23 November – 23 December, 2023

Two X chromosomes reach through millennia, delivering the realities and rigours of roughly half of humankind. A play on the doubled X chromosome and subversive of the glib evaluation of women’s ‘x factor’ we present the 3rd iteration of The XX Factor — 2016’s The XX Factor broadly focussed on the politics of identity and included international luminaries alongside local artists, while 2020’s The XX Factor 2.0 broadly focussed on existential themes in pandemic times. The XX Factor 3.0, broadly focussed on portraiture, shines a lens on the practices of nine local artists spanning three generations whose works engage with expanded notions of portraiture.

Staying true to the feminist adage that the personal is political, The XX Factor 3.0 combines portraiture’s biographical elements and historical-political implications so the localised yet expansive conduit of personal experience gives expression to this complex relation. With works bridging personal biography and social, cultural, and technological histories, the artists have utilized diverging technologies and embodied knowledge to both investigate their presents and to imagine possible futures. Realised in photography, moving image, archival documentary, sculpture and painting, this expanded consideration of what a portrait can be features representations of people and suggestive portraits of feelings, places, and states of being.

Installed at the heart of The XX Factor 3.0 is Stella Brennan’s significant new body of work, Thread Between Darkness and Light, included in her 2023 survey exhibition Ancestor Technologies at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi. Taking as its starting point a family archive of 120-year-old glass-plate photographic negatives, “the installation considers the ways we navigate the span of time and distance. Cracked, tarnished, and peeling in places, the negatives are marked by the traces of time’s passage. In scanning and printing these images – and the detritus of their surface damage – onto large-scale silk banners, Brennan shifts the materiality of these archival fragments, translating them into a physically navigable space.” [City Gallery Wellington].

Navigating time and distance, of relatively short duration but severe implications, was the subject of Heather Straka’s acclaimed Isolation Hotel series, installed at the Canterbury Museum in 2022 and three of which are presented here. With her characteristic wit and piercing insight, Straka positions her lone protagonists in carefully constructed film sets, portraying with a remarkable depth of feeling the alienation of isolation.

The interior rooms and domestic surroundings of Marie Shannon set another type of stage. The stories of home, the mundane objects of daily life, interactions with loved ones – senior artist Marie Shannon has mined these over and over across decades and is renowned for her capacity to transfigure the quotidian into moving portraits of love and life.

Similarly in the 2010 work by Nova Paul (Te Uri Ro Roi and Te Parawhau/Ngāpuhi), This is not Dying, we experience an intimate portrayal of quintessential life on her marae in Porotī.  A pointed declaration of the revitalization of te reo, whanau and tino rangatiratanga, Paul utilises a 1930’s three colour separation process that animates space and time to collapse the everyday with the ancestral. Acquired by Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki in 2020, the work was included in The earth looks upon us / Ko Papatūānuku te matua o te tangata at Adam Art Gallery Te Pataka Toi in 2018 and Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki in 2020-2022.

Archival photographs by veteran Gil Hanly and documentary film by Susan Leonard provide windows to the past with soulful portraits of creativity. Hanly’s images celebrate an ancient Pacific clay practice and its current revival and are included in the upcoming publication Ngā Kaihanga Uku: Māori Clay Artists by Baye Riddell and published by Te Papa Press, the first book to examine the origins and loss of this beautiful practice.

Award-winning film-maker Susan Leonard (Te Arawa, Rangitāne) delivers what is essentially a love song to the Māori whanau and remarkable individuals that sat behind the iconic NZ pottery in Crown Lynn: A Māori Story commissioned by Te Mangai Paho for Whaakata Māori television in 2022. Underscoring the deep responsibilities at play when telling the stories of others, this is a sensitive portrait that celebrates generations of cultures working together, enriching the backstory of an institution, and offering valuable insight into a slice of iconic local history.

Collapsing time and weaving the contemporary into indigenous mythology and political tropes, Whanganui based photographer Tia Ranginui (Ngāti Hine, Oneone) brings a light touch to weighty narratives inspired by her turangawaewae (home). Ranginui reimagines her intimate local knowledge of the Whanganui awa and the surrounding whenua into a contemporary folklore imaginary, revealing pūrākau (myth/legend) living amongst us now. [Tia Ranginui works presented courtesy of Laree Payne Gallery].

The XX Factor 3.0 also includes critical works that address the complexities of portraying personhood, by Julia Morison and Christine Webster, both acclaimed senior artists with prestigious international exhibition histories. Morison’s characteristically peculiar, unsettling forms of face and figure call attention to the personal and social afflictions of roles, communications, and capacities. The potent mystery of the personal has been relentlessly explored by Christine Webster working in different series spanning decades, the most recent being the Douglas Wright works, exhibited earlier in 2023. On view here is a selection of portraits from different series, reaching back to 1980’s works wresting the body in transformation, and later works equally emotionally charged while employing subtle photographic approaches.


All welcome to the programmed events for this exhibition:

Opening Preview – Thursday 23rd November 5-7pm

Panel Discussion – Saturday 2nd December 11am – bringing together art historian, writer and curator Christina Barton and curator Nina Dyer with gallery artists Heather Straka, Marie Shannon and Stella Brennan to discuss the shows themes and key works.

Artist Talk – Wednesday 6th December 6pm – between interdisciplinary art historian, curator and writer Dr. Su Ballard and gallery artist Stella Brennan.


    More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid, 2003
    installation view
    This is not Dying (film still), 2010
    I.L.Y.#2, 2005
    Future, 2020
    Whisper 2, 2019
    Threads Between Darkness and Light (installation view), 2023
    Thread Between Darkness and Light (detail), 2023

    The Rooms in the House, 2016
    Paap ki Pani Water of Sin, 2021
    Head[case]: 84 - Tenderness, Glazed porcelain, 2018
    Installation view
    Le Dossier 3 (iv), 2005
    Crown Lynn : A Māori Story, (installation view) 2022
    Video commissioned for public broadcast