Events > Podcast

07 May 2020

Podcast: The Artist's Library - Shannon Te Ao

Shannon Te Ao
Frances Loeffler and Jonathan Middleton

The inaugural episode of Art Metropole’s podcasts, as well as our collaborative series The Artist’s Library, with Oakville Galleries featuring conversations with artists on literary and/or language influences in their lives and work.

This episode features Frances Loeffler, curator of Oakville Galleries, and Jonathan Middleton, director of Art Metropole in conversation with Aotearoa-based artist Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) . The episode was recorded in the library of Oakville Galleries on January 28, 2020, in conjunction with Shannon’s exhibition Ka mua, ka muri at Oakville Galleries (26 January – 22 March 2020).

Ka mua, ka muri is a new sound and moving image installation that explores our experience of time, history and song. The exhibition consists of a two-channel film, which uses the road movie genre as its starting point, and locates two sisters in the immediate wake of an unnamed tragic event. Following on from his most recent work what was or could be today (again) (2019), the work includes two original songs developed by Te Ao in collaboration with Kurt Komene (Te Ātiawa, Taranaki Whānui). These function as both script and score and reflect a social embodiment that privileges poetic imagery.

The exhibition’s title, Ka mua, ka muri, is derived from a whakatauki (proverb) often cited as a central guiding principle within Māori ideology. Meaning “to walk backwards into the future,” it suggests time exists on a continuum where past, present and future co-exist and are inherently tethered through ancestry and action. Central to this is an understanding of the critical importance of language as a vital means to maintain links to indigenous knowledge systems, culture, and identity, a theme that recurs throughout Te Ao’s practice.

The process of translating between different languages also features regularly in Te Ao’s work, often as a method with which to invite shared authorship and a multiplicity of voices. For With the sun aglow, I have my pensive moods (2017), for example, Te Ao translated into English a love lament written in 1846 by the daughter of a Ngāti Tūwharetoa chief, while My Life as a Tunnel (2018) includes translations into Māori of the 1960 classic blues song “This Bitter Earth”. In this exhibition, he has developed a text installation consisting of different translated versions of his poem Taapapa, which has been translated into English by Krissi Jerram, into Māori by Kurt Komene, and into Anishinaabimowin by Mawla Shawana.

Ka mua, ka muri was co-commissioned by Oakville Galleries and Remai Modern, with the support of Creative New Zealand. Oakville Galleries would like to thank the Mississaugas of the New Credit Association, especially Cathie Jamieson and Caitlin LaForme, Mossman Gallery and Whiti o Rehua School of Art, Massey University. The exhibition is due to open at Remai Modern in 2020.

Working predominantly with performance and film, the elegiac installations of Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, b.1978, Sydney) explore fraught dynamics of Indigeneity, language, and loss. Te Ao draws on a range of existing literary material including Māori lyrical sources such as whakataukī and waiata, as well as poetic and lyrical texts from popular culture. Richly layered, Te Ao’s works enact a compression wherein past and present co-exist, and daily life is inextricably linked to multifarious social, cultural, and philosophical histories. Te Ao is a Senior Lecturer at Whiti o Rehua School of Art, Massey University, Wellington.

Frances Loeffler is Curator of Exhibitions at the Power Plant, Toronto. Loeffler has held curatorial positions at arts organizations worldwide, including Oakville Galleries, White Cube, and the Liverpool Biennial. She has extensive experience curating numerous exhibitions, working closely with artists such as Etel Adnan, Sascha Braunig, Helen Cammock, David Hartt, Tamara Henderson, Runa Islam, Allison Katz, Leisure (Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley), Tanya Lukin Linklater, Senga Nengudi, Paul P., and Shannon Te Ao, among many others. Many of her exhibitions have explored the crossover between art and language, and she has a specialized interest in the history of artist gardens.

Jonathan Middleton is an artist, curator, and publisher working between Toronto and Vancouver. Middleton served as Executive Director of Art Metropole between 2019 and 2024. He previously worked as Partner and Editor-At-Large at Information Office, a Vancouver-based design and publishing studio. He served as Director/Curator of Vancouver’s Or Gallery from 2007 to 2017, during which time he established the Or’s bookstore (2011-) and Berlin satellite space (2010-2015). Middleton also served as Director/Curator of the Western Front Exhibitions Program (1999-2005), and was a founding member of the art periodical Fillip in 2004, serving on its editorial board and as its first publisher until 2008. He maintains an active art practice and has exhibited and screened his work at the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), VIVO Media Arts, Vancouver International Film Festival, Inside Out, Moving Pictures, the Chicago International Film Festival, Dazibao (Montreal) and Konsthalle 323 (Stockholm). He was a founding member of the Artist Run Centres and Collectives Conference (ARCA).

  1. Words and Language podcast series Shannon Te Ao