MICHEL TUFFERY MNZM
Michel Tuffery is a multi media artist. He frequently exceeds the boundaries of contemporary media, collaborating on installation and performance artworks that traverse cultural boundaries and defy concrete categorisation. His woodcuts, lithographs, drawings, paintings on tapa cloth and canvas, sculpture, performances andemblematic carvings are the artistic offerings of a keen historian and active participator in pacific contemporary culture.
B. 1966, Wellington, New Zealand. Lives and works, Wellington, New Zealand. Heritage, Samoan, Rarotongan (Cook Islands) and Ma’ohi Tahitian.
- 2014 Master of Fine Arts (Honorary), School of Fine Arts, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand.
- 1990 Mānoa School of Fine Arts, University of Hawai’i, United States.
- 1986–89 Bachelor of Fine Arts Printmaking (Hons), School of Fine Arts, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand.
- 1980–85 ‘A’ Bursary, Newlands College, Wellington, New Zealand.
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS, COMMISSIONS & ARTIST RESIDENCIES
- Reimagining Captain Cook – Pacific Perspectives, The British Museum, London, United Kingdom.
- Te Reo o te Moana nui a Kiwa, Pacific Nations Memorial Sculpture, Pukeahu National War.
- Memorial Park, NZ Government Commission, Wellington, New Zealand.
- MPA#1, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
- Cook and the Pacific, National Library Australia, Canberra, Australia.
- Tupaia’s Endeavour Documentary, Island Productions, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Unchartered Documentary, Essential Media, Sydney, Australia.
- Pelagic Birds beyond Fanua, Wild Creations Artist in Residence, CNZ & DoC joint program.
- Nga Kete, Sculpture Commission, Mason Centre, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin.
- Matariki – Maori New Year, Winner Primary and Overall Awards, The 2017 Saatchi Gallery Art prize for Schools, Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom.
- Matariki Dawn, Mahara Gallery, Paraparaumu, Kapiti Coast, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Lest we Forget the 500 Cook Island Soldiers, Green Rooms, London, United Kingdom.
- Leading Culture in the 21stCentury, Kings College London, United Kingdom.
- Headland Sculpture on the Gulf, Waiheke Island, New Zealand.
- RSA Cook Islands Gateway Sculpture Commission, partnered by WW100 Fund, the New Zealand and Cook Island Governments, Avarua Cook Islands.
- Reading Middens – Tracing Lines, Waiheke Community Art Gallery, Waiheke, New Zealand.
- Lost and Found, Portrait Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Artist in Residence, Samuel Marsden Collegiate, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Kuki Airani Sound Shells, National Museum of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
- Matariki Colab, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
- Pacific Dialogues, Diversion Gallery, Picton, New Zealand.
- Pacifique(s) Contemporain – First Contact’ University of Rouen Gallery, France.
- Artist in Residence, L’Esadhar School of Fine Art, University of Rouen, France.
- Siamani Samoa, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia.
- Lakapi Architectural projection, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Apia, Samoa.
- Transforma TEDx, Auckland, New Zealand.
- Thinking of Place, NZ Print Exh (touring Australia and New Zealand) The Eighth Australian Print Symposium, Canberra; The Depot Art Space Devonport, Auckland; Eastside Gallery Linwood, Christchurch, New Zealand; KickArts Contemporary Arts Centre, Cairns; Post Office Gallery, Federation University, Ballarat, Australia.
- WW1 Remembered, Anzac Media Lightshow, Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Vai Moana, Architectural Projection, Outdoor Arts Festival, Oamaru, New Zealand.
- N8VLaB Oma Rapeti, Pataka Art+Museum, Porirua, New Zealand.
- Transforma ‘Burra Kangaroo’ Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia.
- From Samoa with Love? Samoan Travellers in Germany, 1895-1911. A Search for Traces, Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich, Germany.
- Binding and Looping, University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery, Hawaii, United States.
- Made in Oceania: Tapa – Art and Social Landscapes, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne, Germany.
- Te Fenua, Solander Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Chapel, Stained Glass Windows, Kings College, Auckland, New Zealand.
