Tomato plants have stake in art

16:00, Dec 12 2012
Bruce Phillips
MODERN TAKE: Curator Bruce Phillips talks about the current exhibition at Te Tuhi in which the artists looked at memorialisation.

Roller doors, tomato plants, empty record sleeves and lamps - it is an eclectic ensemble of items.

But there is more to it than that. This is what makes up the new exhibition at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts.

It is a modern take on memorialisation by artists Luke Willis Thompson, Ruth Ewan and Maddie Leach.

Heirloom tomato plants
HORTICULTURE ART: Over More than 200 heirloom tomato plants grow at Te Tuhi art gallery as part of the exhibition Between Memory and Trace.

Each ready-made piece of art acts as an ode to three powerful yet almost forgotten struggles.

There is Pihema Cameron, who was stabbed to death in Manurewa. The three roller doors he tagged in his final moments now hang from Te Tuhi's walls.

There is American civil rights activist Paul Robeson, who is commemorated by more than 200 heirloom tomato plants that cover the gallery courtyard.


And there is the dwindling Jewish community in Cork, Ireland, to be commemorated by the lighting of a lamp in Shalom Park in honour of Hanukkah which will be live streamed to Te Tuhi on December 16.

Curator Bruce Phillips says all three artists have taken on a subject and tackled the idea of how to commemorate the person or issue.

"Memorials in a civic sense are usually concrete obelisks, or statues, or bronze plaques - that is the traditional mode of memorials."

But he says these artist have used everyday objects that have cultural significance, or a story attached.

"It is quite touching that Ruth's artistic gesture was to cultivate a large grove of tomato plants."

But these are not just the general store variety. These plants are heirloom Paul Robeson tomatoes.

"No-one knows who named them after him but it is Siberian variety tomato so it obviously comes from his fame in Russia."

It was the singer and civil rights activist's association with the Soviet Union and his criticism of the US Government which resulted in him being made an outcast by the McCarthy-era government.

"He was blacklisted, no one would listen to his music, he suffered greatly from being under the eye of the government," Mr Phillips says.

Commemorating a story closer to home is the work of Luke Willis Thompson who acquired the roller doors that 15-year-old Pihema Cameron tagged before he was stabbed by Bruce Emery in Manurewa in 2008.

There was national interest in the case and two years after being sentenced for manslaughter Mr Emery was released from jail.

Mr Phillips says that although Pihema was not killed near the doors the faint trace left by the tagging meant it became a marker to the crime.

The doors became available as the new home-owners began renovating and removing the traces of the incident, Mr Phillips says.

"They are artwork now so the story lives on and they live on as part of Luke's work."

The exhibition Between Memory and Trace runs to February 10, 2013.

The live streaming of the lighting of the lamp in Cork is on December 16 from 5am to 6am.

Eastern Courier