With the conversation ‘Determined Sensibilities’, curator Megan Tamati-Quennell (Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu) and artist Dale Harding (Bidjara, Ghungalu, Garingbal) share how they practice their own world views. Brook Garru Andrew (Wiradjuri, Celtic) threads and teases out their connections to culture, movements and their own practices.
Form x Content is a mix of live and pre-recorded events featuring the voices of renowned First Nations, Australian and international artists, designers, architects, curators and academics. The program is delivered every Wednesday lunchtime during Monash University teaching semesters, with a mix of live and online sessions broadcast on the big screen at Monash Caulfield and Clayton campus.
Form x Content engages with the ideas, histories, sites and critical questions of our time. The Semester 1 program focused on sustainability, collaboration and the ways in which First Nations artists centre Country in their practices. Semester 2 will explore ideas of disruption and resilience, together with queer perspectives on artistic practice and urban space.
Form x Content is free and accessible to all. Join us Wednesday lunchtimes at 1pm—live or online and on the big screens, Caulfield and Clayton campuses.
Brook Garru Andrew: Hello, everyone. It's Brook Andrew here. I'm really happy to be here with Dale and Megan, but first I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri, the Woiwurrung, and Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present. It's so great to be here. And thanks for joining us. Megan and Dale, would you like to introduce yourselves?
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Shall I go first? Kia ora koutou, mihi atu ki a koutou. I would like to first thank MUMA, and Brook, and Dale for this opportunity to have this conversation. My name is Megan Tamati-Quennell. I am a curator at Te Papa, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. I have to say what I'm wearing. I'm wearing a black shirt. I'm wearing all black today, apart from I have checked trousers. But you can't see them because I'm sitting down. I'm looking forward to the conversation this evening as well.
Dale Harding: Yaama. Kia ora. Good evening. My name is Dale Harding. I am currently in Brisbane on the lands of the Turrbal and Yuggera communities. I'd like to acknowledge that I'm here on this Country as an unwelcome visitor and acknowledge all the other Country and communities around the Nation. And also to sing out to Megan and your communities and the colleagues over in New Zealand as well, Aotearoa. I am currently, surprise, surprise, wearing black on black on black. I'm in my studio, and I believe I'm facing fairly East, Eastward. Good evening.
Brook Garru Andrew: Thanks, Dale and Megan. I should also say I'm wearing, I think it's gray-black. And I've got a few boomerang sculptures by Aunty Lorraine Connelly-Northey hanging up behind me, which I'm-
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Beautiful.
Brook Garru Andrew: ... so happy to have. As we know we'll be talking about, well, a whole bunch of really interesting stuff called... As we have coined this talk, Determined Sensibilities. And those of you have read the little blurb about what we are talking about today, it's really arguably looking at the way in which that we, ourselves, label ourselves and the way in which the kind of language in English like abstraction, conceptual, minimalism has really affected us and our communities. And I know that in the '80s there were certain cultural theorists around the world who even wanted to place people like the famed, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, as an expressionist, for example. Even the word, conceptual, I remember going to art school and people would say, "Well, are Aboriginal people conceptual?"
And so these are the kind of things that always have been challenging for many of us mob. And I know Megan that you've often reflected on people going, "Abstraction? Is there a Māori Abstraction?"
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Absolutely.
Brook Garru Andrew: And I think that maybe now people are used to Indigenous people using our own language or words to describe who we are, and also are using language in artworks, or even writing in our own languages or part, thereof, when it comes to essays, et cetera, theater, many other different creative forms. And so this is really an opportunity to speak with Dale and Megan about their own perspectives on these. And in that, I might actually just quickly share my screen and kick this one off, dive in deep, I think. Might as well.
We've got these four terms: abstraction, reduced, minimal, and conceptual. Dale, I was just wondering if you could pick out the words here that you are closely related to, because I know that we did this in collaboration between Megan and yourself.
Dale Harding: Yeah. Well, minimal is one of the ones that comes to mind often. But not minimal like minimalists or minimalisms, like New York or Australian or European minimalisms, but minimal like reduced or, again, abstracted, or the idea of making a minimal gesture, a minimal mark, a minimal intervention either to media, to the actual materials, or a minimal intervention among the subject matter. So minimal is one that comes to mind often. Conceptual is also probably the next one for me.
Brook Garru Andrew: And Megan, what about you?
Megan Tamati-Quennell: As a curator, I suppose I do lean towards all of those ideas: minimal, conceptual, abstraction, reduced. And for me, a lot of them are interchangeable. Abstraction. I've done a project for a long time which I've called... It's a Māori modernism project that looks at a whole lot of artists who were operating in the '50s and '60s who took on European modernism. And they were Artists in a Western sense, with a capital A, and they worked and took on European modernism but they kind of made it their own. I suppose I like things that are very pared back and pulled back and are abstracted, or are minimal, or are reduced, and are conceptual. And I think all of those things live within the culture anyway. So they are all apparent.
I mean, there's conceptual ideas everywhere within the culture anyway. There's abstract ideas that we work with. We work with things like... For example, if you talk about even like death ceremonies, you have what's called a kawe mate, which when the person can't physically move somewhere else, they take their spirit or their idea. So that's a conceptual idea and it's an abstract idea, and that's inherent within the way in which we operate so it's not surprising to me that that also sits within the art.
Dale Harding: Yeah. Agreed. Similarly, I was just wanting to brush up on some of the textbook definitions of abstraction and reduced, minimal, and these kind of ones. While they are applicable among sciences and other different fields of work and study as well, they are just normalised that they are the every day in the commonplace among not only Indigenous cultures but just the ways of life, so they can be applied in really specific ways in contemporary art or art historical ways. But also as Megan says, I totally agree that abstraction is just normal. Even the way slang comes in the abstraction of language so that say young people might have access to a word, and they abstract a Western word or they even abstract one of their own traditional languages so that they have access to that themselves and maybe it's owned by them and maybe not the adults, this kind of thing.
