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"what was or could be today (again)" 2019

Wall text

Wall text

Shannon Te Ao 

Born 1978, Sydney, Gadigal Country. 

Māori. Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Wairangi, Ngāti Te Rangiita, Pāpaka-a-Māui. 

Lives and works in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Pronouns: he/him

"what was or could be today (again)" 2019


one-channel black and white video with sound
11:38 minutes 


Courtesy of the artist and Coastal Signs, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Shannon Te Ao’s video work recalls and responds to the past, present and future, exploring the way in which deep time converges through fresh waters. Launching from the visuals of Te Ao’s grandmother’s painting of the same name, what was or could be today (again) centres on endurance athlete Ngarama Milner-Olsen swimming across the body of water Taupō-nui-a-Tia, located in the centre of Te Ika-a-Māui (Māui’s Fish or the North Island). A waiata—a Māori song that marks significant events—written by the artist in collaboration with Kurt Komene and performed by Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau guides Milner-Olsen across the lake.


what was or could be today (again) is a multifarious image of the artist and an expression of whakapapa (genealogy). Placing the stories of his grandmother, Milner-Olsen, and himself together, Te Ao unfolds how place, emotion and memory are experienced through different perspectives.


Accentuating the repetitive motions of swimming, Te Ao transforms the movements into a meditation and reverence to Ancestors. As Milner-Olsen propels herself across the water, her composed movements evoke the way memories resurface over time. Expanding on the idea of muscle memory, the love and care of Ancestors held in the body is displayed through action.


Cinematography/post production: Iain Frengley

Music: Te Awhina Kaiwai-Wanikau, Fraser Walker

Production: Michael Bridgman, James Tapsell-Kururangi

Lyrics: Kurt Komene


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