Dunedin; Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Auckland; Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki; Orange County Museum of Art, California and this year at the Honolulu Biennial.

Us. - Megan Bowers-Vette - 28 August–25 September

Us. shares the photographs and stories of men and women from New Zealand and Australia who have experienced sexual assault. No anonymity is provided; show your face, say your name, be proud of who you are and speak your truth. Anonymity sends a signal that there is still something to be ashamed about. Megan wanted to connect with people who had worked through those feelings and were ready to show up and stand in their truth.

The project aims to foster a deeper understanding of the spectrum of sexual violation and how it affects people’s sense of self worth, their mental health and relationships with others. The testimonials also expose how our justice and mental health systems can both help and harm survivors.

Personal narratives enable the people offended against to verbalise their experience and start working towards overcoming their trauma. 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 it for others. Us. 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.

The reflections 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 that these are experiences from real people, with beautiful open hearts and minds. These people don't want revenge, they want their voices heard.
For more info

Us. has been made possible with thanks from Creative Communities and Epson New Zealand.

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