Luke Willis Thompson’s exhibition of conceptual artwork, Misadventure, binds together three projects that mark the first five years of the artist’s work. Shown across three galleries at the IMA, the work is generous in its spatial and temporal span. Displaced objects and visual cues guide us through the suburban streets of contemporary Auckland, the Studio and Factory in 1960s New York, Thatcher-era North and South London, and a historic hillside cemetery in Fiji. Windows into smaller events of recent history open out onto some of the most transformative moments of the past two centuries.
Conceived as a time lapse rather than a survey exhibition, this collection of works simultaneously mine an enduring colonial legacy that shapes our present, as well as the art we cherish within it. Familiar twentieth-century art historical tropes give shape to what can be understood as a series of readymades: objects shifted out of their original context for reinterpretation. Arranged forms gesture towards cool minimalism, while the objects presented bear witness to—and traces of—violent pasts.
This exhibition features Thompson’s first-ever film work, commissioned by the IMA, which precisely appropriates the technical specifications of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. It is at once a remake and a reconfiguration, introducing the politics of race largely absent from Warhol’s films; of the 472 that Warhol produced, less than five featured people of colour. Thompson’s screen test focuses on the descendants of victims of police brutality in London prior to the most recent riots of 2011.
There is a transactional nature to the work Thompson undertakes. In order to gain access to his objects and subjects, an urgency, need or desire is capitalised on. While the very act of displacement is transgressive—not least, moving headstones out of a cemetery— Thompson seeks transgression as a form of collective self-determination; for the objects and the people, places, and circumstances they stand in for, he creates a pathway that wasn’t the one history laid out.
Luke Willis Thompson’s practice creates situations where volatile meanings are suggested through gesture and encounter. The artist circumscribes a range of social, historical and political narratives that disrupt conventional ideas of being and spectatorship. Described as instances of tragedy or trauma, Thompson’s works confront the viewer with uneasy questions of ontology and the ideology of the public gaze. Working between collective imagination and material trace, the artist provokes incompatible ideas regarding actions and institutions. The winner of the 2014 Walter’s Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious art award, Thompson presented inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam, 2012, taking viewers by taxi to a home in Auckland’s gentrified suburbs. Thompson has served residencies in Frankfurt and Cambodia, and exhibited extensively throughout New Zealand.