Brook Garru Andrew: I mean, you're both international travelers, and I'm sure have found yourselves in a few different cafes, or restaurants, or exhibition openings, or seminars where people are speaking about the often Western trajectory of conceptual, for example, or abstraction. I mean, all of these are very much embedded within a Western trajectory of art-creation, art-making that comes from those places. Has there been any confusion when you've talked about... Has there been a language difference or confusion? And I was just wondering if you could both share a story maybe about them.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Definitely. I remember I was with you Brook and we were at the Tate Modern, and we were doing a talk about Indigenous art there and what it actually was. And I did my spiel about Māori modernism. One, I talked about Michael Parekōwhai, who's really Duchampian in his practice, but of course, with a Māori lens, who completely engages with conceptual art. He is a conceptual artist but he does it through... I mean, that's the pivot. The pivot is that he does it through a Māori lens. And so what he adds to it is something that's unique to here. And so I'm not saying that he doesn't have any relationship with the art or art history because he is squarely in it, but he is shifting it to work for himself.
Anyway, I was asked in there, they asked why I would use such terms or why I talked about Māori minimalism actually. I had done a project called 'Māori minimalism and international influence', where I put Ralph Hotere's work, Ad Reinhardt's work. I worked with another curator on this project, Chelsea Nichols, who was the Modern Art Curator. So her and I put that show together, and then I added Matt Pine into the mix, who is a completely formalist artist. Anyway, for me what was interesting was... Even Chelsea said at the end of it, "The thing you said about Māori minimalism," I said, "Yes," she said, "It's actually real." And I was like, "Well, did you think I was just making it up as I went along?" That made me laugh. She said it was actually a thing.
And for me, I put Matt Pine in because he is a minimalist sculptor much more than... Hotere, he's a minimal abstractionist. And so you can split hairs but I was like, I'm not sure you can call him a minimalist, he's not quite there, but this guy who sat in the middle really was. And of course, he was really influenced by Ad Reinhardt's Black Paintings and he continued to paint. He was a black colour painter throughout his life. Anyway, it was interesting, and both cases they asked me why I would use such terms, and for me, both of those two, that I talked about like with Ralph and Matt, for example, they both went to art school in London in the '60s. So they learned, but then as I said, they added a New Zealand or a Māori vernacular to those learnings and shifted it slightly.
Dale Harding: I could give an anecdote, but Megan, I'd love to ask, how do you feel that an Indigenous lens or a way of approaching in the moment, in a time when those movements were occurring, how easily or how readily do you think that happens? How does that occur? I've got my own ideas but I'd love to hear from maybe a Māori way.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: I think at the time it probably was quite difficult because I don't think that they were really taken seriously. So their work, if they were Cubist painters, they were seen as bad Picassos. There's a lot of Indigenous artists, whether you go to Daphne Odjig, who's a native Canadian painter and did a whole lot of work, they started calling her the Picasso of Canada. They did that here. They talked about artists who were the Picasso of this or that. They weren't kind of taken seriously so I think it was quite difficult to start with to be taken seriously as artists, as contemporary artists in the first instance. Not carvers or weavers. We have customary ways of being in terms of art and art practice but this was a different way through.
And for me, I felt like those ones who broke with that tradition in the '50s and '60s, it was a different way of speaking. And they just wanted to be contemporary artists. They didn't want to be contemporary Māori artists, they just wanted to be contemporary artists, but of course they brought themselves to it. I don't know if it was... I mean, now it's much easier maybe because people have gone through art school training, but I think at that time, what was it to be a modern artist if you are an Indigenous artist in the '50s and '60s? What was that? How did that look? What was that like? I think it probably would have been extremely difficult.
Dale Harding: Right. And contemporaneously, you're right that successive generations have come through and studied and being familiar with the language. I'd say probably our local region, the general public's more familiar with the language now. All these key terms that we are talking about tonight, just in general daily use. That would mean even the way that abstraction is now readily applied maybe out of different contexts. So as a younger person now, I am quite aware to not use '-ism' or the '-ist' to apply a group of people or a movement because I'm not there in that moment. But certainly there were Indigenous artists and practitioners working in the moment that these fields were being developed and the language was being solidified. It's been helpful for me to be really aware not to use the '-ism' or the '-ist', not to be a minimalist because I wasn't there in that time, but certainly my natural sensibilities just apply really readily, and so do my family's, which is why I'm so keen for this conversation.
Brook Garru Andrew: So just in regards to that, because if you look at minimalism or minimalist, but you say that you paint or you create work or sculpture in a minimal way, so in a conversation how do you construct that? Because there is a difference.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Yes, there is.
Dale Harding: Yeah. I have to be really considered in the way that I construct it to not, A, cause people to go, "Why do you want to be like a white people's movements?" If I add an '-ism' or an '-ist' on the end that has often received a certain response. And it's a valid response, and so I've had those conversations but when I don't want to have that conversation, I'll suggest that I seek to work with a minimal gesture, where I'm approaching this with a minimal sensibility or I'm affecting a minimal sort of attention to the material or the subject matter. I try to bring it back to the action of the doing more so than the time frame in art history.
Brook Garru Andrew: Maybe we should jump right in then to the little... I would say our minimal, conceptual, reduced...
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Abstraction.
Brook Garru Andrew: ... abstraction. More like design. I had lots of fun putting this together. Here we go. Abstraction. Just so everyone out there who's watching this, what we decided to do was, both Megan and Dale chose an image each, which references the four different terms that we are looking at today. Megan, do you want to kick this one off?
Megan Tamati-Quennell: The first one, this work here is a painting by a woman called Mere Lodge. It was called 'Ruatoria Series' 1965. I've not seen it in the flesh, I've only seen it as an image. She is what you'd call one of the women of Māori modernism who people don't know really. I'm on the brink of doing a show which looks at the women who were working from about the 1930s through to, it's a quite a distinct period, to about the 1970s. One of the first artists, I would say woman artists, who were working in a contemporary or modern way consciously, was a woman called Ramai Hayward but I think her real name was... It's gone out of my brain actually. Sorry. She had another name. And so Ramai Hayward was a photographer. And she had her own photographic studio but she also did set design for like theater. And she also became probably one of the first Māori filmmakers, and she worked with her husband, Rudall, and made movies.
But Mere comes a bit later. She went to Elam School of Fine Arts. These are people who started going to art school. And actually the first Māori artist to graduate from a fine art school in this Country was a woman called Pauline Yearbury, and she graduated in 1946. Historically it's always been said that it was a man called Selwyn Wilson, who graduated in 1952. And then it was also said... or was Arnold Wilson who first graduated in sculpture in 1954. But she was 1946 so she was quite a way before them but of course not recognised.
