MTG exhibition suggests ‘evil’ plastic should be viewed as treasure

Our newest exhibition opened to the public yesterday: George Nuku’s ‘Bottled Ocean 2118’. It took three weeks of creative collaboration with school groups, members of the public, museum staff, and many of George’s friends and whānau to bring his vision to life, and we thank all those who contributed.

As the show’s title suggests, George’s vision focusses on the convergence of plastic and oceans. George holds a rare perspective on plastic, which turns prevailing attitudes entirely upside down. Plastic is commonly regarded as a useful (perhaps necessary) evil that, while endlessly versatile, is also undesirable and almost worthless: often seen as an inferior imitation of a more ‘real’ material.

In contrast, George sees plastic as a taonga, a beautiful and precious substance just like pounamu or diamond, with unique properties and an incredible genealogy. Millions of years of intense heat and pressure transformed the remains of ancient marine life into crude oil, which is extracted from the body of Papatūānuku, Mother Earth, and used in chemical processes to form the vast array of plastic forms in existence today. They are therefore simultaneously the oldest and the newest objects in our lives, and they’re all entirely real.

Plastic itself is not evil at all: rather it is a systemic social failure to suitably value this extraordinary substance that sees it produced in obscene overabundance then discarded after minimal use, resulting in dangerous degradation of the ecosystems we all rely on.

I sum up George’s approach to this dilemma as ‘don’t’ hate the plastic, hate the game’ – which reminds me of a work in the EAST exhibition currently on show at Hastings City Art Gallery. ‘The Strong Silent Type’ by Kauri Hawkins features a chess board populated with coins, bottles of coke, packets of cigarettes and more: ‘goods’ which, as Kauri explains, labouring workers often buy from dairies to get through the day.

Kauri makes the point through this artwork that we’re all playing a big game, with pre-determined rules and pieces to play with. Viewers are prompted to ask ourselves, do we like this game? Is it the best one for us all? Where does it come from, who developed it, and how does it end?

‘Bottled Ocean’ presents one possible outcome: an imagined world of 100 years into the future, in which the ice caps have melted and the surface of the globe is covered in ocean. The life forms that have survived have adapted to the proliferation of plastic, and are now both strange and enchantingly beautiful. Microplastics have become children of Tangaroa, while Pānia is seen surrounded by her whānau, contemplating the changes wrought to her undersea world.

Before meeting George, I thought my perspective on plastic was set in place: it’s bad and we need to get rid of it. But his approach, embodied in his art, is compelling and has certainly made me think again – with both more nuance and rigour than before. He will give a talk in the exhibition space this morning, so do come along if you’d like to hear his insights for yourself while experiencing the carved plastic phenomenon that is ‘Bottled Ocean 2118.’

  • Artist talk with George Nuku in the ‘Bottled Ocean 2118’ exhibition, MTG Hawke’s Bay, today at 11am. All welcome, free entry
  • Talk, walk and beach clean with curator Jess Mio, beginning in the ‘Bottled Ocean 2118’ exhibition. Gloves and bags supplied. Free event, starting and ending at MTG Hawke’s Bay. Saturday 1 September 10am.
  • New Zealand International Film Festival at MTG Century Theatre from Thursday 30 August to Sunday 16 September. Tickets on sale now.

    George Nuku

Jess Mio, Curator – Art, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 25th August 2018


It’s Film Festival Time!

It’s film festival time again. On Thursday 30 August we have the New Zealand International Film Festival launch with our opening film Disobedience. After the death of her father (a revered rabbi) Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home and rekindles a relationship that could rip the orderly Jewish community apart. Described by The Hollywood Reporter as “A transfixing consideration of love, faith, sexuality and freedom” and with a star-studded cast, this looks set to make a great opening film for the festival launch.

In keeping with the nature of film festivals, there’s something for everyone’s taste and we’re really pleased to have three films focused on art this year. Kusama –Infinity tells the story of Yayoi Kusama who left Japan for New York in the 1960s. Famous for polka dot covered scenes Kusama was subject to racism and sexism yet “routinely copied by male contemporaries such as Andy Warhol”.

The Price of Everything explores commercial realities of art. Following the build up to a major Sotheby’s auction this documentary looks at artists who have mastered the marketplace, auction house experts, and an artist who is trying to get back ‘on the scene’. This one will be a must see for me!

