Back to the Future and thinking about the Global South

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Jess Johnson and Simon Ward’s Terminus exhibition: Brought together in the Bay by acessing global art connections. Photos/Courtesy of Tauranga Art Gallery.

From the expansive wondrous virtual reality realms of Jess Johnson and Simon Ward’s Terminus, to an exploration of Tauranga Moana history, my first six months in the role as Tauranga Art Gallery’s director are opening new pathways. 

I returned earlier this year to live in Aotearoa New Zealand after many years working primarily in the US and Europe. 

One of my many reasons to come “home” was to better invest time and energy into the promotion of artists here that are underknown to the rest of the world. 

And to generate dialogue around the South Pacific and its interconnectedness as part of the Global South – the cultures of the Southern Hemisphere.

In particular, bringing the many complex elements of the Terminus exhibition to fruition took a huge leap of faith and focused precision from everyone involved. Working with people of international calibre to realise Terminus in Tauranga has produced a phenomenal local response and we encourage more visitors to have this once-in-a-lifetime visual and sensory experience.  

Jess Johnson was born in Tauranga and in 2016 relocated to New York after a dozen years in Australia. Her art is influenced by science fiction, language, culture and technology and she has been exhibited in major galleries around the world. 

It has been exciting working with Johnson and her VR collaborator Ward to orchestrate this unique artistic experience. 

The exhibition was guided by Johnson in New York with participants in different parts of the world. 

I hired their designer from the National Gallery of Australia We worked to the artists’ detailed instructions. I had the VR PCs custom-built in Wellington, while the latest versions of Oculus VR headsets were ordered from the US,which had never been tested in a gallery environment anywhere in the world before. 

The artists’ technician arrived for a few days from Melbourne to implement the computer programming.

Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons, but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.”

– Edward Said

We also worked with Johnson’s generous gallery Ivan Anthony in Auckland to coordinate loans of artwork from collections all over the country. I hired their designer from the National Gallery of Australia. 

The early support of Cooney Lees Morgan was particularly welcome: they have been important supporters to the gallery, sponsoring Art Loves You last year, Tauranga Art Gallery’s 10th anniversary, and Yvonne Todd in previous years. 

The next Claudia Jarman lecture at TAG on 12 September will feature Argentinian curator Gabriela Salgado, Artistic Director of Te Tuhi in Auckland. 

Salgado has lectured widely around the world and was formerly public programmes manager at The Tate in London.  

We expect her lecture to enrich understanding of her work and thoughts on the Global South. 

It has been fascinating for me to begin to learn about New Zealand’s  regional history. We are organising an exhibition to open this October, considering the Battle of Gate Pa 155 years ago. This is also being held in conjunction with Tuia Encounters 250, which will consider the impact of cross-cultural encounters 250 years since Cook’s voyage. 

Thousands of years of tradition in Aotearoa and the Pacific will also unfold in a series of exhibitions beginning with Te Rangi Haupapa – a woven history opening 19 October, coinciding with Kelcy Taratoa’s mid-career survey, which is being organised by his daughter. 

They are descendants of Henare Taratoa, who had a significant role during the Battle of Gate Pa. 

The Tauranga Art Gallery is grateful for its local partnerships and collaborations – with The Elms, the historic collections, with local iwi, and with Toi Ohomai. 

The gallery will be exhibiting taonga and historic collections that have never been seen by the public before. 

This  will expand in 2020 to unfold into exhibitions celebrating Tauranga Moana and this region’s rich artistic traditions, bringing contemporary artists into dialogue with our histories.

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