"Every corner is haunted, if not inhabited." - Gaston Bachelard.
Restored as New Zealand’s earliest working industrial site, Kororareka Russell’s Pompallier Mission is populated by the stories of those who haunt its corners. Told and retold by the guides who demonstrate 19th century tanning, printing and book binding processes, the tales of Roman Catholic missionaries, Tangata Whenua and European settlers who lived here conclude in the upstairs bindery. Even on the sunniest of days this North corner allows only the gentlest of daylight to cross its depth; to illumine simple objects, half-bound books and glue pots; and to play across the whitewashed rammed earth wall. The tour ended, visitors pass through a small museum that houses a collection of artifacts brought from Europe by the mission and a succession of families who made this their home in the later part of the century, before returning to the now restored gardens where their visit began. Popular 19th century cultivars, many of which can now be found wilding in corners of the Bay of Islands, flourish among the orchard’s fruit trees and the flower gardens are filled with colorful perennials planted in the ‘avant garde’ style of Victorian and Edwardian times.
A previous series of still life paintings completed in 2016 focused on the objects used in the printery. These humble props become, in a sense, saturated with collective memory through their service in the countless retelling of the stories for which the guides, and indeed the whole community of staff and volunteers who cherish the site and welcome visitors, have become Kaitiaki.
This new body of work emerged from a conversation, during a visit earlier this year, about the other stories also honored by those who have restored and now work to tend the garden - stories carried through time in the life of sun and soil, flower bud and fruit, and in the continual renewal of the seasons.
These pairings of story bearers, botanical elements from the garden in conversation with objects in the printery, are the first installment of a project that will track twelve monthly visits to the garden. Placed together in this upstairs corner, to which I inevitably return, both reflect, refract, and transform the light that traces the same gentle path it has followed for the past 180 years.
I find then that the artist’s familiar preoccupations with concerns of time, space, and light have become the cradle of memory and, once again, manakitanga enfolds me.
Peter Atkinson – six months in Pompallier mission garden
24 November – 20 December 2022
Prints of selected works from the exhibition will be available early 2023.