06 May 2020
We continue our weekly series of art and cultural highlights by the curatorial team.
For this edition, Assistant Curator Hanahiva Rose, voices her response to Auckland Art Gallery’s recent sculptural installation, by artist Sorawit Songsataya.
Titled 'The Interior', it seeks to invert our relationship with non-human species.
I think I’ve thought of Sorawit Songsataya’s The Interior every day of lockdown. Mine’s been slightly longer than the government imposed – I came into the country in the second half of March and have been isolating since. 50 days, as I write this, with his fallen Moa on my mind.
I collect bird stories. Special favourites are Henry the swan, Nigel the lonely gannet, Trevor the only duck in Niue, and my boyfriend’s childhood pet duck Percy. It must be said, a good bird story rarely ends well. Even Trevor, who had his own pond made on an island that doesn’t have any naturally, tragically ended up mauled by a neighbourhood dog.
Songsataya’s Moa and friends, who took up residence on Auckland Art Gallery’s North Terrace late last year, are recent additions to this menagerie. Some – matuku moana, kotuku – belong to species which are endangered; a few more – kererū, parekareka, – are not threatened. The moa, of course, is extinct; as is the poūwa.
The Interior is about loss. It’s about what, who and how we lose, and what we do in the aftermath. It’s about relationships and it’s about remembrance. It’s about birds. When I first saw the work, I thought of art historian and curator Roger Blackley, who passed away last year.
Blackley wrote about Trevor Lloyd’s Te Tangi o Te Moana (1907) – a work which inspired this installation by Songsataya – calling it “an elaborate fantasia depicting the birds of the forest and sundry tuatara and fairy figures gathered to mourn the last of the moa”.
In The Interior, birds have been cast in fibreglass or carved (by Brett Tautauanui Keno) in Oamaru stone from digital models. This process has simplified their form and there’s something touching in their determined, gracious lines; extended necks and swooping bills. Silent; they are not contributing to the increase in bird song that’s being reported around the country.
In a text commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery to accompany The Interior, Robyn Maree Pickens, writes that the birds, “are engaged in remembrance and silent incantation amongst themselves and for themselves. It is a reading that privileges the sociability of birds first and foremost.”
“Yet many different elements, taxa, and species interact with each other, and the relationship of birds to humans is only one possibility amongst many (birds to air, wind, water, insects, fish, trees, flowers, nectar to name a few)”.
The relationship of birds to humans is only one possibility amongst many. It’s that idea which I keep coming back to when I return to the work; looking for focus and finding it in this gathering of birds. I like to think they are enjoying this time together, undisturbed by us.