This year and next year, as the centenaries of battles and actions of the First World War arrive, New Zealand will remember the men who fought and fell in them. An exhibition now open at Te Manawa commemorates a different kind of New Zealander who went away to the war: our horses.
Cat Auburn’s The Horses Stayed Behind is a war memorial unlike any other. Across its five metre length, hundreds of rosettes create a striking visual effect. Each one was made from horsehair, donated by horse owners across the country.
The work can be interpreted as the viewer sees fit. Its horizontal arrangement can be seen as a subversion of the traditional upright war memorial, the softness of the linen and horsehair that comprise it a contrast to the more commonly used hard stone and bronze. Looked at from left to right, it could take the form of a piece of music, rising to a crescendo before falling away into quiet again.
Because each rosette is made of hair from an individual horse, and the donated hair frequently came with its own narrative – the story of an individual horse, or of a rider – The Horses Stayed Behind can also grow beyond simple cenotaph, into a celebration of New Zealand equestrian culture.
Accompanying the main work is an oud, a musical instrument common in music from the Middle East, where many New Zealand horses served. Auburn worked with a UK-based luthier to make it out of horsehair and native New Zealand timber.
Ten thousand horses left these shores during the war; only four came back. Remember them at The Horses Stayed Behind, open in the Gallery building at Te Manawa until 25 June.