Ellie Lee-Duncan – 9 April, 2018
Ka-lani's name 'Immortal child' becomes spiritually potent, a cloaking of herself within a power of childlike innocence, dreaming, and visions—combined with awareness that despite her mortality, she exists as a timeless spiritual being. This dream power becomes envisaged as a way to mediate the spiritual energies of the mother and father. Ultimate balance reaches Ka-lani at the intersection of father, mother and child. Here, androgyny becomes a part of transcendence and wholeness.
Mer and Birdman
12 March - 31 March 2018
Ka-lani Ianusi’s first solo exhibition, Mer and Birdman, went in-depth: into jewel-like colours, into her artistic practice, into her philosophy of life. A staccato of primary colours, intricate compositions and spiritual symbols filled this show at the newly-established Weasel Gallery on Victoria street in Hamilton. Ka-lani’s work ranged from small photographs and light coloured pencil drawings, to substantial paintings on board that enveloped you with their luscious surfaces. Each painting balanced between giving you a glimpse of something quite intimate and other-worldly about the young artist, and by turns, gently restricting your knowledge through a shield of codified symbols, iconography and glyphs.
Here, Ka-lani reveals herself as her alternate name, the Immortal Child, through a range of works and media. Several works are light and simplified, with precise drawings in coloured pencil. There were photos of herself layered with symbols smattered through the gallery, and a series of three works, named the Xzylor codes. Formally complex, these were a much-needed reprieve from bland anaesthetized abstract minimalism; thickly painted, with a single symbol centred in each. Behind the symbol, the background was richly developed through layers of dry brush scuffling, dripping watery streaks, and directly dribbled paint.
On the opening night, a stunning OHP sat humming in the corner, as an installation projecting drawings through the gallery corridor. Light transferred and held these images, which existed as potential in the physical void-space before appearing to the eye on the wall. Ka-lani, whose whakapapa includes Samoa, likened this projected state to the va, or Moana-based theory of space, in which forms pre-exist as spiritual and creative potential.
Enriched with my Western-biased art historical education, I am hopelessly out of my depth facing a work like Quetzal. Depicting the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent who mediates the boundaries of earth and sky, it is filled with swirling coils, fragmentary symbols. It morphs between depicting the serpentine curves of the god and being a symbolic cross-section of the human brain. Here art becomes oracular, drawing ideas from the spiritual realm of the va into existence. Occupying space in this dense reality, the paintings provide a visual and spiritual whakapapa that extends beyond space-time boundaries.
In Mer, a submerged figure of a woman emerges, translucent and luminous, from the floating layers of blue. Flowing hair envelops her shoulders, breasts and thighs like a mantle, and her eyes are a milky green, like an aitu or spirit. Her fingers encompass an inverted triangle—a symbol for the earth, the feminine, and the womb. Her posture is seated, nude but untouchably filled with mana. While her hair shields her intimate areas, ghostly symbols intersect her body and place a pointed-oval, or marquise shape below her, signifying her labia, clitoris and vagina. Paired with Birdman, a golden work with Mer‘s equivalent male figure, these are placed as the spiritual binaries; the mother, the moon, Papatuanuku, deep indigo and spiraling, mellifluous and malleable circular motion in Mer, and and the father, the sun, Ranginui, crisp yellow, and the rigid line of forward momentum in Birdman.
I found my forehead knotted as unfamiliar (deeply, deeply repressed) spirituality unfurled within me in front of the sweet-smelling painted board. However, Ka-lani stressed that these binary oppositions are incomplete when functioning independently, and that limiting oneself to one side cuts your potential. It is blinding, like losing vision in one eye and trying to navigate the world without depth-perception. Instead, these dualities are combined through the exhibition, and figure as a spiritual trinity, with the figure of the child as a third. Here, the child represents healing through imagination, dreaming, and creativity, with the ability to create endless new worlds and new possibilities through play. Ka-lani’s name Immortal child becomes spiritually potent, a cloaking of herself within this power of childlike innocence, dreaming, and visions—combined with awareness that despite her mortality, she exists as a timeless spiritual being. This dream power becomes envisaged as a way to mediate the spiritual energies of the mother and father. Ultimate balance reaches Ka-lani at the intersection of father, mother and child. Here, androgyny becomes a part of transcendence and wholeness.
Alchemy here is envisaged as within our sensory range, but not quite enough to sate our logical minds. Knowledge becomes encoded, artistic practice becomes a religious ritual where line, form, shape, and colour hum with self-divined significance. I spend that week in the nights dreaming conversations with Ka-lani, and one morning in the daylight seated opposite her liquid brown eyes over coffee. I’m sure each person walked away with a different experience of the exhibition, but as physical objects, they vibrated with an intensity that pulled the viewer into states of wonder.
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