Shigeyuki Kihara: A lament for the lost
Published NZ Herald
September 7, 2012
When the judges did the initial cull of the 502 entrants for the
Wallace Art Awards, all they saw of Shigeyuki Kihara's work were two
stills. They did not see the whole 4.49 minute video until after rating
most of the other 118 finalists, but as judge Warwick Brown said, all
three judges immediately made it their top pick, the first time a
multimedia work has taken the supreme prize.
More than anything else in the show, Galu Afi: Wave of Fire
justifies the Wallace's status as a premier contemporary art prize - and
with the cash and residencies totalling more than $160,000 it's also
one of the most well endowed.
Kihara will spend six months in residence at the International Studio and Curatorial Programme in New York.
Born in Samoa in 1975 and raised in Japan and Samoa before coming to New
Zealand to study, Kihara's art training came through immersion in
fashion (including studying fashion design and technology at Wellington
Polytechnic in 1996), theatre, dance, hip-hop and electronic music.
"Producing fashion shows and shoots and gigs led me to
understand how I could use those production skills to pursue my own
work," she says. "I pretty much had to source the studio, the models,
the clothes. They don't teach you that at art school."
Kihara has built up a vocabulary of forms and techniques that allows her
to move beyond core themes like racial and gender identity and
colonisation to add a powerful poetic element.
Like the work Siva
in the Home AKL
show at Auckland City Art Galley, Galu Afi
is an extension of The Last Taualuga
which was performed at the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane in 2002
and subsequently in Melbourne, with a recording of that performance now
held by Te Papa.
That piece was inspired by an image of a Samoan woman wearing a
Victorian mourning dress. It was taken by Thomas Andrew, a New Zealander
who moved to Apia in 1891 and made a living making studio portraits and
images for the booming postcard industry.
"When I found the photo, I wanted to understand the context of how this
came about," Kihara says. "Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be amazing if I
could see her performing the taualaga - maybe I should do this myself.'
Whenever I am performing it, she is on my mind, she is the muse behind
In Samoan culture, the taualaga is a dance of celebration. Kihara wanted
to explore how it could function as social commentary. The fact that
many of the images of classical non-western cultures come through the
colonial gaze and studio creations of photographers like Andrew has
given many post-colonial and indigenous artists a tool to reclaim their
"Colonial administrators and missionaries enforced rules on Samoans to
appear civilised, including wearing clothes. Only in the photography
studio were we asked to take off our clothes and become the noble
savage, dusky maiden, heathen cannibal, for the gaze of photographers
who wanted to make money from the postcard boom.
"New Zealand was part of that image-making industry of Samoan people,
and those early photographs set precedents for the racism that continues
are both laments for the 2009 tsunami in
Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga that killed at least 189 people, and
were done in the same day-long session, with Rebecca Swan on camera and
Kirsty MacDonald in the editor's chair. While taualuga also usually
involves music, lyrics, sound, the artist has turned the dance into a
"Performing the taualuga in silence was awkward at first but the more I
was in the studio with my production crew, I did a couple of takes as
soon as I found my rhythm then I was able to pursue it. It's shot in
real time so in my choreography I have to manipulate and slow down
certain movements based on how they would be used in post-production to
show the tracking.
"If you YouTube taualuga you see the speed of performance is drastically
different from mine, so I am not performing a taualuga but the
movements are informed by it."
The camera was shifted from a vertical axis, which emphasised the full
body undulations of Siva, to a horizontal shot that captured Kihara from
the chin to the waist, with the attention on the hand movements which
become multi-tracked. The effect could be seen as a metaphor for the
inexorable movement of water swallowing up the horizon.
The early photographic references are to Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne
Jules Morey, whose pioneering of stop-action photography to capture
motion was a crucial step in the development of cinema. The title was
lifted from a book by Lani Wendt, commissioned by the Samoan Government
to gather recollections of tsunami survivors.
"I thought her translation of galu awhi as waves of fire was brilliant, water that behaves like fire."
Kihara's Living Photographs
exhibition in 2008-2009 at the
Metropolitan Museum in New York - the first New Zealander to show there -
means there is already keen interest in her work in North America.
She will be breaking up her New York stay with commitments in Ottawa,
Germany, Australia and Samoa, and also intends to reach out to diaspora
communities in Utah and San Francisco. A priority is to spend time in
the Margaret Mead Hall at the Natural History Museum going through the
archived material behind the anthropologist's Coming of Age in Samoa
"I want to unpack and repack the controversy. The book became a
best-seller, it contributed to the feminist movement, modern thought and
the ways Americans think of their own society, but after Mead's death
many of the women she interviewed in American Samoa came forward to say
everything they told her was based on lies."
