May is the month when you can feel winter coming, daylight savings ends, the weather becomes just that little bit more unpredictable, and t-shirts start to be accompanied by warmer layers (just in case), yet we can also ignore these signs and enjoy the final throes of Summer’s waning presence. This May, we have enjoyed a range of treats, from the streets of Ōtautahi to gallery walls in Te- Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, a beautiful secluded gem in Waltham, a haunting surprise outside one of our favourite bars and the odd geeky nightmare…
We welcomed the third artist to the Phantom bollard take-over The Paste-Up Project, with Cape of Storms adorning the circular structure with a signature blast of colourful retro collage posters. The installation, titled Foreign Objects, reflects on the adjustment to life in Aotearoa, highlighting Kiwi quirks through nostalgic compositions of food and fashion and vintage media. The appearance is easily mistaken for official poster advertising, until closer inspection reveals the acerbic humour – check it out on Manchester Street!
We’ve always known our pal Jessie Rawcliffe was super talented – now she has the certificate to prove it! Jessie’s striking portrait Richard, of Wellington tattoo artist Richard Warnock, was highly commended in the Adam Portraiture Awards at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in the capital. From 351 entries, the Adam Awards exhibition was narrowed down to 45 works, with Jessie’s painting being placed in the top 7 by judges Linda Tyler and Karl Maughan.
The Haunted Teacup
You may know about Watch This Space’s plans for The Little Street Art Festival in 2023 (if not, more to come soon!) – but did you know about Ghostcat‘s Haunted Teacup – a work created to exemplify the types of works the festival will celebrate? The worn Victorian-styled automata viewing box has been surprising viewers passing The Last Word on New Regent Street through May, drawing people in with the promise of a terrifying supernatural experience, but is it what it seems? Go and check it out… If you dare!
7 Oaks Mural
We recently had the chance to work with Life in Vacant Spaces and the amazing community at Waltham’s 7 Oaks – an incredible site where array of groups make use of a beautiful space. Together we created a participatory mural welcoming visitors to 7 Oaks, a team effort where 3 year olds and those just a little bit older all contributed to a mural that draws on the surrounding environment.
Return to the Upside Down
Last, but not least, is a shout out to my nerdy side (which is possibly 73% of me) and the long anticipated debut of season four of everyone’s favourite 80’s homage Stranger Things! I may or may not have binged all seven episodes in one night, but who is asking, really? I also may have already re-watched it and now wait impatiently for the final two episodes… Bada Bada Boom!
This month’s And That Was… is a special edition – dedicated to the impact of the Flare Street Art Festival across March (the festival opened on the 2nd and eventually came to a close on the 20th, an extended run). Who better to break down the highlights than Flare project manager Selina Faimalo, who gamely took on the challenges of such a multi-faceted event, and headline artist and pop-up gallery curator, Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch (aka Meep). From the amazing murals to the additional elements of tours, exhibitions, panel talks and more, Selina and Kophie break down what made Flare such a success!
The Flare Ōtautahi Street Art Festival was a conglomeration of large murals, a pop-up exhibition, graffiti art, guided tours and art talks.
The ARCC collective wanted the festival to be a collaborative event, with artists involved in the curation of the event and to incorporate traditional graffiti as well as street art. Dcypher, Ikarus and of course, Kophie, were eager to jump on board to have the most authentic festival possible. It is amazing to break down Flare by the numbers:
Flare became a 20 day festival with a total of 44 artists participating, including seven headlining artists, as well as a three-artist collaborative 3D mural and a three-artist projection installation, a ‘Wahine Takeover’ at the BOXed Quarter with four female artists, an exhibition featuring 21 urban artists, and a two-part graffiti jam with 35 artists. Flare saw the completion of 44 new artworks across the SALT District. More than 1200 visited Flare Central on High Street, with many taking home art from the pop-up exhibition, while 136 people joined the guided tours (and more just tagged along!).
Overall, we had so many wins, including Koryu taking home Kathmandu’s People’s Choice Award (voted by FLARE attendees) and the heartwarming development of Olive the cat, star of SwiftMantis’ mural, finding a home when she was adopted from the Cat’s Protection League!
In addition, these were our personal highlights…
Kophie and I are the founders of The Conscious Club and until very recently we were based at The BOXed Quarter, an amazing part of SALT District with a variety of murals by different artists.
The Wāhine Takeover was added to the programme as when we were organising the graffiti jam, it became obvious that women graffiti artists are few and far between in Ōtautahi. Kophie took the initiative of choosing four wāhine to paint at the BOXed Quarter, adding a point of difference to the area and a diverse range of new artworks. The selected artists were Jen Heads from Fiksate Gallery, Lucia Kux from Berlin, who has a background in graffiti and is a tattoo apprentice, McChesney-Kelly Adams from Lyttelton, who specializes in realism and also has a tattoo apprenticeship and Jessie Rawcliffe, who specialises in highly detailed portraiture.
The Pop-Up Exhibition
As well as being one of the headlining artists, Kophie also curated the Flare Central pop-up gallery. The exhibition was primarily a representation of Ōtautahi graffiti and street artists as well as art work from our headlining artists. The curation of the gallery was to be a homage to graffiti art as the art form that began street art and large-scale murals and adds vibrancy and culture to the city.
Offline Collective x Fiksate
Offline Collective and Fiksate Gallery merged their creative outputs, mixing the work of local artists Dr. Suits and Jen Heads with Offline Collective’s renowned animated moving images. Overlaying visuals and interrupting the usually static images of both artists in two installations, the concepts were brought to animated life in an empty High Street space.
This installation was epic, exploring the murals at night and peering through the window on High St whilst eating an ice cream from Utopia (or even a few wines deep) was mesmerizing ! It was like seeing a Jen Head hologram from 2043!
We were so lucky with our selection of walls being so close together in the SALT District that all the murals were located within five minutes walk of each other.
