Tungane Broadbent & Reuben Paterson
Today, Tomorrow & Yesterday
July 4 – August 31, 2017

Opening Tuesday July 4th, 6pm. All Welcome.

Ben Plumbly, Director, Art & Object
Ben Bergman, Director, Bergman Gallery
Tungane Broadbent/Reuben Paterson, Exhibiting Artists

The exciting pairing of Tungane Broadbent and Reuben Paterson, both in the collection of the QLD Art Gallery, takes centre stage in the new exhibition Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday.

The exhibition presents as a conversation between the two diverse artforms (Tivaivai and Glitter Paintings), with Paterson’s works responding to the Tivaivai of Broadbent. Paterson litterally shines a spotlight on this important pacific practice. Tivaivai are social biographies, timeless fabrics rich in social values, family genealogy, motif, history and nation, providing fundamental social discourse – linking past and present communal narrative.

Paterson himself is no stranger to the Tivaivai artform, having worked at Auckland Art Gallery’s ‘New Gallery’ during the late 1990’s where an important exhibition of Cook Islands Tivaivai was shown.

Responding to Broadbent’s work, Paterson has re-energized his celebrated botanical format with explosive colour and pattern.

Reuben writes; ‘ When I began working with so much colour contained in one work again, my mind was taken back to when I was painting kowhaiwhai in colours not associated to the traditional red, black and white when I was honouring my father’s passing in these works, and our descent lines to Ngati Rangitihi, Ngai Tuhoe and Tuhorangi.Those same descent lines will always make me think of The Garden of the Seven Stones and Ngatangiia Harbour (Rarotonga) – those descent lines, and connections, can all be bought back to this one place / point of departure, because it’s all a part of the whakapapa. Introducing so much colour again is literally influenced by Tivaivai, and the work of Tungane, and is also a way to acknowledge what the colours of kowhaiwhai meant to me at that time.’

The exhibition opening will feature a keynote address by Art & Object Director Ben Plumbly.

Fabric and Glitter

There are definite challenges to working with glitter. Artist Reuben Paterson has long since accepted that the minute shiny particles will be found everywhere in his New Zealand studio. Like the product he works with, Paterson’s career is a glittering one. From his first solo exhibition in 2001, his work has made its way from galleries and collections in New Zealand and Australia, to Rarotonga, where it has found an unlikely home beside tivaivai, the exquisitely stitched quilting that is uniquely Cook Islands.

The connection between thousands of pieces of glitter and thousands of delicate stitches is not an obvious one – a truly traditional art form and one that is blatantly contemporary. It is there though, like the close relationship between the two countries themselves, recognised by Ben Bergman, owner of Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.

“They are radically different mediums,” says Bergman. “It’s the conceptual elements that bind them – the themes they articulate are similar.”

The idea of a pairing of Pacific artists, a pairing of culture and forms, had been discussed by Bergman many times with colleague, John McCormack, Director of STARKWHITE Gallery in Auckland. It was a given that tivaivai would be one of these forms.

Bergman has a long relationship with Broadbent, as comes with living in a small Pacific nation. Born in Australia in 1970, Bergman moved to Rarotonga in 1976, where Broadbent was one of his primary school teachers. Her stunning tivaivai has featured in his gallery many times, as well as in exhibitions across the globe.

As a young girl on her home island of Mangaia, Broadbent always saw women making tivaivai. It was what they did – stitching tivaivai for special occasions and for the tutaka, home and property inspections.

“I just knew how to make tivaivai from watching,” says Broadbent, who at the age of 77 years has been cutting and stitching tivaivai, and exhibiting her work, for close to 50 years.

Bergman had been convinced by the vitality of Paterson’s work when he first saw it in Auckland in 2003, and during Paterson’s time as Artist in Residence at his gallery in 2010. And both Broadbent and Paterson are well established artists in their own right, each included as part of the 6th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2009/10.

Skype brought the two artists together. Paterson was immediately taken by the colours in the purple and green dress Broadbent was wearing. He asked her to make a tivaivai in these same colours, and it became one of four that she included in their shared exhibition ‘Today, Tomorrow & Yesterday’ held at Bergman Gallery in 2017.

Paterson’s extravagant glittering botanical works were a response to Broadbent’s use of colour and the botanics of the islands, taking him back to when he painted kowhaiwhai in non-traditional colours in 2010 after his father’s death, and his descent lines to Ngati Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe and Tūhourangi.

“Those same descent lines will always make me think of The Garden of Seven Stones in Ngatangiia Harbour (Rarotonga) – those descent lines and connections can all be traced back to here because it’s all a part of the whakapapa,” says Paterson.

For Bergman, the ultimate aim has always been to place Pacific art in an international context – to be recognised as contemporary art form in its own right. The pairing of Paterson and Broadbent is the first of many, followed closely by an exhibition of Benjamin Work and Andy Leleisi’uao and a return to the  Auckland Art Fair in 2018 to showcase Andy Leleisi’uao alongside Sylvia Marsters.

“As a region the South Pacific has so much in common – and so much to offer.” Rachel Smith.

Today, Tomorrow & Yesterday.

Three brief but beautiful days and one fabulous exhibition.  My trip to the island of Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands, was uncomfortably sandwiched between auction commitments.  I had to consider the offer to travel and speak at the opening of the exhibition closely and the haste of my visit was further compounded by crossing the International Date Line.  Despite this, I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable time or a better cultural experience.

