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September 21, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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“FACES in a world of PLACES”

Since last July the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and the New Zealand Centre for Photography have found a home at Shed 11 on Wellington’s Waterfront. The first show included two exhibitions. The Portrait Gallery presented “Portraits of Artists” from Otago’s Hocken Collection. Also on display was the Centre for Photography’s exhibition “Collecting Photographers”.

During September, there are another two interesting shows on display in Shed 11. One of these is “Allan Chawner: World Town”, presented by The Centre for Photography.

“World Town” is a photographic exhibition of people and their environments in small towns of the world. Allan Chawner, an Australian photographer, took large panoramic photos of six different “world towns”: Shiida, Japan; Otorohanga, New Zealand; Dolores, USA; Martel, France; Frigiliana, Spain and Gloucester, Australia. The choice of the places was based on a few criterions. Firstly, it had to be a small town with a street of shops, Secondly, it should also be a place independent of tourism. Chawner used the same working method for all towns, so that they may be compared. He says that the photographs describe the architecture, landscape, ambience and way of life within these small towns, which also depict and reflect upon our sense of place. In Professor Bruce Barber’s opinion, Chawner’s images provide a discrete social and ecological consciousness. The artist sorted his photos not by the location where they were taken, but in order of similar situations, places and ideas. They have been joined together in a way that has created a colourful mosaic of the “World-Town”. During my conversation with Allan Chawner, he described his project as “the celebration of a multicultural world” and this, in my opinion, is the best way to look at his work.

The other exhibition is “FACE VALUE: The Portrait from the Pacific”.

This exhibition shows the work of thirteen new media artists from the pacific region, including Vernon Ah Kee, Denis Beaubois, John Gillies, Lonnie Hutchinson, Lyndal Jones, Janet Merewether, James Pinker and Mark McClean, Rachael Rakena, Christian Thompson, Sheyne Tuffery, Jim Vivieaere and Jefferson Belt. It is a very interesting mix of new media artists on the show in Shed 11 – well worth a visit. The artists have created video-moving images, which are more about the variation in identities than just portraits of the people from the Pacific.

Curators Rilka Oakley and Annabel Pegus have said that their intention was to investigate visual manifestations of identity at a time when digital technology is accessible to the majority, rather than a specialist minority. Lots of the work included in this show is allegorical, fictional or conceptual. They are informed by history, technology, globalisation and geographic location and consider social and familiar origins, genre, ethnic and cultural diversity. Every artist chose a different way to explore his/her own moving image. In Rhana Devenport’s opinion, some artists were exploring and disrupting the genre of auto-portraiture, while others were examining appearance, memory and loss. In certain works, the in-between space holds interest, while for others ideas surrounding authenticity were under consideration.

At the end, we can ask: “How is the ‘Face Value’ represented in this exhibition?”. But we can also ask: “What is the value of these exhibitions?”. If you want to know the answers to these questions, you just need to visit Shed 11 before the end of September and check this out for yourself.

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