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.’