This work here, as I said, Mere Lodge is still around and she's really interesting. I'm only starting to unpack her work and I'm yet to have a proper conversation with her. She made these amazing bronzes as well, which could rival someone like Barbara Hepworth. So I chose this work purposely because I wanted to make sure they were female in here and because I was quite excited about her work and practice.
Brook Garru Andrew: And what is abstraction about this? Why did you choose that word or why are you putting it in? Because I think when I've heard you talk about Māori abstraction, it is specific but it's also in a way quite diverse really, isn't it?
Megan Tamati-Quennell: This is obviously a landscape. 'Ruatoria Series', Ruatoria as a place. But it's her home place. And so she's painting her home place in a very abstract kind of way because of course it doesn't look like this at all. She's abstracted ideas from that place and maybe it's a remembered kind of... or it's an intuitive or whatever it is. But for me, I chose it is an abstract image because she's talking about something specific but making it much broader, if you understand what I'm trying to say. So this is her home place in her community but it really doesn't look... As I said, it's not a literal kind of translation of what that place is. Perhaps it's how she felt about it or what is her response to it. I loved it as an image because to me it's very visceral. I thought it was a really interesting image.
Brook Garru Andrew: Mm-mm. Dale, Kate's work, it's so beautiful. It kind of reminds me of being in a plane and looking over the landscape and I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but it kind of looks like a landscape as well.
Dale Harding: Certainly. Yeah. It's called 'Carnarvon' 2020. It's by Kate Harding. Disclosure, that's my mother, Kate Harding. And it's in the MUMA show. But certainly it is landscape. I've chosen this in celebration because there's been a long trajectory or movement that Kate's been working towards in being able to tell her own story, and that's, I guess coming back to this determined. Could be self-determined but certainly in her own terms and developing her own language, Kate's come along to this abstracted design, which she is referring heavily to Carnarvon.
It is about her place and her story and she's filled that with narrative. She's pointed to certain blocks over time and indicated that it actually is holding content and a range of content. But what Kate's done is she's worked to pigment each of the textiles, collaborating with some friends, Jan Oliver and Mandy Quadrio. But Kate's work to pigment the textile with actually the places that she is referring to and holding the content in A, the colour but also in terms of the material process as well she's able to be determined in choosing how she abstracts and represents her image.
I can't speak for the content in this but for me it's one of those milestones in the conversation, particularly in my family, that Kate has been able to embed all of this story in there that she could point to with different people, but she's gone beyond the figurative disclosure to an outside audience, she can choose and be determined how she invites people into that, if at all. And there's also little tiny pituri bags or little tiny dilly bags that she's woven using size 100 crochet thread, tiny little microscopic threads. That's another abstraction as well. She is potentially seeing them as metonymic, being standing for figures.
Brook Garru Andrew: Could you just explain Carnarvon for people who don't know the context?
Dale Harding: Sure. Sure. Carnarvon is an abbreviated way of describing what is Western Queensland now called Carnarvon Gorge. That is a significant ecological site as an outset but it's an incredibly important cultural and spiritual homeland for many peoples, that actually both of my grandparents, Kate's parents, maintained their responsibilities in their unbroken connection to Carnarvon Gorge and the surrounding ranges through their entire lives, which is how Kate is so identified and connected to that place. But also we're quite aware, and on the record always, that there's a range and a vast number of people who've actually traced their spiritual homeland back to Carnarvon at the Gorge itself.
Brook Garru Andrew: It's very interesting how unbeknownst to each other, I think, that you chose both works that are landscapes and are special places of Country but under the title of abstraction. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.
Dale Harding: Go ahead. Pardon me.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Sorry. I think it's that thing too from a cultural perspective, like what is made available and what isn't, and maybe they're like mnemonic devices as much as anything that it's a touchstone for something much deeper. As I said, I can't unlock all of what Mere is doing here because as I said that's not my place, that's her place, and I've not yet had that conversation. But her work which focuses on Ruatoria, a place that she is connected to tribally, there'll be a depth of meaning in this work that I don't necessarily hold. She holds that. So I think it's that thing of like, abstraction, maybe it's that idea that you give a sense of something but not the whole thing. And like Dale was saying, maybe at that point it's more determined about... You can determine what it is that you are giving and what it is that you are holding back.
Dale Harding: Certainly, Megan. Totally. Earlier on I wrote down codified languages, or codified figures, this kind of thing in that, perhaps if this could be a bigger longer conversation that asking the questions of what has been other original or subsequent forms of abstraction, what was the intention for that, certainly I would suggest that Kate has sought out ways to abstract her knowledge so she can codify it and keep that safe to herself. And we all are quite aware that this is not a new practice. It's not something that's been developed in 2020, but certainly it's a new form and a new media for my immediate family and community that Kate might be moving into this space and demonstrating that this is possible.
Brook Garru Andrew: Let's jump from abstraction to reduced. I'm so fascinated by reduced and the way in which these images sit really well together.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: It's so beautiful.
Brook Garru Andrew: They look really great. Dale, could you maybe give your... What is reduced again?
Dale Harding: Right. Well, in my making, reduced is a way that I try to simplify things really. I have learned this. Vernon Ah Kee has been the one to describe this in specific language and that... Reducing it down to only what's necessary. I had Vernon as a student, when I was studying as an undergraduate student. And it's also something that's natural in my way of being so that's what I called it, but reducing it down that if you don't need all of the trimmings and the extra layers of codification, signifying, decoration, all these kind of things surface, reducing it down. And that's when I really get stirred by these images here. Brook, would it make sense if I jumped to speaking about the taonga, the nulla nulla-
Brook Garru Andrew: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dale Harding: Because they are currently on show at the Govett-Brewster in Taranaki in New Zealand Aotearoa, I'm using the word taonga because they are there and that's appropriate and how we've been referring to them. They are also nulla nulla or throwing sticks, here in this context, here in Queensland. And they are made from native hardwoods. A quick background is that they are currently on loan from the Te Papa National Museum. Among a range of taonga or ancestral objects from Queensland, these 18 nulla nullas were able to be loaned for the show so that I could celebrate them, bring them into the conversation and so that we could document them, but also so we could identify the fact that... My goodness. I can't even really put it into language, but there is so much knowledge and information included in that very reduced and slender form. I kind of stumble around trying to describe why I am so motivated by them.
