Date 1 February 2021 Words Dilohana Lekamge Imagery Supplied
Stills from Matilda Fraser’s film The Race Marches Forward on the Feet of Little Children, 2018.
Since being awarded the 2020 Summer Residency at Toi Pōneke, Matilda Fraser has been working out of a studio at the arts centre. The central space is taken up by two looms that Fraser is currently learning how to manoeuvre with the help of a mentor. Her interest in weaving originates from the history of the Luddites, a group of artisans who stormed textile mills and broke their machinery during the industrial revolution in protest after the loss of their jobs once the industry had become more automated and their labour was outsourced to less-skilled workers.
Fraser’s interest in labour, value and employment is scattered throughout her practice and is explored in a multitude of ways. In the exhibition His trunk for a hand, and his foot for a scythe at RM and Project Space in 2019 examined the life of Tom the elephant, a colonised creature forced to contribute to the quarrying of Mount Eden in the 1870s.
Tom’s story encapsulates Fraser’s fascination for uncovering prominent, yet largely overlooked, figures in our nation’s histories that have contributed greatly to how our country functions today. These characters are often closely linked geographically to Fraser’s living or working spaces and significant to her and her subjects.
She has centred projects on the controversial ideas of Sir Frederic Truby King, founder of the Plunket Society, who was an advocate for breastfeeding but also a strong believer in eugenics. Another moving-image work focused on the work of Samuel Parnell, a carpenter based in Petone, Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, who famously founded the eight-hour working day in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
The oeuvre of Fraser’s work is truly multidisciplinary. Film, photography, archival ephemera, laser cut MDF models and metal casting are just a few of the mediums she has incorporated into past exhibitions. With the help of technicians to guide her through these processes, Fraser’s interest in labour also extends to the creation of her artworks. She happily accepts the title of a jack of all trades, but the label of dilettante hardly applies to her. Her widespread knowledge of many creative forms in combination with her passion for research and history has formed a bountifully robust practice that is full of intrigue and depth, and creates portals to the past.
Still from Matilda Fraser’s film The Race Marches Forward on the Feet of Little Children, 2018.
Matilda Fraser, Poet No. 2, 2019. Photograph by Sam Hartnett.