Shannon Te Ao: my life as a tunnel
21 Apr – 22 Jul 2018
Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) blurs the lines between melancholy and optimism, exploring language and interpersonal relationships through oral traditions—karakia, waiata and whakatauki—as well as song lyrics, performative gestures and cinematic devices.
The exhibition my life as a tunnel is the third iteration of a moving image project that follows on from Untitled (malady) (2016) and With the sun aglow, I have my pensive moods (2017); the title itself an analogy for his process of mining, revisiting, transposing. The video installation configured for The Dowse embraces local references and distinct historical narratives.
The point of departure is a scene from Charles Burnett’s film Killer of Sheep (1977) that is set in the African-American neighbourhood of Watts, California, in which a couple solemnly dance to Dinah Washington’s rendition of ‘This Bitter Earth’. Over the past eighteen months, Te Ao has had the song lyrics translated into several languages, including different speakers of te reo Māori. The shifts in interpretation for each translation highlight the fluidity of language and its cultural relevance.
There is an intimate sense of loss, tension, grief and longing that underpins Killer of Sheep and This Bitter Earth. The lyrics and the dance are a conduit for exchange. Transformed through the lens of Te Ao’s personal socio-geography and whakapapa, my life as a tunnel presents a poignant perspective on the human condition.