Words: Ioana Gordon-Smith
Any follower of Turumeke Harrington’s practice could be forgiven for forgetting that the artist is technically still in art school. In the last year alone, Harrington has presented solo exhibitions at Objectspace, Auckland; Corban Estate Art Centre, Auckland, and Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin. Together with Grace Ryder, she curated and made work for the exhibition Help Yourself at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, Wellington. Later this year, Harrington will present work in the group show Mischief Makers at Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua, as well as the milestone, iwi-led exhibition, Tauraka Toi, at Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
Born in Ōtautahi, Christchurch and based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington Harrington is a Kāi Tahu artist who predominantly creates large installations. Her work is often bright and bold, its colour palette emitting a sense of play and ease. Contributing to this is the familiarity of Harrington’s material choices. Playground equipment, PVC-covered foam, textiles, rope, lightbulbs and more are all recognisable.
Familiarity is often interpreted as accessibility in artspeak, but in Harrington’s hands, it might be better framed as integration. In her practice, Harrington draws on a range of knowledge systems, from Mātaranga Māori through to industrial design. This roving between disciplines and tikanga (rules or protocol) reflects concerns usually placed beyond the time-space of an exhibition. Core among these are how art can be made sustainably, how it can continue to live a life in homes beyond the gallery, how it can intrigue both adults and children – particularly her daughter and most cutting critic, Pia. Whakapapa (genealogy) and whanaungatanga (kinship) offer some guidance for these inquiries, while humour, play and bright colours signal that these queries can still be light. Harrington might have some serious questions about what it means to make art, but bright neon colours and pretty lights remind us that art and curiosity is still inherently fun.
Harrington’s take on serious fun is in high demand from galleries and museums across Aotearoa. Three of her upcoming commissions from regional galleries involve an element of playground-derived sculpture and installation. She’ll also be showing work at the Auckland Art Fair in 2022. Luckily, Harrington shows no signs of slowing down.
Featured image above: Turumeke Harrington, NETWORKING STAR (144 KURATEA), 2021. Acrylic and nylon, 80 x 70cm. Photo: Cheska Brown. Courtesy: the artist and Page Galleries, Wellington.
Featured image below: Turumeke Harrington, Whakamaharataka Hāwaniwani SLIPPERY MONUMENT, 2021. Tunnel and crash mats, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 99, January-March 2022.