Luke Willis Thompson debuts new work in first major New Zealand solo exhibition

Internationally acclaimed London-based New Zealand artist Luke Willis Thompson will open his first major solo exhibition in this country tomorrow at Victoria University of Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery.

Luke Willis Thompson

The show, Luke Willis Thompson, will exhibit three of Thompson’s moving-image works, including a new film he made in Fiji in December as the Gallery’s Artist in Residence.

Each of the silent films picture their human subjects posing statically in front of the camera for three minutes. As the viewer reflects on the subject and their complex personal story, Thompson’s portraits provide a powerful commentary on racial and social injustice.

Gallery curator Stephen Cleland says Thompson’s subjects have complex and sobering personal histories—as detailed in the accompanying wall texts—that allude to real-life violence. “These cinematic portraits bring us face to face with those who’ve lost loved ones or who are linked to scenes of tragic conflict. On the surface, they’re very simple, but spending time with them opens up deeper levels.”

One of the films, autoportrait, features Diamond Reynolds who came to global attention after livestreaming on social media, the moment a Minnesota police officer shot and killed her boyfriend during a traffic stop.

autoportrait is the exact opposite to the footage that thrust Reynolds into the spotlight and changed her life. It’s shot on black and white 35mm film without sound or any hint of the drama that engulfed her.”

Thompson says he wanted to produce a ‘sister-image’ to the livestream video that would subvert the structure and logic of that original footage.

He says his works are an attempt to “find form for political silence”. And in an interview with United Kingdom news outlet The Guardian, said: “Diamond needed to be interpolated into cinematic history – the history of cinema owes black life something.”

Stephen says the filmic projections will be shown in near-total darkness to heighten the sobering and powerful effect of these silent representations.

Thompson’s new work, How Long? similarly documents human subjects who inherit the consequences of historical injustices.

This took the artist back to Fiji, where his father was born, to film four people whose identities are entwined in the history of Fiji’s engagement in international military combat. In doing so, Thompson indexes Fiji’s complex role, and its human consequences, in geopolitical scenarios from the 1970s to the present.

Gallery director Christina Barton says it is a privilege to have Thompson produce his latest work while the Gallery’s Artist in Residence.

“We’ve been watching his practice evolve through his exhibitions around the world. Our invitation to come to Wellington was a chance for him to realise a new work that brought him closer to his ancestral home, bringing the realities for Pacific peoples into the broader discussion of Black Lives Matter. This is important to us as a gallery located in the South Pacific.

“This show is a major presentation for the Gallery’s 2018 exhibition schedule and we are proud this is a key feature of this year’s visual arts programme of the New Zealand Festival,” she says.

The public is welcome to hear Thompson discuss his work at the Gallery on Saturday 24 February, 2–3pm.

Exhibition: Luke Willis Thompson
Opening night: Gallery opens 5.30pm, reception 6.30–8pm, Tuesday 20 February at the nearby Milk & Honey café

Exhibition dates: 21 February – 15 April 2018
Where: Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, Gate 3, Kelburn Parade, Wellington

Cost: Free