The Unmissables: Four Exhibitions to see in February
A monthly round-up of notable, controversial and unmissable exhibitions in Tāmaki Makaurau and beyond.
In the midst of this seemingly endless summer, it may be hard to believe February has only just begun. Or perhaps you feel the opposite way and are shocked to find we’re already a whole month into 2018. Whichever way you slice it, there’s a silver lining – galleries across Aotearoa are reopening their doors at last with a fresh slate of exhibitions ready to be perused and discussed.
One such show is Te Kōpū, an exhibition of new works from painter Natasha Keating and weaver Bethany Matai Edmunds currently up at Ngā Tohu o Uenuku Mangere Arts Centre. Meanwhile, out east at Malcolm Smith Gallery is a solo presentation from Natalie Guy, made following a three-month residency in Varanasi, India. In central Auckland, Tim Melville Gallery will be opening two concurrent solo exhibitions in the middle of next week: Johl Dwyer will occupy the main gallery space with two new bodies of work, while Salome Tanuvasa’s Do you want to give it a name? will be on show in the second space.
Preparations are also underway for Auckland Pride Festival 2018, which will include exciting events such as Under Your Skin You Look Divine, organised by Daniel John Corbett Sanders and showing for one night only on 13 February at Basement Adult Shop & Cruise Club, as well as a FAFSWAG vogue ball on the East Terrace at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki next Wednesday evening.
To avoid showing up to your favourite art haunt to find the doors locked and the staff still at the beach, check out our list of four unmissable exhibitions happening right now in Pōneke and Tāmaki Makaurau.
Sweat dripped down my arms and legs at Hopkinson Mossman’s opening for Role Models, the fan in the corner of the second room reduced to an ornamental purpose. This hot dealer gallery is hot.
For Role Models, guest curator Rob McKenzie has put together a group of works spanning the 1980s to 2017 by international artists Robert Bittenbender, Ellen Cantor, Jennifer McCamley, and Josef Strau.
The Bittenbender works are BDSM sculptural assemblages – their material intricacies and layering beautifully linking with Strau’s tin plate and wire canvases on the opposite wall. The sexually explicit imagery in Bittenbender’s work also connects to Cantor’s early (and, incredibly, previously unseen) paintings in the first room. McCamley’s narrow, acrylic-painted plywood works seem comparatively restrained and minimal.
Sometimes the heat gives you interesting sensations, other times it makes you lethargic. Certain details in Role Models are wonderful – like the blistering tin revealing colourful canvas in Strau’s works – but stepping back the show somehow feels like it’s missing something – risk? A compelling vision? It’s the Auckland dealer gallery’s first show of the year, but I’m still undecided whether the show is a statement about the gallery or a celebration of the international artists – attend the show and make the decision for me. – Eloise Callister-Baker
Curated by Rob McKenzie
Robert Bittenbender, Ellen Cantor, Jennifer McCamley, Josef Strau
26 January – 24 February 2018
It’s hard to write about something you haven’t seen. But although I have not yet been able to view Sorawit Songsataya’s Starling fully installed, I’ve no doubt that it will be unmissable. Opening at Artspace this evening, the show includes elements that will be familiar to those who know Songsataya’s work: vaguely throwback 3D animations featuring doll-like personages; a luxuriating in textures, both rendered onscreen and physically present in the exhibition space; wide ranging visual and textual references bound together with haunting poetry.
But Starling will also surprise. Visitors will roam among giant plush red blood cells (a child of the ’90s, I cannot help but think of the Magic School Bus books). They will be able to touch, and even help create, felted chains of colourful hearts recalling genetic sequences, celebratory streamers, and delicate scarves. In addition to computer generated video, there will be real world footage, minimally manipulated: unfurling sheets of ocean spume, voluptuous bodies moving metronomically before a just credible sky.
Swarms of blood cells will echo the synchronised flight formations of birds, inviting visitors to muse on the systems within us as well as those about us. Central to the exhibition will be the notion of kinship, something that can relate to heredity, to generation and regeneration, but that also transcends the sometimes pettiness of the immediate blood tie (a relatedness that misses smaller and bigger kinds of similarity and coordination). Starling will sing of diverse ways – and a diverse ethics – of being beyond the fiction of alienation. – Francis McWhannell
2 February – 17 March 2018
Elements of the set
There’s something satisfying in a work on paper simply pinned to the wall. For Elements of the set, this satisfaction is met over and over again: six suites of drawings, all pinned in place like so many butterflies. Intuitively hung in something like a grid, Kim Pieters’ drawings feel mystical in a way I usually associate with the natural world – with experiences like witnessing a caterpillar spinning its own cocoon, or finding tender new growth unfurling from the heart of your houseplant.
I should confess that I’m a long-time admirer of Pieters’ work – a position only solidified during a stint in Dunedin where I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Kim in her Aladdin’s cave of a studio. These drawings take me back to that place, but they also take me back to all of the Kim Pieters works I have ever seen – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the way Kim works, always retaining at least two of the works from any given suite for her own reference so they may continue to feed into her practice.
As with Kim’s larger paintings, the works in Elements of the set are deeply affective. Viewers will most likely find they are drawn to specific pieces, although it is often hard to know why. For me, it’s the thought crystal (2016) works with their powdery colours and spidery lines, tracing vague shapes and trailing off. I advise you to head along and find your own favourite – and to do so swiftly; it’s only up until the end of next week! – Lucinda Bennett
Elements of the set
7 December 2017 – 10 February 2018
The Romantic Picturesque
It’s rare at an opening to see a packed room of almost silent people, drinks in hand, stand completely mesmerised for the entire duration of a twenty-one minute video. Such is the effect of Christopher Ulutupu’s Do you still need me (2017), which is on display as part of his solo show The Romantic Picturesque at play_station until 17th February. Ulutupu’s work is lush, arresting, and cinematic in both its staging and ambition.
The work, which was commissioned by play_station last year and first shown at Hobart’s Hobiennale in November, is split into five chapters, each one titled with lyrics from Karyn White’s 1988 song Superwoman. Each chapter is a kind of tableau, a scene in which colonial fantasies of racialised desire are dramatised to a soundtrack of 80s karaoke hits. In one scene, which takes place in a forest, a shirtless Pākehā man slouches in a chair, eying two Samoan women as they sing Boney M’s Brown Girl in the Ring. During the whole song, a Pākehā woman dutifully sprays what Ulutupu describes as a ‘protectant’ over his body. The women, though, sing to themselves and for themselves.
Karaoke, for Ulutupu, is serious business. His work lays bare, as Dilohana Lekamge writes in her essay accompanying the exhibition, the performative gestures people of colour are forced to adopt to appease Pākehā society and its institutions – patterns of speech, clothing, mannerisms. However, using humour and festivity, Ulutupu’s work also makes space for other modes of performance – like karaoke – which act as a means of survival, solidarity, and repair. – Simon Gennard
The Romantic Picturesque
24 January – 17 February 2018
The Unmissables is presented in a partnership with the New Zealand Contemporary Art Trust, which covers the costs of paying our writers. We retain all editorial control.