This week we've been installing a new collection exhibition, Your Hotel Brain. It replaces curator Ken Hall's elegant meditation on architecture and memory, Above Ground, in the contemporary collection galleries.
I borrowed the title of the exhibition from Don de Lillo's epic novel of the 1990s, Underworld, inspired by Tony de Lautour's five-metre long painting, Underworld 2. It refers to the way that countless images and pieces of information float through your mind without context, everything equivalent, everything happening all at once, and each clamouring for attention. Some things pass through quickly and are never seen again; others check in for a long stay.
I thought that the 'hotel brain' could be a useful metaphor for the way that information is all too often detached from its context in the digital age, and might also gesture towards the atomisation of history that first began to be registered in the 1990s.
Your Hotel Brain brings together some key works from the contemporary collection. It focuses on the cohort of New Zealand artists who came to national—and in some cases international—prominence in the 90s. The earliest work in the exhibition is Margaret Dawson's photograph Marg H.L. Persona (1987); the most recent work is Fiona Pardington's Believe (2015). Identity politics, unreliable autobiographies and interest in a broad spectrum of visual culture—in which Black Sabbath’s music, prison tattoos and NZ's no-smoking legislation are as likely to be a source for making art as anything else—are common themes among the works.
While several works are new acquisitions that are being exhibited at the Gallery for the first time, others feel like old friends. And one work is both at once. We acquired Bill Hammond's Volcano Flag (1994) last year. It hung at Lyttelton’s Volcano Café (later the Lava Bar) for about fifteen years until the building was demolished following the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010–11. It's an important work both in national art history, and local social history.