It’s not that easy to catch our favourite movies

Art installations can be tricky things to get right, but, like cooking from a complex recipe, very rewarding when it all comes together well. The food analogy is particularly fitting for two of the three installation artworks currently on display at the museum, one of which features a floor covered in rice (‘Indra’s Bow’ by Tiffany Singh and Jo Blogg) and the other, chocolate fish on the wall that visitors are welcome to take and eat (‘Koha to Hōhā’ by Israel Tangaroa Birch).

The third artwork was the most recent to be installed, as hundreds of ribbons were hung from the pillars of the museum forecourt ahead of the exhibition opening last week. Like the other two installations inside the museum, ‘The Colours of Light’ was challenging to install and needed some tweaking to get it right. But all three works are more than worth the effort.

‘The Colours of Light’ is refreshing in many different ways, most noticeably by bringing vibrant colour and movement to the front of the museum. Artist Tiffany Singh also tied over a thousand handmade bells to the ribbons that give wonderfully warm rich tones, a welcome contrast to the usual noise of the roundabout nearby.

But beyond that, it’s refreshing in its genuine approach to art that can be appreciated by all. Much of today’s art is alienated from the general public, which I think is primarily because in our consumerist society, most artworks function as luxury commodities; unfortunately creating the illusion that fine art is the domain of the wealthy few.

Then there is the focus in modern times on the conceptual side of art, which often forgets to allow for an intuitive or emotional response. Artworks are regularly accompanied by text that can give great insight into the intellectual element, but can also give the false impression that art has one true ‘meaning’ that a viewer needs to understand before they can appreciate the artwork.

Singh takes all of that baggage and throws it away. Her artworks are not fixed objects to be bought and sold for mainly private collections, instead she recreates them again and again in different public contexts around New Zealand and internationally for everyone to enjoy. She has a particular talent for creating work that gives a rich sensory experience, expressing joy, peace or a sense of the sacred (or all three) without any need for the viewer to know about the artist or her work – or any other art, for that matter.

And yet, if it does intrigue you and you want to know more, Singh’s artworks will reward your curiosity. In ‘The Colours of Light’ for example, there are meanings to be found in the colours of the ribbons, the inclusion of the bells, and the significance of placing the artwork outside an entranceway.

Many art students embrace installation and other ephemeral art forms while studying, when their creativity is free to some extent from the pressures of commercialism. Then they leave and find that platforms in which to present their performance, new media, or installation art are rare, and in a culture fixated on the production of things, they must either turn to creating sellable art objects or find work in some other field.

I find this a terrible shame, as ephemeral art is a wonderfully free-spirited mode of expression, unconcerned with commercial appeal or suitability for display in a domestic context. It’s great that museums and galleries are places that support these forms of art in accordance with our role as public cultural institutions. It was a privilege to work with Singh, we’ve been pleased by the positive response to her art, and we look forward to presenting the work of more artists like her in future.

Art for all: temporary artwork by Tiffany Singh

Art for all: temporary artwork by Tiffany Singh

Jessica Mio – Art Curator, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 5 November 2016

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This week has been an interesting learning curve for me, on how films are selected for the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) here at MTG Hawke’s Bay. Having yesterday gone through the trailers and descriptions of films we were given to choose from, I thought that was the selection done. I’d even started writing this column about the films that were coming but it turns out it’s not as simple as that.

I’d never truly understood why we couldn’t simply get the films we wanted and, while my understanding of the whole system is still a bit shaky, I now have a better picture of the process and complexities. A number of films come in with a limited license to screen i.e. can only be shown a certain number of times, and these end up in the larger cities where they have longer festivals, more screenings and more film-goers. Some films may be too close to general release or there may be arrangements with venues to show all of a certain genre, for example the Len Lye Centre tends to get a lot of the art films. The organisers then create a list of 40 or so films that they think will do well in the regions and we’re sent this list to make a selection. That’s where yesterday came in and I got very excited and wanted to tell you about the films coming here.

So, what have I learnt since then? Well there are other venues across the country running the film festival at the same time and there will be competing demands. The films can’t just be sent electronically to all the venues at the same time. They are sent as a physical copy and often require a code to unlock them (provided close to the time of screening). So the organisers have to juggle what everyone wanted against the availability of the films and transportation arrangements. We wait with baited breath to see which films we’ll get!

