“In Kaan’s recent work, the surface is cut more deeply, formal challenges more complex, while the performance pieces are more directly political. Kaan’s work is truly that of a mid-career artist, who has forged a durable practice in the nomination of a set of elements that will always require renegotiation.” – Bridie Lonie, Art New Zealand
Art’s agency within cultural revival is central to Kaan’s understanding of his position as an artist. Kaan possesses a refined visual language developed over decades, intrinsically tied to his sense of personal genealogy being of Ngai Tahu and Chinese descent. His practice considers the implications of the intermingling of the Kai Tahu and Chinese elements of his heritage, through iconography and processes of making. In a practice that includes painting, printmaking and performance, Kaan is concerned with identity, and with the physical and metaphysical notions of space and time.
Kaan describes his work as biological landscape, referencing the idea of whenua(land) as including notions of place, belonging and responsibility. These ideas are communicated through mythological sites of land, sea and sky, divided with enigmatic bands and divisions which contribute to the works’ meditative rhythm. Kaan’s horizontally divided compositions speak of disconnection and reconnection; the partitions also resemble layers of wood complete with grain and knots, suggestive of boxes or pallets and signifying vehicles, vessels, passage and production.
Kaan’s restricted colours suggest lowlight and emphasis the distinctions between light and dark. Evoking night, otherness is endemic in the work. The sea is always present, unnaturally calm; a vehicle rather than a dynamic force.
Kaan condenses his cultural iconography as drifting elements, which are incised and carved into the works’ surface. Floating waka forms appear on Kaan’s water-like fields; moths and horizons suggest night skies; atoll-like striated queues fold and unfold. These elements sometimes rise from the division points in Kaan’s horizontal partitions, or else rest obscurely on the striated bands themselves; these become both the surface and the ground. Their negative relief anchors them inherently in their often ambiguous locations within the composition of the works.
Kaan’s work presents a duality resultant of his complex consideration of cultural identity. Questions of compositions, repetition, the use of the vertical and horizontal, the notion of balance and harmony; all indicate Kaan’s concern with Chinese thought. Conversely, reflection on Ngai Tahu cosmology is evident in the vital waka form; representing the importance of sea navigation and the cultural weight of whenua, the sense of belonging to and having responsibility for the land.
*** NOTE Sian Torrington, 'There's no way over, only through' is shown concurrently in our courtyard gallery. View Sian Torrington's show here (under our PROJECTS link). The show dates are 16th - 31st March.
View exhibition »