Last Wednesday night, our Visual Arts Editor, Daphne, and Features Editor, Cameron, ventured to Mercury Plaza to check out the new art exhibition “Mercury Plaza: Origins + New Beginnings”. Mercury Plaza has been Auckland’s most prominent asian food hall since its opening in the 90s. This year, it will close its doors come October 31st to make way for the new City Rail Link Karangahape Road Station. “Mercury Plaza: Origins + New Beginnings” is an exhibition to “promote local chinese artists in an iconic and temporary space”.
Artist Qian-Ye Lin is a Fine Arts undergraduate at Elam. Other artists are varied from the Auckland arts scene. Exhibition Producers, artists Joni Lee and Jia Luo wanted to create a unique opportunity to creatively utilise areas of Mercury Plaza. The ramp area by New Gum Sam Supermarket and the large wall by the carpark entrance. The exhibition is a mix of contemporary graphic art, illustration, animation and paper mache; it’s a unique and modern exhibition. We recommend hitting it up in the evening and grabbing a bite from the food hall for dinner, savouring the time we have left with Mercury Plaza.
Craccum spoke to Jia Luo, producer artist for “Mercury Plaza: Origins + New Beginnings”
Tell me how the exhibition came about…
Our co-producer Joni Lee is a part-time piñata maker. He approached me with the idea of having artists decorate and fill some large scale paper mâché balls that he had made. We decided on Mercury Plaza as the exhibition venue because it was an accessible public space and has historic and cultural significance, especially for the Chinese migrant community in the area. To make the best use of the space, we expanded the scope of the exhibition to include wall art and video projections.
Is there a common background between artists?
We are exhibiting a diverse range of artists from different Chinese / mixed cultural backgrounds and creative professions. They have created very different artworks on a variety of subject matter based on their interpretation of the theme ‘origins and new beginnings’. All 14 of our artists identify as Chinese. Some are 1st generation migrants, others are 3rd or 5th generation. We have different Chinese ethnicities represented – including Han, Zhuang and Hakka. There are artists of mixed heritage too, e.g. Chinese, Maori, and Pakeha. Even though we are all Chinese, we are all very different people and have unique creative voices and interests.
In your own words, what is the main message of the exhibition?
Celebrating the decades-old cultural institution that is Mercury Plaza, and its importance to the wider community. Highlighting the involvement of Chinese in the local community and the friendships formed within the space through the decades. There is a wonderful bond between the people who work at Mercury Plaza and their customers too.
Fair and diverse representation of our individual selves, debunking the myth of the monolithic Chinese identity.
Public art – provide an alternative way to enjoy creativity, one that’s unexpected, catches people off guard in their day-to-day, and invites engagement without the obligation of having prior art knowledge or the money to pay for it. You can be switched on to view the art but you don’t have to be.
How did you get Mercury Plaza on board?
Joni had worked at New Gum Sarn supermarket while he was studying at the University of Auckland. When we pitched the idea to the owner, he was very enthusiastic about hosting our show at Mercury Plaza.
Is there anything else you’d like Craccum readers to know about the exhibition?
Common subject matter include food culture, identity, displacement, alienation and also celebration of our roots and wild imaginings of an alternative reality.
Mercury Plaza: Origins + New BeginningsSome artists have chosen to create reflectively, making their message about Mercury Plaza and the evolution of Chinese food in New Zealand while others have opted to focus on identity, cultural norms and displacement – in other words, the experience of the migrant ‘other’. There are also a number of artists who have taken a playful approach, aiming to delight and confuse as they convey their speculative imaginings through one of three available mediums – vinyl wall art, paper maché and video projection.