Elam graduate wins 2016 Walters Prize

03 October 2016
Shannon Te Ao, Two shoots that stretch far out (video still) 2013–14, HD video, single-channel, 13:22min, colour, stereo sound, courtesy of the artist and Robert Heald Gallery, Wellington.

Artist Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) has won the New Zealand’s largest contemporary art prize worth $50,000, with work described by the judge as ‘intriguing and moving’.

Shannon was awarded the prize for his pieces entitled  Two shoots that stretch far out, 2013–14, a single-channel, HD video work and Okea ururoatia (never say die), 2016, living plants, furniture and lights.

The artist, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours from Elam School of Fine Arts, joins an impressive list of University of Auckland staff and alumni who have previously won the prestigious award, including Luke Willis Thompson (2014), Kate Newby (2012), Dan Arps (2010), Peter Robinson (2008), et al. (2004) and Yvonne Todd (2002).

Doryun Chong, the Deputy Director of Hong Kong’s M+ museum, was this year’s international judge. He selected Shannon’s piece from a shortlist of works by four artists including Senior Lecturer Joyce Campbell from Elam, alumna Lisa Reihana, and Nathan Pohio.

Two shoots that stretch far out, 2013–14 (video still), was a single-channel video installation featuring the artist telling a traditional waiata (song) to a menagerie of animals, including geese, a swan, rabbit, chicken, a wallaby and a donkey. The work was first exhibited at the 2014 Sydney Biennale.

The waiata in the work is a woman’s lament of personal loss transformed into a poetic and ambiguous yearning. The title of the work is drawn from a whakatauki (proverb), standing as an analogy for relationships that are potentially flawed and growing distant. The whakatauki is also used to describe people's search for their own sense of belonging.

Shannon’s video traces the difficulty of meaningful connection with another being and promotes the continued use and relevance of traditional whakatauki/waiata as a means of processing and understanding the challenges of the present.

Chong says he was ‘intrigued, touched, and moved by Shannon’s art.’ ‘I would like to thank Shannon for helping me remember that a powerful work of art is sometimes created by an elegant formula of a simple gesture and repetitions. It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to announce him as the winner of the Walters Prize,’ says Chong.

The Walters Prize is awarded for an outstanding work of contemporary New Zealand art produced and exhibited in the past two years. The Prize was initiated to help create a greater understanding of contemporary art in New Zealand and to make contemporary art a more widely recognised, debated and prominent feature of the country’s cultural life.