Michael Parekowhai

Ed Brown

2000
C-type print, edition of 10
1070mm x 1265mm

Provenance

Acquired from Jonathan Smart Gallery, 2000.

Exhibitions

The Beverly Hills Gun Club, Jonathan Smart Gallery, July 4 – 29, 2000.

Literature

Michael Lett and Ryan Morre, eds. Michael Parekowhai. Auckland: Michael Lett Publishing, 2007.

Essay

This image is part of a series entitled The Beverly Hills Gun Club, which consists of a number of works involving taxidermy specimens of sparrows and rabbits. Some of t...

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Estimate $15,000 - $20,000
Achieved $19,837.50

Michael Parekowhai

Ed Brown

2000

C-type print, edition of 10

1070mm x 1265mm

Auction N˚1

Estimate $15,000 - $20,000

Achieved $19,837.50

Ed Brown

by Andrew Clark

This image is part of a series entitled The Beverly Hills Gun Club, which consists of a number of works involving taxidermy specimens of sparrows and rabbits. Some of these works take the form of close-up photographs of said specimens, all shot against the same vivid orange-red background. The crisp, immaculate nature of this photo, where each feather and glinting glass eye is captured in perfect focus, suggests an advertisement or magazine spread, as does the vividly coloured backdrop, with its sense of placeless, nervous energy. Adding to the aura of artificiality which surrounds the work is the fact that this is a photograph of another representation. The object depicted is not an animal, but a carefully prepared example of taxidermy, using the skin and feathers of a real creature to create a representative simulacrum of it, devoid of life or substance but retaining an appearance of vitality which is at once disturbing and oddly appealing. These are images which are thoroughly curated, chosen and presented as part of a coherent strategy, a completely mediated experience. But what exactly is being represented, and why?

The title of the series, as well as the title of each individual photograph, has a great deal of bearing on this question. As with many of Parekowhai’s works, language plays a key role in the encoding and decoding of meaning—the image itself is only a part of the puzzle. Each rabbit and sparrow photographed has been given a name: Elmer Keith, Ed Brown, Jimmy Rae, Larry Vickers, and Lou Lombardi. These are not the type of names associated with animals, but oddly specific human names, names which suggest something about their owners. The title of the series implies that these human-sounding animals are part of the eponymous club, a cadre of heavily armed creatures hailing from a location intimately associated with wealth and privilege. A small amount of internet research reveals that some of these names belong to people who could plausibly belong to such a club: Elmer Keith was the name of an American gun enthusiast who developed a new type of ammunition for revolvers, while Ed Brown appears to be the name of a firearms manufacturer, with a possible reference to Edwin Brown, a nineteenth-century English naturalist and taxidermy collector. Jimmy Rae is more opaque, possibly referring to either an American NFL player, a Scottish footballer, or the name of a song by Canadian singer Corey Hart, although none of these solutions seems completely satisfactory. Larry Vickers is an ex-US Army Delta Force operative who works in the firearms industry as a consultant, and Lou Lombardi is a television actor who played an FBI agent in The Sopranos.

There is an element of wry humour in ascribing these masculine, aggressive-sounding names to small, apparently inoffensive creatures such as rabbits and sparrows, more evocative of the anthropomorphic tales of Beatrix Potter than of gun-club patrons. However, in the context of New Zealand’s native ecosystem, species such as rabbits, sparrows, possums and deer may as well have come equipped with an arsenal of weaponry, for all the destruction their introduction has caused. These attractive, quirky portraits are equally readable as mugshots of aggressive invaders, simultaneously cataloguing their crimes and perhaps offering them a backhanded notoriety otherwise denied such lowly creatures.

Lastly, of course, the positioning of these European-sounding names behind the visages of invasive pest species speaks eloquently about the colonial history of New Zealand, a topic itself buried beneath layers of guilt, political narrative, wilful ignorance and historical revisionism. Parekowhai offers a reminder that the British colonial project was a multifaceted, aggressive operation, seeking to elide or eradicate both the people and the ecology of colonised places. The ubiquity of introduced species such as rabbits and sparrows, and the extent to which they are considered normal, almost invisible parts of New Zealand’s landscape, shows how pervasive colonialism is as an ecological and cultural force. The reference to Beverly Hills adds an additional layer of meaning to the work, suggesting that the multinational nature of American popular culture represents itself a further wave of colonisation.