- N8VLaB, Pataka Art+Museum, Porirua, New Zealand.
- Pirianga Toto ‘Cook Island’ Artists Exhibition, Fresh Gallery, Otara, Auckland, New Zealand.
- Reading Clouds, Floating Middens, Floating Land, Queensland, Australia.
- Nga Kina, Kumutoto, Wellington Sculpture Trust, Wellington Waterfront, New Zealand.
- NZ Post Commemorative Stamps series and Limited Edition Coin, Wellington, New Zealand.
- First Contact, BCA Gallery, Volta NY, New York, United States.
- Siamani Samoa, Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane, Australia, Pulima Arts Festival, Taipei, Taiwan.
- O le Povi Pusa, Edge of Elsewhere, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia.
- First Contact, Architectural Projection and Performance Artwork, NZ International Art Festival, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Siamani Samoa, Mackay Regional Gallery, Queensland; Leonhard Adam collection, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, Victoria; Australia.
- 20 years – A Snapshot, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, Australia.
- Oceania, City Gallery Wellington | Te Whare Toi, Wellington, New Zealand.
- Siamani Samoa (Stage 2), Pataka Art+Museum, Porirua, New Zealand.
- Lakapi (Fifteen Aside), Solander Gallery, Wellington; New Zealand High Commission, Samoa.
- Siamani Samoa (Stage 1) Samoa.
- First Contact, ANZ Building, Chifley Square, Sydney Festival, Sydney Australia.
- First Contact Ambient, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, Australia.
- Povi VaSa, Edge of Elsewhere, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia.
- Niu Warrior, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia.
- This is not a Vitrine, this is an Ocean, Waikato Museum | Te Whare Taonga o Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
- The Dreaming Festival, Woodford, Queensland, Australia.
- Tiaho – Contemporary Photography from Oceania, Instituto Latino de Mexico, Coyacoán, Mexico City; Centro Cultural Multidisciplinario, El Casetón, Iztapalapa, Mexico City; Palacio Municipal de Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico.
- New Zealand Landscapes (with Dick Frizzell), Williams Gallery, Petone, New Zealand.
- Niu Pasifik—Urban Art from the Pacific Rim, Gorman University Art Gallery, San Francisco, United States Indigenous Forum, United Nations Headquarters, New York, United States.
- MANUIA, American Indian Community House, New York, United States.
- Fortunes Lost and Won, Puke Ariki Museum, New Plymouth, New Zealand.
Exhibition history prior to 2010 available by request.
New Zealand Public Collections
- New Zealand Parliament Collection, Wellington.
- Auckland City Council, Auckland.
- New Zealand Post, Wellington.
- Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne.
- Museum of New Zealand | Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.
- Auckland Art Gallery | Toi o Tamaki.
- Auckland Museum | Tamaki Paenga Hira.
- Christchurch Art Gallery | Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
- Christchurch City Council | Christchurch.
- Museum of Wellington City & Sea.
- National Library of New Zealand | Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, Wellington.
- Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua.
- Puke Ariki Museum, New Plymouth.
- Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, Palmerston North.
- The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wellington.
- Ministry of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Porirua City Council, Porirua.
- Royal New Zealand Police College, Porirua.
- The University of Auckland | Te Whare Wananga o Tamakimakaurau.
- University of Canterbury | Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha, Christchurch.
- University of Otago | Te Whare Wananga o Otago, Dunedin.
- Wellington City Council.
- Air New Zealand, Wellington.
Australian Public Collections
- Mackay Regional Council Collection, Queensland, Australia.
- University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
- National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
- National Maritime Museum, Sydney.
- Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.
- Cairns Regional Gallery, Queensland.
Asia/Pacific Public Collections
- Government of the Cook Islands.
- Government of Samoa, Apia, Samoa.
- Agence de Développement de la Culture Kanak, Nouméa.
- Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Nouméa.
- National Museum of the Cook Islands, Avarua.
- Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
- Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, Tokyo.
European Public Collections
- British Museum, London, England.
- Saatchi Gallery, London, England.
- Museum für Völkerkunde, Frankfurt, Germany.
USA Public Collections
- Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations, New York, United States.
