Review | Infiltrations II

‘Infiltrations II’
Whanganui Regional Museum
June 13, 2015 – January 31, 2016.
Andrea Gardner, Brit Bunkley, Christine Hellyar, Jo Pegler, Karin Strachan, F4 Collective (Marcus Williams, Sue Jowsey).

When an object is removed from its original context, the ways in which we understand it change.  As objects travel through history and across geography, each new context in which the object finds itself adds new understandings. It is this transformative process of recontextualisation that is currently being explored in an exhibition at the Whanganui Regional Museum. Drawing on the idea of the wunderkammer as a space where objects are collected to generate infinite new stories in the mind of the viewer, the exhibition explores the transformative nature of re-homing objects in a museum.

Six artworks have been created by seven artists and placed throughout the museum, inserting themselves into existing spaces, joining the exhibitions that occupy them. There is an intended element of surprise and deception in the exhibition, half the fun is finding those items which belong and those which have infiltrated the display. Like a grown-ups treasure hunt.

Christine Hellyar, 'Black Reel and White Reel', (2015).

Christine Hellyar, ‘Black Reel and White Reel’, (2015).

Infiltrations II explores a variety of themes, from myth and popular culture to scientific inquiry, climate change and memory. On entering the museum Christine Hellyar’s Black Reel and White Reel grab your attention with their crisp colours. Combining European and Oceanic materials, some of which were inherited from her parents, Hellyar explores her interest in early Pacific contacts through her art. Black Reel and White Reel are displayed in Te Atihaunui-a-Paparangi, the Maori court, near the bone reel that inspired their creation.

Each artwork in Infiltrations II is distinctive, yet blends seamlessly into its adopted environment, drawing on the surrounding objects for contextual narrative. Speak to the Wind by Karin Strachan is a beautiful example of this. Nestled alongside the medicinal bottles of local legend, healer and Catholic nun Suzanne Aubert (1835 – 1926), Strachan has created a collection of cast wax bottles on which she has stamped direct quotes from Sister Aubert’s book A New and Complete Manual of Maori Conversations and Vocabulary. Strachan’s work weaves together Sister Aubert’s role as a healer and spiritual woman, with her strong commitment to Maori. If one looks closely enough, they will find a poem emerging from the arrangement.

Serena Siegenthaler-Brown.