The eponymous Bergman Gallery is housed just outside of the main township of Avarua in the courtyard at the rear of the beautiful Beachcomber building.  Originally built by the London Missionary Society in 1845 it was virtually destroyed by a cyclone in 1968 and then beautifully restored in the 1990s.  Bergman Gallery is a classic and sophisticated white-walled contemporary dealer gallery, the likes of which you’d be just as likely to encounter in New York or London.

‘Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday: Tungane Broadbent and Reuben Paterson’ opened on the evening of July 4th.  I can honestly say I’ve never attended an opening like it.  Never before have I felt more comfortable completely surrounded by strangers.  At a time when there seems to be an exhibition opening every night in Auckland, this was clearly a rare event to be savoured with the Cook Islands arts community coming out en masse.  It opened with a traditional Cook Islands prayer, some speeches and a wonderful ‘Ute’ or traditional song called ‘Tumu Poroiti’ performed by the Pukapuka community, a local performance group.  ‘Tumu Poroiti’ refers to a flower which is used to sew neck ei’s and head ei’s.  An integral part of the song they performed is ‘hosanna’, which refers directly to the introduction of Christianity.  The beautiful performance witnessed broad audience participation including dancing by exhibiting artist Reuben Paterson along with Cook Islands artist Ani O’Neill.

The exhibition and the works themselves were just as special and equally as unforgettable.  Tungane Broadbent can only be described as a master Tivaivai artist.  Tivaivai is the art of quilt-making, tivai meaning literally ‘to patch’ or to mend.  Introduced by Christian missionaries to the Cook Islands in the early nineteenth century, within more recent times it has reached new heights of artistic and aesthetic sophistication as it has incorporated new concepts and designs reflecting the changing and increasingly globalized world.  Tivaivai is a social, community-centred activity valued, outside of the current gallery context in which it is presently being discussed at least, for the manner in which it reflects aspects of the community and existence itself – plants, life, relationships and, as the title of the exhibition explicitly references, links between the past and the future.  As Tungane mentioned in her speech on the opening night, like everywhere else the Cook Islands is changing and its traditions and essence are under threat from environmental change and modernity. Less and less young women are today practicing the traditional art form.

Reuben Paterson’s works in the exhibition were a direct response to the art of Tivaivai and more especially to the work of Tungane Broadbent herself.  Ostensibly the contrast between media, culture and aesthetics was pronounced yet it didn’t feel this way in the exhibition where the works of the two artists jostled, colluded and challenged each other to present a generative contemporary take on art and life in the Pacific in the 21stCentury.  Like Tungane, Paterson appeared at the top of his game.  Two master crafts-people both having refined their craft over the years and demonstrating ample mastery of their respective media.  Paterson’s works have often found their genesis and inspiration in the textiles and dresses of his whanau and this, perhaps, was always going to make the pairing of the two artists an obvious success and fertile grounds for cultural conversation.

Reuben Paterson’s work has always been remarkably successful visually and in the manner in which it subverts distinctions of high and low art or kitsch and the avant-garde.  Here though, something in his work has changed.  Works such as the cheekily-titled Every Time a Coconut (2017) exhibited a newfound virtuosity resultant not just from the context and concept of the exhibition, both of which were undeniably intoxicating, but rather from the incorporation of different grades of glitter. This created a depth and strength to his work beyond the usual ‘shimmer’, made even more effective by the relatively large scale of the work.  I Want to Thank You (2017) was similarly stunning, evoking a more literal nod to his engagement with Tungane’s works as well as to the costumes of local Cook Island women and especially the wonderfully vibrant ‘Mumu’ worn by Tungane herself.  Paterson has long been interested in the art of Tivaivai and worked at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in the 1990s when a large exhibition of Tivaivai was held in the New gallery.

Tungane’s works, unsurprisingly, appeared far more restrained.  Hung like paintings on the wall in European gallery fashion, the presentation was more unusual to locals than to myself where such a presentation seems naturally aligned with their aesthetic, if not their cultural or ceremonial value.  The large ‘Tivaivai Manu’ work Fan made from just two solid-coloured fabrics was a revelation for me.  In its simple symmetrical pattern based on the motif of the fan there was a formal eloquence and restraint undermining the strong pink and green contrast as well as a gentle figure ground ambiguity which seemed to recall so much western abstraction and particularly that of the esteemed New Zealand painter Gordon Walters.  Tungane’s other large scale work for the show was entitled Roses and it was a wondrous example of ‘Tivaevae Tataura’, a more lavishly embellished style typically featuring stylized floral motifs.

‘Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday’ provided a timely reminder for me of the importance of art in the community and that art making is fundamentally a communal or social activity.  It also explicitly and quite successfully delivered on its curatorial premise and imperative, that in order to chart the murky, rising waters of the future we would do well to acknowledge our collective past.  The problems facing the Cook Islands are not endemic to them.  Like Tivaivai, Reuben Paterson’s glitter paintings can also be seen as social biographies, rich in genealogy, community and history.  Together Tungane and Paterson’s works demonstrated that despite boundaries of distance, time, culture and craft, art is a fundamentally social discourse. Like the Cook’s, it can also be a lot of fun.       Ben Plumbly