Creating Conversations, the work of Michel Tuffery.
“I’m not a social worker, I’m an artist who’s trying to create a conversation”, said artist Michel Tuffery in 2012.
It’s an important distinction for the artist, whose holistic practice has seen him work inan increasingly social realm, collaborating with a wide range of communities to produce art together. Based on a deeply held belief in the possibility of art to create connections, Tuffery’s collaborative projects have included working with young people from across Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, Asia (Taiwan, India) and the wider Pacific including Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Hawaii and Tokelau.
Like many artists that incorporate relational practices, Tuffery, without straying into social work, endeavors to engage with and nurture societal bonds. Frequently his artwork seeks to bring together disparate or disenfranchised groups with their own histories, tracing social and cultural lineages through the most unlikely and highly playful means. In particular, Tuffery has often worked with teenagers who are experiencing problems or are struggling to fit within mainstream society. For example, O le Povi Pusa Ma’ataua his work for Edge of Elsewhere in 2012 (a partnership between Campbelltown Art Gallery and Gallery 4A, Sydney) saw him collaborate with teenagers from a housing estate in Minto, Western Sydney, after almost two years of research by the artist.
The resulting video piece demonstrates a complex mix of absurdist humour and cutting political criticism. With all the deadpan slapstick of a Goons skit, a group of teenagers attempt to concentrate on video gaming while live bulls wander through a suburban lounge. The youths talk with each other, laugh, game, text and play with the bulls, who take to this new situation with remarkable ease.
While the bull is a frequent and rich motif for Tuffery, its use in this context made particular reference to the history of Minto as land of the Dharawal people, and in particular the location of Bull Cave, a sacred site that has recently been affected by attacks of vandalism. Here the bull also played the role of social connector, the incongruity of the situation serving to break down barriers among the young people, as well as lessening the intrusion of the cameras.
The role of an artist working directly within a community is one that can be profoundly ambiguous, striking somewhere between institutionally endorsed interventionist and private citizen. The lack of parameters around this relationship can be challenging for both artists and participants, but offers a potentially liberating freedom from the social systems already in place. The artist is not bound by key performance indicators, excessive paperwork or public accountability in the way of a government agency and can therefore take a more personal or emotional approach than a professional might.
In working this way, Tuffery takes on what has traditionally been a curatorial role of interpreter or mediator, in this case between community and audience. His negotiations in this role are often coloured by his initial position as external to the community, an artist coming in, albeit one with a strong connection to the local.
This role “in between”, as a connector or bridge, is crucial to understanding Tuffery’s practice, which may appear at first glance to dance across many genres and mediums. However much he has worked as an active agent within communities, he has maintained a strong presence as a maker of images, across many forms. His work moves fluidly between image making and more nebulous forms of practice—events, environments, performances and situations. Over the last 30 years it has variously included print making, drawing, sculpture, paper making, murals, public art, performance, video, DJ’ing and VJ’ing.
Michel Tuffery is part of a generation of trail-blazers in New Zealand, artists now in their 40s who were among the first wave of artists with Pacific ancestry to work within the contemporary art world. Coming to prominence in the early 1990s, these artists were notable for a refusal to choose between traditional forms of customary art and the western art canon, instead finding a third way, a space in which to connect both strands. They paved the way not only for new generations of Pacific artists but from the 2000s onward for a growing group of Asian New Zealand artists, whose work can also be seen to engage in plurality across cultural and art historical divides.
The Language of Drawing: the artist as mark maker.
Tuffery’s first exhibition was in 1988, while he was still a student at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art. The exhibition was organized by the Tautai arts collective and held at Maota Samoa House in Auckland. Through this opportunity Tuffery begin to develop networks with a community of Pacific New Zealand artists that would be vital to his professional development. Most notable of these would be his connection with Rarotongan New Zealander Jim Vivearere (1947 – 2011) an influential artist and curator who became a powerful advocate for Tuffery’s work.