Watch This Space facilitating the guided tours was absolutely amazing, Reuben’s passion and knowledge about the urban art scene had attendees hooked!! It created a sense of pride for residents learning about already existing art that they once just glossed over.
The great thing is, if you missed out you can still book in guided tour with Watch This Space!
The Watch This Space: Flare Artist Panel was another highlight. One of the biggest struggles with Flare was hosting a festival in red light setting, as well as being in the peak of everyone catching COVID! (including me, LOL!), with a limit on gatherings of 100. We were so grateful to have access to equipment through WORD Christchurch to live stream this so those isolating and all across Aotearoa could tune in!
We had all our headlining artists on the panel apart from Elliot Francis Stewart and Wongi who couldn’t make it, so it was really great to hear the diverse stories; their backgrounds and their journeys to where they are now.
As the festival was extended (we had a few artists down with COVID!), we ended up having two graffiti jams!
We had 20 Artists painting at Graffiti Jam Part One and 15 artists at Graffiti Jam Part Two, and it was so much fun to get the community together to paint legally and incorporate traditional graffiti into Flare. We even had North Island heavyweight Fuego, who happened to be in town at the right time, get a piece in!
Dcypher and Ikarus had been such a huge part of helping put Flare together and they facilitated both graffiti jams. They have a mana in Ōtautahi that brought everyone together and had a great time.
Both laneways are special in their own way and walking down each one takes you on a journey of a range of styles like walking into a gallery on the streets.
We honestly couldn’t be happier with how the festival turned out. Even though we were in peak Omicron and in the red traffic light setting, it all came together through an epic community and residents supporting the arts! Fingers crossed we can do it all again next year, and actually hold the street party!
Almost five years since Street Prints Ōtautahi, Christchurch’s last significant street art mural festival, Flare Street Art Festival provided a welcome shot in the arm for a city with an established reputation as an urban art destination. The brainchild of ARCC, a urban activation collective of local business people and place makers, Flare burst into life with a roster of seven headline artists painting huge murals and a flurry of additional activities.
Flare was built around the selection of massive new murals that would transform the SALT District and surrounding environs, landmarks that showed an impressive diversity, each artist flexing their unique styles, interests and intentions with creative freedom.
The largest mural, on the side of the newly renovated Cotters Lane building, was completed by Koryu, a Japanese artist who has been based in Aotearoa since the 2020 lockdown, living in Geraldine but travelling across the country to paint murals. While relatively new to urban art, picking up a spray can just three years ago after visiting Melbourne, Koryu’s impressive depiction of fierce Niō warriors, guardian statues of Buddhist temples in Japan shows his quick development. The circular motif in the middle of the image suggesting the infinite quality of existence, the warriors themselves representing the beginning and end of all things (the open and closed mouths symbolic of the in and out breath, the first and last characters of the alphabet). The huge work, over 160 square metres, was a massive undertaking, filled with detailed musculature and gestural painting and aware of the shared experiences of Christchurch earthquakes and the Tohuku earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 when both regions were struck by devastating natural disasters, making this work, a gift of guardians, even more resonant.
Nearby, overlooking Manchester Street, local artist Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson displayed his technical skill with a vibrant depiction of a woman wearing rose-tinted glasses and chewing bubble gum. The pink gum exploding into a cloud of pop culture references, a baseball cap, a paint roller, headphones and more bursting out of the cloud. The combination of realism and pop-esque cartoon work a summation of Wongi’s style. The upbeat energy of the work infecting an area that still bares the scars of the city’s ongoing .
Tucked down Memory Lane, behind the imposing SALT Mural by Paul Walters and Dcypher in Evolution Square, Gisborne artist Kell Sunshine added a rolling, lyrical mural, a beautiful contrast to the architectural and pared-back piece around the corner. Floral forms blooming and unfurling around the phrase ‘Take a walk on the wild side’, Sunshine’s mural reminds us of the need to break from convention and embrace our ‘wild side’ – a literal depiction of nature amidst the urban jungle. The 70s vibe is relaxed and the somewhat secluded placement allows for the viewer to stop and absorb the message before returning to the bustle of the city.
On St Asaph Street, homegrown talent Meep produced the largest work of her career, with a stylised self-portrait against a bright orange backdrop. The massive image shows the artist, with a backpack filled with paint, a roller and a blackbook, walking along the tracks (a traditional graffiti hot-spot and suggested by the large roller piece behind the artist), headphones plugged into a television-headed representation of hip-hop music – her constant companion (the homage to hip-hop cemented with the Kangol bucket hat and the MF Doom and Wu Tang Clan t-shirts). The strong representation of a female graffiti writer illuminating an often marginalised presence in a predominantly male sub-culture.
On the corner of Manchester and Welles Street, local legend Ikarus of the DTR Crew recounted his own experiences in graffiti through the lens of an AR video game (a cartoon version of the artist shown in full AR goggle mode in the corner). The levels of the game move through the stages of graffiti, from tags to throw-ups and finally ascending to masterpieces, the obstacles and intricacies thrown in as well. The shout-out to traditional graffiti an important inclusion in a forum where the culture is often excluded in favour of birds and buildings. The shout out to the legendary Jungle acknowledging the legacy of those who have come before and the important role of mentorship through example.
In the rear of the Little High car park on St Asaph Street, Palmerston North artist Swiftmantis continued his series of ‘Stray Stories’ with a huge depiction of black cat Olive, her green eyes surveying the surrounding area. The amazing detail reveals the feline’s character, her tattered ear a sign of her survival. Currently with the Cats Protection League of Christchurch. Olive, perhaps now the city’s most famous cat, is still looking for her forever home, the work serving to highlight her situation and to celebrate the work done by the Protection League. The image has already stopped hundreds in their tracks, wowed at the production and enamoured with the beautiful, majestic animal.
