Sculptor Brett Graham (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura) and digital artist Rachael Rakena (Ngāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi) have collaborated on U.F.O.B., commissioned originally for the 2006 Sydney Biennale. Each with substantial careers of their own, their collaborative projects fuse together the concerns and aesthetics of their individual practices.
U.F.O.B. is comprised of a fleet of suspended wood and glass forms which hang suspended above the viewer. Reminiscent of ships, planes, canoes and spaceships, the fleet alludes to Polynesian migration stories as well as suggesting spacecraft or alien transporters descending from the heavens. The title itself is an acronym for both ‘unidentified flying object’ and ‘fresh off the boat’, a derogatory term highlighting island immigration history in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Through their ‘portholes’ we see, on embedded television screens, digital video loops of brown bodies absurdly wrapped in plastic carry-bags, floating surreally underwater. The scenario here is comical, a Pythonesque allegory of migrant ‘arrival’ stories or a sci-fi parody about encountering the ‘other’ with its rampant metaphorisation of the alien and the stranger: giants, gods, cannibals, spirits, savages... SPICs, WOPs and FOBs.
But if the work is about projecting the ‘other’, it is also about imagining the ‘self’ in the Pacific ‘contact zone’. The bags, we might recognize, are the kind typically used by Polynesians as luggage in their frequent air-crossings of the Pacific Ocean – part of the modern business of keeping up connections and relationships in the diaspora of the last few decades. Like cyberspace and digital media – like the Ocean itself once upon a time – the bags are a medium and symbol for this dispersed, expanded and mobile idea of contemporary Pacific identities.
Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena are two artists whose work has recently attempted to complicate the question of indigeneity in the Pacific. They have done this by allegorizing indigenous histories of migration or displacement to reflect conundrums of identification in the present. The artists have also explored the role of new technologies and media as vehicles for cultural expression.
– Peter Brunt
This text is an edited excerpt from Peter Brunt’s catalogue text in Charles Merewether (ed.), Zones of Contact: 2006 Biennale of Sydney, Sydney: Biennale of Sydney, 2006, p.122. Reproduced with kind permission of Peter Brunt.
The installation of U.F.O.B. has been kindly supported by Dick Smith Electronics, Pakuranga.