I must shroud myself in a stinging nettle presents two major works by Ana Iti, tying together her artistic explorations of moving image, large-scale sculpture, and text. The exhibition presents Roharoha, a dual-channel video work alongside Shelters, a new sculptural work commissioned for this exhibition. Together, these works consider the notion of shelter in relation to the kahukura, a butterfly species endemic to Aotearoa. The ongaonga, a native stinging nettle, provides both food and shelter for the kahukura, which lays its eggs within the protection of the nettle’s poisonous leaves. The long stinging hairs of the ongaonga pose a threat to many species, including humans, but for the kahukura they offer a vital sanctuary. As caterpillars they crawl under the leaves of the ongaonga, rolling the edges around their bodies like a cape, or encasing themselves within its folds like a tent. The poisonous leaf is transformed, becoming a space for regeneration and renewal. Through her exploration of concepts of shrouding, enclosure and protection, Iti prompts us to think about shelter in terms that are relational and negotiated, reframing it as a conceptual or mutable space.
I must shroud myself in a stinging nettle is marked by a sequence of rhythms and temporal cycles, both human and non-human: the life cycle of the kahukura, the earth as it lies fallow and then fertile, the stitching together of the leaves of a book. These temporal cycles echo the pulsing rhythm of human creativity as it ebbs and flows. Written language forms a continuous thread throughout Iti’s practice and in this exhibition, she gestures repeatedly towards books. They are present in the form upon which Roharoha is projected, and in the manuscript cradle form referenced in Shelters. By positioning the leaves of a book in conversation with the leaves of the ongaonga, and the leaves of a butterfly’s wing, Iti invites us to reconsider the relationships between each of these forms.
Roharoha was commissioned by Gus Fisher Gallery, where it was first exhibited in the exhibition Turning a page, starting a chapter, 30 April – 9 July 2022.