What it probably comes back to is that as a sculptor and as a younger person making these kinds of forms, they are not easy to make. They are visually quite simple. There's not a great deal of surface information, but in order to carve and to form that hardwood, to take those very slendered and multi-tapered, they taper in and out and back in again, that's not easy to do. To have it cylindrical, to have it uniform, that's very complex making. And the amount of information and knowledge, material knowledge, process knowledge, but then also personal intent, the amount of knowledge and information that is distilled and reduced into those forms is off the charts.
I'll just read this one if I may. Without personal lived experience in all the applications or intentions for these taonga or nulla nulla, I can only partially infer some of the choices that were made in their manufacture. So as a young person I can only partially infer some of the choices that were made. And what I can point towards is the skillful choices made in their manufacture that are still evident in the form, in the reduced form. That's actually very difficult to make, particularly if you look at the silhouette.
In the ergonomics, they are ergonomically and even scientifically considered. They are very, very, what do you call it, ergonomically formed in their scale, in their dimensions and in their weight. But also in things like the surface treatment, in the striations, they are reduced in the fact that there could be decoration or there could be layers of figures and story put under them, but the vast majority of them only really have striations in the gesture of the mark that's finished them off. So the striation is reduced again and reduced down to just simply a very sensitive and careful surface finish, yeah.
Brook Garru Andrew: Yeah. I mean, they are very powerful boondis as we call them. And obviously this is the mark of high design and accuracy over thousands and thousands of views of honing and honing and honing into like a perfect object like the aerofoil, which is the boomerang, the only aerofoil in the world. And I know that Māori culture is exquisitely beautiful like this but also honed as well. Megan, wouldn't you...
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Absolutely. I tell a story about there's a work called Uenuku. It kind of looks like this. It's a carving. And my cousin used to talk about it as something like pure idea, because really it's based on this idea of a rainbow but it actually looks like this. And so it's like this pure idea, this work, and it's really pulled back. Interestingly too, there's a lot of very ornate carvings, but where I come from in the South, for example, the work down there is much like this, it's very reduced and really pulled back and very little surface decoration. It's really just about the form. Completely about the form. Probably its function and its form kind of interlinked not just as form but also how it operated, but the surface decoration is completely gone.
So for me it was really interesting... was never there. And I think it was to do with how when we operated we didn't... there was less kind of wood in the South Island, less carving, whereas you have others, very beautifully ornate, Te Aroha, beautiful from other areas which are really amazing. Ours was like this weird, almost quaker-looking thing. These forms to me... When you talked about the essential kind of form, nothing there that didn't need to be there. We have similar things. As I said, it depends on where you come from, because for whakairo or across or carving across the Country is different in different areas. I mean, they are absolutely stunning these nulla nulla, and to be able to have them in the show, that Dale selected them for the show was really amazing.
Brook Garru Andrew: I mean, of course it evokes the vast kind of colonial loot and disruption to cultures internationally. And I'm very curious about what other provenance information there is but that would take us to another...
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Place.
Brook Garru Andrew: Place.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: The way we talked about them in the show too was we kind of tried to liberate them from the museum in many ways and put them in a contemporary art context, not because they are contemporary art but really to talk about other things and their relationship to Dale and his family. They haven't been in an Indigenous Australian context since they were probably put... I mean, they've been in the museum since 1968, some of them. So for a very long time. 1868, sorry, not 1968. 1868. So for a very long time they've been away from family. They've been away from family, so to have them here is extraordinary. And to be able to have them in a context that Dale and his family were comfortable with was really good.
Dale Harding: Thanks, Megan. And yeah, I'm very proud of them. I'm proud of the skill and the knowledges and the people who've made these into the world. One of the things about these nulla nulla being in collections around the world... And Bruce McLean has also a curated some into his show 'I, Object', his last show at Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. Very similar, even from the same location, same material processes. With the histories and the experience in Central Queensland, what I really love being able to do with the show is that refamiliarising families and communities that this is actually yours. I personally haven't seen these forms being made around me. Very similar and in their lineage and sort of maybe descendant forms, but coming and recalling these very precise and outstanding forms is what I'm really excited by.
Brook Garru Andrew: It's such a proud moment, isn't it, when really things do get turned and things become incredibly visible. Megan, I know you have talked about Ralph's work quite extensively with me in the past, and it's such a beautiful set of two images here together.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Those two black paintings are a pair. Ralph Hotere is probably one of our most important New Zealand artists. He was the first Māori artist to really be regarded in the art mainstream. He was picked up in 1961 and acknowledged as a painter. As I said, he left New Zealand and went to the Central School of Art in London, and was said to be very influenced by people like Ad Reinhardt, Malevich. All of those kinds of people worked through there and then came home again. He was only away for like three or four years.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: I chose this for reduced because of course it's a reduced colour palette. And you can't see it very much but in here there's text which says, "Melody, melody, melody, melody," and there's text that way. He works with colour in terms of the black. Some is matte. Some is glossy. You know what I mean? So he's kind of playing with texture in a way. And that you have to read the painting with your eyes as much as you... It also looks like there's a Tukutuku panel called roimata toroa, which is about the spill of tears. It has all these kind of references to other things.
This one's actually across, and it says the same, "Melody, melody," and it's based on a wordplay or a word poem by a man called Bill Manhire. He was famous for saying, "There's nothing better I can say about my art than nothing at all." He didn't want to speak about his work. I suppose, again, it's really Duchampian. He said, "Everyone wants a kind of an answer to what a work is," and he said, "really, people bring themselves to it." And really it's like that Duchampian thing where the person who's viewing it completes the work. And so he didn't want to give an answer. So he didn't speak about his work, he was completely silent, but what he did do often was he worked with language and he also worked with poets often, and said, "The only people who can really write about my work are poets," because they are the only people who really understood it. As I said, I chose it reduced because he did pull everything back.
