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subsume, 2024

to absorb something into or overshadow something else

In recognition of the lingering effects of past actions on present day Aotearoa New Zealand, the subsume exhibition presents the cultural context of early European settlers through nostalgic themes juxtaposed with contemporary audio-visual representations of iconic native flora and fauna species.

In a single intensive decade, from 1890 to 1900, twenty seven percent of Aotearoa’s existing forest was cleared. At around the same time, a collection of music sheets was brought from England and bound at Leigh & Sons Bookbinders, High Street, Auckland. The lyrics of these sentimental songs contain poignant references to the social conditions of the period and express, perhaps, some of the reasoning behind many an immigrant’s quest to build a new life in Aotearoa New Zealand.

subsume is a socially engaged art exhibition and events programme that uses sound and touch to explore the legacy of deforestation as a consequence of early settler colonialism. These senses connect the public emotionally to the legacy of deforestation through the social context of early settlers expressed in their songs and the frottage drawing process that evokes touching and being-in-touch-with surfaces, difference and entanglement. Frottage is a drawing process where mark making is achieved through gentle stroking actions with coloured pastel onto sensitive but resilient paper.  

Exhibited works comprise of a series of human-scale (2000x1000mm) tree frottage drawings, a set of archival digital prints of frottage tree drawings made on semi-transparent Japanese Gampi (8gsm) overlaying the vintage music sheets, and an ecological sound work combining the eighteenth-century songs with the sounds of Aotearoa’s forest birds, frogs and invertebrates.

In the sound work, mezzo-soprano, Claudia Evans, sings two songs from the collection. Her voice is heard within the environmental soundscape of native bush, full of haunting, melancholic calls that croak, crack, rasp, twitter and squeak. This work juxtaposes the tender eighteenth-century English lyrics with the sounds of Aotearoa’s unique forest dwellers highlighting the chasm between an idealised perception of nature and what the forest actually sounds like. It seeks to affect a deep introspective impact on the listener through the nostalgic quality of the sentiments expressed and the capacity of sound to trigger emotion.

SUBSUME_extractCollaboration between Laura Donkers, Claudia Evans and Noah Page
00:00 / 05:15

Supporting social engagement events comprise of community singing workshops and frottage drawing activities, which speculate on the social, political and cultural context of the settler and the unprecedented scales of deforestation for economic/agricultural development to highlight the continued impact on fragile ecosystems. The hopes are that these activities offer a reflective and restorative perspective on the nature-culture divide reinforced by a growing awareness of human influence and entwinement in a big natural system.

Subsume was on public view from Tues 27 Feb - Sat 23 March  Northart, Northcote, Auckland

The exhibition was supported by an events programme that featured frottage drawing workshops, an artist's talk, and several school visits.

Installation View South Gallery_Northart.jpg

Image credit: Northart

Installation View South Gallery2_Northart.jpg

Image credit: Northart

Installation View East Gallery_Northart.jpg
drawing workshop.jpg

Image credit: Northart

Image credit: Northart

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