Nick Austin, Ammon Ngakuru Many Happy Returns


Nick Austin, Ammon Ngakuru
Many Happy Returns
18 Oct –15 Nov 2018

Hopkinson Mossman is pleased to present Many Happy Returns, a two-person exhibition of new work by Nick Austin and Ammon Ngakuru.

“Many Happy Returns” is a common salutation, sometimes used as a more formal substitute for Happy Birthday, that expresses the hope that the happiness of the day will recur. It is also the title of a drawing by Nick Austin of a gift card, depicting the same card, that depicts the same card… en abyme. As title for this exhibition, Many Happy Returns engages the questions of value and exchange (particularly the exchange of meaning) at play in both Austin and Ngakuru’s practices, and sets the scene for the exhibition as an awkward, poorly attended party.

Austin’s subject matter is commonly drawn from the studio or home, often directly related to the artist’s work habits. Austin’s sustained interest in how abstract ideas of language and logic can manifest in innocuous subject matter has extended to fatherhood and family life; recent work has considered children’s book illustrations, allergy charts, fridge magnet poetry, and diet fads. Many Happy Returns includes a new series of paintings of gift wrapping, in this case Christmas wrapping paper, painted one-to-one scale, on stretchers imitative of moderately sized presents. Like Austin’s envelopes and cardboard boxes, the gift-wrapped present contains something hidden from view; it is the mystery of invisible contents that gives an otherwise benign object, in Austin’s words, a “metaphysical gravitas”.

Ammon Ngakuru’s assemblage sculptures and paintings are comprised of, or feature, a cast of ordinary materials; takeaway boxes, raisins, and in a work titled Hedging (2018), a branch of gorse inside a yellow PAK’nSAVE bag. The delicate and ephemeral quality to many of Ngakuru’s works recalls identity politics art of the 90s (perhaps most obviously Félix González-Torres) but ultimately employs these familiar tropes only to confound the viewer’s tendency (or desire) to interpret the work via easy recourse to the artist’s biographical details.

River Bathing (Mokau) (2018) is a painting of a man swimming in a river with a roughly photoshopped image of a river attached to one corner. The work references two stories told to the artist: one by a relative, a memory of a river on ancestral land, and the other a seemingly off-hand anecdote from his employer about how, when working as a travelling salesman in the 80s, he used to wash in rivers. By conflating two stories linked, tenuously, to the artist’s biography –one that can more easily be read as signficant, the other seemingly inane– Ngakuru wryly articulates the contradictions of identity formation in ever-shifting historical horizons.

Nick Austin (b. 1979) lives and works in Dunedin. Recent solo exhibitions include: Classroom Newsletter, Ankles, Sydney (2018); Paleo Apartments, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland (2017); Where sugar lives, Laurel Doody, Los Angeles (2015); Time’s Sieve, Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington (2014); Total Dread, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland (2013); The Liquid Dossier, Hocken Gallery, Dunedin (2013). Group exhibitions include: Ridiculous Sublime, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin (2016); Zero to Hero, with Patrick Lundberg, TBC Art inc., Melbourne (2016); Necessary Distraction: A Painting Show, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (2015); When shoe leaves foot, with Helen Maudsley, Westpace, Melbourne (2015); and New Revised Edition, City Gallery, Wellington (2013).

Ammon Ngakuru (b. 1993) graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from AUT in 2014 and is currently a completing his MFA at Elam School of Fine Arts. Recent exhibitions include: The Tomorrow People, Adam Art Gallery, Wellington (2017); A Shelter for Amnesic Relatives, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin, 2017 and Since 1984 – He aha te ahurea-rua?, ST PAUL St Gallery, Auckland, 2015.