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Shannon Te Ao: Questionnaire

Like many museums around the world, Remai Modern has closed as part of a broad response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although our program has been suspended, artists remain at the forefront of our thoughts. The museum has reached out to artists involved in our programming to gather their perspectives on the experience of these unprecedented times.

Shannon Te Ao

Tuesday, May 5, 2020. 1:28:34 AM 

1. Where are you? What can you tell us about your current living situation, or the conditions in your neighbourhood/city?

Myself and my family live in the central suburbs of Wellington Aoteaeroa New Zealand. Effectively this is week 8 of our lockdown. We are currently at alert level 3 which means that our movements are still severely restricted. Our living situation means that our bubble is shared with another family. Eight people in total. We are all juggling homeschool at different levels, work responsibilities—I teach.

2.    How are you continuing your practice during this time?

Things are a juggle for us at the moment, to say the least. During the day, the kids homeschooling tends to take priority, which also requires focus and support from us (my wife and I). I’m trying to allow myself some amnesty on projects where possible. I have still been able to progress a number of installations and some accompanying writing. Progress of projects take place at snail’s pace. I’m doing some video-editing for upcoming exhibitions at Remai Modern and a small number of exhibitions taking place later in the year.

3. What things or ideas are you finding comfort in right now?  

Music and food have played a big part in my own self-care during lockdown. Dinner preparations seem to begin earlier each day. I’ve been making a lot of things from scratch—more than normal. Noodles, bread and treats like donuts. Here we have a local version of fried bread—essentially hole-less donuts that can be dressed to suit sweet or savoury tastes. I think I am turning into a donut.

Musically, I’ve been listening to an eclectic mix. New and old. A bunch of genres. Not unlike my usual listening habits although, listening feels like more of a shared event within our household at the moment: Ryuchi Sakamoto, Aldous Harding, Roland S. Howard, Mile Davis’s Bitches Brew, Don’t DJ; Hillary Woods.

4. What artworks, music, books, or films have been in your mind during this time?  

I’ve read Franco Berardi’s Breathing during lockdown. The more I read of his work, the more compelled I am by his summation of the time we are in. I can’t say it’s necessarily uplifting reading, but the central concerns of his inquiry resonate with many of the ideas I explore in own work. Human sensibility at the cross-section of language and physicality. Even more timely—his Diary of psycho-deflation

5. What are you letting go of? What are you holding on to? 

I’m trying to let go of expectation. Being too fixed on anything feels like a risk.

6. What are you looking forward to?   

Kissing my friends again.


Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is based in Wellington, New Zealand, where he teaches at Whiti o Rehua School of Art at Massey University. Te Ao’s moving image installations explore time, language, land and relations, and have drawn from a range existing literary material including Māori lyrical sources found in whakataukī (Māori proverb) and waiata (Māori song). 

His newest installation, Ka mua, Ka muri, will be on view at Remai Modern when the museum re-opens to the public. The work was co-commissioned by Remai Modern and Oakville Galleries, with support from Creative New Zealand. Te Ao’s work will also be featured in the upcoming Gwangju Biennale, South Korea and Kino Der Kunst Festival in Munich, Germany.