This exhibition brings together Te Whanganui-a-Tara artists Hendrix Hennessey-Ropiha (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Raukawa) and Dayle Palfreyman ‘under Tilia’—a tree which across time and many cultures has come to symbolise guidance, healing, justice, and tenderness. It is sometimes called ‘the tree of forgetting’ for its ability to soothe the troubled mind. Its fragrant bark and flowers can be carried for protection or luck.
Hennessy-Ropiha’s large format photographs of tranquil, disquieting places glow with an ineffable energy and presence. They belong to an ongoing project exploring taboos around the discussion of suicide. Aotearoa has some of the highest suicide rates in the world and is the only country with legal restrictions in place around its reportage. Hennessy-Ropiha’s project is driven by questions of how he can artistically and ethically engage with sites of trauma related to suicide, and grant visibility to what remains a largely invisible issue.
In Dayle Palfreyman’s sculpture, natural and industrial materials are combined in ways that both seduce and repel. One work consists of concrete beds of stainless steel needles sitting within a self-regulated zone. In the other, a beeswax-encrusted wooden handrail demarcates the edges of the gallery and gallery experience. The two installations focus on the relationship between the body, the object, and the environment they inhabit—how and where one can meet the other, and the historically or culturally defined terms of this exchange. Both push at the limits of our psychological encounter with objects, spaces, and histories, and their encounter with us.
These two very different practices touch in unexpected and generative ways. The body is visibly absent from both Hennessy-Ropiha and Palfreyman’s works—but invoked through process, materiality, and/or relationship to site. Both establish psychologically charged encounters that connect us with things felt, lost, or imagined, rather than simply seen. In both cases, art becomes a means to navigate worlds and approach that which lies beyond our comprehension.
City Gallery Wellington, 30 April-14 August 2022