We are pleased that our project, The Rat & The Octopus, is the subject of an article in the May/June issue of Maui Now, written by David A.M. Goldberg for The Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Read the magazine article here – OnMaui_RatandOctopus_2016 …Or check it out below!
AGGROculture Collectives’s Dynamic Interpretation of
The Rat & The Octopus
by David A.M. Goldberg
The story of the Rat and the Octopus is known across the entirety of Polynesia, though as might be expected, the people of different island groups tune the tale differently. What all versions share is a core mechanic of Rat being adrift at sea and in need of rescue. Octopus decides to help Rat by giving him a ride to shore, bearing him on his head. Having reached safety, the mammal tells the cephalopod that he has left him a very special gift, one that could be said to come from within. Octopus is insulted and outraged, giving birth to a grudge and a hunting technique that lasts to this day.
The Big Island artist collective known as AGGROculture Collective will be retelling this tale at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery beginning June 6. This show will be the fruit of a relationship cultivated over the course of an open proposal period that represents the Schaefer Gallery’s long-standing commitment to helping artists real- ize their vision. The artists were encouraged to work at a scale and creative depth that takes advantage of the openness and flexibility of this museum quality gallery space.
The Collective’s two husband and wife teams, Sally Lundburg and Keith Tallett, Margo Ray and Scott Yoell will present a 21st century version of Rat and Octopus that explores the key ideas through painting, collage, sculpture and video installation. Visitors will not experience a new theatrical interpretation, or some computer-generated Disney/PIXAR update. Instead they will be expected to navigate an environment of differing moods, tempos, and tones that allow them to explore the spaces between the story’s key elements: violated trust, broken promises, the question of inherent nature, and the difficulty of assign- ing the role of “hero” or “villain” to either animal.
This multifaceted vision will elaborate on an initial foray into the tale that saw Yoell and Tallett updating Rat and Octopus (respectively) to speak to issues of development and exploitation in Hawai‘i, but by extension the entire planet. The new Rat is dressed in a lime green business suit covered in a repeating pattern of deal-making hands shaking and circular blooms of US hundred dollar bills. Octopus is more blue collar, dressed in a fluorescent orange jumpsuit that mixes the signs of construction, HAZMAT handling, and public safety.
In stills from the video AGGROculture is producing (as one element of the show) we see Rat at sea, shot from a drone’s-eye-view as he awaits rescue. We also see Octopus and Rat on shore together, often in ambiguous negotiations that not only raise questions about honesty, but gullibility and naiveté as well. In one compelling still, Octopus is stripped down to board shorts and is seen from behind, looking out to sea with a menacing splash of black ink–or is it Rat’s parting gift?–soaking his head and running down his back. Is Octopus scanning the horizon for his nemesis, or has he simply given up?
All four artists came together to produce, shoot, edit, direct and dress the video. When I asked why they didn’t settle on film as the means to retell this story the answer illustrated exactly the kind of multi- perspective they are interested in constructing together. Each artist in AGGROculture Collective has a vision of their own, drawing on their respective backgrounds in painting, photography, collage, and sculpture. Each is a careful and distinct observer of culture, and they are all sensitive to the diverse social and historic currents that flow to and from this archipelago. It is this shared, community-based vision (which echoes the sentiment that governs most styles of life here) that cannot be constrained by a film’s singular, linear narrative.
Instead they want to create a space of lures, darkened nooks (like those that octopus hide in), aesthetic atolls, and narrative lines that cross and lash together various ideas. Viewed one way, their installation will work like 101 Kept Promises, one of Margo Ray’s collages that brings together elements of photography and typesetting in the silhouette of what might be a giant rat. Just as their emerging video narrative is composed of disconnected but clearly related moments that loosely track the story, Ray’s collage brings together many of the wider issues that their modern reading of the tale provides.
The head of Ray’s “rat” looks like a prehistoric relative of a rhino, while the photographic samples of dogs, cheetahs, fish, and birds both structure and animate the body with symbols of speed, loyalty, cruelty. Sally Lundburg and Keith Tallett’s Tesselation series complements Ray’s approach as she fits geometric shapes together to create forms that might be maps viewed from above, or structural cross-sections. She explores Octopus’ ink, as a defensive, offensive and evasive maneuver, and though she works with more abstract aesthetics of color, gradient and form, it is easy to imagine her work dialoging with seascapes and costumes. Since those who listen to stories are expected to place themselves in the roles of the characters, in the photograph Rogue Apparition, Scott Yoell becomes Rat by wearing a transparent cast resin mask
that distorts both his visage and his vision.
In practical terms, the story explains why an octopus can be caught with the composite lure of shell, stone, fiber and wood or bone called leho he‘e in Hawai‘i: it wants revenge. But the lure probably only looks like a rat to a human familiar with the story, thereby making the actual object into a complex machine that translates a parable of character and honor into the concrete means of sustaining one’s life. What does the story say to us now that life is sustained by real es- tate deals, work that destroys the environment, and the crap that modern life leaves on our heads? This question is simpler today than when the story was first told, and AGGROculture Collective knows this.
Margo Ray’s collage includes text that reads “myths make reality more intelligible,” and communicates on a different level. Sometimes intelligibility is not a matter of making something more accessible, but of revealing its complexity. With Rat and Octopus presented as identifi- able characters, recombined sym- bols and interactive roles to play, the artists’ ambitious installation seeks to lure the viewer deeper into the tale’s ambiguity, offering to share in the rich intricacies and contradictions of its interpretation.