The work exhibited was a series of woodcuts printed on both tapa cloth and paper, reflecting Tuffery’s training as a printmaker under Marilyn Webb at the Otago School of Art, a conservative institution that stuck rigidly to the demarcation of disciplines. In contrast, Vivieaere began to encourage Tuffery to think beyond the parameters of printmaking. These days Tuffery describes the prolific nature of his art practice as “using the mediums that are available – I’m trying to find a way to tell stories, thinking about my own kids, and how to best tell the story to them”.
Drawing, in all its permutations, remains central to Tuffery’s thinking about art and he describes it as “my first language”. Born in 1966 with Samoan, Rarotonga and Tahitian ancestry, while struggling with speech and learning difficulties through dyslexia, Tuffery naturally leant to drawing at an early age to communicate. His mother came to New Zealand as part of the second wave of migration from the Pacific in the 1960’s, settling in Wellington where Michael was born.
Drawing and art became a mechanism for communication for the teenage Tuffery and after graduating from Newlands College he made his way to art school in Dunedin, which had a strong reputation for delivering a more practical based syllabus. Still a comparatively monocultural part of the country, Dunedin in the late 1980s was not altogether used to Pacific Island students and Tuffery has describedhis experience of both the city and the art school as one of an interloper, saying “I stuck out like a sore thumb”.
While the 1988 Maota Samoa exhibition might have been Tuffery’s first public outing, it was Bottled Ocean in 1994 which brought him to national prominence and placed him in the company of an artistic peer group. Curated by Jim Vivieaere, it was the first survey exhibition of contemporary art by New Zealand Pacific artists and Tuffery’s first major show. Some 20 years later, when New Zealand’s art is a firmly multi-cultural domain, Bottled Ocean can be recognised as an extraordinary moment in the country’s cultural development, opening up a discussion around identity that would come to define art making in the 1990s. Included in the exhibition alongside Tuffery were fellow artists Fatu Feu’u, John Pule, Ani O’Neill, Niki Hastings-McFall and Filipi Tohi, all of whom, like Tuffery, would go on to establish significant careers.
Writing in the Bottled Ocean catalogue Vivieaere sets the agenda. “With exhibitions of this sort, one wonders how Pacific cultural origins and traditions can be made a source of creative possibilities rather than constraints. Some works refer to the past, or express themes of transition and current entrapments. The artists are exploring their uneasiness with their blurred identity. Conflict exists between their assumed heritage and their urban experience.”
Central to the importance of Bottled Ocean was its refusal to affirm stereotypical narratives of Polynesia, perpetuated since the French artist Gauguin’s depictions of Tahiti as a fantastical land of sunshine, sensuality and savages. Bottled Ocean provided a snapshot of Pacific art that was complex, contemporary and often contradictory, difficult to fix in place and most of all, resolutely unapologetic for its presence.
The Raging of the Bulls: the artist as performer.
Bottled Ocean saw the first showing of a work that would become a recurring motif for Tuffery, that of the bull or povi. This life-size three dimensional creature was sculpted from flattened out and riveted corned beef cans—a visual pun that brought together Tuffery’s political and environment concerns in its clearest form to date. Hiscattle are staunch and physically solid, crafted meticulously to conjure up a sense of scale and dominance.
The corned beef cans allude to what is now a staple diet item for Samoa and much of the Pacific following on from the introduction of Western food after World War II. Tuffery’s work recalls the consequent move away from traditional food sources such as fishing and a rise in obesity and other health problems from such a high salt and fat diet. It also speaks to the deforestation of islands through farming, leading to significant damage through stock run-off. Ironically, while land in the Islands is used for farming cattle, canned meat is shipped out and sold back to the Pacific by New Zealand corporations, further devastating the local economy.
Against this bleak backdrop of colonisation, Tuffery also recalls more personal connections to cattle from his experiences as a child visiting his Uncle Pete’s dairy farm in Bell Block, Taranaki. He rebuts the idea that the bull might function as a stand-in for humans, instead insisting that it is the character and presence of the bull itself that fascinates him.
These early bull sculptures were simple enough structures, propelled by the means of castor wheels, but he soon began to introduce technical devices such as turning mechanisms and to play with explosives to animate them. By 1999, in Brisbane’s Asia Pacific Triennial, the bulls evoked live cattle in Povi tau Vaga (The Challenge),a performance led by Michel Tuffery and Patrice Kaikilekofe.