The final work, located on Manchester Street, was delayed when Elliot Francis Stewart was unable to make his way to Ōtautahi until the final (or at least the final official) day of the festival. Renowned as a supremely talented illustrator, Stewart drew inspiration from Christchurch’s ‘Garden City’ moniker to depict a sweetly nostalgic scene of a shovel and bucket in a garden. The electric colour scheme of blue, yellow and magenta highlights the intricate detail, the leaves, bark and even tiny lizards occupying the serene setting. It is a show stopper that draws you in, your eyes led across the incredible detail of the wall.
While these murals were the central focus of Flare, there was plenty more going on across the extended two week programme. Just prior to the official launch, Dcypher, Ghostcat and Dr Suits installed an anti-war 3D mural – an oversized Molotow pen fixed to the wall appearing to be the tool used to scrawl over the image of a tank in bright pink – a peace sign and the declaration ‘Make Art Not War’ defacing the symbol of military force. Just around the corner, Flare made use of a High Street shop as a pop-up gallery, featuring local and visiting artists, an array of art and apparel available. The pop-up served as the central hub for the festival, with artists hanging out and passers-by drawn in (our Watch This Space guided tours also departed from the pop-up space, while the Watch This Space Artist Panel was held at 12 Bar on St Asaph Street). An unassuming High Street space hosting a projection work, a collaboration between Fiksate Gallery and the Offline Collective, added a dynamic night-time presence to the festival. The BOXed Quarter’s collection grew with the ‘Wahine Takeover’; Jessie Rawcliffe, Jen-Heads, Berlin and MKA adding fresh paintings to the panels. The final Saturday of the festival saw over two dozen artists take over the lane ways surrounding popular bar Smash Palace with a graffiti jam, artists from different cities and generations lifting the veil from graffiti’s often mysterious presence as visitors could watch the paint being sprayed on the wall. Finally, on the last weekend, Billens Lane, next to Little High, received a make-over with fresh hoardings painted by Jacob Yikes, Dcypher, YSEK, Chile One, Ikarus, Tepid and Bols, adding further diversity to the collection of Flare works.
With over 40 new works of art painted across the city, and over 30 artists involved across the festival, Flare served to connect the dots as an event that was for the city and the culture. This is an important element of such an event, recognising the need to support local talent and provide opportunities of varying scales, to raise the profile of urban art and foster the seeds of the city’s creative foundations. Of course, with new incarnations will come new challenges, from finding fresh walls to the massive task of finding money, but Flare has made a promising start, and we are already looking forward to 2023!
Friday the 4th of March was a busy night, with two events marking the opening of significant urban art events in Ōtautahi, signalling an exploding energy in the local scene. First up was the opening event for the Flare Street Art Festival, held at the pop-up exhibition space on High Street, which is host for all the information you will need about the festival and a collection of work by Flare artists and a number of local stars. Across town at TyanHAUS, Slap City’s International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival was also celebrating it’s opening night, with the interior exhibition of work from across the globe completely taking over the space. We were lucky enough to make it along to both events, with a palpable sense of excitement permeating both spaces…
With both events taking place in the red traffic light setting, it was great to see the organisers ensuring people were masked up (except for a quick photo here and there!) and that group sizes were kept appropriate!
Flare Street Art Festival opening event @ Flare Central, Friday, 4th March, 2022
Beginning with a opening address by Mayor Liane Dalziel, the Flare Festival launched on Friday (although artists had been at work on their walls since Wednesday the 2nd) at the Flare Central pop-up. The exhibited works ranged from Flare headline artists to a roster of local talent such as Chile One, Nick Lowry, Jacob Yikes, Ghostcat, Jen Heads and more. A relaxed vibe highlighted the feeling that such festivals bring, with new friendships and old connections re-established. Check out flare.nz for the festival’s full programme
Slap City presents The International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival @ TyanHAUS, Friday, 4th March, 2022
The Slap City collective have been an unmissable presence in the local scene over the last two years, their widespread community ensuring Ōtautahi has a thriving and diverse array of art in the streets. The International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival harnesses that diversity and community into an impressive exhibition and programme. Completely taking over the TyanHAUS space, the challenge proved to be where to start! Diving into the cacophonous selection of paste-ups, examing the sticker bombs or considering the Hello We Are exhibition, there was no shortage of attention grabbing activity! Follow the event on Facebook for more of the festival’s programme…
We are excited to announce a summer series of New Brighton guided street art tours! Watch This Space has already established central Christchurch street art tours, with hundreds of guests joining us to explore the art within the four avenues since 2019. Now, in conjunction with the New Brighton Outdoor Art Foundation, our tours will journey out to one of the city’s most vibrant suburban settings, the beautiful seaside village of New Brighton.
Although New Brighton has faced a litany of challenges over the years, from the economic downturn with the arrival of mega malls, to the damage of the Christchurch earthquakes, art has been an undeniable presence – brightening walls with evolving works that have often reflected the indomitable community spirit of the area! While today, the beautiful Pier is accompanied by the bustling children’s playground and the popular He Puna Taimoana hot pools (and a brand new surf life saving club to boot), since 2012, the dilapidated walls and empty spaces have been filled with art. From the 2012 event Mural Madness to the 2020 New Brighton Outdoor Art Festival – art has been at the heart of so many aspects of the village’s revitalisation. The art found in New Brighton is not as pristine and curated as the central city, where there is an increasing sense of input from power brokers, instead it is more organic and experimental, and at times challenging, with traditional graffiti a prominent part of the artistic profile with legal walls and collaborative productions. But that makes it all the more interesting and authentic – it is the art of action!
With free tours spread across January and February, now is the time to book in and explore New Brighton! Perfect for locals who want to celebrate their neighbourhood or for visitors who will find a ‘new’ New Brighton, our tours are available for all ages!
