At PICA we recognise that we are situated within the unceded lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation. We pay our respects and offer our gratitude to Elders past and present, and to those emerging leaders in the community. We acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the importance of their care and continued connection to culture, community and Country.

Always was, always will be.

Our galleries are open today 12–5pm. Our exhibitions are always free.

Shannon Te Ao

what was or could be today (again)

what was or could be today (again)

Aotearoa New Zealand-based artist Shannon Te Ao is celebrated for his sensitive and poetic exploration of themes of love, language and indigeneity. Working across film, photography and performance, he creates richly layered works that speak to a sensibility wherein past and present co-exist and the social, political and philosophical are completely diffused. 

Te Ao’s single channel film what was or could be today (again) (2019) follows elite athlete Ngarama Milner-Olsen as she swims across Aotearoa’s largest body of water, Taupō-nui-a-tia (Lake Taupō). The film borrows its title from an inscription found on the reverse of the painting by Te Ao’s grandmother, depicting a small wetland reserve in the region surrounding Taupō-nui-a-tia that the artist’s family is closely tied to. 

Te Ao describes his filmic process as a performative ‘action’. This process gives ‘…a clear, not necessarily defined, visual reflection on what it means to live within a multiplicity.’ 

Linking together the stories of his grandmother and Milner-Olsen, Te Ao presents an exploration of place experienced through sensory and bodily memory. Te Ao says ‘I’m interested in how you carry things, not necessarily resolve things or erase things. You just kind of carry them, hold them, bear them.’ 

About the Artist

Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Wairangi, Te Pāpaka-a-Maui. 

Born in Sydney, Shannon Te Ao is an artist based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). His artistic work is employs video, photography and moving image installation, and he draws on a range of mostly existing literary material including Māori lyrical sources, such as whakataukī and waiata, as well as poetic and lyrical texts from popular culture. 

Te Ao has recently completed commissions for The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, QAGOMA, Brisbane (2022) and The 13th Gwangju Biennale: Minds Rising Spirits Turning (2022).  In 2021 Te Ao presented solo exhibitions at Remai Modern (Saskatoon and Te Uru (Auckland). In 2016 Te Ao was awarded The Walters Prize. 


Shannon Te Ao, what was or could be today (again), 2019, single channel video with sound, 11:38mins, cinematography/post-production: Iain Frengley, music: Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau, Fraser Walker, production: Michael Bridgman, James Tapsell-Kururangi, lyrics: Kurt Komene, image courtesy the artist