Janet Lilo: the poetics of home

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Friday 28 September 2012
Zara Sigglekow

Gallery Guide Zara Sigglekow responds to Janet Lilo's work in Home AKL. Zara Sigglekow is a photographer with a developing interest in curatorial practice. She recently curated a contemporary photography exhibition, Presence in Absence, at Black Asterisk gallery.

Charles Baudelaire, the French art critic and poet, wrote in 1846:

‘The life in our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as through in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it.’

Janet Lilo’s video work Beneath the Radar in the current exhibition Home AKL brings to our attention to what we, according to Baudelaire, often pass by. The city and communities Lilo inhabits are artistically refigured and communicated in semi-documentary style.

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Janet Lilo, Beneath the Radar (scenes 1-3), 2012
video, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012
courtesy of the artist

Lilo focuses on her local urban Pacific community – seen, for example, in the hip-hop figures that grace the screen like graphics from a music video. Yet aspects of the work communicate a broader regional experience extending beyond her Pacific community. The volcanic cones that dot Auckland feature in and act as vantage points from which to film the expanse of suburbia and the city. Like earlier New Zealand Landscape artists, such as Rita Angus, characteristic geographical features (here of volcanic hills and suburbia) are highlighted and linked to our notions of local identity. This is enhanced by the symmetrical layout of the video: the pieces of landscape are mirrored reinforcing their visual prominence. Digitally altered fluorescent colours of sky and land, which change later to luminous blue tones with twinkling lights at dusk, add a sentimental and ‘marvelous‘ atmosphere. The steady flow of cars, another characteristic of Auckland, appear soothing, an impressive feat. 

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Janet Lilo, Beneath the Radar (scenes 10-12), 2012
video, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012
courtesy of the artist

Three months ago, on the same wall in the gallery sat John Fergusson’s work Dieppe, 14th July 1905: Night, as part of the Degas to Dalí exhibition. A group of fashionably attired folk stroll the streets in the city fireworks erupting in the night sky. This work was part of the avant-garde backlash (of which Baudelaire was part) of artists who found their inspiration and subjects from the city and landscape around them, rather than historical, literary or religious scenes. The painting is a record of time and fashions and reveals a particular beauty of the period. 

As I see it, Lilo continues the tradition of painters of modern life (the school to which Baudelaire and Fergusson can loosely be ascribed) albeit in the contemporary medium of video. Turning her eye to the city and communities around her, Lilo transforms what often seems banal, due to the everyday viewing of our city, into the marvelous, and reminds us of our unique place of home.

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Janet Lilo, Beneath the Radar (scenes 13-15), 2012
video, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012
courtesy of the artist