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The Walters Prize offers multi-facetted stories, myths and histories

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Sonya Lacey “Weekend”

The Walters Prize 2021

Auckland Art Gallery

Until September 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

This year is the tenth Walters Prize exhibition showing a range of contemporary art practices with work  by  Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey, the Mata Aho Collective and Sriwhana Spong,

All the works are tell multi-facetted stories, myths and histories linked to investigations by the artists, so they become a mixture of autobiographical and biographical.

Fiona Amundsen’s “A Body that Lives” employs film and photography focusing on several aspects of the Pacific War, bringing together declassified archival footage, witness testimonies and documentary footage shot in various locations.

The work focuses on the both the Japanese and American experience of the war. The images of  destruction – a map of the devastation of Tokyo, planes strafing installations and on bombing raids, American forces using flame throwers are contrasted with the peaceful Cowra  Japanese Memorial Gardens in regional New South Wales,

While there are images of the horror of the  war the exhibition provides little history  condensing it down to the memories of four personal experience including an American war veteran, a Japanese anti-war activist and  memories of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Dominating the exhibition is an interview with Mr Teruo Murakami, a survivor of the 1944 ‘Cowra Breakout’, when one thousand Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from the Cowra prisoner of war camp.

His head  moves in and out of the closely cropped frame as he remembers the event, his disjointed memories echoed by the fragmented images of the war on the various screens .

Sonia Lacey’s “Weekend” uses collage, video, film and sculptural forms to animate her  research into the history and social aspirations of the St Bride Foundation in London which was established in the late nineteenth century to provide leisure facilities including an indoor pool to better the lives of newspaper workers of nearby Fleet St.  Some of the works conflates ideas around newspapers and the notions of memory contained in newspapers.

The space she creates  is intended to provide the dimensions of the pool and its structure with the bath’s steps providing a viewing platform for the major element of  the exhibition which features a slowly evolving site of abstract images referencing the  murky waters of the baths.

This mesmerizing cinematic panorama of images seems more like satellite images of Earth with continually unfolding landscapes and the changing textures of the land – rural areas, the course of rivers, the ridges of hills, as well as the occasional scudding cloud.

The Mata Aho Collective’s work “Atapō” was co-created with Maureen Lander and originally included in  Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Maori Art.

As with many mythologies, death and the afterlife are the realms of gods who are often in conflict or have ambivalent roles.  Mata Aho have developed their work around the story of Hine-Titama, the incestuous  daughter of Tane who journeyed to the Underworld to become Hine-nui-te-po  , the Goddess of Death and Darkness.

The ideas around death, transformation and new life are paralleled in various other mythologies and notions such as the Greek myth of human lives being woven by The Fates. In a sense the members of the collective have become  latter day versions of these Fates.

Mata Aho Collective, Atapo

The large Hine-nui-te-po consists of multiple layers of fabric as through on a giant weaving loom with small inserts of colour woven into the fabric marking out the passage of time.

With the brighter Hine-Titama seen through the dark folds of Hine-nui-te-po there is a link between the two works and they become a metaphor for the transition between life and death, between myth and reality, between dream and illusion.

Sriwhana Spong’s “The Painter-Tailer”  centres around the home of her paternal Balinese grandfather who was also an artist. This makes the work both biographical and  autobiographical combining both the artist’s world and that of her grandfather. As well as visual art elements there are many musical  and audio components linking East and West  The installation includes the artists own work, video of her grandfather’s art along with  Spong’s  several sculptural instruments inspired by the Indonesian gamelan.  There is a further musical reference in the fabric works made by the artist which uses the coat tails of a conductor’s formal suit.

There will be a performance in the Sriwhana Spong space utilising her personal orchestra each month with the first confirmed performance date on Saturday, 19 June.

The Walters Prize will be judged later this year by Kate Fowle, director of Moma PS1 in New York with the winning artist announced at the Walters Prize award dinner to be held in the Gallery on Saturday 7 August.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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