Whirling teams of dancers faced off and did battle against a deafening backdrop of drumming, while two bulls were set upon each and then set alight, flames pouring from their gaping eye and mouth holes. It was high theatrics with a strong dose of the adrenalin and anger and it signalled a shift for Tuffery from an art practice that was strictly static to one that was multi-dimensional.
His use of performance is dramatic and spectacular, evoking ritualistic acts of both celebration and warfare. It’s difficult to read these works entirely through the lens of western art history because it is impossible to separate them from the history of Pacific Island ceremony. Both the scale and impact of these works are grandiose, seeking to activate urban space with a sense of the sacred and spiritual. There is nothing ironic or distanced about Tuffery’s work, each piece is fully inhabited and stems from a deeply held position.
The Machiavelli of Tahiti: the artist as archivist.
The history and implications of colonisation of the Pacific by the West, inform all of Tuffery’s work, across all mediums. Interestingly, for an artist who struggled deeply with dyslexia as a child, he has become increasingly informed by his reading of Pacific histories. As he followed the story of cattle into the Pacific, brought initially on the first of Captain Cook’s three expeditions to the area and continued by new generations of explorers and then settlers, Tuffery began to focus on the historical figure of Tupaia, one of Cook’s crew.
It’s easy to see why Tuffery would respond so strongly to Tupaia. A well-born Polynesian navigator from Tahiti, by the time he was 30 Tupaia was established as a political advisor to one of the highest chiefs, Amo, and the lover of Amo’s wife Purea.
When Captain Cook dropped anchor in the Endeavour at Tahiti in 1769 Tupaia came on board to join the crew as a navigator, and, upon arriving in New Zealand, as a crucial interpreter between the English and the Maori. Tupaia’s biographer describes him as, “ a gifted linguist and a devious politician … in his own culture he was a master navigator, highly skilled in astronomy and navigation”.
While Tupaia has received significant attention in recent years, for a long time he was largely invisible in the narrative of the first meetings between Maori and European. This is partly because he died from scurvy while the Endeavour was still on its way back to England, but also because, like so many histories, this one was told from the perspective of its chief beneficiaries. For Cook and his fellow British travellers, the incredible tale of navigation across seas and around new countries was all the more powerful without the acknowledgement of a local guide.
Tuffery found the story rich with narrative potential and in the figure of Tupaia he recognised a hero he could build a series of artworks around. Tupaia was, after all, a Tahitian who played a vital and early role connecting Maori with European, and then, through the devices of colonisation, was erased from the public record. Tupaia provides, even more than the figure of the bull, a perfect creative foil for the artist, a touchstone for his growing interest in mining the archive to bring new stories to light.
For Tuffery, who came to know of his Tahitian ancestry only as a young man, Tupaia provides a third and complicating narrative about the early history of New Zealand, one that was neither Maori nor European. New Zealand is a country that has prided itself in recent years on its biculturalism, a stance that has seen significant legal and cultural reparations for the effects of colonisation. Biculturalism creates a void for Tuffery and his family, New Zealanders of neither Maori nor European descent. He has described Tupaia as “a bridge”, the interpreter who connected two disparate parties—an obvious link to his own practice.
Tupaia became a recurrent figure in Tuffery’s work, emerging in drawings, videos, and through a series of multi-media works that utlised Tuffery’s own renditions of Tupaia alongside historical drawings both of and by him.
Bamboo Forests: the artist in Taiwan.
Following on from Paradise Now? Michel Tuffery continued to develop an international profile through inclusion in group exhibitions, and in particular began to build a strong connection with the Chinese Republic of Taiwan through a series of exhibitions and residencies. Tuffery first traveled to Taiwan in 2007, for a shared residency with Jim Viviearere at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (KMFA). Here they collaborated formally as artists for the second time, creating new, site specific work for the exhibition Across Oceans and Time: Art in the Contemporary Pacific, twelve years after Pallawah Pasifika, their timebased installation in Tasmania in 1995.
