Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Judith Neilson, 2016
Manuhiri (Travellers) is a large installation composed of found driftwood in the forms of living creatures. The numerous components are each individually captivating and intriguing. Lopsided and incomplete they have a feeling of vulnerability, but also a grace and power reminiscent of naïve or archaic sculpture and the spiritual resonance of votive offerings. Grouped together these sculptures have the symbolic significance of a medieval bestiary, a moral or allegorical compendium of real or imagined creatures.
Fiona Hall gathered all the pieces over time on the beach at Awanui, on the east coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The wood was washed down the Waiapu River and consists of both native and introduced species including manuka, kanuka, pine, poplar and others. Once surrounded by heavily forested land, the river is now highly degraded and modified having suffered from deforestation, extensive and serious erosion, chemical runoff, and the accumulation of silt due to development. In Maori waiapu means rushing water: wai means ‘water’ and apu ‘to cram into the mouth, gorge, glut, gobble up, wolf down’.
Hall has demonstrated an ongoing interest in the relation between nature and culture, and is known for layering meaning through crafting intricate works in unconventional materials. In presenting these numerous small pieces Hall is instead choosing to highlight the magnificent sculptural capacities of nature at work on its own material, as each individual creature is shaped by the growth patterns of trees and weathered by the elements. Poetic and paradoxical, these works represent both real plant and metaphorical animal forms and serve as ‘poignant vestiges of the environmental degradation that shaped them’.
 op. cit.
 Linda Michael (ed.), Fiona Hall: Wrong Way Time, Australia Council for the Arts, Piper Press, 2015, p.29.
 ‘Fiona Hall inaugurated new pavilion of Australia with 'Wrong Way Time”’, http://artdaily.com/news/78525/Artist-Fiona-Hall-inaugurates-new-pavilion-of-Australia-with—Wrong-Way-Time-#.V3M-QzdYmX0 (accessed June 2016).
I collected the driftwood from the beach at Awanui on Aotearoa New Zealand’s north east cape, where the waiapu river flows out to the sea. Storms and landslips bring fallen trees down from the forests upstream; years of intensive farming have caused large-scale erosion that is now silting up and reshaping the river at its mouth. When the waiapu (which means rushing water) finally reaches the sea its cargo of fallen timber is thrown back onto the beach by the tide, piled up like bones from a forest graveyard. Scattered among them you can find the creatures of the woods and water, travellers from a former forest life, reshaped by the ocean currents and now journeying to another life back in the world of the living.
Fiona Hall, ‘On Manuhiri (Travellers) 2014’, in Linda Michael (ed.), Fiona Hall: Wrong Way Time, Australia Council for the Arts, Piper Press, 2015, p.55.
Born 1953, Sydney. Lives and works Hobart
Fiona Hall works across a broad range of media including painting, photography, sculpture and installation, often employing forms of museological display. Her work has a strong material basis. Recurrent themes include globalisation, the relationships between ecology and economy, systems of classification and domestic order and other comparative structures. Hall studied painting at the National Art School, Sydney in the 1970s and came to prominence as a photographer, but has extended into media including sculpture, installation, moving image and garden design.
Hall represented Australia at the 2015 Venice Biennale with the installation Wrong Way Time. She has been included in many important solo, group exhibitions and biennales over the past two decades, including The Wrong Way Time, The National Gallery of Australia (2016); 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2014); Australia, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2013); dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, Germany (2012); Biennale of Sydney (2000 and 2010); The Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2009); DeOverkant/Downunder, Den Haag Sculpture 2007, Netherlands (2007); Prism: Contemporary Australian Art, Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo (2006); Fieldwork: Australian Art 1968–2002, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2002); and Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1997).
Major retrospectives of Hall’s work have been held by Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane and the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (both 2005). The survey exhibition Fiona Hall: Force Field held at the MCA, Sydney (2008), also toured to City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, New Zealand.
Hall’s work has been collected by all the major Australian state museums, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. She has also completed a number of important public commissions, including: Folly for Mrs Macquarie, Sydney Sculpture Walk, Botanic Gardens (2000); Fern Garden, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (1998); and Occupied Territory, commissioned for the opening of the Museum of Sydney (1995).Learn more