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Object: He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river

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Title He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river
Production Parekowhai, Michael (artist), 2011, Auckland
Medium summary Original Steinway grand piano (Model D), brass, added timber, cast and flat bar steel, resin, ivory, ebony, mother of pearl, paua and lacquer
Materials wood, ivory, brass, lacquer, steel, ebony, paua shell, resin, mother of pearl
Classification sculpture, grand pianos
Dimensions Approximate: 2130mm (Length) x 1670mm (Width)
Credit line Purchased 2011 with the assistance of the Friends of Te Papa
Registration number 2011-0046-1/A-N to N-N

'There is no object I could make … that could fill a room like sound can.'

Michael Parekowhai, 2011

He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river is the central work of Michael Parekowhai’s 2011 Venice Biennale installation. It is his sixth piano sculpture and took more than 10 years to create. 

Performance is key to the work, which aside from being a spectacular sculpture is also a perfectly tuned instrument – a Steinway concert grand piano. Parekowhai recounts hearing it played at its debut: ‘The object disappeared – the actual piano just kind of melted away.’

Many other ideas are also at play. The title refers to a 1920s New Zealand novel, which in turn inspired Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano. As Christchurch art curator Justin Paton has noted, Parekowhai ‘reverses the direction of these narratives’. No longer is ‘culture’ imported from Europe. In transforming the piano, Parekowhai shifts the perspective, boldly making New Zealand the source.

Paton asks: ‘Is it a European instrument decorated with Maori carving, or a Maori carving that has engulfed a piece of European high culture?’

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