Flags appear in many early colonial New Zealand paintings and the presence and flying of a flag was regarded with much more gravity and importance than it is now. In many of Wooller’s works, place names have been changed over time, and this is still happening, in many cases European place names reverting back to the original title given by Maori settlers of Aotearoa.
In Wooller’s new exhibition signage and flags appear as significant elements of the landscape, specifically in the paintings “Landmarks”, “Nature of Place”, Nature of Place II” and “Upstream”. Wooller states …”Living in New Zealand my sense of place is an important unifying presence in my life and culture. The signage and flag pieces are another way of seeing and reading the landscape but in a more literal fashion, its contours and history are in the very least neatly labelled and documented for posterity. Many names once had a meaningful value which unfortunately are now fogged in history or obscured due to a lack of familiarity with the Maori language”. Wooller has cleverly incorporated marine signal flags into several of his paintings to spell out titles such as “Nature of Place II” and “Upstream”.
Flag waving however has come under increasing scrutiny in New Zealand lately with a referendum proposing flag changes, new designs touted, and political aspirations becoming entangled in national ideology. This exhibition while referencing flags, colonisation, control, naming of places and land holdings which are in Wooller words “both evocative and provocative” highlights our sense of place and desire for identity. In so doing Wooller reaffirms our connection to the land, the names and the place he loves, Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Text: Warwick Henderson July 2017