The title of Fiona Pardington's latest exhibition at Starkwhite Queenstown, Te taha o te rangi, translates as “the edge of the heavens”.

Birds have long played an important role in Pardington’s photography. They take many roles in her work. For Māori birds could be a vital source of food and material for kahu huruhuru (feather cloaks), but they could also be messengers of the spirit world, communicating between atua and the mortal world. In Pardington’s work they can symbolise familial love, romantic attachment, ecological warnings, intimations of mortality, or symbols of individual people in her life. 

On a chance visit to the South Canterbury Museum in the port town of Timaru in 2023, Pardington was immediately enraptured by the museum’s collection of taxidermy native birds. The taxidermy collection comes from a variety of sources, some amateur, some professional, but most of an exceptional quality that grants the birds an expressive, but naturalistic, charisma. This led Pardington to adopt a new direction in her more familiar approach to her bird photography by focussing on the head as with human portraiture. 

Taxidermy is a strange thing, somewhere between love and death and fetish. Pardington recognised the appeal of the artifice of the way the birds at South Canterbury Museum are posed, the care with which they have been put together, and sometimes their being somewhat worse for wear, while avoiding cutesy anthropomorphism that might otherwise ruin the liminal ambiguity between nature and aesthetic. There is a kind of romantic melancholy to them, a warning – memento mori. Her photographs give them a second life, or perhaps an afterlife, that frees them from the constraints of being a passive object to stare at. 

Image: Fiona Pardington; My Tui Sings, South Canterbury Museum; He huia whakamoemoea, South Canterbury MuseumFiordland Crested Penguin, South Canterbury Museum, 2024.


Event Date

20 May 2024 to 01 June 2024

From: 11:00 AM to 05:00 PM

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Queenstown, 9300