The other thing that is really extraordinary about Ralph's work... I kind of quote Te Rangihiroa Panoho, who's a very senior Māori art historian, who really talked about the iwi narrative that this man comes from. He comes from a place up North, and he is what's called Te Aupōuri, which is a tribe in the far North. They originally were called Ngāti Ruānui. And then they were attacked by another tribe so they burnt everything that was of value and escaped under smoke and fire and renamed themselves, Te Aupōuri, which really means smoke and fire. So his kind of conversation wasn't saying it's not just we are or Ad Reinhardt Black, it's also Te Aupōuri Māori Catholic Black that Ralph's working with.
The other thing with Ralph is his family, the area that he came from in Mitimiti, when Bishop Pompallier arrived in New Zealand, he arrived to his family's area, and they all became Māori French Catholic. So the work has all of those kinds of resonances. So all of that is in there, but again like Dale was talking about before, it's completely pulled back. I really did love that it's not just, again, just the Ad Reinhardt kind of reference, there's like an iwi reference in there or an iwi narrative that sits in behind it. It's oblique but it's there.
Brook Garru Andrew: It seems to me that both of these selection of images have a deep connection to deep history. Going vastness of... It's just the tip of the iceberg that we are talking about here. Maybe we should jump onto the next. Minimal. This is an exciting set of images here. I'm loving this conversation. I should also mention to people out there who are listening to us talk, there is the Q&A button there, so please if you do have any questions, pop them into the question bar and we'll work our way through them. It's probably the easiest thing to do instead of crowding us a bit later, and you'll have an opportunity to hopefully get your question answered. Both of these examples are pointy. I'm just kind of loving the fact that you are both, again, selecting these images that really resonate with each other. Megan, I'm just wondering if you could continue and to talk about Ana Iti's work.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Ana Iti is a younger Māori artist. Again, she's a really great young artist. And she made this work, which is this... They are hand cut fired ceramic tiles on this cedar frame so it goes up. She kind of was referencing a work by Shona Rapira Davies, who is a senior Māori artist and lives in Wellington, and made a park here called... It's now called Te Aro Park, but at one stage it was called Pigeon Park. It was called Pigeon Park because there were lots of pigeons in it. Anyway, they had colonial scenes in it. Anyway, she won the commission to do this public artwork, and I think she was the first Māori woman to be supported to make a very large sculpture in a really large park.
And she made a series of tiles, but what she really did with this park, again, it goes back to quite deep histories, was she reclaimed this... It was an old pa site in the middle of Wellington. So an old pa site that she kind of pulled back. What she was able to do with the work that she did was to reclaim this site as Te Aro Pa in Te Aro Park, but I think the real name was Waimapihi, who it was actually called Waimapihi after an ancestor who... Shona talks about a female ancestor who lived there, and she said she was so tapu when she put her feet in the stream her tapu or her sacredness went all the way down to the sea. So she talks about those kinds of things. All these females.
Ana Iti was really, I suppose, taken with Shona's and she made a work in response. And she made this extraordinary kind of platform that went up. And it was the only thing that was in the space. And it was such a brave kind of work to do as quite a young artist. She just, again, pulled it all the way back. For me she pulled it so far back. And its simplicity was really amazing, but as I said, also was having this other conversation with a more senior artist that she was kind of paying homage to.
Brook Garru Andrew: I'm just wondering, Megan, some people might be thinking, well, this is the label of minimal, playing devil's advocate here, but it's also reduced and also abstract. So I'm just kind of...
Megan Tamati-Quennell: And it's conceptual.
Brook Garru Andrew: And it's conceptual. Of course we are getting down to the nitty-gritty of how Indigenous people are coining these terms and using these terms and referencing these terms and owning these terms and being these terms, and we've done it for many, many other things. But I mean, the word minimal for you.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Minimal, I suppose is... As I said, I feel it is interchangeable with those other words. Minimal and reduced to me are very similar because it's... Again, it's about intention maybe. I mean, she is saying a whole lot of things in a very minimal way. She's like taking it back to its essence. She's really speaking through that work to another work. And, as I said, paying homage because Shona's work was made up of a series of hand cut tiles. I don't know how many. Millions of them, hundreds of them. So she's really speaking to that work in many ways as a conversation between works. Minimal to me is really just, I suppose, a central kind of form. I don't know if I'm saying it properly.
Brook Garru Andrew: No, no. Absolutely. And I think that for me there is an absolute difference between abstract and reduced. Dale, these things are like weapons as well though, aren't they?
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Amazing.
Dale Harding: They could be. This was an early student work. They are penetrative. Certainly could be weapons. They could be used that way, but definitely they are penetrative because they are surveyor's pegs originally. The surveyor's pegs, they are the markers of territories and boundaries. I've spoken about the work in the past that with my family in agriculture, my father would say, if you see a surveyor's peg in the paddock you leave it alone. And he was suggesting that for certain reasons because it made it easy for everyone's kind of job, but also this idea that a timber wooden peg in the landscape as the marker of ownership and boundaries, and if a bushfire comes through it means nothing really at all. That's where the work 'Breaking Boundaries' comes from. So they are surveyor's peg, they are surveyor's tape, and they've been impacted by fire at different rates.
Certainly for me the word minimal here has reference to the serial but also perhaps maybe what we call the mass produced unit. That unit that's readily available and the multiple in that. I've made a number of works around multiples but the idea of taking a mass produced unit and drawing that into the practice, that fits with me and in some of the conversations around other minimalisms but also the very simplistic material treatment. I am a little self-conscious in that I have included two works by myself and one of my mother's.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: That's good.
Dale Harding: It's good because what I would like to do is to not speak for other artists' work but what many of us do is probably look to see these works and see how someone else has treated it very similarly. Say the way that rum bottles were painted on and taken into the practice in places like Cherbourg. So the idea of the readily available manufactured unit comes to mind in that way but these works may be echoed in other practices that certainly are around.
Brook Garru Andrew: Dale, I mean, you talked about the serial and you're talking about the kind of manufacturing, in that way, would you think that it's also connected to something like that other term, the ready-made?
Dale Harding: Yeah, sure. That's there. The one on the far right is essentially a ready-made that could be just taken out of the paddock somewhere. Certainly the ready-made's definitely part of that. What I have enjoyed is being able to learn these different languages and other artists' practices and why and how they might be relevant to what we are doing now. But also as we've all been saying it's shifting. But also maybe to give that language to family and community members who are artists but aren't trained in the same kinds of languages and formats that we've been trained in. Minimal is something that might be easily received, particularly if we can bring it back to the fact that you can have that ready-made. You can go to the hardware store and purchase these objects that you know in the world and trade upon all of their material signifiers and all of their subject matter and bring that into the work.
