If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back?

Artist John Vea questions the backbone of labour in Australia through comedic timing and talanoa (shared storytelling) in his latest show at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, until 15 December 2019.

Even though the title of the work had been chosen months in advance, serendipitously Vea was given a direct reference to contemporary Australian politics when Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, delivered a speech to business owners in Wagga Wagga on 16 August 2019. “They’ll [the people of the Pacific] continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit,” McCormack reported, “pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour, and we welcome them and we always will.”

John Vea, Section 69ZD Employment Relations Act 2000, 2019, participatory installation, commissioned by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Photo: Kai Wasikowski for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy the artist.

McCormack was discussing the Seasonal Worker Program, a temporary visa that enables citizens from across the pacific islands to work in agriculture for nine-months; New Zealand also has a similar program, the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer Limited Visa.

The framework of the exhibition comes from Vea’s extensive research into the ‘invisible workforce’ that powers New Zealand, what Vea calls an unequal balance of power, from the wider Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) perspective.

John Vea, Finish this week off and that’s it! 2014, five-channel video, 1:59:00. Photo: Kai Wasikowski for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy the artist

With humour and urgency, the artist balances conceptual art with politics of migration from the Pacific Islands. Co-commissioned by 4A and Performance Space, an iteration of the piece for Liveworks was ironically staged alongside the Carriageworks Farmers Market. Sitting within a stall, similar to the ones used throughout Pacific nations to entice people to join the Seasonal Employer Limited Visa, the artist gives away oranges.

John Vea, If you pick my fruit, will you put mine back [photo documentation] 2019, participatory installation commissioned by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and Performance Space. Photo: Kai Wasikowski for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy the artist.

Unlike the fruit and veg being sold next to the artwork, the oranges are stickered with the pickers’ minimum wage and visa stipulations. Vera shares, “I want to make the overlooked realities of everyday people visible through my art and offer a sometimes humorous and possibly powerful symbolic counterpoint to Western perspectives.” (https://www.boosted.org.nz/projects/cultivate)

At 4A, the exhibition continues, extending the performance into Vea’s first Australian solo show. The gallery hosts participatory installations, the artist’s ‘seasonal worker survival kit’ (2015-), and films, including the moving video created in response to the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami, projected onto a wall of cinder blocks.

Eat & Drink: Visitors can drop in for dim sum every day of the year at nearby Marigold or visit nearby Strawberry Hills Hotel for a cold beer in the rooftop courtyard.