The Naming of the Parts (the Auckland War Memorial Museum): A Natural History series
Born in Sydney in 1951, Auckland-based artist John Lyall became a New
Zealand resident in 1983 after a three-year period in the late 1970s working on
archaeological digs in the UK.
After studying sound and performance as part
of a Fine Arts degree at Sydney College of the
Arts in the early 1980s, he moved to Auckland
and became a secondary school teacher, often
recruiting pupils into his performances.
He completed an MFA in sculpture at Elam
in 1993 but with such a multi-disciplinary
background, Lyall continues to work in many
media. He has presented performances in the UK,
Japan, Australia and New Zealand, including at the
opening of the Aotea Centre, and his cyber opera
Requiem for Electronic Moa was presented at the
Auckland Sound/Culture Festival in 1999. But he is
perhaps best known for his exquisite, large-format
photographs featuring strange depictions of nature.
During a major renovation of the Auckland
War Memorial Museum’s animal displays in the
1990s, Lyall was given open access to document
this fascinating transition.
The stuffed contents of carefully constructed
pictorial narratives of natural history soon merged
into strange new ecologies, which Lyall captured
in his The Naming of the Parts series. Works from
this series were shown in “Bright Paradise”, the
inaugural Auckland Triennial (curated by present
Elam lecturer Allan Smith) in 2001 and later
that year one of the photographs was purchased
for The University of Auckland art collection.
Lyall’s interest in the bizarre ways nature can
become culture is also evident in a range of
books that bear his name. Putting Our Town on
the Map (1995), which inspired a set of postage
stamps and a TV documentary, focused on New
Zealand’s culture of giant roadside carrots, cows
and gumboots, and was co-authored with Dr
Claudia Bell (Sociology).
Although much of Lyall’s practice seems to
respond to the iconography of New Zealand,
and increasingly more exotic places, Australia still
features prominently in his work. Recent work
has used stuffed animals to re-enact the birdlife he
remembers from his mother’s back yard in Sydney.
Readers may have noticed Lyall working
in the window of Whitcoulls on Queen Street,
sharing the space with a menagerie of stuffed
pets of varied cultural origins as part of the AK07
Auckland Festival Windows project.