The maker of dreams - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
 Issue 192

Photo by Jennifer French

The maker of dreams by Alessia Belsito-Riera

Renowned Kiwi artist Reuben Paterson (Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe, Tūhourangi) is presenting his largest exhibition yet: The Only Dream Left. Spanning his 25 years of practice, the exhibition showcases painting, sculpture, installation, animation, and more, with new and lesser-known works displayed alongside celebrated pieces sourced from major public galleries across Aotearoa.

His signature use of glitter and “range of kaleidoscope colours” sit at the foundation of his fantastic oeuvre. Over his career, Paterson has continuously explored the relationship between bodies, desire, culture, spirituality, and sexuality, with a particular focus on the intersection of his queer identity and whakapapa. Consistently pushing the boundaries of art, you can explore Paterson’s “world-bending” practice until the 18th of June at City Gallery Wellington – Te Whare Toi.

I read that your work focuses on the dynamics of queer identity, and that it is also grounded in your whakapapa. How do you go about expressing both of these aspects of your identity?

I think the most obvious connection is that I use glitter as my material in paintings. Glitter has always carried a queer reference through drag and through celebration, but it also sways into craft and child’s play. Over these last 25 years, I’ve been very interested in discovering the deeper qualities of the material. And I reach deeply into whakapapa just based off the notion that glitter needs light to activate. At that core, I look at the light in Māori philosophical terms of presenting Te Ao Mārama, the separation of Ranginui and ­­­­Papatūānuku that brought light into our world and also brought a lot of gifts to humanity.

That was such a good question.

Thank you! I am really interested in intersectionality, so I like to ask others about it when it manifests in their work.

It thrills me to hear that because 10 years ago, these ideas weren’t necessarily allowed a voice. And I think that you acknowledging intersectionality is proof that now is the time that voices can finally be heard.

I agree. I think it’s important to acknowledge that space in between that doesn’t necessarily fit into one category or the other, because that is where beautiful artwork happens.

A lot of really beautiful things happen there. Because we get to experience expression across all forms.

Why have you decided to present your largest exhibition to date and what are you hoping to express with it?

This was curated by Aaron Lister from City Gallery Wellington and also by Karl Chitham, who is the director of the Dowse. It was more their vision than mine. I’ve really come around to the way they are presenting my practice as a series of encounters and as a series of relationships between works – and you might not necessarily know why they've been paired together. This, to me, is a very important element to show because we haven’t wanted to suggest answers but maybe elicit curiosity and questions. So, my hope would be that either the viewer responds to the surface only or is able to find a reply to the questions Aaron and Karl have posed within the show. I think that together we’ve curated really solid emotions that ground each room of the show.

Have you come up against any challenges in putting together an exhibition this large?

Every show comes with challenges. The exhibitions team is such a phenomenal group that any problem found a resolution and a lot of those resolutions came out of very unexpected places.

I’ve created a new sculptural work called Koro, which is showing for the first time at The Only Dream Left. Because it’s the first time it’s been shown, we weren’t sure of the best way to light it. I thought it would be from downlights on the ceiling, but it ended up having to be uplights underneath the work. This posed a huge set of issues because we couldn’t source the lighting that would reflect all of the light orbs and rainbows that caressed the walls from the work. The work is a very beautiful one to me as one of the layers is inspired by my grandfather Jack Paterson, who was a sand miner in Matatā in the Bay of Plenty where my father grew up. That sand was used in the building industry, which then made a really beautiful connection to Jack’s grandfather John Paterson, who built the town hall that sits directly opposite City Gallery Wellington in Civic Square. Being created from crushed shell, this sand made our cities look like cities made of shells. On the concept of that sand, the only way we could find to illuminate the shell ended up being this really bulky, large builder’s torch that a contractor had left at the gallery a year ago. But it was beautiful because the work starts out being about my grandfather and mining sand, about his grandfather as a builder, and then it got topped off with a contractor leaving his builder’s torch to illuminate the work. Everything just works out in this beautiful sense of its own whakapapa.

What was the inspiration behind the name of the exhibition, The Only Dream Left?

The Only Dream Left was a painting that I titled that Karl Chitham came across and although I wasn’t certain when we started curating the show, I have been thinking about moving to New York to pursue the dreams I know my art wants and requires to be the most of itself. So I think that the title of the show really signals the hard work put in until now and the new dreams that are left to conquer when I leave for America. It’s also the name of a song from one of my favourite New Zealand bands The Verlaines ­­­from their album Bird Dog, which actually just got rereleased at the same time as the opening.

Everything is coming together for you in this exhibition.

If you stay open, all these experiences pop up around you.

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