The exhibition centres around how place is indexed by different visual codes. There’s a good

range to consider: a wall painting, a pair of diamond-oriented paintings, a series of five
canvases featuring text, and a publication with photographs by Brendan Kitto (who also grew up
in East Auckland). The wall painting harks back to Tongan ‘akau tau (war clubs) and their
distinctive pattern work. Because Work first encountered these as vectorised illustrations, the
forms have a minimalism that supports a graphic approach as well as symmetry. Here, Work’s
now iconic use of the warrior figure is mirrored thrice, fanning out from the centre. Beneath the
painting lies a mound of rocks, sourced from Ngāi Tai lands.

The paintings on canvas show a similar extrapolation of kupesi. Presented in a diamond
orientation, each painting is dissected into fields of colour, either as alternating triangles of red
and white, or more oblong diamond reminiscent of a seed pod motif. The swirling of acrylic
speaks seductively of its painterliness. They vacillate then between abstraction, recognisably
Polynesian patterns, and potentially specific meaning that depend on cultural knowledge to

If the larger paintings spin an evolving thread between customary Tongan art and contemporary
painting, the smaller works are less definite in their past trajectories. Five canvases feature
typography introduced into ngātu designs, here repurposed to point towards local
landmarks. The phrases identity locations in East Auckland by their perhaps lesser-known Māori
names, such as Te Wai Ō Taiki or Puke I Āki Rangi, which become the sites for a series of
pithily described events, such as becoming a man or graffiti dying. Though the exhibition is
overtly personal, these sentences never fully reveal whether the events are personal or
allegorical. In a similar manner, Brendan Kitto’s photographs in the publication portray
Auckland locations tinged with nostalgia. You can guess at the personal significance of various
buildings by their very inclusion, but their exact histories remain open-ended.

Though the exhibition blurb suggest that the show connects stories in the past to galvanise
those same connections in the present, the real strength of the show is in its engagement with
semiotics. The exhibition exudes a belief then that language - visual and lettered - can act as
conduits to a time and place. Work traverses mediums to consider how our markers act and
how much they can contain, moving not just backwards and forwards in time, but also across
suburbs and seas.

Ioana Gordon-Smith  2017.  Art New Zealand Magazine 
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