Email email@example.com for booking options and we will see you at the beach!
12pm, Saturday, January 22nd (almost fill, less than 3 places available!)
6pm, Thursday, January 27th
12pm, Sunday, January 30th
6pm, Thursday, February 3rd
12pm, Saturday, February 5th
12pm, Sunday, February 20th
The New Brighton street art tours are an initiative between Watch This Space, the New Brighton Outdoor Art Foundation and ChristchurchNZ.
Hard in the Paint – Part of the Christchurch Hip Hop Summit, December 10th, 2021
2021 saw the return of the Christchurch Hip Hop Summit, with a full programme representing the four elements of the culture, from workshops and demonstrations to performances. As the oldest element, graffiti was a vital inclusion, but as the ‘black sheep’ of the hip hop family (to borrow a phrase from an article I read in The Source years ago), it is not as natural a fit as the performative profiles of breaking, DJing and MCing. As the most outwardly anti-social, and manifesting a broader sense of identity, graffiti is an interesting proposition for the Summit, in many ways the best fit for hip hop’s changing scope. For the 2021 event, graffiti was represented by Hard in the Paint, a gathering of graffiti generations creating a traditional production balancing letter forms and characters in the Hereford Street car park (no, not that one). Co-ordinated by the DTR crew’s Ikarus and Dcypher, the line-up was varied and the local scene was well-represented, featuring Ikarus, Dcypher, Smeagol, Drows, Meep, YSEK, Fiasko and Vesil…
If you have a show coming up – let us know by emailing the details to firstname.lastname@example.org…
When the Canterbury Museum’s hugely popular Rise exhibition finished in early 2014, the walls of the main exhibition hall were covered with long black curtains, the murals from the show obscured with only teasing snippets still visible for more inquisitive visitors. With Hakē: Street Art Revealed; the Museum has drawn back the curtains, allowing the public the chance to revisit the Rise legacy, while also encountering a new floor-to-wall mural by Tāmaki Makaurau artist Benjamin Work.
A member of the celebrated TMD crew, Aotearoa’s most notable graffiti collective, Work brings urban art credibility, but his involvement also ensures a wider discourse that extends beyond the focus of Rise. Work’s evolution exemplifies the new trajectories of artists reared on graffiti and urban art, while also explicitly exploring the complexities of both cultural institutions and the Pasifika diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.
Over the span of a week, Work created Motutapu II, a massive mural that sprawls across the floor and walls of the main exhibition hall. Inspired by the Canterbury Museum’s collection of ‘akau tau, the painting extends outward from two orange diamond shaped mata, or matapā (eyes of the pā), a vertiginous pattern of interlocking black and white lines leading the viewer toward more sacred symbols framing the work. Work explains Motutapu II as a metaphorical representation of ancient gateways marking arrivals and departures of voyaging vaka. ‘Motutapu’ is a name used across Polynesian cultures for sacred or sanctuary islands, neutral spaces for visitors before arrival at the mainland.
In the museum mural, the black and white lines create pathways, leading the viewer to each end of the hall; a hovering māhina (moon) glows in mottled orange to the east, while to the west, a soaring Tavake (Tropicbird) accompanies three figures symbolising Tonga’s chiefly lineage. Inviting viewers into the painted space, while maintaining a reverence for sacred imagery, navigating the complicated task of maintaining traditions and engaging a contemporary audience. After observing the creation of Motutapu II, I had the opportunity to sit down with Benjamin Work to discuss his experiences in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the future directions of his practice, and the experience of working at the Canterbury Museum…
It’s been a busy month for you! It started with the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, then you arrived here in Ōtautahi to paint a mural for the Etu Pasifika Health Centre with (fellow TMD Crew member) Charles Williams before starting work on your floor-to-wall mural at the Canterbury Museum. Is such a busy lifestyle still enjoyable or do you miss your own bed?
We were talking about this the other night, I have friends whose practice often works at this pace, but I think this has been one of the busiest periods I’ve experienced, including the work prior to my month away. I’ve noticed it’s easy to move from project to project and not take time to be present, to really be in the moment, so that’s something I’m focusing on. And once I’m home, I will have time to process what’s happened.
It must have helped to have had friends and family alongside you for these projects…
Definitely! I can’t function without friends and family. I am a relational person. Most of my life has been experienced in a collective environment, whether it was TMD crew, church settings or amongst my Tongan family. I’m at a point in my life where I have a greater understanding of the way I am, and that’s to help others navigate their way as I find my way.
I assume that is also an influence from your graffiti background, a culture that has a strong sense of collectivism and collaboration, which brings me to the Museum project. The opportunity came from the Museum revealing the wall works from the 2013-14 Rise street art exhibition. The idea was to add a floor mural to extend the narratives around that exhibition. Your work has moved beyond description as graffiti art or street art, both stylistically and contextually, highlighting the evolution of artists who may have roots in those origins. How do you respond to people designating you as a graffiti or street artist?
They are different practices which I want to navigate how and when I want. This is hard for many people to understand inside of their boxes. I don’t want to be referred to as graffiti artist, street artist or a Tongan artist, simply an artist who is telling stories both old and new.
You mention that you have become more comfortable in the studio, but the idea of bringing Tongan iconography to public spaces and giving them a new visibility was a central aspect of your work, how has that intention changed?
It has been an important part of my process but there has been a shift of late due to migrating back to Aotearoa, Covid, time alone and making new work. I have seen a shift in style, painting techniques and even using loose canvas. There was a period where I engaged with a lot of institutions, between 2015 and 2019, and it was important for me to engage with our Tongan treasures and bring them out into the public space. But I’m not sure if that’s going be a focal point going forward. What I’d like to do is use those connections and my platform to connect other Tongans that are searching for those answers with those institutions. Many communities don’t realise that they have access to all the museums that hold our treasures.
