Reuben Paterson

When the Sun Rises and the Shadows Flee

28 April 2007 - 11 November 2007

When the Sun Rises and the Shadows Flee is one of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s major recent acquisitions. Created by Auckland-based artist Reuben Paterson, the work evokes a shimmering beach-like place that is elusive yet oddly familiar. 

Paterson is a contemporary Maori artist who is known for his use of glitter to light up traditional kowhaiwhai patterns as well of those of modern European fabrics. ‘Whenever something shimmers, we go it,’ he has said. Here, Paterson enlarges his trademark specks of glitter to a scale he calls ‘God-sized’, creating a wall of light that pulls viewers in and invites them to make their own discoveries.

Paterson’s image of a generic South Pacific paradise is stirred by gusts from an industrial fan. On the floor in front are what look like the washed-up remnants of what could have been the party to end all parties – a pile of entangled, glamorous and electroplated shoes along with streamers reminiscent of seaweed. This beach-like place seems full of other people’s memories and stories, and invites us to add our own.

This billboard of paradise may make some viewers think of a pacific holiday, and others of forgotten beach towels or a Hawaiian shirt. But the darkness of the scene and the wind that stirs it make this something other than paradise ‘as we know it’. There is something else going on here – perhaps a remembrance of those now dead. For Paterson, the work evokes a life’s journey towards the home of Hinenuitepo, the Goddess of Death. 

And what of the pile of seemingly washed-up metallic shoes? In earlier works of Paterson’s, piles of cast-off shoes coated in glitter have suggested the life journeys of those who wore them. The electroplating of these shoes appears to seal in and protect the stories and memories they carry. Paterson has connected such works to the only-slightly-more-orderly collection of shoes on the paepae of a Wharenui, or outside a Japanese tea house. These shoes, and the shimmering billboard, are what Paterson calls ‘vehicles for the relativity of experience, our own, and those experienced by others.’

Paterson calls on the familiar imagery of a South Pacific paradise and cast-off shoes to make us reflect on our shared experience of death and the need to celebrate life in the present. He has invoked American critic Lucy Lippard’s notion of a ‘hybrid location’ – a place that, as he says, ‘brings together disparate histories in order to set new ones in motion.’ In this evocative work, he invites us to form our own sense of place, where the sun rises and the shadows flee.

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