Brook Garru Andrew: Maybe let's jump to conceptual, one of my favourite words, because, I mean, conceptual is such an interesting context, or even from my own practice or even just being out there in the world, I even find that North American, European views of what conceptual is varies quite a bit. Anyway, and not just about the '70s, for example, or the '60s. I mean, it's one of these words that gets around, I suppose, and I'm just wondering if both of you have had that experience with conceptual.
Dale Harding: I can jump in... Yeah, certainly there's degrees of conceptual practice by art is like art and language and these kind of ways of making art and putting ideas forward that is heavy in it's language base. There's material process at times but it's language-based. For me the conceptual comes in the way that... Say for example a family member might see a thing, and the thing might be timber, but it actually is the object. It is the figure that it's being represented by, that is representative of. That it actually doesn't stand in for it but actually holds all of that concept, all of that story, all of that knowledge. So it becomes the thing.
I guess over the years I've not even looked at the way that Aboriginal Australian artists have shifted the way that appropriation... The textbook definitions of appropriation by postmodernism, they have been shifted and taken into multiple different ways of applying appropriation by Australian Aboriginal artists. I've been looking at that over the years and I'd say consent can be brought back into home and community practice through those understandings. In this work, the Xanthorrhoea Resin, the grass tree botanical resin, just that material holds all these different conversations that many different people can have at different degrees of contact with it. And then we can talk about the register of the body and the length of the piece of glass. It's actually my height, this kind of stuff.
But for me the idea of bringing that conceptual possibility back into a material form as well is really interesting. Already present. It's already happening. It's already doing. Why did you use that piece of timber? Why that tree? Why did you choose that tree for that thing? And often there is a big long multiple conversation story behind that. So bringing the conceptual back into the material process as well as the language and the ideas is also something I'm quite interested in.
Brook Garru Andrew: I mean, often in the conceptual, it's as you've just kind of touched on, it's quite a loaded set of maybe instructions or pathways to get to something which looks quite reduced, minimal, but it's really that process. And you just mentioned your height.
Dale Harding: Right. Yes. Well, that's a register. That's register of the body. Perhaps we can go there because within a First Nations context, the idea of the body being registered in the museum, a measurement of the body in the museum, that then itself becomes many, many different conversations. I hope that that's where we can go because that's what I am intending by doing. We can see the register of the body and the ergonomics in other forms like the taonga and the nulla nulla, the waddies. We can see that register of the body there. We can see the register of body in other pigment-based art forms. But what happens when we start to talk about the register of our own bodies, Jimmie Durham, and all the other artists who have inserted their bodies into the historical museological context but in simply in a material or in that measurement, the idea that it is my body, then all the other dialogue comes.
And perhaps it's not written about, say the other conceptual artists who have shaped this discourse. It's often been published and written so it can be shared and maybe demonstrated or tested and debated in discourse. But here it's probably not written on paper or published in language, it's actually the conceptual content is imbued into the material and the process, the treatment.
Brook Garru Andrew: I mean, Megan, when it comes to Matt Pine's work though, it's in some ways the information is revealed to a point.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Yes, it is. Well, it is because we've written it here. But yeah, it's a conceptual work in that... Again, I mean, it can be a minimal work too because it is minimal. It's a minimal sculpture. And the thing that Dale was talking about before, so there is relationship through, I think, to those other works. You were talking about the surveyor pegs and the seriality and then you were talking about the ready-made and stuff. I mean, he sources materials that are every day materials. He went to Central School of Art and was really taken with people like Carl Andre and his use of bricks.
Here what he is doing is he's mapping pa sites using everyday materials. And I really love them because what he talks about is this pre-European form of Māori architecture, which we used all the time, which was about land modification and they were our pa sites. And they are quite heavy subjects. It's because some of those pa sites were to do with fighting and was to do with colonisation and all of those kinds of things, but he uses PVC pipe to map it all. And this one here in terms of the conceptual stuff, a pa site doesn't... It's almost like a schematic drawing of a pa site but of course he's kind of abstracted it at the same time. And then this one here, the one that's above at the trench design, but he was really talking about the actions. So he was talking, and it goes back to what you were also talking about, Dale, this is about a bodily mapping of space.
Dale Harding: Right.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: He's talking about the movement on that pa site. The pass site doesn't look like a step ladder. So there is a step ladder, there is a walkway, and there is a crawling form, a passage form that you would crawl through. So he was talking about mapping that space bodily, and what that movement might have been on that pa site, which is why he's called it 'Impressions of Gate Pa'. Gate Pa is a famous pa where we almost defeated the British. It's where this trench design that Māori came up with. He's a particular person... I don't know his name unfortunately. I should have done my research before. A Māori man is known for making this particular type of trench warfare which then they used later. What he was doing there, as he pulls it away from all that and talks about the movement. So for me, it is... I mean, his work is really... He's quite something else to me.
Dale Harding: I can see you're really moved, Megan. You used the word schematic. And I say in the similar ways that other conceptual artists have published and written maybe books at a set of instructions or a way of approaching an art thing, or even whatever argument that there's not a thing, that's schematic. Would you suggest that the communities that the work belongs to, Matt Pine's communities, would you perceive that they can read that schematic? That that language is transferable or readable or accessible to a home community?
Megan Tamati-Quennell: I mean, I think it hasn't been because I think, again, he's an artist who's been really misunderstood by his own. I mean, I think once you start talking and you talk about like, Rangiriri pa or... I think this is the wrong name Te Pōrere is another pa. But I think that's the wrong name. I think it's Rangiriri but anyway. I think when you start talking about pa...
There was a young woman who came to inuwa, who might do like... She's working with me on a project. This work is being made, the 'Impressions of Gate Pa', and the other one exists from 1979. So he made these in 1979 initially but the top ones being remade. And when I talked to her about these works and what they... I mean, she cried. And this is a young woman who really didn't necessarily, hadn't really engaged with his work before. So she understood it once it was opened to her. So I think those schematic drawings, the drawings that he's made, and he's written these things like based on a trench design specifically related. That's him. He was trying to get people to understand where he was. Of course, when you offer them a step ladder, a bridge, and a wooden frame to walk through, my family was like, "What is that?" You know what I'm saying? Again, I feel like those artists are really brave. That they make works that people weren't necessarily at that point in time engaged but then we are really only catching up now.