Our closing film, Petra, follows a young painter’s journey to discover her father. Petra visits Jaume’s estate in Catalan, Spain, where he works on his grand-scale sculptural works. With dead bodies, plot twists, a villian and spectacular scenery this film looks set to be a feast for both eyes and mind.

Keeping on the theme of visual feasts Yellow is Forbidden follows Guo Pei, the leading couture designer in China as she tries to make it in Paris. Along with truly sumptuous cinematography and breathtaking costumes, this film also explores a determined individual trying to break into an impossibly difficult market. Directed by award-winning New Zealand director, Pietra Brettkelly, a ticket for this film was my first purchase.

A sub-theme among these films is that of strong woman, and who could fit better into this than Vivienne Westwood. Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist provides a fast-paced, dynamic and vibrant look at the passions and drivers behind the huge brand name of Vivienne Westwood.

Another power-house woman is Halla, an “Icelanic superwoman in a woolly jumper” in the film Woman At War. Living the ordinary and invisible life of a middle-aged woman, Halla is also, unbeknownst to most, a secret eco-warrier activist who is fighting a battle against industrial pollution “one exploded pylon at a time”.

There’s such a great line-up of films this year and I’ve only touched on a few. I really wish I could just sit in the theatre for two weeks and watch them all!

  • Friends of the Aquarium workshop (held at MTG) with artist George Nuku, today 18 August at 11:00am. Please pre-register with the Aquarium.
  • Kororaeka – The Ballad of Maggie Flynn, 24 August, Century Theatre from 7:30pm. Tickets available online from Ticketek and at MTG.
  • New Zealand International Film Festival, 30 August – 16 September, Century Theatre, 32 films from 16 different countries, brochures available now. Tickets available online from Ticketek and at MTG.Disobedience

    Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

    Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 18th August 2018

EAST exhibition extends into MTG for first time

Open today is Hastings City Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘EAST’, showing a vibrant array of creative works by 23 artists and designers who each have a connection to Hawke’s Bay. EAST recurs every two years yet is always unique, with this year’s show extending beyond the Hastings gallery walls and – for the first time – into MTG. We are pleased to host the work of three participants and have enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with guest curator Bruce E. Phillips, staff at the gallery, and of course the artists.

A video playing near the sea-facing window upstairs features Jacob Scott (Te Arawa, Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu) giving insight into his landscape design aspects of the Marine Parade Redevelopment: how the new space incorporates stories of mana whenua while encouraging positive interaction between people and the land.

Meanwhile, Auckland-based artist Natalie Robertson (Ngāti Porou) has hung an expansive black and white work on the wall in the main foyer, capturing the attention of all those who enter the museum. It is a photograph of a spring, taken at sunrise, with ferns dipping below the perfectly still surface of the water. Drawn by family connections, Natalie went searching for this particular spring at Te Rimu, near the Waiapu River on the East Cape. Her great-great-great-grandparents lived nearby, and Tikapa Marae, Natalie’s ancestral meeting house, can be seen from the spring.

A partner photograph titled ‘Puketapu’ hangs at Hastings City Art Gallery, tracing the subsequent migration of Natalie’s forebears south to Heretaunga. Her great-great grandfather, George Gillespie Boyd, bought the nearby Silverford mansion from the proceeds of his extensive real estate portfolio. Natalie describes how he made his retirement money in 1913 by purchasing 30 acres at Poraiti, then selling the land in sections two years later. In this way, he and his family profited from the system of Crown-imposed land laws, yet descendants such as Natalie also experience the dispossession caused by those same laws – and for which the Crown has since apologised. In the Heretaunga Tamatea Claims Settlement Bill, the Crown “offers its profound apologies for its actions that alienated you from the whenua that had sustained your ancestors for generations, and deprived you of access to your lakes, rivers, wetlands, and springs.” Which leads back to why Natalie was searching for the spring at Te Rimu.

