Magazine article Artforum International

Luke Willis Thompson: Hopkinson Mossman

Magazine article Artforum International

Luke Willis Thompson: Hopkinson Mossman

Article excerpt

Luke Willis Thompson

HOPKINSON MOSSMAN

The colonial period in the South Pacific may notionally be over, but its legacies are ever present, particularly in the way island nations struggle to survive in the global economy. Market forces well beyond the people's control shape the economic life of the islands--whether that means growing niche commodities like vanilla in Tonga or allowing ecologically destructive mining in Papua New Guinea. Luke Willis Thompson's Sucu Mate/Born Dead, 2016, offered a complicated picture of these intersections of colonialism, labor, death, and global trade. And it does so with a minimal gesture: a single line of nine anonymous and age-worn gravestones, taken from a colonial-era cemetery in Lautoka, Fiji, where indentured laborers from a nearby sugar plantation--many of them Chinese--had been buried.

The stones' potency as narrative objects is determined by whether viewers know they are in fact part of a wider project about the cemetery, aspects of which were concurrently presented at the Eighth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) in Brisbane. That the cemetery had been segregated along ethnic lines, for example, was a detail made clear at APT8 but not here. It was also relevant that Thompson had borrowed the stones for a fixed period, rather than permanently acquiring them. And there is the important detail that Thompson's father, who died in 2009, was Fijian. None of this was spelled out in the exhibition itself, emphasizing the confrontational ambiguity of the artist's practice. In 2014, Thompson won New Zealand's most important art award, the Walters Prize, with in this holeonthisisland where i am, 2012/2014: a taxi ride across Auckland to the artist's childhood home. Once there, visitors were left to explore on their own--without being explicitly told it was where Thompson had grown up and where his mother still lived (though Lauren Cornell addressed this in the Walters Prize catalogue). And in 2012, he made an untitled piece from three garage roller doors that had been vandalized by an Auckland teenager who was subsequently stabbed to death by their incensed owner. …

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