27 May 2023. Hunters & Collectors Gallery, Wellington
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan
Hunters & Collectors is a well-known vintage clothes shop in Wellington’s favourite inner city Cuba Street. Chrissie O, the proprietor, had the wit to instal a mezzanine gallery within the high stud of the heritage building so that small scale art exhibitions and related gatherings can take place there within the shop.
Chrissie was friend and flatmate of Douglas Wright, back in the 1980s when we were young—well, younger than we are now—so she jumped at the chance when her friend, photographer Tessa Ayling-Guhl, offered an exhibition of the photo-portraits she had made of Douglas in 2015, but had never before shown in public. Tessa selected six from her gallery of 75 images, to make a small and perfectly-formed exhibition, geist, which evoked the man and the dancer we knew and loved and miss. A video of Douglas’ poignant solo, Elegy, played silently and continuously in the space.
The opening of the exhibition attracted a buzz of people interested in the intersection of dance and visual arts. Several weeks later an invited audience came to the closing event of the exhibition. Björn Aslund, freelance dancer and member of Ballet Collective Aotearoa, choreographed geist dance, which he performed to Robert Oliver’s playing on bass viol of sarabandes by Marin Marais and Kellom Tomlinson.
Björn made a pavane-like entrance, then with a chair and a lily as props, paid respect to the now classic Elegy, but also featured in his own dance a wonderful theme and variations growing out of the music, with angles and snatches as though to grab at times past, then into curves and arcs and turns that became figures of eight and infinity signs, reaching to the ceiling, knocking on Heaven’s door …
In 1920s sculptor Richard Gross created a larger-than-life bronze statue of a male athlete at the entrance gates to the Auckland Domain. It has become a talisman image for Auckland, Douglas’ town, so it was a resonant moment when Björn standing on the chair moved into the same precarious arabesque the athlete holds, reaching out, almost losing his balance, as do we all sometime in life, but catching it again to the immense relief of every held breath in the room, his own included. This was heroic dance-making and Douglas would have been moved.
The address of Hunters & Collectors is Cuba Street, no. 134 … almost a sequence, but lacking the 2. E tū. In te reo Maori that means Stand up, Stand there, Stand your ground… so Björn and Robert did, as Douglas had done.
Jennifer Shennan, 29 May 2023
All photos: © Tessa Ayling-Guhl