The invitation to the Christchurch Art Gallery te Puna o Waiwhetū’s new take on its collection, Te Wheke Pathways Across Oceania is celebrated on the east wall of its building and the wall above the foyer with two new works by Kelcy Taratoa, (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Raukawa).
On the east wall on Worcester Boulevard is Te Tāhū o ngā Maunga Tūmatakahuki (voyage and exploration) and above the foyer, Whakatakina te Waiwhetū (to pursue the many stars reflected in the sacred spring).
Lead curator Felicity Milburn describes their associated themes: ‘Belonging and connection were a starting point for Kelcy Taratoa, working with the support of mana whenua, including Nathan Pohio, to ground the work in local narratives that relate to discovery and whakapapa.’
As large-scale works that welcome us into Ōtautahi Christchurch’s public gallery they share in the spirit of three earlier murals by Taratoa in Tauranga Art Gallery’s atrium from October 2019 to welcome visitors to the gallery and its survey exhibition of the artist’s paintings, Who Am I? Episode 001. Collectively titled, Te Kore, te-wiwia: A Space Without Boundaries the murals represented possible ways to respond to and address the question in the exhibition’s title.
Taratoa acknowledges that he engaged with each gallery’s architecture and the significance of their structures as cultural vessel housing our cultural artefacts. ‘My role is to create a work that connects specifically to the community, that calls out to and invites the community to come in and engage, like the kaikaranga (a call of welcome) reaches out and welcomes the visitors onto the marae.’
‘I considered the Christchurch Art Gallery wall as I did the Tauranga Art Gallery’s atrium walls as a veil that is thin and allows us to slip into and even through, like ‘te ārai’. This links back to tukutuku as te ira atua, the realm of the gods, a space for wānanga deep philosophical discussion and to ponder beliefs, knowledge and history. Te Tāhū o ngā Maunga Tūmatakahuki’ makes a link for Māori back to Tahiti and beyond. But it is grounded in the local history of the haukāinga, Ngai Tūāhuriri, and Ngāi Tahu and Ari te Uru tradition. It makes reference to Oceania, but is grounded to Te Waipoumanu through the prominent inclusion of Aoraki.’
In their symbolism, themes and imagery they encompass an ongoing conversation from Taratoa with his love and respect for European abstract painting. Taratoa says that tukutuku is a means ‘to explore a conceptual, philosophical and spiritual space where rich layers of meaning attributed to the natural world have been abstracted into geometric shapes and formulated into patterns.’
In the early decades of the 20th century, the idea of pure abstraction in European art was also a means to explore philosophical questions with Russian artist Vassily Kandinsky, (1866 – 1944) raising important questions about his painting: ‘Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to walk about into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?’
Taratoa maintains that the marae and whare tipuna (meeting house) are spaces that have always been places for discussion and debate about where you belong and who you are. ‘In Māori visual art traditions nature is abstracted. Māori art operates within a conceptual framework where it is not necessary to represent nature literally. Rather it is the concept of nature which is present - allowing for a more open philosophical space where meaning is not fixed within representation.’
Te Wheke Pathways Across Oceania
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū
Corner Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street
1. Kelcy Taratoa, Te Tāhū o ngā Maunga Tūmatakahuki, 2020. Acrylic paint on wall. Commissioned by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū