Caroline McQuarrie and Shaun Matthews: Prospects Fearful
4 December 2021 – 20 March 2022 | Holt Gallery
In late 1846 surveyor Thomas Brunner employed Māori guides Kehu and Pikiwati to travel with him from Nelson to Te Tai Poutini (the West Coast) and back again, searching for land suitable to expand settlements within the fledgling Nelson province. In Prospects Fearful Wellington-based artists Caroline McQuarrie and Shaun Matthews examine Brunner’s journey via the mediums of embroidery, photography and weaving. Through meticulous research into Brunner’s diaries, his Māori guides, and the environments he experienced during this arduous journey, McQuarrie and Matthews confront the impact of colonialism, our history of biculturalism, and the myth of the ‘man alone’.
They say of Brunner and the exhibition:
Prospects Fearful hopes to both celebrate the difficult journey made by this extraordinary group of people, and instill balance to a prevailing Pākehā narrative that Brunner was an explorer who valiantly made this journey singlehandedly. No project of this kind is done alone, or in isolation from the community surrounding it. While the only written record we have is by Brunner, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand the level of support he was given by Māori. We do not have the right to claim the story of Kehu, Pikiwati and the other Māori involved. Instead we have recorded the full names (where possible) of the main players, which Brunner never did. We have also attempted to feel into the help Brunner received, particularly the literal support of the pāraerae (sandals) that Brunner made and used once his boots rotted away. As with the guidance and hospitality of locals he stayed with along the way, the pāraerae made Brunner’s journey possible. They are a symbol of his vulnerability and his need to take on the support and partnership of Māori in order to survive and to do his job. Our learning to craft pāraerae is a repetition of Brunner’s learning, a symbol of his coming to understand the world he travelled in and to move according to its rhythms.
McQuarrie and Matthews have photographed the landscape the group travelled through with a pinhole camera, digitally layering texture onto the images to create a dark 19th century feel. Printed onto large fabric banners, the audience will walk through the landscape in the exhibition space. They have also reproduced extracts from Brunner’s diary in cross-stitch embroidery, emulating the arduous journey through long hours of hand stitching. The embroideries also point towards the mannered 19th century domestic life Brunner left and ultimately returned to.
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