Brook Garru Andrew: I think that the word brave is really important context here. I'm just reflecting on a few things that both of you have said. Like, you were saying, Megan, that people go, "Oh, that's Picasso's style," et cetera. I mean, knowing very well that it was actually Picasso that was styling us and our brothers and sisters and everyone in between and around. And also, Dale, when you were talking about, I think it was the minimal gesture you were talking about, the painting on the bottles.
Dale Harding: Right. Right.
Brook Garru Andrew: Was it Hermannsburg... Sorry.
Dale Harding: Cherbourg.
Brook Garru Andrew: Cherbourg, sorry. And I kind of think about my grandmother saying, "Brook, are you going to do another painting?" And I think that a lot of our culture and our practice is often caught between a Western kind of understanding of what expression is, and of course the extraordinary multiplicities of Indigenous and understanding and ways of expressing life. And Dale, when you were talking about 'Blackboy' 2017, how that really references your body and references kind of... I think you were talking about museums and the collection of maybe human remains.
Dale Harding: Right. And the possession, the display of bodies. I quite often tease it out or even maybe do it. I certainly do at times, the thing that is in the scope of critique. So putting my body on display, again, is not a new device. I've studied and learned other artists like Jimmie Durham and others who have put their body into that space and made themselves within the gaze. But certainly the conversations with family members around what does it mean to include yourself these ways, or what does it mean for ancestral objects, taonga, and ancestral presences to be displayed and to put up on a wall and to be put out in the public light.
Brook Garru Andrew: And again, both of you have put up images of artworks, it is really deeply related to the body as well. It's really interesting when you talk about this 'Blackboy' 2017 referencing your body. I mean, I just think of the Duckworth Museum in Cambridge that still refuses to return back Aboriginal human remains yet conceptually and historically, it's in the historical record, people know that they are there. It's in the consciousness, except there's no reference to it. There's no kind of admission to it as well. I was just wondering, we actually do have a few little conversations here, little questions I suppose or comments. Do you feel like going down that pathway?
Dale Harding: Sure.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Yeah.
Brook Garru Andrew: Oops. One person... It was more of a comment but I think it's an interesting comment, and I don't know maybe you might have something to say about it. It's from anonymous, but it says, "Comment rather than a question, but it's so interesting the two images you shared under the title of minimal, both are related to demarcated colonised spaces: surveyor's pegs and the City Square."
Dale Harding: Right.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Right. Yeah.
Brook Garru Andrew: Another one, for Megan. "When and where is Mere's show planned for? Such exciting work." That's also from an anonymous person.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Wow. An anonymous person. I'm wanting to work on a show about the women of Māori modernism so it won't be just Mere but hopefully a few women. There was another woman called Georgina Kirby, who's recently just passed away, who was a painter and painted nudes. There was Mere's work. There's Elizabeth Ellis. There's another woman, as I said, Pauline Yearbury. And another woman called Freda Rankin. Marilynn Webb, who was a printmaker and is still surviving. Some of them are still around.
I'm hoping to do the research and to find... I have to find the works because of course they are not in the collection. They have never been collected. We actually bought a Pauline Yearbury from auction very recently that I'm very excited that we have. It's the first kind of work from that period we have from a Māori woman artist. So I'm hoping to work on that and to be the show next year at Te Papa.
And I think it'll be a small show but researched and quite pithy, if you know what I mean. It'd be quite full. And we are thinking about maybe touring it as well because it's an opportunity to get... It'll be a great show. It's starting to write an art history that doesn't actually exist. And for me, I suppose, part of this conversation even this evening, as I am actively, I believe, or I'm trying to write... I'm actively working to create this, continue with these other people, not just me doing it, but to write a Māori art history that sits inside and outside of the art mainstream. And it's actually larger than it.
And as I said, sometimes it fits in there and sometimes it's uncomfortable in there because it's too restricted and needs space. It's broader than... And in writing, actively writing their art history. So that will happen hopefully, I don't know, maybe... The date at the moment is August 2022. That's what we are working towards.
Brook Garru Andrew: This is a question from Hywel Sims. Maybe it's a cyclic question but I think maybe people are trying to get their heads around maybe the similarities and terminologies, which of course we've just touched on, and Hywel says, "Could you talk about why which category a work is placed in is important? Perhaps another way to ask this is to whom is the placing important, the artist or other artists?" Which I think, Dale, we have kind of touched on anyway about why you are doing it.
Dale Harding: Right. But also as we have all pointed to, they are all interchangeable. And I guess it's like so many languages. The word for this thing could actually mean many other different things depending on the way it's applied. So it's easy to remind ourselves that all of these different terms might just apply because we've chosen to put the works into there but they do switch and interchange and can come and go.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: I felt the same, that I could have shifted works around, and at one stage Brook did. And I loved that he put the minimal work of yours, which is about your body, the 'Blackboy' work, alongside the minimal work of an Ana Iti's. Was that Ana Iti's? Yeah, it was. At one stage. Anyway, it swapped around. But I felt like those things are interchangeable.
I think categories can be annoying and unnecessary at times. And I think artists often, from my experience, not that I'm an artist, I'm a curator, they often resist being defined in a particular way, and sometimes don't want to be discussed in those ways at all. So I suppose, for me, making those definitions, and as I said because they are interchangeable, I suppose the reason I think they are important is because I suppose I'm trying to demonstrate that those ideas are ideas that we work within as well. So I suppose that's why they are important to me.
I don't think they need to be written in stone and the people need to be stuck in boxes, or things decoded and said it's this, it's not that. Categories also kind of limit us, I suppose. The subject of this talk is determined sensibilities, so it's really about a way of trying to approach work and saying this work needs to be taken seriously also as art. Do you know what I'm saying?
Brook Garru Andrew: Yeah.
