When Te Papa Tongarewa opened at its current site in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington in 1998, its most memorable room was the one in which hung Maureen Lander’s installation, String Games (1998). The darkened space was lit up with a huge complex of neon-dipped string, braided rope and nylon fishing line, radiant under UV lights, as though a spider had dipped its feet in a glowworm’s goo and begun spinning luminous webs. String Games imagined at room scale the customary childhood pastime known to Māori as whare kēhua, or house of spirits, twisting and weaving its length of string into striking geometric forms around the gallery architecture, as would a player between their fingers. At its centre hung a neon-green box, a stand-in for Marcel Duchamp’s ‘La Boîte-en-valise’ (1935–1941), an edition of which is held in Te Papa’s collection.
Given the occasion for which it was made, String Games might seem like a wry wink from Lander at the then-new national institution with its stated mission to tell the story of Aotearoa New Zealand through a bicultural lens, its strings evoking an advanced laser security system protecting the museum’s crown jewel, tripped by an intruder. The critique is there, but funny; mostly, Lander conceived the project as a reflection of the technological continuum between mediums like string and computers, and their shared logics and languages: webs, networks, threads. From an artist who has continually innovated customary weaving, finding new uses, modes and spaces in which to employ its techniques, String Games is an assertion of the medium’s dynamism, in a world that is quick to assume obsolescence.
From early August, the work will be revived at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū for the first time since its conception, alongside documentation and components from Digital String Games II (2000), a collaboration with John Fairclough that grew from this initial work, and Wai o te Marama (2004), a work by Lander from the gallery’s own collection.