The third EAST artist at MTG, George Tamihana Nuku (Ngāti Hinemanu, Ngāi Te Upokoiri), is also displaying art at both sites. His ‘Bottled River’ installation is now on show at Hastings, while the related full exhibition at MTG ‘George Nuku: Bottled Ocean 2118’ will open to the public on Friday 24 this month. This week George has been busy creating artworks out of plastic with the help of school groups, and with thanks to all those who have brought in their used bottles. He often shares some pieces of advice with the kids – one of which seems to particularly resonate with them. “You need three things to be a great artist: a pencil, a pencil sharpener, and a rubber. Always keep your pencil sharp, and likewise your thoughts. Sharpen your thoughts as you sharpen your pencil, every day.”

  • Chamber Music NZ presents Italy’s Ensemble Zefiro, playing 17th and 18th century woodwind instruments. MTG Century Theatre, Thursday 16 August 7:30pm, tickets $5.50.
  • Artist talk with George Nuku through his exhibition ‘Bottled Ocean 2118.’ MTG Hawke’s Bay, Saturday 25 August 11am, all welcome, free entry.
  • Talk, walk and beach clean with curator Jess Mio, starting in the ‘Bottled Ocean 2118’ exhibition. Gloves and bags supplied. MTG Hawke’s Bay, Saturday 1 September 10am, all welcome, free entry.


Image caption: SPRING FOUND: ‘Te Rimu’ by Natalie Robertson, digital photographic print, 2018

Jess Mio, Curator – Art, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 11th August 2018

Historic moments through the eyes of the Webb family

It might puzzle visitors to stumble across a segment on the Mount Tarawera eruption in the museum’s newest exhibition, “The House of Webb: A Victorian family’s journey to Ormondville”. The viewer may wonder why this event is part of an exhibition that focuses on Southern Hawke’s Bay.

However, the connection between the eruption and the Webb family living in Ormondville, does make sense. Just after midnight on Thursday, 10 June 1886, Mount Tarawera near Rotorua, erupted: the people of Te Wairoa, a village close to the mountain, were woken by a sequence of earthquakes and massive explosions. Fountains of molten rock and thick columns of smoke and ash rose over ten kilometres high. For more than four terrifying hours’ rocks, ash and mud bombarded the peaceful village. Mount Tarawera had split wide open.

Rocks, ash and mud did not besiege Ormondville, however the eruption still made its presence felt in the small township. Tom Webb, the nephew of Reverend Anthony Webb, wrote a letter to his brother Arthur, in England: “Early yesterday morning (10th) about 3.30 I was awakened by very heavy, loud and deep boomings, which sounded very much like heavy guns being fired at sea. The first one woke me up & was the loudest […] the boomings kept up at intervals of a few seconds.”

Other parts of Hawke’s Bay were similarly affected. “The Daily Telegraph” newspaper recorded that, in Woodville people were startled from sleep by “a series of loud explosions, accompanied by rumbling noises: at each discharge there was a violent shaking of the earth.” Meanwhile in Waipukurau, a dance held in the town hall was still in progress, when the gaiety was interrupted by a series of earthquakes, accompanied with “loud rumblings as of distant thunder” and “flames shooting up high into the air”. Terrified, the party broke up and the dancers quickly left for the safety of their homes. Along with earthquakes and explosions, “vibrant flashes of light in the northern sky” stunned the people of Napier.

Meanwhile, those living in Gisborne saw the magnificent sight of “volumes of fire shooting up in the air out of an umbrella-shaped cloud which spread over the whole sky”. By four in the morning, Gisborne was in utter darkness and there was a distinct smell of sulphur pervading the air. Breathing in the air “had a peculiar effect on many of the inhabitants” and by morning the “birds were seen flying about in a helpless fashion”.

That morning was a milestone in New Zealand’s geographical history: the Pink and White Terraces, colonial New Zealand’s premier tourist attraction and considered the eighth wonder of the world were destroyed along with Te Wairoa. On the 15 June, Tom Webb continued in his letter: “It is believed by people who have been within a mile of where the terraces are supposed to be that they have disappeared & a lake formed over them.”

Today all that remains are memories shared by those who experienced the devastation – accounts like those of Tom Webb, and paintings by eminent New Zealand artists, two of which are on show in this current exhibition.

Tarawera Eruption‘The White Terraces’ by Charles Blomfield

The White Terraces known as Te Tarata (the tattooed rock) originally fell 30 metres from a geyser that produced the white silica of the terraces. These terraces spread out and down for about 240 metres and the water spilling into pools was a crystal-clear blue.

Gail Pope – Curator Social History, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 4th August 2018