We celebrated the arrival of the Year of the Pig in 2019 with a photographic project by James K. Lowe in Takutai Square.

In the same way that Chinese families put out living blooms in their homes at Chinese New Year, we brought Britomart’s Takutai Square to life with a display of elegant floral arrangements. Opening on Friday 1 February, New Zealand Chinese artist James K. Lowe celebrated Chinese New Year with The Noble Ones, a suite of beautiful images of Chinese plants – plum branches, orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums and peonies – displayed on large lightboxes.

Lowe’s choice of plants for this ethereal photographic series is a riff on the concept of the ‘Noble Four’, the four plants traditionally depicted as representatives of each of the seasons in ink paintings throughout Chinese art history: plum branches, orchids, bamboo and chrysanthemums. At Britomart, Lowe broadened the concept with the addition of an additional specimen, equally revered in Chinese culture: the peony. Lowe collaborated with Muck Floral’s Sophie Wolanski on the flower arrangements.

Just as important as the plant arrangements themselves are Lowe’s carefully calibrated backgrounds to the works. When presented as a series, the colour calibrations in the backgrounds of the sequence of images progress from dark to light, a reference to the dawning of the new year.

The lightboxes themselves were arranged in Takutai Square in a crescent that emulates the passage of the new moon through the sky on February 5, the first day of the Chinese New Year.

Creating the photographic series inspired Lowe, whose grandparents migrated to New Zealand from China’s Guangdong province, to explore his own Chinese heritage. His family has always celebrated Chinese New Year, but it was not until this project that he had actively looked into the origins of the festival or asked more about his ancestors’ journeys to Aotearoa. “I’m not as in touch with my culture as I should be,” he says, “but my research for this project has helped fill in some of the gaps about how my family came to live here”.

Lowe’s ‘The Noble Ones’ was on show from February 1-18, 2019. The works were also made into a series of free postcards available for free at retailers, bars and eateries throughout Britomart during Chinese New Year.