Shannon Te Ao’s new multimedia installation is on display at Gladstone Court, on the historic Canongate in Edinburgh. It is one of four commissions for Edinburgh Art Festival 2017 based around the legacy and ideas of the Scottish social pioneer Sir Patrick Geddes. It explores the physical and emotional depths of love, grief, sickness and healing and is centred around video footage shot in different locations throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. The work explores a poetic assemblage of tenuously related content including a 1840s waiata, a dance scene that references a 1970s Charles Burnett film, a hemp farm, and a 1960s Clyde Otis song famously sung by Dinah Washington. By drawing together these various threads, Te Ao creates an entangled perspective of the human condition — a perspective that reaches out to connect estranged contexts in order to explore the potential for (our own) empathetic reach across distant histories.
Shannon Te Ao’s powerfully affecting video installations, sound works and live performances often find their starting point in existing literary material (particularly Māori lyrical sources found in whakataukī (Māori proverb) and waiata (Māori song)), which the artist uses as devices to explore various social and political contexts. His works also depict a fraught attempt to connect with places, people, plants and even animals. Te Ao's protagonists long for the clarity and optimistic aspirations like those found in Geddes’ philosophy of Work-Folk-Place but instead find uncertainty and complications.