John Hurrell – 3 April, 2019
'Layover' endorses a blending of influences from different geographies like strata, a hybridity of indigenous interests, a mutancy of mindsets where cultural empathies are stacked in parallel, without their perimeters dissolving—thus avoiding an amorphous, incoherent, ‘identity sludge'.
BC Collective, Louisa Afoa, Edith Amituanai
Organised by four ‘visiting’ indigenous curators
(Sarah Biscarra Dilley, Freja Carmichael, Léuil Eshrāghi, Tarah Hogue, Lana Lopesi)
15 March - 25 May 2019
The title of this exhibition, Layover, refers to a delayed arrival or change in direction, a paused chance to assess one’s next move—especially if one is indigenous, in a strange urban environment and far away from one’s home village. Of course it also emphasises a horizontal layering (‘laying over’) of identities and the complexity of thinking (and emoting) along parallel channels, and rejecting the notion of any one, single, cultural exclusivity.
Therefore Layover endorses time taken to ponder a blending of influences from different geographies like strata, a hybridity of indigenous interests, a mutancy of mindsets where cultural empathies are stacked in parallel, without their perimeters dissolving—thus avoiding an amorphous, incoherent, ‘identity sludge’. The mixture of references is reflected in the listing of curators’ own genetic backgrounds, and in those of the selected artists; and in the collaborative processes of both cases, for occasionally the curators insert themselves as artists too.
Sited in Auckland Layover is the second iteration of a three-part international project. The first was The Commute in Brisbane (IMA) last September, and the third will be Transits and Returns in Vancouver later this year. Each iteration has its own line-up and global mix of indigenous artists.
For this version, the Artspace gallery is divided up into several open-plan ‘rooms’, the largest incorporating a long table set for a formal meal, and four other barely delineated ‘spaces’ allocated for a library, a video watching programme, and two tables for education groups and online research on the other iterations.
The walls have been cleverly divided up by colour: white is the backdrop for Edith Amituanai’s photographs; burnt orange for the library, video watching, online information and education desks; and a patterned slightly mauvish blue wallpaper by Louisa Afoa (Sāmoa, Nofoalii) surrounds the dinner table by BC Collective. The colour is physically imposing but not excessive.
Edith Amituanai (Sāmoa) is well known in Aotearoa for her intimate domestic images of architectural interiors. Her four photographs (one takeaway) are about cultural enthusiasms as detectable via the decor and contents of several Pasifika families’ lounges, families that are located in Auckland, Alaska and Nuie—they span twelve years. Valuable because of the way they perhaps destroy preconceived viewer assumptions about taste or collective passions, they showcase complexity and how acquisitions (that are both local and global in origin) juxtapose and intermingle.
The BC Collective (BC meaning ‘Before Cook, before Columbus’) consists of Cora-Allan Wickliffe (Ngāpuhi, Tainui, Alofi, and Liku) and Daniel Twiss (Lakota), an artist couple highlighting their Māori, Nuiean and First Peoples (North American) ancestry. Their table, set for a meal with eight invited guests where the Wickliffe and Twiss whanau offer specially prepared food, is covered with pieces of Nuiean hiapo (tapa) on which Wickliffe has drawn motifs from an inky Nuiean seed—and suspended above is a black chandelier featuring distinctive avian, mammalian and botanical silhouettes from Aotearoa and North America.
This table also presents an array of different sized and differently shaped handmade ceramics designed for the specific South Pacific foods to be served—they are decorated accordingly (there are framed working studies on the wall)—presented alongside clay drinking utensils based on bison horns.
Louisa Afoa‘s blue wallpaper is more complicated than what is at first apparent—the spatial relationships between the twenty-one design elements mainly based on Pacific edibles seem to shift around; a law unto themselves with a wit and unpredictability appropriate for this show.
Layover’s more participatory components invite you to sit on the mattresses and peruse the nineteen related books or the three videos from the Chumash people in California, the Quandamooka tribe in Southern Queensland and the Métis community in Canada. Or explore Louisa Afoa’s pamphlet for intermediate schools or the online websites looking at the show’s other iterations.
While refreshing with its insistence on an individual’s identity being a sort of cultural ‘club sandwich’, the show underplays the possibility that tensions can result when internally absorbed mores clash (be they indigenous in origin or otherwise)—and hard decisions have to be made. Clearly it is a thoughtful exhibition about human complexity and how cultures interact biologically and socially—charged with the post-colonial indigenous politic of our time. Visually appealing, it draws you in and gives you something back to leave with.
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