Run along to Runaway

Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch
15 May - 1 June 2002

text: Nicholas Gorman
photos: Inez Grim

The idea of a shared national identity is both problematic and pertinent. The idea of a “Kiwi identity” is tied up with all sorts of contradictions. Even though New Zealand is a relatively small country, it still has four million people who are both dysfunctional and diverse. It seems hard for us to reconcile our strands of diversity and weave them into a common identity.

Rudolf Boelee’s exhibition, Runaway, now showing at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Gloucester Street, attempts to explore different threads of our identity and bring them together in a common space - the concept of a marae. The Mair gallery on the top floor of CoCA has been converted to what resembles the shape of a marae. The 10 large scale “ancestor paintings” are in fact digitally manipulated film stills.

On the left side is a row of Maori faces that gaze across the gallery at a row of Pakeha faces. At the head of the marae is a triptych of light boxes with dates and images from contentious periods in our shared history: the Waterfront Strike of 1951 and the Springbok tour of 1981 and the “New Right’ revolution in 1984. on either side of the entrance/exit is a diptych with and the acronyms “WTO” and “GE”, perhaps things that will become contentious and problematic in New Zealand’s future.

What we see is a combination of both European and Maori imagery and traditions, with the use of film stills and the space of the marae, the blend of popular culture and high art. In his outline and intent for Runaway, Boelee says, “I intend to look at the concepts such as the stereotype of ‘man alone’, the portrayal of Maori as ‘other’, the effects of the Springbok Tour on New Zealand society, and of the justified paranoia experienced about a number of environmental and political issues in present-day New Zealand.”

I visited the gallery twice: once on the preview evening, with lots of speeches, bodies and free wine; the second on some wet afternoon with no one else in the gallery. Traipsing about on that cold day made me feel far more reflective, our country’s shared ancestors keeping watch over me. It made me think about how we have defined ourselves through popular country.

However, it is perhaps the space itself, the marae concept, which gives Boelee’s show emotional resonance. Try to get along and see it before it closes. Runaway is at the Centre of Contemporary Art until June1.

* 'Runaway' received project funding from Creative New Zealand TOI AOTEAROA