Working within cultural institutions you must have to consider the colonial history of such spaces. Do you see yourself as challenging that history from the inside, or are you more concerned with opening doors for people who have not had a relationship with these institutions previously and as such have not been exposed to the treasures they contain?
I hope that the way I move and the way I am, and the work that I make does challenge those places. Naturally I’m a bridge-builder, so for me, engaging with an institution such as the Canterbury Museum, one goal is to reconnect our people with our treasures, but if there are challenges that arise, I have to face them. I don’t go looking for confrontation, but if I come face to face with it, I have to say something because I’ve got the privilege of being in that space and if not me, then who?
Looking back to some of your previous work, like the mural you painted here in Christchurch for From the Ground Up in 2013, there was an explicit narrative unfolding in a relatively conventional pictorial format, but your work now feels much more evocative and suggestive without that overt storytelling, a quality that is evident in the Museum piece.
Graffiti was quite literal, it’s a letter-based art form and I painted my chosen name over and over again. This is me! Know me! Read me! I’m famous! Transitioning away from a graffiti aesthetic in 2011, I realised I didn’t have to be so blatant which led me to engage with the more abstract iconography found on our traditional ngatu (bark cloth). The inspiration for that particular mural came from reading Olaf Ruhen’s book called Minerva Reef, a true story of Tongan boxers on their way to Aotearoa for a tournament who were shipwrecked on the Minerva Reef for four months. I used iconography to communicate this story on the wall. It was a little strange at the time painting it in Christchurch but that shifted when I found out descendants of some of the survivors lived in Christchurch and visited the wall.
Did that evolution come about as your exploration of Tongan artefacts such as ‘akau tau (war clubs) and tapa cloth deepened? What were your experiences with those types of objects growing up?
Ngatu bark cloth, fala (floor mats) and ta’ovala, the mats we wear around our waists, are filled with mostly abstract motifs which are embedded with ancient knowledge, we engage with them from birth. We have an intimate knowledge of them, of their texture, and even their smell. We had ngatu bark cloth and mats folded under our bed, most Tongans do, that’s where you store them, where else do you store these humongous things? Ngatu bark cloth was my first point of reference when experimenting with other mediums, but the war clubs were love at first sight. I was first introduced to them in a book called The Art of Tonga by Keith St. Cartmail, I was instantly intrigued by the iconography carved into them. I wanted to work them into my practice, especially the warrior figures.
I was lucky enough to join you when you were examining some of the ‘akau tau in the Museum’s collection, and I was struck by the small scale of the carved designs on the clubs, possibly because I was familiar with your work’s larger scale, which has been an intentional shift to make them more visible…
I wanted to use my platform to tell the world about our Tongan iconography. I wanted the scale to be impactful and for our people to be proud once they had learned that these are our designs, that they come from our ancestors for us. What better way was there than public murals? I feel I’ve started something that other Tongans will continue with bigger and better murals.
You said that living in Tonga you noticed young Tongan men seem to physically engage with their surroundings, constantly touching or hitting surfaces. That kinesthetic or tactile tendency becomes important in the context of your work as you have to think about how people engage with artefacts and art within institutions. I know you had to grapple with the idea of people potentially walking over the floor mural and that influenced the design, especially the elements drawn from more revered sources. That question of how to treat objects of culture and how we engage with them must be a central concern for you, especially as you shift between sacred cultural objects, utilitarian objects, public spaces and white cube galleries…
My process evolves slowly, I’m OK with it, as long as I’m still exploring different ways to communicate through my work, the speed of change doesn’t matter. Living in Tonga has challenged me to think differently when it comes to materials and the way I present my work. I’ve seen my people touching and desiring to hold my work rather than simply viewing it in a gallery, and I’m now OK with that, but if you asked me five years ago, I would have had a heart attack!
What was the process for the Museum piece, from exploring the collection of Tongan artefacts to producing this massive floor to wall mural? What are you looking for as inspiration in those objects and how do you then translate it to a massive mural work?
An important part of this project was me coming down to Christchurch viewing the space. I was emailed the specs for the floor and walls, but if I’m able to see the physical space, I’m able to respond to the space better. Likewise, with the ‘akau tau, I’ve seen many throughout my years of research but I’m always looking for unique motifs within each museum’s collection. I had a similar experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with Dr Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the famous museum). She took us into the collection of Tongan treasures, which is small, but there was a club there with this small motif of two warriors reaching out towards each other, their hands above their heads. That motif then triggered the idea for a mural which she organised in Spanish Harlem. In the Canterbury Museum’s collection is a beautiful abstraction of a Tropicbird which I included in the mural.
By coincidence, the mural you painted with Charles featured a tropicbird as well…
It was meant to be. There was no prior communication on that. Even though it was a Pasifika Health Centre, it would go against Charles’ kaupapa of painting foreign birds in Aotearoa. The Tropicbird is known as an Amokura in Māori and Tavake in Tongan and is a sacred and significant bird that can still be sighted from time to time in Aotearoa. It is said some elders would cry as it was a tohu or sign reminding them of Hawaiki.
You have admitted your connection to Christchurch is rather limited, but some of your Scottish heritage does trace back here. Being born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and also living in Tonga, what have you made of your experience in Ōtautahi?
I’ve enjoyed Ōtautahi, but I definitely love Tāmaki! No, I visit a place and try to feel the environment, watch and engage with people of that place. Both Māori and Pakeha have been shaped by the landscape, seascape, mountains, and rivers. My great-great-grandparents migrated from the Shetland Islands to Christchurch and are buried in Linwood Cemetery – something I’m learning more about recently. I’ve engaged with the land and people down here, wondering if there are any attributes of that generation in the people I’ve met. I have questions: Why did they choose Ōtautahi Christchurch? Did they walk these same streets? Did they learn the story of this land?
