Lara Strong­man

Simply You - - Heritage -

“Art is a time ma­chine,” says Dr Lara Strong­man, se­nior cu­ra­tor at Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Wai­whetu. “It gives you the abil­ity to look through the eyes of peo­ple of the past and new ways to frame how you see things to­day.” Hav­ing worked at a num­ber of gal­leries around the coun­try, and with a PhD on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pop­u­lar cul­ture and con­tem­po­rary New Zealand art, Strong­man is fas­ci­nated by the power gal­leries have to con­nect peo­ple and ideas. “There’s a con­tin­u­ous in­ter­change of ideas go­ing on. They re­ally are an en­gine room, I think, for the pro­duc­tion of new forms of cul­ture.”

From the vault of Christchurch Art Gallery’s con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tion, Strong­man has cu­rated Your Ho­tel Brain, bring­ing works out of stor­age to shed new light on them. Those fea­tured have one ob­vi­ous thing in com­mon: they’re all New Zealand artists who came to promi­nence in the 1990s and early 2000s, many hon­ing their craft in Christchurch.

Ask Strong­man about her favourite works in the ex­hi­bi­tion, and you’ll find an­other side to the story. They’re also all artists she first met when start­ing her ca­reer in Christchurch. “They’re artists whose work has ab­so­lutely in­formed the way I look at the world.”

Tony de Lau­tour’s five-me­tre-long paint­ing, Un­der­world 2, (pic­tured top right) re­flects our cur­rent cul­ture where ev­ery­thing is jostling for at­ten­tion in a dig­i­tal world, she says. “I think it’s an amaz­ing vis­ual metaphor for this mo­ment in his­tory.”

Shane Cot­ton’s Un­ti­tled (Head) 3-5 (pic­tured be­low right) is a mes­meris­ing work of re­flec­tion for her. “He’s con­flat­ing cus­tom­ary Maori prac­tices and his­to­ries with mod­ernist Euro­pean paint­ing; putting those things to­gether and trans­form­ing them into some­thing new that speaks of this place and the place of Aotearoa New Zealand in the wider world.”

Spot Strong­man on the gallery floor and she’ll likely be wear­ing “art­gallery black”. She’s fond of home­grown brands in­clud­ing He­len Cherry, Kow­tow and In­grid Starnes and sees jew­ellery as a chance to show­case lo­cal tal­ent such as Rangi Kipa, whose neck­lace she wore for this shoot.

As pas­sion­ate as she is about art, Strong­man has an­other “ob­ses­sion”: TV, which she re­ports on dur­ing a reg­u­lar slot on Ra­dio New Zealand. Her cur­rent rec­om­men­da­tions? The Cas­ke­teers and Dead­wood.

Strong­man of­ten does her view­ing re­search at home with hus­band Neil Sem­ple (projects man­ager at the gallery) and chil­dren Thomas

(14) and Lily (10). While their Strowan abode is still suf­fer­ing from earth­quake dam­age – “My home aes­thetic at the mo­ment is large cracks in the wall and peel­ing paint,” she jokes – her walls are still a source of plea­sure, lined with a col­lec­tion of works from artists she’s worked with and whose com­pany she’s en­joyed over the years – “old friends whose works are now old friends, too”.

This time it’s per­sonal – Lara Strong­man has close ties with every piece she’s se­lected for the new ex­hi­bi­tion Your Ho­tel Brain at Christchurch Art Gallery.

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