The artist's new work, Ongo mei he tapa fa (sounds from the four corners) is taking over the Atrium on Takutai for the City of Colour Festival.
JEREMY HANSEN Sione, could we start with you introducing yourself, and talking a bit about why you decided to become an artist?
SIONE FALETAU Yeah, I'll just introduce myself. My name is Sione Manu Finau Faletau. I am of Tongan descent, based here in South Auckland, Otara as an artist. And what led me to art was, I took it up in my seventh form year in high school as this recreational subject, something that I could go to and just kick back and do some drawings with my friends. But when it came down to choosing a pathway to University, I couldn't help but choose art. I thought it was going to be an easy subject, but it was something way out of the sphere that I was used to. It wasn't until I got to Elam [School of Art at the University of Auckland] that I delved into it a bit more, learning about art history and stuff like that.
JH Did you start with particular things you wanted to say or express, or have they evolved as you've gone through your studies and your practice?
SF I entered Elam as a painter. And then as my uni years progressed, I started dabbling in different disciplines of arts. I think it was in second year that I started getting into more video stuff, then progressed into performance, finished up my master's as a performance artist, started my PhD as a performance artist, and then finished as a digital artist. So, I went through these transformative periods, and where my art practice lies now is within this realm of sound and the digital sphere.
JH Was there a point where you felt confident that you'd made the right choice in going to art school, and that art was going to continue to offer you stimulation and interest as you went forward?
SF I think as I progressed with my art practice, I started gaining recognition and feeling confident, and I knew this was the pathway. I think when most people find their thing, they have this state of flow where things just come naturally. I like to work very quickly because my mind keeps ticking over and I'm continuously trying to push out things.
JH How do you sustain that state of flow? What do you do to feed your practice?
SF I research things that interest me. If I find something interesting with sound or within Tongan cultural practices, I'm going in that direction – these things that I just keep unlocking, so to speak. And I guess that's what sustains the creative drive and that state of flow.
JH You were born in New Zealand, but you have strong Tongan connections. Is part of your work about bringing those two strands together?
SF As you said, I was born here in New Zealand, but I have a really deep connection to Tonga. I think it's just that disconnect, being away from Tonga but yet, we still identify as being Tongan. For me, it's grabbing hold of those ropes that connect to my homeland in Tonga. And so, through researching and asking and talking with elders around Tongan things, I find a real connection to Tonga. I think it's just us identifying and being our own people, so to speak, within New Zealand.
JH As well as Ongo mei he tapa fa (sounds from the four corners), the work you’ve created in Britomart’s Atrium on Takutai, your work is featured up on Shortland Street at Gus Fisher Gallery in a video piece entitled Ongo Ongo. Can you talk a bit about each of those works?
SF Yeah, definitely. For the Gus Fisher show, I wanted to respond to the architecture and also the histories of the building. It was known as the television broadcasting building and was one of the first radio networking buildings as well. And so, working with sound, I see this encapsulating theme around the histories of the architecture and the building. And I was drawn to the bits and the little embellishments that were occurring in the Gus Fisher building: around the door frames, for example, there are patterns which are a reference to sound waves; there's this kind of repetition within the architecture of these patterns, and in that I saw links to my traditional Tongan culture, where tapa cloth has the same kind of repetition with these repeated geometric motifs.
I wanted to create a work that was site-specific, so I sat in Gus Fisher recording the ambient sound of the rooms and the daily activities that were happening. I extracted the audio wave spectrum from that recording, which gave me material that I could use to create traditional patterns in a digital form, using the markers I find within these recordings.
I did a similar thing for in the Atrium on Takutai and Takutai Square, recording sound from the four corners of the vicinity of where my panels now sit. I feel like it has its own spirit. In Britomart, there are old buildings and new, sleek architecture. I’m honouring those histories as well.
JH It’s interesting you mention past and future, because you’re also using this ancient form of tapa patterning but rendering it in a very futuristic way using digital technology.
SF Yeah, absolutely. I guess we're just playing with time and space. These are about traditional forms being created with contemporary means. I feel the same way with Britomart – there’s a lot of traditional things being made into contemporary things or a merge of the two. We have this hybrid kind of thing, and it's an interesting space. It's real.
JH Now you’ve finished your PhD, what are your plans for this year?
SF I'm looking to hopefully get into some teaching, but at the same time, I’m continuing with my art practice. I'm still trying to navigate the artist and the working life thing.
Sione Faletau's work is in Britomart's Atrium on Takutai and in Turning a page, starting a chapter, an exhibition at Gus Fisher Gallery, 72 Shortland Street. Britomart acknowledges the support of Gus Fisher Gallery in creating Sione's Britomart exhibition. The photographs in this post are by Joe Hockley.