Unearthing hidden treasures

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 12:50 22/08/2012
Tim Wraight
ANNA PEARSON/FAIRFAX NZ

CONTEMPLATION: Marahau carver and artist Tim Wraight at the Suter Gallery, with works from his exhibition, Enclave.

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Otuwhero-Marahau sculptor Tim Wraight strives to create an alternate reality in his first solo show at the Suter Gallery, but - as Anna Pearson discovers - it's remarkably similar to the real thing:

Marahau, to many, is known as "The Hau”, but Te Hau is something different altogether - or is it?

Te Hau is sculptor Tim Wraight's “alternate reality”.

It's an autonomous enclave, situated at the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. It even has its own flag.

A green triangle represents Takaka Hill and a crescent moon indicates the golden sands of Golden Bay.

Two small stars, protected by the arc, are Adele Island and Fisherman Island.

Wraight's initial concept for his first solo show at the Suter was more futuristic or, as he puts it, “weirder”.

It revolved around an archaeological excavation, in which he would construct artefacts from a community at Otuwhero-Marahau.

A futuristic look at the past - or the present, if you will.

Suter curator Anna-Marie White, in conversation with the artist last year, suggested he “scrap the science fiction stuff” as Otuwhero-Marahau was already interesting enough.

“I said, ‘Dude, why don't you just make the taonga for your community. Why don't you just scrap the science fiction stuff, because you've got to understand from where I am, looking at your community, it's so special and it's so interesting and so different. It doesn't need to be science fiction'. He came back to me and said, ‘I am going to do this project where I create a marae or wharenui for my community, but it's going to be an alternative reality as though we are an autonomous enclave.”

And that is what he did.

Step into the Suter's wooden-floored gallery and you'll find treasures associated with Wraight's enclave.

The Pakeha Maori artist imagines Otuwhero-Marahau as a hermetically sealed environment where extremist ideologies are allowed to flourish unimpeded.

Says White: “He was being artful and playful, but it has actually become real. These ideas are actually long-held attitudes within this community."

There's a map outlining the territory, the flag and photographs by Nina van der Voorn of Te Hau's seven tohunga - or Maori priests.

“Tim respects all of these people. They are the keepers of the sacred knowledge."

There's a horsekeeper, woodworker, gardener, hunter, fisherwoman, boatmaker and publican.

They're Wraight's mates.

“I have known all these people for donkey's years. This is what they do. I made them these honorary medallions. There are a few more to be made - a few other people need honouring,” he says.

There's a set of five talking sticks on the wall, relating to conflict resolution, water, land, foreshore and a red one for matters of the heart - “you slept with my wife, it's a typical Marahau story”.

A giant, carved wooden ceremonial mortar and pestle hangs from the ceiling, which was made about six years ago as part of Wraight's original idea to set the exhibition in the future.

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“The story is that when we have our harvest we get our wheat and we do our first crush and then we all get drunk,” he says.

Wraight, who is trained in customary Maori woodcarving, has created key architectural features of a marae, like a carved door that symbolises entry to a wharenui.

Wraight says he realised, while conceptualising and creating the show, that Te Hau was far from an alternate reality.

"I live in it. It's not alternate. It started off years ago in my head and it was going to be much more in the future and much kind of weirder, but then when I moved here it all just went click, click, click, click... ‘S..., I'm in it'. I'm in the middle of it."

  • Enclave, Tim Wraight, Suter Gallery, until October 14. Floortalk 2pm this Saturday. Jam session with Wraight's band esc.shift.return 2pm Saturday September 1.

- Nelson

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