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Maureen Lander’s 1998 Te Papa Installation Revived For New Exhibition | 12 August 2023 – 21 July 2024

Maureen Lander: Aho Marama Strings of Light is on display at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū from Saturday 12 August, celebrating the innovative work of artist and academic Maureen Lander (Ngāpuhi, Te Hikutu and Pākehā).

The immersive, UV-lit centrepiece, String Games, was commissioned for the opening of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in 1998. Twenty-five years on, the installation’s cultural and historical references are as relevant as ever, says Christchurch Art Gallery Curator Melanie Oliver.

String Games was developed at a time of significant change in Aotearoa. Te Papa was built to reflect the government’s renewed commitment to upholding the Treaty of Waitangi; meanwhile digital technology and globalisation was rapidly revolutionising our understanding of how meaning can be constructed and shared,” Ms Oliver says.

“Artists were invited to reflect on ‘our world’ and values as a country, inspired by treasures and taonga from a specially curated Te Papa collection. A series of photographs in that collection led Lander to select whai (Māori string games) as a starting point, or source material.”

The photographs, taken between 1912 and 1926, captured the pastime of whai, which was popular within Māori communities at the time. Muka string (made of harakeke) is looped around fingers and hands in choreographed movements to create images, which are often accompanied by waiata or stories.

“Lander’s String Games presents a giant replica of the customary game, made of UV-lit fluorescent rope. Hanging at its centre is a neon-green box – a reference to her second source material from Te Papa’s collection.”

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The box represents the museum’s edition of Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise – a small case containing miniature prints of the French conceptual artist’s key works that he made in the 1930s.

A film made by Lander shows Duchamp’s prints being taken out of the case, and local taonga relating to whai, being put in. Woven into this is archival footage of Māori creating whai in the 1920s, along with film of contemporary Māori keeping the practice alive today.

String Games reflects the journey our country is on to honour and preserve our cultural taonga and mātauranga Māori, but it also redefines how we think about digital art,” Ms Oliver says.

“The glowing materials in String Games give it an electric quality, representing the old with the new, juxtaposing traditional string with the metaphor of digital strings of code, and highlighting the manipulation of hands and fingers required for both.”

Aho Marama: Strings of Light also features documentary films of people engaging with Digital String Games I, II and III, a series of works Lander made in collaboration with John Fairclough that allowed people to interact with digital versions of whai.

Ms Oliver says a particularly special piece included in the exhibition – called Wai o te Marama – is a new addition to the Gallery’s own collection.

“This innovative work by Lander combines the use of native and synthetic materials and was made for the major exhibition of Māori weaving, Toi Māori: The Eternal Thread – Te Aho Mutunga Kore, which toured the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand in the mid-2000s.”

Lander’s work will be on display from Saturday 12 August until 21 July 2024 at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

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