Remembering Ralph Hotere
By Elizabeth Caldwell, City Gallery Wellington Director
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa—ka nui te mihi ki a koutou
Every day when I walk to work, as I approach the City Gallery, I always take a moment to look at and appreciate Fault, the very intelligent, subtle and beautiful neon artwork that was inserted into the facade of the building in 1994.
As with all of the works made collaboratively by Ralph Hotere and Bill Culbert (and also true of them in their individual practices), the myriad of references layered into the meaning of the work reveal themselves to you the more you look. Fault, a reference to Wellington’s reputation as a shaky City (now, with that sense of there by the grace of God…irony, superseded by the devastating events in Christchurch two years ago), fault attributed to a misstep in someone’s actions when accusations and blame are being levelled at times of conflict, a flaw in an otherwise perfect product, so many ways to interpret it.
While I might think of some of these references when I look at it, I also see strong, powerful lines that in their contrast to the symmetry of the building seem to work in harmony and complement each other, I see their ability to illuminate at a practical and yet ethereal way both during the day and at night and at a more poetic level as their gentle luminosity serves as a means for igniting sparks for ideas, for thinking—a wonderful way to communicate what is going on inside the building on the outside, to say something about the power art has to transform the everyday and bring a little magic into people’s lives.
Today, as I gazed at Fault, it is with sadness at yesterday’s news of Ralph Hotere’s death, but I am also aware of how fortunate I feel to have this work to look at everyday to remember him by and I am filled with warm memories of the last few times I saw him in Dunedin—at the function marking my departure from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the privilege of holding his investiture ceremony at the Gallery, the wonderful celebrations held the previous year for his 80th birthday.
Again, the centrepiece for the Gallery’s celebrations was an artwork made by Ralph with his old friend Bill. Pathway to the Sea—Aramoana (1991) looked as fresh in 2011 as it did when it was made twenty years earlier, some visitors who had never seen it thought it was a new work. Fault has the same kind of enduring power, it will continue to have the same ability to communicate its ideas, the ideas of the artists while accommodating any you also bring to it, while being beautiful in and of itself—truly the mark of any great work of art, to transcend the time in which it was made to speak at all times. This is how we will remember Ralph Hotere.