Exhibitions | Chris Charteris | Kotahitanga


5 April  - 4 May 2024

Festooning the gallery walls are his giant chains of stones - think of huge one, two or three strand necklaces of stones on a wall by sculptor Chris Charteris.

“I started my carving life as a traditional Maori carver.” I know that the architecture of a wharenui, or meeting house, relates to the human body, with constituent parts such as raparapa, tāhuhu and heke being understood as the houses’ fingers, backbone and ribs. Wharenui are entities with names, so if you apply a body-related concept of architecture to other sorts of buildings it’s quite natural, rather than outlandish, to festoon architectural space in a way that is similar to how we adorn ourselves.

Displayed on plinths are single massive stones which Chris describes each as “a perfect specimen”. These works bear a simple X mark carved and incised by Chris. The shape of the mark is significant. Some will see the mark and make associations with other X and cross symbols. But it is also the simplest mark and marking, the simplest possible intervention. Chris describes his practice as a “collaborative performance with nature” where he’s seeking to animate rock’s natural qualities with a minimal intervention. In the case of the single stones his incisions reveal, and make us look at, stone’s structure. With the wall works the individual stones are activated by each other and gravity, which transforms each length into a huge curve.

One role an artist may have in society is to make visible ideas and relationships, that many don’t see. Chris has titled the exhibition Kotahitanga which is usually understood to mean ‘unity’ or ‘solidarity’. Chris confides “rocks are part of my family” and maybe one sense of the title refers to his closeness to rock. Most of us don’t think about rocks 24/7, but Chris does, and we should thank him. Many of us adorn ourselves daily with rocks on fingers and around our necks. This close relationship is usually intimate in scale and sometimes hidden from others. Even though he’s wildly amping up the scale, Chris Charteris is doing something similar to what we’re already doing with rocks in our lives. But with great assurance he's inviting us to go bigger and bolder, to not just adorn ourselves but to adorn our lives. And to think about kotahitanga and how our lives might be more animated by and balanced with nature.

- Philip Clarke