During the residency they created One Forest, Two Dogs, Three Boats, an outdoor installation for the Neiweipi Cultural Park that sought to make connections between their own ancestry and the location. Thrusting bamboo sticks of varying sizes directly into the ground to suggest a forest, they referenced Takao, the municipality ofKaohsiung’s historic name, which translates variously as “beat thedog” and “bamboo forest”. Within the forest were, literally, two dogs, or sculptures of the indigenous dogs (tou go) that the artists observed roaming daily about the sculpture park. Created in permanent form, the dogs could be seen as kaitiaki, or caretakers of the park, responsible for its physical and spiritual wellbeing. The final allusionin the title was to the form of a vaka, or Polynesian boat, created through layers of white shingle and black charcoal.
The collaboration built on an artistic relationship that had been highly significant to Tuffery since Bottled Ocean, and one that the artist often makes reference to. In an interview earlier this year the artist said of Vivieaere, who had passed away two years earlier, “Jim was the consummate gentleman and host in any situation, professional or personal. His life was organic, a people collector, he simply listened and responded to the fabric of culture and society through art. His creative and conceptual thinking was well ahead of its time.” Across Oceans and Time was the first in a series of three exhibitions by the KMFA that explored links between Taiwan’s indigenous community and Pacific Island people. Tuffery was included in all three of these exhibitions, the second being Le Folauga: the Past Coming Forward: Contemporary Pacific Art from Aotearoa New Zealand, curated by Fuli Pereira, Curator Pacific at the Auckland Museum, and Ron Brownson, Senior Curator Auckland Art Gallery in 2008.
The final in this series was Art in the Contemporary Pacific—the Great Journey: In Pursuit of the Ancestral Realm, curated in 2009 by Vivieaere with two curators from the KMFA, Tseng Mei-chen and Nita Lo. This exhibition sought to connect Taiwan directly with the Pacific, including indigenous Taiwanese artists alongside Virginia King, Lisa Reihana, Shane Cotton, Michel Tuffery, Greg Semu and Daniel Waswas.
For both Tuffery and Vivieaere it was vitally important to connect their work to the local indigenous Taiwanese community. Getting to know several artists from that community during their 2007 stay in Taiwan, Tuffery and Vivieaere discovered creative and personal links, underscored by a finely honed understanding of the complexity of colonisation. On his return visits Tuffery was particularly struck by the tradition of tattooing, once a highly valued custom for some indigenous tribes but now severely limited and often controversial in its usage.
Returning to Taiwan in 2012 to present the work Siamani Samoa (or German Samoa) at the inaugural Pulima Art Festival, Tuffery again emphasised the connection between a Polynesian experience of colonisation and experiences of the indigenous Taiwanese population. Tuffery’s work specifically focused on the brief period of German colonisation of Samoa in the early part of the 20th century, prior to a takeover by New Zealand during World War I.
Bringing into the light: the artist as curator.
Perhaps the largest work Tuffery has presented to date is the multimedia project First Contact, commissioned for the Wellington International Arts Festival in 2012. In this work he projected images from collections held by Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum of New Zealand, directly onto the building’s exterior, VJ’ing a digital display of some of the nation’s most treasured—and elusive—artefacts, set to a soundtrack of spoken word by Rayjah45, backed by traditional and historical instruments loaned by Te Papa and played by Horomona Horo.
Sampling material from the art, scientific, anthropological and social history departments, the work cut across institutional silos. Evoking the contemporary call for a “museum without walls”, First Contact presented the architecture of the building as permeable, rendering its walls translucent and allowing its collections to shine through. Presented (literally) against the backdrop of a museum that has often been publicly criticised for a lack of accessibility to the bulk of its collections, the work was particularly cutting in its activation.
Tuffery has described First Contact as seeking to “bring out the family albums—the albums at the bottom of the shelf that no one gets to see”. Like the best of Tuffery’s works the potential grandiosity of gesture was countered by a heartfelt quality and sustained research. First Contact drew an extraordinary number of viewers to the site, many of them unlikely to be regular museum visitors. Its accessibility demonstrated Tuffery’s commitment to making work that communicates widely to audiences, all the while drawing threads between the contemporary world and our own complex, fractured and yet important histories.