And of course it’s all a matter of taste – we can try to select what we think looks interesting and will appeal to a wide group but ultimately we can’t be sure. There are films we’d like because they are relevant – museum films, arts and culture subjects, regionally or nationally relevant topics – but we cannot predict what you, the viewing public, will choose to come and see. Rest assured we do campaign for the films we would really like to see here but we just have to wait and see.

In the meantime I can say there will be a range of films covering adventure, comedy, drama/suspense, children’s films and (hopefully) some arts and culture. We think the film festival works fabulously well in the beautiful Century Theatre and want to keep running it here. There are still too many people who are surprised when I tell them we run the NZIFF every year so can I please ask you all to help spread the word about the festival which starts this year on 7 September and runs through until the 24.

NZIFF at Century Theatre, MTG, 7 Sept – 24 Sept 2017

NZIFF at Century Theatre, MTG, 7 Sept – 24 Sept 2017

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 22 July 2017

School’s out so get youngsters into museum

It’s hard to believe we’re back into school holidays again. And, being in the throes of winter weather, we hope the museum might be an enticing place to bring children over this period.

If you have art lovers among your children or mokopuna then ‘Freedom & Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930-1960’ is not to be missed. Cubism was a radical new form of European art, moving away from replicating scenes to challenging conventional viewpoints, angles and indeed the very nature of art. It’s not often that you get to see a series of Colin McCahon artworks in one place and I was certainly surprised by the style of his works during this period. Another artist, Louise Henderson, has emerged as one of the standouts in this exhibition for me, with an incredibly fresh and vibrant style – utilising a colour palette that looks contemporary even today.

For music lovers ‘He Manu Tioriori: 100 years of Ngati Kahungunu music’ takes you on a journey through the amazing talent that has emerged within this region. From WWI waiata, through brass bands, jazz age, rock and roll, classical and contemporary music, to Matatini (the national kapa haka festival) held in Hastings earlier this year, this exhibition covers a vast array of styles and talents. Children especially enjoy interacting with the touch-activated instruments, creating their own jazz music – and there’s space to enjoy a bit of dancing as well. And if they haven’t tried it yet there’s also the chance to mix sounds of taonga puoro (Maori instruments) in Tenei Tonu.

If your child’s interest is history and stories of individual people, I cannot recommend the Earthquake Survivors Stories film highly enough – these are extraordinary first-hand stories told by survivors of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. They are moving, surprising, poignant and occasionally funny but all very honest and raw memories of the greatest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history. We’re currently working on adding subtitles to this film so that it can be more accessible to a wider audience (sadly not in time for these holidays though).

And of course our drop-in zone will be open throughout the school holidays with books and craft activities to enjoy (and some seating for the adults to take a break). Outside the drop-in zone we have our Matariki inspired colouring wall and there’s always the activity trail, which you can pick up from our lovely customer services team in the front foyer. This way children have something to do throughout the galleries while, hopefully, adults get enough time to enjoy the exhibitions on the way.

Whatever you choose to do over the holidays I hope you’ll manage to get some fun time in with your children and, if you’re like me, find ways to ensure they don’t sit in front of a screen the entire day!

Children making jazz music

Children making jazz music in He Manu Tioriori exhibition

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 8 July 2017

 

Band of Volunteers Keeps Our Museum Buzzing

Being volunteer week, it’s a great time to celebrate the many ways people contribute to society through unpaid work: from helping out at public institutions like ours, to assisting with sports, education, animal rescue, social services, environmental conservation, and so much more. Volunteering can be some of the most fulfilling work people do, as each person is contributing according to their own interests and talents. Their involvement is integral to building strong communities and it’s fantastic to see them recognised this week.

Here at the museum, we’re grateful for the support of our many dedicated and loyal volunteers, who help in a variety of ways both behind the scenes and in the public spaces. One of our longest-serving volunteers, Carol Delacy, works with the collection team whenever we’re putting textiles on display. Being one of the more complex items to display due to their fragility, we’re always appreciative of Carol’s skilled assistance.

Carol is also one of our volunteer hosts working in the galleries: enriching visitors’ interaction with exhibitions on display, answering any questions and assisting people during their visit. They will be out in force tomorrow during our Open Day, when entry to the museum will be free to all from 10am. We’re offering a series of floor talks, activities, and will be live-streaming the Kaumatua Kapa Haka event taking place in Wellington. There’s always a wonderful atmosphere when the museum is full of people, which makes being here especially enjoyable for our volunteers, as well as the staff members who come along. Tomorrow we’ll have several team leaders and a curator present, so if you’d like to speak to any of us about what you want to see at the museum, do come along and find us – or speak with our ever-friendly volunteer hosts and Customer Service team.

