George Nuku: Bottled Ocean 2118

At MTG until early March 2019
and at HCAG until mid November 2018
By Jess Soutar Barron

George Nuku flies away from here every year, splitting time between ‘home’ in Omahu and ‘home’ in Paris. He sees us from the sky, then traverses oceans. Imagine the contemplative hours suspended over the expanse of water that dominates the planet.

Tangaroa i te titi, Tangaroa i te tata. Ocean above, below, distant, near.

The echo of this chant encapsulates the happening and also folds in around the visitor who arrives midway through the journey, head on into the double-prow long-distance voyaging vessel, waka hourua. All around the mighties of the deep sweep in. Whales, sharks, jellyfish, flying fish, one great whai, a sting ray hovering over the viewer.

Collectively, it is an ocean packed with plastic. An impending view, a dystopia, but how can this, in all its beauty, be that frightening, fragile future? The light plays off the walls as in a lido. Multiple layers of blues and whites and textures of transparency suggest a hundred different tones of water. Reflections, shadows, echoes, hints, an all-together overwhelming experience, fully “submersive”, as it should be.

A counter-measure sits across the motu in the Hastings City Gallery. Here, the ‘water’ is slicked with residue. Oil? Blood? Certainly, industrial waste. Those jellyfish are mirrored here too, and those maroro. Between that place and this, rivers and tributaries run, seen and unseen. They connect the two, and all our tiny pockets, into one network. And here’s another theme found in this work: we are all water, this matter that links us, one to the next like the beads on a seaweed stem.

Nuku has explored water use and abuse in this work. He has gathered used plastic water bottles in all sizes from the Hawke’s Bay community. Then with artisan dexterity he has formed these sea creatures, schools of them, flocks of them, and delivered them back to that community as art. A craftsman of plastics and plexiglass. The result fills a room, brim-full, as if to say: This problem is everywhere, affects/infects everything.

As in the creating of the problem, in the creating of the work we are all responsible. The artist has implicated us. In doing so he has alerted us, perhaps – fingers-crossed – driven us to action. On leaving the exhibition the observer turns in farewell, considers crawling up into the watery womb of the waka haurua’s whareiti, breathes lightly on feathered streamers hanging from the taurapa, bringing them just enough life with which to flutter. Then sings her way out: “Tangaroa i te titi, i te tata”.

The co-construction of this work has included collaboration with Pereri King, who brings spoken word, song and a telling of whakapapa to the piece. Contributors also include councils in the region and communities who have provided the where-withalls (George is specific: “bottles they have used not simply found”). DLT has lent some practical and technical tautoko in the mastering of materials. In giving over two significant spaces to the twin-works MTG and HCAG have colluded in the telling of this important message (in a bottle), this SOS? Tipuna too have lent their energy, stories, whakatauki; it resonates, you can feel it, alive in the air.

This work is not a conclusion, or an answer either. It is an ellipsis and a “Then what?”. We are invited, through our participation, to journey with the artist to a maybe, to a possible, and on towards a therefore.




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