John Hurrell – 14 January, 2021
Words rendered in cut Perspex at the base say ‘You will never / possess the soil / you will never / be secure.' They ridicule Edward Gibbon Wakefield's marketing-for-colonisation maxim 'Possess yourselves the soil and you are secure.'
A Death of Prosperity
Curated by Andrew Kennedy
5 December 2020 - 7 February 2021
The sound of dripping and trickling water dominates the room, the large communal space next to the public Reeves Road entrance of Te Tuhi. The source is a towering fountain of gold-coloured block forms, to which are attached clear Perspex chairs—the seats functioning as trays-three on each of the four sides. Constructed as a sort of perpendicular ziggurat, the water runs out of four nozzles at the top and horizontally spreads out as it makes its way down.
Words rendered in cut Perspex at the base say ‘You will never / possess the soil / you will never / be secure.’ They ridicule Edward Gibbon Wakefield‘s marketing-for-colonisation maxim ‘Possess yourselves the soil and you are secure.’
The snide dig is multi-levelled. It can be understood in a number of ways: First of all, it supports the notion of landownership for tangata whenua being a spiritual issue that has far higher credence than the crass economic aspirations of invading English immigrants; secondly, it also inadvertently hints that nobody can own the land forever: that history is always in a state of flux; thirdly, it snorts at the popular ‘trickle down’ economic theory, that wealth for a few at the top eventually benefits the many at the bottom, that prosperity gets spread around, albeit gradually; and fourthly, it provides the reader with the unpopular philosophical message that desiring wealth can’t be assumed to bring happiness, even for Māori. It is a foolish gaol to cling to.
Darcell Apelu‘s project is thus chocker with varied (possibly slippery) interpretations. It is ambiguous as the best artworks often are. The aural impact certainly emphasises the third approach to understanding its loaded fiscal symbolism. The watery sounds have a real presence.
Apelu’s structure of ascending steps that lead up to an aimed-for towering pinnacle (with seats for resting stops on the way) heightens the sardonic irony.
There is another trope too—obviously unpleasant—that of being peed on if you take a seat to catch your breath in order to think about your realty investments. As a sitting target you get grossly insulted for your merchantile plans. (The educative moral seems to be, the more you exert yourself to buy property, the more you are asking for self-directed abuse, because it can never be enough.)
This is a great water sculpture, ostensibly related to outdoor works like Cuba Mall’s Bucket Fountain in Wellington created by Burren and Keen, and Graham Allardice; and Laurence Karasek’s original Stewart Fountain (1971-1988) in High St., Christchurch—but one which as I’ve indicated, is much pithier in its political / social / philosophical content.
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