A major drawcard this Open Day is our latest exhibition, ‘Freedom & Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930-1960.’ This exhibition is on tour from Auckland Art Gallery, and features an array of stunning paintings by some of the most pre-eminent artists in our nation’s European art history. The story begins with John Weeks, who studied painting in France and brought back radical ideas that were developing there to New Zealand. He shared them with Louise Henderson, among others, who took the baton and developed her own cubist style that was by turns bold and refined.

Henderson in turn influenced New Zealand’s most famous artist, Colin McCahon, and the work of these two artists forms the main focus of the exhibition. There’s a generous number of their exemplary cubist works, and taken as whole, the exhibition presents the surprising range that this style had within New Zealand. There are scenes of Titirangi kauri bush, nude figures bathing, still-life compositions, a foundry with a pot of luminous molten metal, and more: all painted in the distinctive geometric style of cubism. I hope you can come and enjoy the show this weekend, or at some point before its closing date of 12th November.

Louise Henderson artwork titled Dieppe, 1959.

Louise Henderson artwork titled Dieppe, 1959.

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 24 June 2017

MTG Says Sad Farewell to Museum Supporter

Yesterday was a very sad day as I, along with other MTG Hawke’s Bay staff, attended the funeral for Don Millar. Don had an ongoing association with the museum, starting from his time as the Honorary Curator of Taonga Maori between 1990 – 2011. For almost 20 years he committed several days a week coming to the museum to research and catalogue the taonga collection, sharing with visitors and school groups his in-depth knowledge. Through his role at the museum, Don also built strong relationships with local iwi. An active archaeologist, he was awarded in 2011 the New Zealand Archaeological Association Inc public archaeology award in recognition of the outstanding work and dedication he showed to public archaeology. Don worked closely with Maori and had a great love and respect for Maori culture. A karakia was held for Don at a local Maori archaeological site today for people who could not attend the service.

While I only knew Don for a short period he had a great impact on me. I first met him in 2015 when I was giving a public presentation about the museum and where we are heading. Don was a stalwart supporter of what the museum was doing and of me personally – often turning up to many of my talks and reminding me if I’d forgotten anything. In his last few weeks Don was still ensuring he did things to support the museum, Maori and the wider community – bringing in the last of his toki collection from Tukituki Valley, Pakarae River and elsewhere, to ensure these are kept safe for future generations. I’m incredibly grateful for the short time I had with Don and along with museum staff truly treasure the memories we have of him.

On Thursday night this week the Foundation, also huge supporters of the museum, came together for a function and a more in-depth look at the ‘Out of the Box’ exhibition before it closes on Monday. We were delighted and very lucky to have Peter Shaw, Curator of the Fletcher Trust collection, walk us through the gallery and talk to specific artworks. Peter has a depth and breadth of knowledge about New Zealand art and the personal stories and anecdotes he was able to share really brought the artists and their work to life.

At the same event the Chairs of the Hawke’s Bay Museum Foundation and the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, acknowledged another example of support for the museum. This was the very tangible, regional and joint support of five different entities coming together to purchase a significant body of work for the collection. Napier City Council, Hastings District Council, Napier Port, the Foundation and the Trust all jointly purchased four Jono Rotman works from a series titled Omaranui. The artist, Jono Rotman, together with his dealer gallery, Gow Langsford, contributed the final two works in the series so that we have a complete set in the collection. These works will go on display in early September.

It takes many hands, and lots of different kinds of support, to make institutions such as ours work and we’re grateful to those who give so generously – of time, funds, knowledge and active support – we couldn’t do it without you.

Don Millar (second from left) participating in karakia at the museum

Don Millar (second from left) participating in karakia at the museum

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 3 June 2017

A TIME FOR LEARNING ABOUT ENCOMPASSING INCLUSION

Early Monday morning, two other museum staff and I travelled to Palmerston North for a conference on Museums of Inclusion: He Waka Eke Noa, looking at ways to make our institutions not only accessible to all, but also welcoming and relevant.

Warmly received by the local hapu of Rangitane, we heard from a range of speakers about the many different types of barriers that continue to exclude people from museums: from barriers to even entering the museum building, such as entry fees, to barriers that can make it physically difficult to navigate the museum, such as steps. There was rich discussion about cultural inclusion (and exclusion), looking at which stories are told, from whose perspective, and to which audiences. Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku referred back to the title of the conference, asking ‘whose waka is it? Who steers the waka, and who decides if full inclusion has been reached?”