How that will manifest itself in future remains to be seen. "All my work
is research-based and the work is created in response to my findings,
so it's a post-studio practice, where the studio is in my head," she
Shigeyuki Kihara, paramount winner of this year's Wallace Art AwardWhere and when:
The Award Winners & Travelling Finalists, Pah Homestead, 72
Hillsborough Rd, to November 11; Salon des Refuses, Pah Homestead, to
The conundrum of blurring reality
Published NZ Herald
August 25, 2012
Faced with Jude Rae's paintings of bottles and vases, the
cursory observer might drop the M word: Morandi. More rewarding may be
to ask why they are not like the work of the Italian master of the still
"I am much more attached to describing than Morandi was," says Rae, back
briefly to open the show from her base in Sydney. "I would not presume
to have the extraordinary ability Morandi had of combining description
with something that is more to do with the way paint sits on canvas in a
sort of abstract, non-figurative way.
"I flail about at the descriptive end of things and I would love to be
more in command of what I am doing but then I don't want to be Morandi
either. He is as much of a touchstone for me as Chardin, or Cezanne."
It was Morandi who declared, "Nothing is more abstract than reality,"
something that resonates with where Rae has gone. Most of her work is
still life, although there is the occasional exquisitely rendered
She describes still life as "the lab rat of genres" - which is why it
was so important at the turn of the 20th century when painters were
coming to terms with the impact of new technologies like photography.
"Still life is not just about formal relationships. To me it is about the ability to sit there and question my perceptions in a very quiet sort of frame and the obvious comparison is when I substitute objects like bottles for a person and that is an entirely different experience.
"It nudges philosophical and existential questions in a very practical way - there is another person in the room, and that is a very confronting and complicated situation and I find it sort of horrifying and fascinating at the same time."
Assembling elements for a still life is the starting point for a painting, not the end point. It's about making choices, but also setting limits. "The interesting thing about working in a representational or realist idiom is that it sort of mucks up the formal perfection of your own little world, you can't just do what you want to do. There are elements of chance. There are other considerations, such as me wanting to neutralise a lot of the suggestive or symbolic freight that certain objects carry with them, that tends to bleed through to a lot of still lifes, so there may be a nostalgia or there are readings attached to an object."
The latest work has more colour than other recent shows, something Rae thinks is cyclical in her work.
"It comes and goes. I think I am getting more confidence," she says at
the age of 56. "I don't have to worry so much about what I do and that
brings me more engagement with the palette. I think it is pretty
arbitrary, it just happens to be the framework I work in. I just want a
reason to put a cool blue against a warm French blue and I'm referring
to the background and the tabletop, but it sort of doesn't matter."
She occasionally leaves underpainting exposed, in particular a translucent burnt sienna.
"Most of the paintings are cool, so the red functions to enliven a
primarily cool palette," she says. "I used it strictly as underpainting
for a long time. Then I started contriving to reveal it in ways that
were a self conscious allusion of the constructedness of the technique."
That is part of Rae's broader agenda as a figurative painter to use elements from the 20th century abstract tradition.
"Having looked a lot at Robert Ryman and other painters who approach
painting as object, I am sorting my way around. I suppose it's part of
my attempt to understand painting for myself.
"It articulates for me the growing certainty that there is no such thing
as representational painting, all painting is abstract, and painters
since time immemorial have approached painting as object, but the
foregrounding of that in the 20th century caused a chasm to develop
Rae says her painting is a dialogue with her father, a gifted painter who was unable to pursue his passion.
"He studied at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney which was like
this 19th century colonial outpost of the Slade and he came of age just
at the point after the war when the finer points of figurative painting
weren't exactly in the forefront of anyone's mind ... As one inherits
from one's parents, I grew up with his sense of disappointment. I also
now realise he wasn't actually fitted to operate in the art world, he
was too internally tumultuous and contradictory."
Rae herself earned a diploma in drawing and painting from the Julian
Ashton school before completing a bachelors degree in art history.
She moved New Zealand in 1990, doing a fine art masters at Ilam in
Christchurch. She says the shift was the best thing she could have done.
"It got me out of the place [where my father was] and allowed me to
"From that distance I was able to embrace the idea that has pretty much
pushed me along, that it must be possible to find a contemporary
articulation for the sorts of values that informed the best of his
painting and the best of the painting that came out of the 19th
Jude Rae New PaintingsWhere and when: Fox Jensen Gallery
, corner McColl and Roxborough Sts, Newmarket, to September 29