If you really want to know what the Pacific looks like today, forget about the beaches and tropical rainforests – or at least don't spend all your time there – and head instead to the Honolulu Biennial 2019.
Spread across 10 venues throughout the Hawaiian capital, the biennial is a two-month international contemporary art exhibition. This year, it's been curated by art historian and the curator of Pacific Art at Te Papa, Nina Tonga, who's included New Zealand artists Natalie Robertson, Rosanna Raymond and the SaVAge Club, Mata Aho Collective, Kalisolaite 'Uhila, Janet Lilo and Jeremy Leatinu'u.
They're among 47 artists and collectives from Hawaii, the Pacific, Asia and the Americas. All have made art to fit Tonga's theme for the biennial To Make Wrong / Right/ Now which was inspired by the poem Manifesto, by native Hawaiian artist Imaikalani Kalahele.
Tonga says it draws energies from across the Pacific Ocean to connect indigenous perspectives, knowledge and creative expressions from across the Pacific Rim. As well as the art itself, HB19 features film screenings, community talks, interactive workshops, demonstrations, live interviews and performances from leading voices of the Pacific to create, says Tonga, play, creativity and critical dialogue.
We picked just four pieces of work and asked Tonga why she chose to include these artists.
SaVAge K'lub 2010 – ongoing
NT: The SaVAge K'lub takes its name and inspiration from the gentlemen's club of the same name founded in London in 1857. In speaking back to and beyond this history, the SaVAge K'lub artists indigenise the club's name with reference to an understanding of time and space conveyed by the capitalised letters "VA".
I first experienced this work at the Asia Pacific Triennial at Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art in 2016. It was an incredibly powerful presentation that really challenged me to think about the politics of display and performance within a gallery. I was also taken by the fluidity of the space and how it encouraged a different kind of gallery experience that was about sharing space and connecting with the artists and other visitors.
For the Honolulu Biennial, Rosanna Raymond presents the SaVAge K'lub Headquarters in Chinatown, an evolving installation that will host a range of events and experiences of all things "SaVAge". I'm excited to have this installation within the hustle and bustle of Chinatown and that it creates opportunities to engage and connect perhaps for some by chance."
Dengue, Dengue, Dengue, 2017
Dengue, Dengue, Dengue is a media plunge into the consciousness of the internet era. Like many of the works in the Biennial, I was interested in those that reflect contemporary conditions. This three channel work is a frenetic shuffling of juxtaposed images of animals, bizarre human antics and excerpts of television programmes - among others. Together, the somewhat erratic selection of images likens the dissemination of our social and cultural habits to the process of infection. When you experience this work, you're surrounded by three large screens and an overflow of imagery and sound. When surrounded by this, it's hard not to think about our consumption of imagery and content and how we collectively develop social and cultural habits.
The Key in the Hand, 2015
My approach to curating the Honolulu Biennial 2019, To Make Wrong / Right / Now privileges genealogical connections. In thinking about this, I considered artists whose works prompt us to think about what connections we carry and how they shape us. I was particularly drawn to Chiharu Shiota's works because they are grounded in an exploration of life, death, memory and relationships. In response to my approach, Shiota has created a new site-specific installation called Crossroads. The installation, which you walk through, creates a web of interconnected knots and lines that represent the many crossroads, paths and intersections of our everyday lives.
gilubong ang akong pusod sa dagat/My Navel is Buried in the Sea, 2011
I first came across Gilubong Ang Akong Pusod Sa Datat (My Navel is Buried in the Sea) in Wellington in 2016. The work was presented and discussed by Jake Atienza, of DAKOgamay, as part of a symposium run by Circuit, Artist Film and Video Aotearoa New Zealand. This video installation and community project focuses on the experiences of fishermen and seafarers from the artists' homeland of Bantayan Island in the Phillippines. The work captures the significance of the ocean to the many who derive a livelihood from it, giving insight into a reality that is rarely seen. In selecting this work for the Honolulu Biennial, I was drawn to the collective's interest in cross-ocean dialogues that address issues of climate change, rising sea levels and the centrality of the Pacific Ocean to this region.
• The Honolulu Biennial is on until May 8