If you were to work here…
Felt and metal rods
Christchurch and Lyttleton, New Zealand
If you were to work here... was Peter Robinson’s commissioned project for the 2013 Auckland Triennial If you were to live here ... curated by Hou Hanru. It was a complex project that linked the two major public institutions of the city, the Auckland Art Gallery that is driving institution of the Triennial and the Auckland War Memorial Museum, one of the country’s leading historic institutions and with the world’s richest collection of Taonga Maori (objects of Maori tangible cultural heritage). In an on-going suite of actions, Robinson sought not only to link the two sites but to weave a sophisticated sense of emotional and creative action across the interceding geographical space.
The project involved the making of many hundred tokotoko or oratory sticks. Included in their making were tertiary and high school students, which gave them a key pedagogical opportunity to contribute to a leading artist’s project but also to be introduced to the studio practice of such an artist. This diffuse implication was, nevertheless, a key component of the conceptualisation of the work, especially for how it embodied the sense of connection and meaningfulness of participation.
The colours chosen for the tokotoko were playfully reminiscent of the humours and the role of this conception of human biochemistry in the achievement of good health and well-being. In the second moment of participant engagement, Robinson met with members of the staff of the Museum to outline his intention for that part of the project. Here, those staff were able to choose a coloured stick that best represented their feeling or mood about their place of work. They were then invited to select a space in the museum (including in areas of public display) into which the chosen stick or sticks were then installed. In this gesture, staff were able to mark their involvement with the institution in new ways – and the narratives articulated by participants during the lengthy installing process were frequently very interesting and moving. The unexpectedness of coloured rods of felt also served to surprise and enliven the experience of the building and its important collection for visitors and connected for their experiences of historical Taonga and contemporary art.
Written by Peter Shand
The Jury was impressed with the economical but striking aesthetic rhetoric of the hundreds of metal rods covered in coloured felt that formed a prominent and memorable part of this temporary work alongside the marching performers themselves. A rod, stick or pole is a basic human tool, for support (on life's journey or working ambition), for identity (everyone's stick reflects their character), and for defence or attack if necessary. In the case of this artwork, the rods have a specific additional cultural reference to Maori Tokotoko (oratory sticks) that give the right to speak out (in one's own voice). The action of the performers between and within two important cultural sites (Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland War Memorial Museum) managed to “weave a sophisticated sense of emotional and creative action across the interceding geographical space”