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August 6, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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The Poisoners! and Toi Te Papa (Art of the Nation)

Once every six months I find myself bored out of my brains – you probably suffer the same thing too. Nothing can cure it, with an empty wallet and short attention span you wander the streets out of your wits figuring out what to do to kill two hours.

What I like to do in a dire situation like this is to visit Te Papa. Most of us hardly visit Our Place, as the novelty wore off sometime when…

One Saturday afternoon I decided to check out what was happening there in terms of their artworks. First off, with a friendly guide from Te Papa I checked out The Poisoners! in the Tower Gallery which, although being targeted to kids, is surprisingly popular with older folk. There is a murder for you to solve and it’s not just educational and boring like something off that 3-2-1 Contact TV show back in the ‘80s. There is a quirky story line surrounding a huge array of props assembled from Te Papa’s storage space that was thought up by the staff of Te Papa. Even the poison victim and his suspects were played by staff members!

Professor Felix Splicer, who we could call our very own Steve Irwin, has crashed his four-wheel drive, but the pathology report has shown that it was no accident, because he was poisoned!

The authorities have narrowed down four suspects, and with your The Poisoners! Crime Solver Sheet and one of the hundreds of pencils available in the exhibition area, you have the opportunity to find the clues to narrow down the poison used, and in a classic whodunit scenario discover who had it in for poor Prof Splicer the most.

Things start off badly for Prof Splicer when you discover that his manic twin brother Dr Helix Splicer is one of the suspects. A mad scientist to boot, Dr Splicer creates monstrosities like giant flees and rabbits with human eyes which spookily reminded me of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Next on the list of suspects is the mannish Toxica Fay Tully who was madly in love with Prof Splicer, but he rejected her amorous advances to spend time with the animals. As a collector of deadly plants and animals, what would her poison be? A case of a woman scorned?

But it’s not just unrequited love that fuels the jealousy; Alain ‘Sharkbait’ Coasteau is a marine biologist and fearless scuba diver. After discovering a new species of fish with Prof Splicer, he is not happy that it ended up being named Phishfingerus Spliceri instead of Phishfingerus Alaini! Could he have put a sea snake in Prof Splicer’s glove compartment?

But the most macho of them all is Anastasia ‘Nastie’ Van Abs, who’s a nasty piece of work and could seriously give Lara Croft a run for her money. Claiming to be an animal lover and safari guide, this ‘She Rambo’ strolls around wearing a belt of high calibre bullets strung over her shoulder. It seems that this animal lover is a suspected animal poacher who even manages to outdo ‘Blackbeard’ from Willard Price’s Safari Adventure…

But if you are not trying to be ‘Encyclopaedia Brown’ you might want to go upstairs and check out Toi Te Papa (Art of the Nation).

Basically this tracks New Zealand art history through all its periods, from early maori art to the latest contemporary artists. A long term art exhibition, eleven of Te Papa’s recent contemporary art acquisitions have been added to the display (since June 20). These include works by Mladen Bizumic, Shane Cotton, Tony de Lautour, Sean Kerr, Saskia Leek, Dane Mitchell, Jim Speers, Peter Stichbury, Yuk King Tan, Brendon Wilkinson and Francis Upritchard.

One thing I liked about Toi Te Papa is how you can literally walk right through New Zealand’s art history. Walking past classical portraits, it quickly moves through every popular art movement. One moment you are looking at landscapes, the next sombre gothic portraits, then impressionism then suddenly you are into modernist forms like cubism and abstract art. My favourite was a talking cardboard box with eye holes and eyes that follow your movement. Once again I was thinking of Wallace and Gromit…

The good thing about Te Papa at the moment is that all of the art is free; there is no entry charge to see any of the art works. Most of the exhibitions are changed every three months. Te Papa after all proved to me that it’s a great place to kill time on a lazy afternoon. Blurry eyed as I wandered back outside, I looked at my watch and wondered how the time had flown….

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