March 2, 2018

Luke Willis Thompson

Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington

Installation view of Luke Willis Thompson, How Long?, Adam Art Gallery 2018. 16mm, colour, silent; 11:26 minutes, Kodak Vision 3 250d stock, HD transfer. Produced with permission of Film Fiji, 2017. Photo: Sophie Thorn.

The Adam Art Gallery is proud to announce the first large-scale solo exhibition in a New Zealand public gallery by London-based artist Luke Willis Thompson. He presents three moving-image works scaled to the gallery spaces and occupying distinct zones in the three-level building. Normally pierced by windows and strip glazing, the gallery has been sealed to create a near-black box within which to experience the artworks. These reveal themselves slowly as visitors move through the spaces. Thompson has even expunged all gallery texts and signage, stripping away any institutional branding, to create a spare, quiet chamber for viewing. The only words that appear are those the artist has screen-printed directly onto the wall that elucidate the barest of narratives that grant each filmed subject their back story.

The first film visitors encounter is the artist’s newest work, commissioned by the Adam Art Gallery for this occasion. How Long? was shot in colour 16mm film in portrait format then transferred to digital video and projected to scale the full height of the five-metre gallery. It consists of four silent filmed portraits of named subjects the artist located in various villages in Fiji. The first is Jone Lebanon, a 39-year-old man and the last, Inia Sinai, a seven-month-old baby. They are representatives of a social practice, typical of indigenous Pacific cultures, of naming family members after significant events or people. In these cases, all have been given names of war zones where relatives have served or territories and nations in which they have worked.

How Long? is presented directly above autoportrait, the silent black-and-white 35mm film that was commissioned by and presented in Chisenhale Gallery in 2017, which is here projected onto the same end wall of the building but on the lowest level of the gallery. Its subject is Diamond Reynolds, who Thompson collaborated with to produce a filmed portrait that he envisaged as a "sister image" to the traumatic footage she posted on Facebook Live of the fraught moments she endured during a traffic stop in St Paul Minnesota when her partner Philando Castile was killed by police. The third work is Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries (2016), a two-part black-and-white 16mm film shot on the same film stock and to the exact format of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, of two black Londoners whose maternal relatives were killed by British police.

Together these films instantiate Thompson’s deep engagement with the history and current reality of institutional violence and racial injustice. He describes these films and their staging as an effort to "find form for political silence." Navigating an intricate terrain that maps personal experience, inherited prejudice, and local and world politics, Thompson makes manifest the workings of power as they impact people of colour everywhere, at the same time producing a self-consciously dialogic counter-narrative.

Luke Willis Thompson won New Zealand’s premier art award, the Walters Prize, in 2014. His works have been included in: Field Guide (Remai Modern, Saskatoon, 2017); La Biennale de Montreal (2016), São Paolo Bienal (2016), Asia Pacific Triennial (Brisbane, 2015), the New Museum Triennial (New York, 2015), The Fifth Auckland Triennial (2013), and he presented Misadventure, a solo exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane in 2016. Thompson’s autoportrait, the film he made for his solo show at Chisenhale Gallery in 2017, has been selected for the 2018 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize and June 2018, he will present a solo project at Kunsthalle Basel.

The Adam Art Gallery is the art gallery of Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. It is a forum for critical thinking about art and its histories as well as the professional structure within which the Victoria University Art Collection is managed. The gallery’s programmes aim to test and expand art form and disciplinary boundaries and create new opportunities to bring artists together and generate fresh conversations. The gallery is a remarkable architectural statement designed by the late Sir Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s foremost architects.

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