The Hive Hums with Many Minds at Te Tuhi Gallery is made up of work largely outside commercial dealer restraints and commissioned or supported by sponsors, which is exactly the kind a public gallery should show.
The entry foyer contains five screens, each showing a channel of a video work by Alex Monteith. Her videos, notably one on surfing, have often screened as one long, wide image. Here, five separate screens capture the scale of an environmental disaster and the weight of the response by the people and the machinery involved.
She has made a record that goes beyond a simple documentary of the aftermath of the wreck of the MV Rena in the Bay of Plenty and the subsequent spill of tonnes of oil and diesel and shipping containers.
There is no sign of the ship but a few damaged containers can be seen on the periphery of the action. Instead we see the unique sight of immense diggers, bulldozers and trucks working on excavating contaminated sand from Waihi Beach often in the shallows of the water.
Monteith has a special talent for showing powerful machinery in action notably her videos of high-powered motorbikes. Here the weight and power of the heavy machinery involved is evident. The movement and the character of the vehicles are directly caught as the shovels swing and the tracks of the bulldozers clatter.
Then there are the people: the workers in their jackets, the spectators walking the beach solemn and serious, not just curious but concerned as tonnes of sand are dug up and carried away. Gulls incessantly swoop above it all; always there is the sea.
The indifferent waves, quietly breaking on the beach, recall Yeats' line of "the murderous innocence of the sea". The sea smashes but humans repair. The contrast deepens this work making it more than an ordinary documentary.
The sense of a distant past as well as an ominous presence inhabits the work of Caroline McQuarrie. All the photographs in her series, Homeward-bounder, have a dark centre. This darkness is an adit -- an entrance or a drain in mines dug 150 years ago by gold seekers on the West Coast. Now overgrown, they look like natural caves except where the portal is reinforced by a stone lintel.
The foliage, particularly the ferns, surrounding these caves is sharp and bright. It sometimes almost blocks the entrance but always reinforces the mystery, the feeling of a lair and the sense of lurking danger.
Another room is given over to drawings by Monique Jansen. One whole wall is almost filled by a very large work, A length without breadth. The effect of this remarkable piece comes from the sense of the patience and intensity required in its making with thousands of fine, sharp lines which may cross but never join.
The effect is of a fine fabric reaching across then folding back on itself, but it retains the quality of a drawing by the isolated neatness of the of the marks. It also has a symbolic significance by suggesting systems, natural and human-made, that are a totality of thousands of small elements in the exhibition.
The exhibition's largest tour de force is on three large screens: 14m in all on the wall of the main room of the gallery. It is an animation work by Rangituhia Hollis and combines the driving force of rapidly moving images with a pulsing electronic sound track. The loop, which runs for more than 10 minutes, was done with a team of assistants and in partnership with Manurewa High School.
It is divided into five acts. In the first, the stylised image of a Ford Cortina blazes through the night with the images dominated by the sharp beams of headlights. In the second, the lights have been transformed into loops and made homely in interiors as well as expressionist situations. They are intercut with shots of dim landscape thorough the windows of a speeding car.
The third act is what may be the destination of the car, a rural weatherboard house intercut with a vision of traditional Maori weaponry including an horrific later piece made from a crosscut saw blade. The fourth scene shifts to tall apartment buildings with a curious dark shape made from the weaponry hovering like a drone over the slabs of balconied boxes. The work culminates in three screens of dense red and blue in fields of colour that recall the late paintings of Mark Rothko. In the middle screen, dimly seen, is a pulsating heart.
The exhibition is completed by a calmer work, by Charlotte Drayton. The tiny brick courtyard adjacent to Te Tuhi has a simple minimalist, white and green abstraction that is made up of crushed shell and the intense green of a tight hedge of kapuka (griselina) and white trellis. It is the essence of a tidy, suburban garden in tight circumstances and comments not only on how we are but how we will be in the city.
This impressive, varied show is only Part One of the exhibition. Part Two occupies the echoing gallery that has been fashioned out of empty cement silos in the Viaduct area downtown.
Te Tuhi Gallery
What: The Hive Hums with Many Minds; Part One
Where and when: Te Tuhi, 13 Reeves Rd, Pakuranga to May 29
TJ says: This exhibition, curated by Bruce E. Phillips does exactly what a public gallery should. It enables artists to show large works and installations and the result here is a group of singularly powerful works in a range of media.
Also: Te Tuhi Offsite, Silo 6, Wynyard Quarter to May 29. Part Two of the project with further spectacular work is being shown at the unusual environment of converted cement silos.