We looked at how museums could make our content much more accessible, such as giving tours in sign language and accompanying written labels with audio versions. Practical sessions included tips on how to make exhibition spaces easy to navigate – and experience in full – while using a wheelchair.

It was immensely valuable to learn ways to break down barriers, and then to be inspired to go further. Physical and cultural access for all is just the minimum expected of museums, but what we really need to strive for is active and meaningful participation from a broad range of people within our community. That requires building relationships with a number of groups, especially those that have been marginalised, and over time increasing the diversity within museum staff.

I learned that 24% of the population lives with a disability, and that there are over 20,000 native speakers of New Zealand Sign Language. It’s exciting to think of the potential to work collaboratively to share stories from these communities and more that are not often heard.

I gave a short presentation on gender diversity, introducing those who weren’t familiar with the topic to the many ways that neither bodies nor personalities are limited to the binary model of female and male. With reference to the medically unnecessary surgeries still routinely performed on intersex babies and young people (and which the UN classes as torture), I encouraged museums to be leaders in acknowledging and welcoming all those whose realities aren’t reflected in the gender binary.

It was interesting to hear about what can make visiting the museum much more enjoyable for people with autism, such as having quiet areas to sit, away from lots of sensory stimulation. Another thought-provoking session looked at young people’s access to arts, culture and heritage while held in youth justice residences, and for incarcerated adults.

We were proud to receive a certificate as a finalist for a Museums Aotearoa Award on behalf of our Curator of Social History, Gail Pope, and to hear her congratulated for her wonderful work on the Napier Cemetery tours. All in all, it was a very valuable few days in Palmerston North and we’re looking forward to putting our new insights and perspectives into practice. Please do get in touch if you would like to give us some input on ways we can be more accessible, inclusive and welcoming.

Jess Mio – Art Curator, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 27 May 2017

Clock ticking on popular exhibition, don’t miss out

Time seems to fly by incredibly quickly and it’s hard to believe our very popular exhibition ‘Out of the Box’ closes in two weeks’ time. If you haven’t yet been in to see it, or want a last look around, then you need to be quick as the exhibition finishes on 5 June.

This gallery, featuring approximately ten percent of our framed artworks, is a complete floor to ceiling hang. Breaking away from chronological order, this display allows new interactions between artworks; for example showing 19th century paintings next to contemporary works, which enables the viewer to see differences and make connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. It also shows the rich diversity of the region’s collection, while bringing to our attention some gaps that we’ll try to fill over time.

Feedback on this gallery from the public has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s proven to be one of our more popular recent displays. Much like the 2008 exhibition ‘Open Home,’ which was equally popular, it provided an opportunity to put more on display than usual and create a particularly rich art experience. There’s sure to be at least one artwork in this gallery to appeal to each person’s taste.

Replacing this exhibition in June, is a touring show from Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki titled ‘Freedom and Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930-1960’. This exhibition looks at New Zealand’s response to the revolutionary new cubist style – which is possibly not a well-known period in our national art identity.

Cubism as an artistic style emerged in the early 20th century, with Pablo Picasso often cited as the creator – but more accurately developed in conjunction with French artist Georges Braque. Challenging representational style, this new form experimented with showing objects from multiple perspectives all at the same time. Braque and Picasso emphasised the flat surface of the picture canvas, rather than giving the illusion of depth. They reduced complex forms to basic geometric shapes. Early in the cubism period, the original subject matter could still be determined, but as the style developed, works were fragmented further into pure shapes, lines and planes without any reference to the physical world.

New Zealand was slow to adopt this radical shift in European art. Our isolation meant new developments were slow to reach our shores and, at that time, we continued leaning towards British, rather than continental European, influences. New Zealand audiences also tended to be very conservative and critical of artists who departed from the familiar style of clearly identifiable subjects and traditional perspectives.

Cubist art did emerge in New Zealand, albeit several decades later than overseas – but remains a lesser-known style in our national art history. This exhibition brings together artists Colin McCahon, Louise Henderson, Melvin Day, Charles Tole, John Weeks, and Wilfred Stanley Wallis to show a uniquely New Zealand expression of cubism.

Credit line: French Bay, Colin McCahon, 1957, courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Credit line: French Bay, Colin McCahon, 1957, courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 20 May 2017