Vaimaila Urale

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Mov­ing seam­lessly be­tween ASCII and Samoan tat­too, the artist has in­vented a beau­ti­ful new lan­guage, writes Lana Lopesi.

Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist Vaimaila Urale is per­haps best known for her work within D.A.N.C.E Art Club, a four-piece col­lec­tive who use the “so­cial dy­namic as a creative plat­form”. In other words, they know how to make com­mu­ni­ties feel com­fort­able in galleries through DJ sets, food and par­ties. However, for 10 years, Urale has also been build­ing her solo ca­reer, ex­hibit­ing in cities across Aotearoa and abroad in­clud­ing Syd­ney, San Fran­cisco, Glas­gow, and in China. Urale seam­lessly moves be­tween two dif­fer­ent types of lan­guage, that of Samoan tat­too and ASCII, the Amer­i­can Stan­dard Code for In­for­ma­tion In­ter­change. She first used this un­likely com­bi­na­tion in 2011 dur­ing the cre­ation of ‘Type­face’, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jo­hann Nortje. ASCII was orig­i­nally used for send­ing and re­ceiv­ing mes­sages to tele­types at a time when com­put­ers only un­der­stood num­bers. Urale re­stricts her­self to the / \ > and < func­tions of the key­board, pro­duc­ing de­light­ful geo­met­ric con­fig­u­ra­tions that mir­ror the marks made through Samoan tat­too. The artist’s new lan­guage is dis­played within a vast spec­trum. Sculp­tures in clay with a black glaze and ASCII mark­ings im­pressed in gold are con­trasted by large-scale paint­ings on un­stretched can­vas with em­bold­ened colours. Urale’s as­tute jux­ta­po­si­tion be­tween a traditional Poly­ne­sian vis­ual lan­guage and con­tem­po­rary mark-mak­ing is so­phis­ti­cated and vivid, a wel­come stir up to Aotearoa’s cur­rent art of­fer­ings.

1. U’u Lima (2017). 2. ‘Poutasi’ (2017). 3. ‘Lepo’ (2017). 1

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