Have you had the chance to engage with members of the Pasifika community here in Ōtautahi during this project?
Associate Curator Hatesa Seumanutafa went above and beyond her job description in supporting this project. Having a person from Moana Oceania with our treasures in the Museum is vital! Not only for our material culture but as a lighthouse for our people to connect with within the institution. Ōtautahi has a unique Pasifika story, one that is sometimes dominated by the Pasifika stories from Auckland and Wellington. I was able to connect with some of the amazing community here and make space for us around a kava session in the Canterbury Museum indigenising space to talanoa and tend to relationships – the first of many.
Urban art, and graffiti in particular, are viewed by many as masculine realms, physical, aggressive and competitive. But, the reality is that women have long had a vital role in the history of wall writing and street art, from subway graffiti writers like Lady Pink, to post-graffiti icons like Swoon, and leading members of the contemporary mural movement like Maya Hayuk. In Aotearoa, the female presence in urban art has also been notable, and Fiksate’s Perspective exhibition, opening on November 6th, brings together an array of artists to share their diverse experiences and reveal the myriad stories and pathways of women in urban art.
Organised by Fiksate owner Jenna Lynn Ingram (Jen_Heads), Perspective brings together established and emerging female artists from around New Zealand (and further afield), with a diverse range of practices, from typography-focussed graffiti writers to spoon-loving street artists, collagists, paste-up artists, photographers, videographers, traditional painters and mural artists. This diversity reveals the approach of Perspective, less concerned with an explicit historical narrative or thematic or stylistic similarities, the show primarily explores the scope of work of the collected artists, from Flox’s beautiful stencils to Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch’s empowered portraits or Befaaany’s striking urban photography. In doing so, notions of the female urban artist are both celebrated and challenged.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a limited-edition risograph zine, produced by Jane Maloney of M/K Press, providing additional insights into each artist’s background and further highlighting their varied experiences, from the challenges they have faced to the different environments that have fostered their approaches and nurtured their talent. While more fluid and non-binary gender identities may render gender specific exhibitions less necessary in the future, Perspective is an important moment in Aotearoa urban art, a celebration of some amazing talent.
Perspective opens 5:00pm, Friday November 6th at Fiksate Studio and Gallery, 165 Gloucester Street.
For the month of January Fiksate became a second home for itinerant artists Robert Seikon and Anastasia Papaleonida, the gallery’s first international residents. While Seikon is Polish, the couple are based in Greece, Papaleonida’s home country. That international flavor is further enhanced by their travels, with their arrival in Aotearoa following a stay in the Philippines and an exhibition in Taiwan. During their residency, I was able to spend time with the endearing duo. It was fascinating watching the two, who have been working together for almost twelve months, operate in the studio, each maintaining their distinct stylistic identity, while investigating the potential of collaboration. The artists alternate between a hyper-focus on their individual contributions and conferences around subtle details of composition and colour. But it is not just the studio where their collaborations flourish, with their work appearing on walls in numerous locations, including a number of works produced during their stay in Christchurch. While Seikon’s background in graffiti provides a lineage for this public practice, Papaleonida is relatively new to this approach, coming from a design foundation, bringing a unique consideration to their creative process. Their pairing has resulted in visually stunning works, where sharp, angular aspects contrast with organic elements, creating optical effects that invite the viewer to immerse themselves in the image, only to discover small, unsettling details that disrupt expectation, rewarding inspection. We caught up with Robert and Anastasia as their exhibition Long Trip of the Kokos drew near, taking in the sights and delights of Lyttelton, sitting down for a discussion about their experiences in Christchurch and New Zealand, their collaborative partnership and the differences working indoors and outside…
Welcome to Aotearoa! How long have you been in the country now?
RS: We have been here for one month already. It’s very nice.
What are your perceptions of New Zealand so far?
AP: Everything is very organized and super clean! You are in the middle of nowhere and there’s a bathroom with a paper, it’s like, what the fuck?! And in general, the people are super nice.
RS: It’s not only the toilets that are clean! The grass is cut everywhere, fresh walls are repainted, everything is clean. You get the feeling you are at the end of the world, that you are very far away. But everyone is super friendly, you feel comfortable as soon as you get out of the airport.
As artists, do the distinct atmospheres of different cities and countries start to influence your work?
RS: It makes a difference for sure. Here for example, during our trip from the North Island to the South Island, the landscape was changing almost every hour. The landscapes in New Zealand combine parts of European landscapes all together, which is very interesting for us. All the colors and shapes we have seen during this trip have made a big impact on us.
Both of you work in abstraction. What specific influences have fed into the recurring motifs in your work? Have they come from real world references?
AP: For me, it’s about landscapes, plants, organic things…
RS: For me it is both the natural landscape and the urban environment. But in this case, for this exhibition, I think mostly the landscape, because we have worked with the memories that we have collected over the last few weeks of being in New Zealand. Sometimes I like to be inspired by the city, but here it hasn’t been the case. If we work with a wall in the city, the surrounding area is going to inspire the wall, but for this exhibition the influence is mostly the natural landscape.
There is an interesting interplay between your individual approaches; Anastasia, your more organic forms that seem to reference the cellular and biological, while Robert, your lines and geometric forms seem more hard-edged. While those aspects are quite distinct, the colors seem much more of a collaborative component…
RS: We enjoy talking about color.
AP: Yes, on this trip we have worked a lot more with color. In the past we didn’t have the opportunity to do that much, we were working a lot with black and white.
RS: In general, we like to use black and white.
AP: But, after this trip, travelling in the Philippines and here, the colors we have seen have been amazing and we have started to mix more colours. With all the work we have prepared for this exhibition, we have mixed I don’t know how many colors…
RS: We haven’t used straight black like we have before. Everything is mixed with something…
AP: The vision that we have for the exhibition is to create an atmosphere that is unique, which comes through not using straight black like we have in the past.
