Today when we see an artwork, it is readily assumed that a single person created it, and in a different place from where it is exhibited. It is isolated from the community from which it came.
In truth, however, much art involves collaboration of one kind or another and in many cultures work has been made by many in the very place it will be installed, as a collective expression of identity.
Given how fundamental this is to Maori culture, it shouldn't seem as unusual as it does, then, to visit just such an exhibition here in Wellington.
The exquisite Te Whare Pora was created by the Mata Aho Collective as this summer's annual residency at Enjoy Gallery.
For large parts of its creation, the four artists (Sarah Hudson, Terri Te Tau, Erena Baker and Bridget Reweti) slept, ate and worked in the space.
Not only does the work show the rigour and care of being created by a group working in union over an intense period, the manner of its creation also gives it power.
It asks questions of how we relate, create and present work together. It illustrates that Maori marae customs offer much useful knowledge for the future.
The work has been created from 20 queen-size faux mink blankets bought from The Warehouse and painstakingly stitched together with a faux satin trim.
Cheap imports they may be, but a "minkie" is a popular provider of warmth on marae. A whare pora, meanwhile, is a house of learning, specifically, in tradition, one for weaving.
In this way the work speaks strongly of the concept of a collective cloak for warmth and learning. Popular material, contemporary installational art practice and modernist forms combine here to give traditional craft renewed meaning.
The mink has been brushed in different directions and motions, to create a beautiful and dramatically changing abstract surface.
Filling most of the space, the giant blanket unfolds elegantly within it, falling from the ceiling of the far wall like water and then rippling up to our feet at the entrance.
The creases and folds across its surface create a map or cloudy surface for you to project your own images on to.
It asks to be mentally unwrinkled. It is hung like a photographic studio cloth might and, as such, is a stage for the viewer's own contribution. The scale, form and its hanging feel like a very considered response to the room it is in.
This is not a demanding work. Rather it's strong, accessible and generous in its openness to interpretation. This is often a strength of sophisticated collective work. It has clarity.
It follows strongly both traditional and contemporary tradition. On the one hand, there is the rhythmic stitching of wall kowhaiwhai pattern or a korowai (cloak), on the other, the strong, black, glistening ocean surface of a Ralph Hotere or an Ani O'Neill quilt work.
All four artists trained at Massey in photography. That's not just evident in the way the gallery resembles a photography studio, it's also there in the play of light across the work's inky and velvety blackness.
The sewing machine, rather than the camera, is these artists' machine.
It's the largest handmade photographic print you'll ever see, absorbing and reflecting what the gallery's big windows give it. I could see the light imprint of feet on its sensitive surface, as if it had been magically danced upon.
Te Whare Pora, Mata Aho Collective, Enjoy Gallery, until February 3.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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