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Thomasin McKenzie Opens City Gallery’s Summer Season

Thomasin McKenzie opened our summer exhibitions on 29 November 2019 with the following words.

It is a great honour to be opening this wonderful group of summer exhibitions for the City Gallery Wellington. 

I have been coming to the City Gallery my whole life. Before my life, nearly thirty years ago, when my parents had just started dating each other, National Art Gallery director Luit Bieringa was opening a show here. Halfway through his speech he had to stop and call out, ‘Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt, would you stop talking please!’ They were busy carrying on their own conversation at the drinks table down the back of the gallery. They must have been very badly brought up. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for their behaviour. 

I think as Wellingtonians we are so lucky to have a great public gallery like this one which exposes us to new ways of seeing and feeling about the world. A gallery that encourages artists to be inspired by the space and lets their imagination run wild, and so lets our imaginations run wild too.

I was fortunate to have a sneak preview earlier in the week of these shows. I was even luckier to see some of the artists at work: carefully measuring lines, diamonds, and triangles on the wall to see where chance might sneak in; hoisting grids of cement-soaked rope to the ceiling and leaving abstract splatters on the wall.

It was inspiring to see these artists creating worlds with such care and flare. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own process as an actress. 

Over the past several years, I have lived through and participated in the creative process of a number of movies here and overseas. 

At the beginning, you have an initial idea of what everyone is setting out to create. But while you’re creating it, it becomes a whole new thing. And then, when you finally get to reflect on this creation and are able to hear other people’s reactions, you realise that it has taken on a life of its own. And your life has changed too! We are all shaped by the work we do. 

I was reminded of this when I met and talked to Isabella Loudon, one of the young artists showing here today. Her stunning displays of rope soaked in concrete create three-dimensional swirls and abstract flourishes in the air. 

This was the biggest space she has worked in so far. She said it was pretty nerve wracking and she had to trust her instincts because the work was different in reality from how she imagined it beforehand—just like making a film! I thought she was really brave, and I could identify with that scary process of bringing something—or in my case someone—to life. You’ve got to take a leap. 

I think that’s what good art does. It helps give us the courage to take a leap, to fly. I had that feeling in Steve Carr’s exhilarating video installation upstairs. I found myself walking through a dark room in a state of disorientation, guided only by silent explosions of light.

When I’m working overseas, my dad, mum and I often visit local art galleries, as we’ve found it’s a great way to get a sense of the country we’re in. When I was in Prague filming Jojo Rabbit, I visited galleries and went to concerts and theatre there so I could understand what it would be like for a sophisticated Jewish girl to suddenly have that rich and diverse cultural world stripped away from her as she ends up hiding away in a crawl space, not even able to gaze up at the sky. 

I think it is interesting that so much of the art in these shows here today is about touching the sky and facing the unknown. 

Good evening. Safe flying to you all. Happy unknowing. 

—Thomasin McKenzie

Actress Thomasin McKenzie is known for her work in the television series Shortland Street and Lucy Lewis Can’t Lose, and the films Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story, Leave No Trace, The King, and Jojo Rabbit.