This body of work has been created as part of your residency at Fiksate. You have noted the influence of your travels, but did you already have an idea of the work you were going to make when you arrived in Christchurch, or has the experience of the residency, the place and people, inspired the works as well?
AP: It has been interesting to work with other people around. For me, often when I’m working on something new, it takes time before I realize that something is happening for a particular reason. I can’t always see it at the time, but when I look back I can see that it came from somewhere…
I’ve noticed that your shared work station is very organized, from paint cups numbered in a spectrum of tints, to the way tools are laid out, is that something that has developed as part of your working relationship, or was it always evident individually?
RS: I think that is something we’ve both had from the past. Me, I always like to be precise and clean. We don’t even talk about it. We’ve got the same thinking in common…
Is that sense of order intrinsically necessary to make the work look the way it does, or is it just a comforting aspect? I’m sure you are both very particular about the clean lines, the perfect dots, the sharp shapes and the smooth gradients, so that organisation must be important in achieving those effects, right? In the studio you can control those elements a little bit more, but do you have the same level of preparedness and organization when you’re painting outdoors?
RS: Oh yes, I like to prepare my bag the day before, so I am ready to have breakfast and go. Then, the morning before painting, I check everything is in my bag; the roller, the sketchbook…
AP: You need this, you need this… Outdoors, it’s like a small studio because you are spending hours in that place and you need your stuff in specific places, so it is free for the wall and for your movements…
There is a physicality to the way each of you work, a physical activity that goes into creating the details, from precise movements to more sweeping gestures. I’ve noticed that when you are working in the studio, while there are times when you’re both working on the same piece, often one of you is active and the other is either observing or off to the side, is that simply to give each other the physical space for these movements?
AP: To be honest I haven’t thought about that before, but maybe, now that you’re saying it, it does work like that, because when someone wants to do something more precise, you need to give him the space to do it…
RS: It’s a good observation. When we work, for example when Anastasia is working and I’ve got a small break, I’m also thinking about the things that I will do next, I’m waiting for Anastasia to move so I can get another answer, you know? It’s like, this little bit here is developing, so what is going to happen next?
AP: It’s not like we are doing sketches and they are the final product. When we create something, we will always add something new, because that touch goes like that, or this line goes like this, and we look at the balance and realize that maybe something new needs to be done. I think this is very interesting because we don’t really know what the final image will be.
RS: We don’t really know what will happen.
AP: And you build that slowly with small moves, it becomes a surprise…
Anastasia, it feels like your dots would have a more spontaneous nature, while Robert, your diagonal lines would be more carefully planned and constructed. But, is that actually the case, or are you both more balanced in your approach?
RS: The biggest similarity we have is that when we are working, we are super focused. You go inside an element and nothing can disturb you. Both of us are very focused on the process of our work. I don’t know, even if the lines or the dots are repeated forms, they can be created from elements all around us, even though they are clean, they can be natural as well.
Your studio output will become the exhibition, Long Trip of the Kokos, but you will also paint several outdoor commissions as well, each in very different settings. Is it important to get out of the studio?
RS: We like to change the environment around us. After spending weeks preparing the exhibition, we have had enough of the studio. We couldn’t start next week again in the studio. I like to have a change when I’m painting, it’s refreshing.
AP: What we will do on these walls will be a continuation of the inspiration that we have drawn from already. Although, with the Cosmic wall [a commission at the warehouse of iconic funk store Cosmic], we will work with a lot of colours, which is something we haven’t done much together. That will be very interesting for us…
Do you ever reflect on being in the position where you can travel to places and leave something of a legacy through painting public works? Do they create a connection to place that average tourists don’t necessarily get?
AP: To be honest, I’m not thinking about that so much, that I will leave this wall as a legacy. It’s more about the process, the time that I’m spending doing it, the time that I’m painting, the people that are around, the interactions with people, the small talk, a question or a smile…
RS: And the moment you finish the artwork, that’s it. You are doing it until that final moment. I’m always crazy happy when I’m painting, when I’m doing something, then the moment I’m satisfied it’s finished, it is for other people from that point. I have made my thing, this is it. I’m very happy if someone gets positive vibes or can see something interesting, but I don’t need feedback. It’s all about the process, like Anastasia said, the process is going to stay in our memories.
The studio environment is secure, but also isolating, it is different from a public presence where those small conversations can more easily take place…
AP: It is very nice to have a connection with people, but also the work carries on, it is seen by people that you don’t meet, even if they don’t say anything, or they say or think something bad…
RS: But here we have been very surprised about how people have reacted to our art. We were traveling here without any expectations, we said: ‘let’s go to New Zealand and see what happens…’ But both of us are very surprised by how people have reacted…
In all of your travel, are there moments of engaging with people while working on a painting or mural that stand out?
RS: I mean, it doesn’t need to be anything special, it can just be small things, you know, you wake up and you see people and they’re happy in the morning…
AP: In Estonia, there was this old lady, every day she was coming and checking, without any expression. I mean every day, seven days we were there, and every day she checked with no expression. Then when we were finished, she finally said: ‘Yes, it’s nice.’
I wanted to ask about the title of the show Long Trip of the Kokos, what does it refer to?
RS: The story behind the title, comes from when we were in the Philippines. We saw a lot of kokos [coconuts] and they were traveling, somehow, they would go to the water, they were moved by the ocean, they would jump to the other islands. We thought maybe we are a little bit like these kokos, travelling and stopping here to make this small mark. This exhibition is the mark of these small travelers coming here to grow a little bit.
This is an audience that you haven’t really had much experience with, but based on what you’ve experienced so far at Fiksate, and the people who have come through, have you been able to get a gauge of what you might expect?
AP: You know, we don’t really know what is going to happen…
RS: We are not expecting anything, but we don’t really make work in that way.
