An exhibition courtesy of the Robert Heald Gallery

Aratoi’s current exhibition Hokey Pokey has been displayed with a sense of drama befitting the powerful collection of contemporary New Zealand works, brought to Wairarapa in association with the Robert  Heald Gallery in Wellington.
At one end of the North Gallery is Bill Hammond’s monumental painting Hokey Pokey. Spot-lit centrally in an otherwise empty, darkened space, it feels as if you are approaching an arcane altarpiece tableau. The gold background reminiscent of tapestries and Eastern artwork, sets off the half bird, half human creatures that have populated the artist’s work since his trip to the remote Auckland Islands in 1991: “I saw a New Zealand before there were men, women, dogs and possums. When you see it without the people, you know that the soulful, beautiful thing about New Zealand is the land.”

In this primordial imagined world, the creatures congregate, share goblets of wine, and enact various rituals in dignified harmony with their surroundings, untroubled by any imposters or predators. 
Hammond was also influenced by ornithologist Walter Buller’s book Buller’s Birds of New Zealand, published in the 1870s ostensibly as a record of soon to be extinct wildlife in these isles.
At the other end of the gallery is Brendon Wilkinson’s Ssssss, a painting that exudes a dark, malevolent presence that contrasts dramatically with the golden radiance of Hokey Pokey. Here, a tower of stacked faces and forms converge along a vertical central line like a nightmarish Rorschach ink blot. The artist, who is based in rural Wairarapa, also uses moth wings in the works here, in keeping with his exploration of sinister beauty, played out in many of his works.

Jae Hoon Lee is a New Zealand artist of Korean heritage, who is featured in the current Auckland Festival of Photography. Visitors may be familiar with his large scale work Hit the Wall which hung in the foyer area of the Dowse Art Museum. The artist creates ‘digitally rebuilt’ landscapes composed from multiple views of geographical, cloud and other forms. On first glance, they look like objective records but then you notice distortions like a shadowless tree or an abnormal symmetry that would never occur in nature. Hit the Wall is a landscape based on multiple views taken over a 30 minute timeframe in the Annapurna region in Nepal, and the artist’s Tomb images on show here are of fantastical gravity-defying ziggurats which are simultaneously convincing and preposterous structures.
Describing himself as a “cultural wanderer”, Lee has been collecting source images from New Zealand, Korea, Nepal and Antarctica, where he was a recent Arts Fellow: “I believe I am leading a nomadic existence through relocating myself between different cultural territories.”

Lastly, Peter Madden’s photographic collages are bewildering in their scale, intricacy and beauty of design. His main source materials are National Geographic magazines, books and encyclopaedias from which he cuts images with incredible precision: “Like an unlicensed eye surgeon ever so carefully, I cut along an edge of possibilities. The scalpel locates and dislocates, creating from this body of knowledge a poetic space, individualised and liberated from the frozen stillness of those pages.”
Several collage works here are built up from literally thousands of tiny cuttings, and the interplay of details and the shadows cast by these free mounted fragments creates a staggering feast for the eye. A series of smaller portraits are technically less complicated but arguably pack an even greater psychological punch. I kept returning to The Manipulator and The Secretary, portraits that hauntingly recall images of facial reconstruction patients from medical textbooks, and also seem to portray individuals flitting disturbingly between two genders, and multiple identities.
An exhibition with moments of rare beauty, that may also keep you up at night.

On show at Aratoi: Bill Hammond, Hokey Pokey (1998) and Contemporaries, until 4 August; King Street Artworks annual exhibition, until 24 June; Animal Safari - Look Out, until 23 June.