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Tribe Subtribe – The First Two Days

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director
Last week we all watched in wonder as Peter Robinson slowly and thoughtfully laid out in our big square gallery the 70,000 felt rings that make up his new participatory project for The Dowse, Tribe Subtribe.

It was only when driving out to the gallery on the morning of Saturday’s opening that I realised how ephemeral that first stage was. From the time the opening started at 2pm, people had exactly an hour to see the work in its eye-boggling, colour-field magnificence: five swathes of colour rolling on from each other, the orange, red and yellow sending a pale shimmer of reflected colour onto the white walls, the hard line at the entrance to the gallery creating a subtle barrier to entry.

At 3pm, after some brief formalities, we let people in. We started off with the idea of limiting the number of people to the number of cushions Peter has kindly supplied, but we quickly abandoned that. The room rapidly filled with a hum of excited people, who started experimenting with the seemingly endless number of variations you can achieve with two thicknesses of rod and two widths of ring.

At his talk on Sunday – held sitting in a loose ring in the gallery, with everyone working on their sticks as we listened – Peter talked through the reasoning behind his instructions for making the sticks, and the conflict between asserting control and letting go. Peter hasn’t just randomly come up with these instructions – the felt sticks have been a developing part of his practice for about four years now, and everything inside and behind them is carefully thought out. At the same time, handing over control was an integral part of the work for him, taking this project even further beyond his work for the Auckland Triennial this year.

We’ve all been surprised over the past two days. We thought kids would pick up handfuls of felt rings and throw them around: instead, they used the cushions as snow ploughs and carved white paths through the colour sea. We never expected anyone would use the black and red rings to draw a love heart pierced by an arrow in the middle of the room. We had hoped families would work on sticks together – and they did. And we saw photos swarming out over the web as people encountered what our curatorial intern Emma Ng described in a tweet (I read it in my head using the movie trailor voice-over voice) “The most instagrammable show of the year”.

Here’s a selection of those pics from the weekend. We’ll have proper professional photos to release soon, but we wanted to share these first. Our thanks to everyone who let us reproduce them.

From Catherine Field-Dodgson

From Catherine Field-Dodgson

From Megan Dunn

From Megan Dunn

From Rowan Simpson

From Rowan Simpson

From Catherine Field-Dodgson

From Catherine Field-Dodgson

From Jan Simmons

From Jan Simmons

From The Dowse

From The Dowse

One of my own

One of my own

We think we’ll have enough rings and rods to get us through this coming weekend, and maybe, fingers crossed, through to Christmas. To avoid disappointment though, I recommend you get to The Dowse as soon as possible. We all like to describe exhibitions as memorable, once in a lifetime events, but in this case I don’t think it’s hyperbole. Feel the felt under your bare feet, find your pattern, leave your mark. We look forward to seeing you.

Courtney Johnston, Director

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