AP: All the thinking was to make these works because of the inspiration this experience has given us. It isn’t about what we will sell, it’s more about what we would love to present.
RS: We like working in this very expressive way. We have thoughts. We start to talk about it. We have a conversation, and then we say: ‘OK, let’s do it, why not? Let’s see what will happen…’ We didn’t expect anything, but we have already very positive feedback.
AP: Yes, although I am still not sure about how the audience will respond to our point of view on abstract.
Right, abstraction has become more and more prevalent within both urban contemporary and mural practice, but New Zealand can lag behind in some trends. Fiksate recently staged their Urban Abstract show and that was perhaps quite new for a lot of the audience, who might have been more accustomed to letter forms, figurative stencils and illustrations, and representational murals…
AP: I was thinking about that, because in most of the cities we have visited, the murals are pretty figurative, abstraction doesn’t seem to be as popular.
RS: But the abstract things here are on a good level. Sculptures or installations, they seem to be in good taste, which we were happy to see.
Robert, you have investigated translating your work into sculptural forms, right?
RS: Yes but not a crazy big amount, I am just beginning to touch on this direction. I started some years ago. It is not super easy to do, but I want to keep going because it gives me different positive vibes…
It seems like more and more artists are translating their work in different ways, into objects, installations, using light, projections, etc. It seems that more doors are open for artists from the urban realm, due to the popularity and visibility of muralism. Anastasia, how do you think your work would translate into a three-dimensional, or kinetic form?
AP: I have worked with smaller forms of sculpture, but I am probably more interested in installations. I have a lot of ideas, and I’m going to keep going with other projects.
How do you operate in terms of having your own distinct paths as artists while still collaborating? Are you constantly working on your own things and then coming together for certain projects, or has it become more and more about the collaboration?
RS: We like to work in both ways, it depends of the project. Especially for this exhibition, it’s all about collaborative work. It’s nice for us to have the chance to involve our personal distinct paths and create something together.
AP: This is an interesting way to work because we have the opportunity for a dialogue.
It has only been just under a year that you’ve been working together…
AP: Almost a year.
That’s a relatively short time, so there is obviously a lot more to explore within your creative partnership. But long-term working partnerships can sometimes see the distinctions between each artist deteriorate, and a unified aesthetic develop, is that something you are consciously trying to avoid, or do you see it happening?
RS: That is a very open question, because already this year, new things have developed that can support our personal projects and we obviously have days when we want to create something by ourselves. The process is going here and the process is going there and we can mix those possibilities together. It’s super open for us.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year? When do you leave New Zealand?
RS: We leave on the 10th of February. We will go back home to Greece, and then we have something in Germany and a project in France, another project in Slovakia and that’s it for the moment. Maybe a small holiday after that…
It seems like travel is just an engrained part of the urban art movement…
RS: It’s not for everybody though. I’ve got artist friends who do not travel at all, they stay in the studio and that’s it.
AP: And for some artists it is not that important, I mean they feel better in their studio. It depends on the artist.
RS: For me, travel is the research about new places. From when I started painting, my city started to be like, OK, I’ve seen all the streets, all the nice places, I’ve painted here, I’ve painted there, but I need to search for more possibilities. I need to see different things that could inspire me, collect new knowledge and have that energy, this is important in my creative process.
How do you make your work resonate with different places? With abstraction, you aren’t using explicit cultural references, which can be a minefield anyway. Is your visual language such a personal reflection that it doesn’t necessarily need to display that connection to place in any overt way?
RS: I started to realize this a short time ago to be honest, I was traveling for many years and just reached a point where I’ve got things that I start to talk about and understand more. Now, I keep collecting those ideas as I travel, and they come out in my work.
AP: I think it’s important to observe what’s going on in any country because I don’t want to offend anyone. For example, in the Philippines, black is very bad. It’s the color of death. The associations of black mean you don’t use it. We tried to find it in the paint stores, but you couldn’t. When we went there, we didn’t realize how important it was to not use black, but we adapted over the month we were there and we started to realize more things that were important for people there, especially since we were painting a lot on small houses in the middle of the forest.
The chance to do research isn’t as easy for some artists, who might not have the luxury of a site visit or to acclimatize, especially if you are moving from job to job and have to hit the ground running in any new place you find yourself…
RS: The perfect situation is where you come to the place and you’ve got some time to prepare, not just going to a place with the sketch, painting it and leaving…
AP: Although it might not be possible, because if you do a big mural, you often need to give something to the people to see…
RS: Yes, but for us, we like to say, this is the sketch but by the end it is going to be a bit different…
Do you want to say thank you to anyone from your time in New Zealand?
AP & RS: Thank you to Fiksate Gallery for the trust and to all crazy positive people that we met during our stay in New Zealand…
This Friday sees the opening of Fiksate’s latest group exhibition, Urban Abstract. A long time in the making, the show represents something of a passion project for the Fiksate crew. An exploration of abstraction within the urban art realm, the show will bring together a diverse roster, including Poland’s Pener, Aotearoa heavyweights Elliot O’Donnell, TOGO, Melinda Butt and Levi Hawken, and local artists Tepid, Bols and Dr Suits. These artists represent a number of approaches and interests in abstract work, from Hawken’s concrete sculptural forms, to TOGO’s photographic and videographic documentation of his in situ practice, as well as a wall painting by Fiksate’s own Dr Suits. Other artists explore gestural painting, collage, stencils and more, all with distinct signatures. While abstraction has long roots in urban art, it has not been explored locally to any significant degree, a fact that Urban Abstract seeks to address, celebrating the emergence of urban contemporary’s diversity. As with all Fiksate shows, the drinks and atmosphere will be supplied and with a few surprises in store, it is most definitely worth marking the date in your calendar…
Urban Abstract opens Friday, October 25th, from 5pm. The show will run until November 29. Fiksate is located at 165 Gloucester Street.