Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Back Cupboards

New Zealand photographer, filmmaker, artist and designer, Neil Pardington (Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe, Ngati Waewae & Scottish descent), opens his amazing show The Vault at Christchurch Art Gallery tonight. I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition for months for it brings together all the things I love – museums and especially museum storerooms, photography, taxidermy, artefacts, collections, the notion of memory and stored histories – they’re all there in beautiful, brilliant images that resonate with a million of my own stored memories. I collected everything as a child and my father made me little glass-fronted cases for storing my birds’ egg collection, my butterflies, my pressed leaves and flowers, my seed and nut collection, my stone and gemstone collections. How I never ended up working in a museum I’ll never know – but it’s no surprise to me that one of my sons does. (He’s at Auckland Museum).
That aside, Neil Pardington’s ‘Vault is another matter entirely – a brilliant ‘expose’ of the behind-the-scenes artefacts and collections in storage. He got the idea for the photographic series while he was working behind the scenes at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and it has been a work in progress ever since, as he has explored the vaults, archives and basements of museums, art galleries, archives, banks, libraries and hospitals – “my focus is on places we store those things that are precious to us and conversely, those very similar spaces we store the obsolete and unwanted,” he has said of his work.
In the Christchurch exhibition, Pardington presents 40 photographs (taken on large-format camera) that ‘expose storehouses of memory and places filled with mystifying treasure.’ They include my favourites, the stuffed animals and birds…all with cute little cardboard labels attached to their legs; paintings attached to sliding storage walls; specimens in jars; rooms filled with mannequins; shelves filled with rolls of film in tins; Maori artefacts; buildings filled with army vehicles; textiles, card catalogues and much more. It’s a scrumptiously voyeuristic peek into the normally unseen, off-limits world of the nation’s treasures and it will be on show at Christchurch Art Gallery until March 14, 2010.
Images supplied by Christchurch Art Gallery are, from top to bottom:
Neil Pardington Taonga Maori Store #4, Nelson Regional Museum 2007. Lambda/C-print, dimensions variable. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Neil Pardington Taonga Maori #2, Whanganui Regional Museum 2006. LED/C-print. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Neil Pardington Land Vertebrates Store #1, Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira 2008. LED/C-print. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

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