Dale Harding: Yeah. Megan, I second you there, because I'm proud of my sort of little project. One of my projects is that, I've touched on it again, is that if grassroots community can recognise that some of this language is not only for books or for contexts other than what they are living, other than what they have already been doing, other than what they inherit and are maintaining. It's not about seeing that it can have one fit inside the other side so then it's validated. It's not about finding one in so that we can draw visibility. These kinds of things.
I'm really keen to see that this language is just normalised and claim it, bend it, shift it, use it in your own way, but also recognise that it's already what you're doing, it's already what has been done, and that it doesn't have to be anything other than just what you need it to be. They're often changeable. For me I love reading and knowing many multiple art histories, and particularly the international applications of some of these practices and how they've sat... But then also I get a great thrill when they are applied in a grassroots way.
Brook Garru Andrew: I mean, I think this is the greatest challenge but also interest that non-Indigenous art canon or trajectory or world has with us as Indigenous people and artists, curators, thinkers, communities, because that we can take a word, we can own it, we can bend it, we can change it, as you say, and then change our minds, and then shift it to something else.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Shift it again.
Brook Garru Andrew: And I think that's incredibly challenging for some of that mob, and also sometimes for us. But I think that that's just the uniqueness and we've got so much to play with. There is a question which is I think really interesting, Dale, for you. It's saying that, "The register of the body is very present within your work and especially at MUMA. It's strikingly powerful even more so as it feels like it exists across gender in a non-binary way. It touches all. Is that purposeful?" That's from an anonymous attendee.
Dale Harding: The simple answer is yes. I mean, that's just my ongoing lived experience. Yes. And we can add all sorts of theory. One of the things that I developed in conversation with a curator named Hendrik Folkerts, I came to the recognition that... In art college we did study "the body", and then to recognise what is "the body", and that when we are presenting the works that we were showing, particularly the registers of my hands, that it wasn't a theoretical body, that it actually was a specific body. And that the body can be a certain thing, but specifically my body and specifically the details of a location or a source of a material is really key as well in the same kind of... It's the same way, the same register. So that locks it down and narrows it in to be really purposeful and specific, but of course it's universal. It moves across, as the questions are asked, and it is beyond boundaries.
Brook Garru Andrew: And maybe this is a funny question to end on. I've had a bit of a giggle when I saw it. It's from an anonymous person as well. "How will it feel when your work is canonised and written about within the '-isms'?" May not make any relevance now after this last comment.
Dale Harding: Woah. Gee, that's a goodie. Let me just sit into that. I don't court it. How does it make me feel? Often it's helpful. Often it's helpful. The honest answer is often it's helpful. Wide visibility. Lots of people have made work about Indigenous invisibility and lack of representation, these kind of things, so often it's helpful. If one of the "-isms" is plugged into the work where it's written about in that way, it's okay but also I would look at the context that it's applied, but also particularly the writer and what their intention is. How does it make me feel? At times I consider that it's helpful because the canons now, if Indigenous students are learning these cannons by prerequisite of the degree, well, then it's plugging back into Indigenous practices and ways of beings and terminologies. It's helpful.
Brook Garru Andrew: Megan, you really kicked this kind of talk off talking about your experience at the Tate and the abstract? "-isms" flow straight into that because it also acknowledges and makes visible those Māori artists, you've mentioned other Indigenous artists who were working within those sites of London. I'll give you Paris, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, like any other artist who wants to just make work.
Megan Tamati-Quennell: Absolutely. Well, the thing is that they wanted to be artists and so where were they going to go? You know what I mean? I mean, they received information via books that was at magazines. They'd look at grainy photographs. They may actually saw the real this or that. So to be in London and to be able to access things and see things and learn things, and of course work their way through it.
And it's interesting someone like, Hotere, for example, went away as an expressionist painter and came back as a minimal Abstractionist. So he worked through everything and got to a certain point and his work completely shifted. It was so sophisticated. It's another show that I want to do, which is really looking at those early Māori internationals, those ones that went offshore. There was a man called Selwyn Wilson, who was a painter and then he became a ceramic artist, and he went to the Central School of Art in London. It's interesting they all end up there. Hotere went off, got another scholarship and he went off to the Central School of Art in London. Met Pine at the end of the graphic design course but then he decided after that one year of doing graphic design he wanted to be a sculptor so he went to the Hornsey College of Art. He was the person who took himself there. So he was there for 10 years working through and came back and then reintegrated himself here.
And they really were different than the other artists who hadn't had that opportunity or that experience. Their work was in a different... and for a long time wasn't really understood, I don't think. I don't know. I find all that stuff fascinating. And I always love Jimmie Durham's... you talked about Jimmie Durham before, his comment about how Europe was an Indian project because they had studied us for so long. You know what I mean? We are everywhere there. We don't just make work here, we are everywhere. And they have been studying us culturally for such a long time that we are so implicated in those histories, both in England and Europe. We have taonga. We have art. We have all sorts of stuff that is there. And we've been in their consciousness. You talked about Picasso and all of those people who started looking at Indigenous art as an inspiration for their work. So there's a whole history of stuff.
And that engagement for me is really important because I feel like those ones who went offshore and went to those schools had agency over that. They decided. They wanted to go there. They came back and wore berets and wanted to be artists with a capital A. They put themselves in the galleries. They wanted to be regarded and seen, and it was really just, I suppose, the racism at home that they weren't valued in the same way. They just wanted their work to be as good as everybody else's, and it was, and it is.
Dale Harding: I recall a scenario, Megan, when you say that those senior artists took themselves into that context, I recall being asked... I mean, again, it comes back to being a student but we are talking about being locked into a certain discourse. But I remember being asked, do I want an Indigenous supervisor to assess my work? And that was very early on in the experience of that particular college here at Queensland College of Art. Did I want an Indigenous supervisor to assess the work? And I have an interest in seeing that the work is tested in as many arenas as possible really. It's all speculative. In terms of the question and asking around whether how does it feel the work being applied or written into an "-ism", I enjoy the work being tested in as many different contexts and fields as possible. And it's credit to those artists who have sought out those other situations to put themselves into as well.
Brook Garru Andrew: I mean, coming back to determined sensibilities, and this is what it's about, and it's really important to reflect that we have our own agencies in that. And I'd like to thank you both mandaang guwu for hanging out tonight. This is so exciting, and I hope that everyone here joining us today is safe and well in these times.