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Indepth Arts News:

"Fiona Pardington: Fugitive Beings"
2004-09-14 until 2004-10-09
Bartley Nees Gallery
Wellington, , NZ New Zealand (Aotearoa)

Museums continue to provide Fiona Pardington with the subject matter for her classic silver gelatin photographs. Following her exploration of pounamu heitiki), Fiona has moved on to explore the birds that she describes as "this country’s other great treasure". As the provenance of many of the heitiki she found in museums has been lost, so too many of the native birds that she photographs have become extinct, their habitats destroyed by predators, animal and human. Pardington feels a profound sense of loss for these taonga. Her dark, monochromatic, stylised images give them a new life outside of the museum. "I’ve personalised them, made portraits of them and just treated them like they were individuals," she says.

Yet this is not simply an anthropomorphic exercise, humanising through a project of portraiture. Rather we see an essence abstracted. Employing the discipline of the photographic still life, which has long been a feature of her practice, Pardington works to convey a sense of the preciousness and rarity of her subjects. Thus ancient moa feathers from the National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa collection float gently in a de-contextualised present. Similarly the tail feathers of the huia bird stand before us –recalling a Victorian gown and evoking a lost era.

"… poignantly, Pardington invokes the elusive spirit of the huia. More sacred to Maori than any other bird, the huia was associated with dignity and wisdom, its feathers worn only by chiefs of distinction. Known for its flute-like song, metallic blue-black plumage and distinctive white-banded tail feather, the huia belonged to an ancient family of birds found only in New Zealand. Already fragile owing by hunting by Maori to create adornments and marereko, the huia population was decimated at the turn of the century by European settler demand for the dramatic feathers as a fashion accessory. Here, Pardington uses the sacred feathers to symbolise a range of bereavements – the erosion of Maori and Ngai Tahu culture, the loss of trail lands and sacred treasures." Felicity Milburn, Te Puawai o Ngai Tahu, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2003.

The title of the exhibition comes from a diptych featuring the heads of the extinct huia and a kiwi. Peter Shand has written of Pardington’s birds as "fugitive beings of the imagination". "They can serve as a means for us to come to understand the world, both by apprehending birds out of flight (bringing them down to our ground) and reminding us of the transience and fragility of such creatures. They are stilled for us but as they refuse to be gathered up entirely, refuse to be known wholly, they seem to return to their loftier habitats and are all the more elusive for being present for us but forever evading our grasp."

It is this territory between the known and unknown that Pardington attempts to illuminate in this exhibition.

Fiona Pardington
ake ake huia
edition of 3
c-type print

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