The otherworldliness of Lorene Taurerewa
By Mark Amery
It used to be pretty hard for an artist to escape a label. Never mind what 20th century movement you were pegged to (“is she a neo abstract expressionist, or a surrealist?”), in the ‘80s you might be roundly labeled a feminist, or in the ‘90s a postcolonialist.
Even the label of Samoan artist or Chinese artist suggested a range of contemporary stylistic templates you might be placed into. All this even when our most revered modern artists (McCahon, Killeen, Woollaston, Angus or Hotere say) are pretty hard to box.
Emerging artist Lorene Taurerewa might have had all of the above tags attached to her, but her work is out in the shadows between things, reveling overtly in its uneasiness with categorisation.
Luckily she comes to attention at a time when art is reveling in its multiplicity. It feels of this time. A New Zealander of Chinese, Samoan and European stock, currently resident in New York, her graphic and sculptural figurative work strongly pronounces her and its own otherness.
The work in her exhibition at Chaffers Gallery is imbrued with a dark otherwordliness. The inky charcoal marks provide landscapes that are personal shadowlands, crossing time, cultures and identities. There are androgynous spirit-like figures caught between child and adulthood with which any viewer may identify and dance with. The fierce eyes of her anchored subjects bore into you, as if to challenge “this is who I am, but do I also represent you?”
Like the Chinese ancestral portraiture that has interested her, or the performance of Japanese Samoan New Zealand artist Shigeyuri Kihara these figures speak of identity across ancestry, of dealing with the ghosts that gather beneath you, as if they were under a great hooped skirt or trunk from which you’re carved. Taurerewa’s largescale charcoal drawings draw you into the movement within blackness, constantly shifting and revealing imagery that emerges ghostlike as a theatrical fantasia from the partly sketched into the fully formed.
The exhibition is entitled More Eccentrickery, and I read that last word as one that expresses the seemingly magical actions of that which we’re not familiar with – that which is not culturally of the centre, and may be considered strange. How for example the sight of Captain Cook’s ships and his activities were treated by Pacific Islanders as that of the spirit world.
The central large immobile figures in these drawings interact with disturbing shifts in space and scale with animals and fantastical figures, from childhood’s masked Lone Ranger to a gorilla tucked under one arm. While they might represent exotic pets or collected toys, these representations of the fantastical are now unleashed and have a mind of their own, like memories awoken.
In the blurring shifts of imagery, and eerie psychology of the figures is a trickery that also references early photography. Then the otherworldliness of the photograph’s impression of family was embraced as a suggestion of the spiritual.
For Maori there was a belief that the image captured the subject’s mauri or life force. In Erena Baker’s recent strong Massey Masters exhibition at Mahara Gallery in Waikanae she superimposed the ghost of herself onto photographs of her family. As in Baker’s work, in Taurerewa’s you feel there is a dance with the spirit of her family that is both questioning and embracing.
Taurerewa says that the content for her work recently has also come from research of her mother’s American family roots, which include some of the first settlers of New York, the imagery she is picking up following stories that cross from the 17th century till today.
In this way her drawings are never static. And just as the time period or location of each image is constantly moving in and out of black and white, the shapes are also constantly shifting, the figures morphing, and the stone-like monumental shapes unsettled in their architecture. Some works have a great pull because they have a strong inherent verticality (reminiscent again of Chinese painting), like the fall and rise of water smudging and electrifying time. The white paper represents an active psychological space within which we are aware of the hand of someone constantly redrawing themselves.
More Eccentrickery, Lorene Taurerewa, Chaffers Gallery, until 15 May