The main focus is to see what is there and ask if we could join in
D.A.N.C.E is an Auckland based collective. Its members, Chris Fitzgerald, Ahilapalapa Rands, Linda. T and Vaimaila Urale formed the collective while they were studying at the AUT School of Art and Design. In response to the hierarchy of art school, the members responded by facilitating events where neutral spaces are created. This practice continued after art school and has developed into a considerable body of work. These works are largely events based, where people come together to share their time with each other over food and drinks, exchange stories and ideas and hold art installations, all as equals. D.A.N.C.E often highlight and respond to the dynamics that exist in the social and cultural context of the environment in question. Past get-togethers they have created included dance lessons, cooking demonstrations, house parties and speed dating.
Who’s Taller? You or Me?
One of the gatherings they organised that successfully responds to social hierarchies was the kava session at the Snake Pit gallery in 2012. Kava drinking has been a part of many cultures in the Pacific with many of the traditions involving ceremonial rituals and protocols which puts emphasis on the status of those who are present, namely chiefs, high priests, orators, commoners etc. Traditional kava ceremonies often occur when important issues need to be discussed and the event follows strict orders of proceedings
This is a contrast to modern Kava drinking which often consist of a small gathering of people, usually family and friends, sitting in a circle drinking kava and having a talanoa or korero with almost no emphasis on hierarchical status. Many Pacific cultures have kept their traditional kava ceremonies and rituals alive for significant occasions and although the modern day kava drinking has adopted some rituals from tradition, the two are very different in terms of the emphasis placed on the status among participants.
The kava session at the Snake Pit has elements of both. With a relatively large gathering, it almost takes the form of kava ceremonies that are more traditional where a large gathering is accompanied by strict protocols of seating arrangements and order of speaking, both stressing the social worth of the participants. While such emphasis of social prominence is important and significant in traditional ceremonies, it is virtually non-existent at Snake Pit as participants negotiated their own seating places with each other and everyone was given a turn to make a contribution to the talanoa. This bares some similarities to the works of Rirkrit Tiravanija involving the cooking and serving of food to viewers in a gallery space. Creating opportunities to gather in a gallery over food and drinks introduces social interaction into a place where typically such interactions would only occur during openings. However, in the case of the kava session, the nature of these interactions differs from that which occurs in an exhibition opening where often small circles of social interactions are formed. One could easily spend the entire hour or two at an opening without interacting with the majority of those present. Being part of the kava session ensures everyone’s presence was acknowledged and all had the opportunity to interact with everyone else. No social standing of any one person was emphasised but due to appropriating certain rituals from tradition and the given the size of the event, an aura of significance was equally bestowed upon all participants.
Where are We Hanging Out?
In 2010, D.A.N.C.E held a pool competition at the K’Rd Ball Room inviting everyone to come participate in some friendly competition in pool. The pool competition being the opportunity to create social interaction had a party atmosphere created by the availability of food, drinks, music and dance. Such atmosphere has become characteristic of many of D.A.N.C.E’s works.
Rather than the artist(s) perceiving a vision and materialising it for the viewer to re-perceive or experience, works of Relational Aesthetics revolve around viewer participation to bring the work into existence. When dealing with social engagements, the site which said engagements take place are contemplated and often considered as an integral part of the work. For instance the kava session could be seen to include those who may only have a limited relationship with or to an institution, to allow them to actively participate in the making of an artwork. This may give the institution the appearance that it is more inclusive than what it really is. The work is temporal and when it concludes, the site may return to its previous state, with all the inequities that may reside there. What may also happen is the potential for D.A.N.C.E’s works can change the perspective of those in charge. Acting as catalyst and rendering the nature of the institution to be more inclusive. The pool competition on the other hand brings art to a place not usually associated with creative practices. Thusly blurring the line between a work of art and a social event, which is very much part of D.A.N.C.E’s modus operandi. With the pool competition, the lack of serious formalities which existed in the kava session reflects the qualities that can be found at the site of the work (the pool hall). It’s a place for people to hang out, unwind and have fun with mates over a game.
In a contemporary society like ours, sense of time and attention span are often reduced due to advancements in technology and the competitive nature of our capitalist economy. In many cases, we have been conditioned to aim high with our goals while trampling on others on our way up and the time we have to spare is often spent consuming media. We tend to view others around us with suspicion and place minimum or zero effort into building bridges. For me, the works of D.A.N.CE serve as a reminder to slow down and to make opportunities for ourselves to share time and space with others and to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Jacky Wu, Daniel Blakeborough, Rochelle Fili, Seve Paeniu, Zayd, Jason, Totara Kalipatama, Pera Robinson and Lehi Guptill
The ‘Future Animators’ exhibition (18 October - 18 November 2013) at Te Tuhi Centre For The Arts in Pakuranga showcased the work of Manurewa High School’s Year 12 Interactive Media class.
The exhibition was the culmination of a year-long animation project in which students developed a conceptual design through to a completed animation. Students were presented with a brief specifying that they create a 3D animation that may develop into any outcome. The only proviso was that they based the spatial design on an aspect of Manurewa High School architecture. Students were introduced to Blender - an open-source software tool which is primarily used for 3D animation, Make-Human - a 3D Character generation application and Photoshop. Students utilised all three applications to complete the project.
The project was a joint collaboration between Te Tuhi, its staff and the students. Visits to Manurewa High School by Te Tuhi Educator Jeremy Leatinu’u got the ball rolling and created this opportunity for students to show their work to a wider community. The exhibition was the inaugural event in a long term partnership between Manurewa High School and Te Tuhi with further collaborations to follow.
On Saturday 24th of August 2013 the exhibition Puehu: Cultural Dust opened and gallery visitors were greeted with an all day performance by Tongan artist Kalisolaite ‘Uhila. The artist is dressed in a black shirt, sandals, hat and wrapped with tupenu. Standing in front of the gallery he is visible to visitors, pedestrians and vehicles driving along the main road. Grounded on top of existing pavement in front of the artist is a twenty-centimeter thick slab of concrete. On first sight the concrete appears chipped at the corners with two circular holes on the surface, suggesting that the concrete was transported there. The artist grips a relatively small steel shovel wrapped with black cloth and begins striking the concrete with the shovel blade.
The artist’s initial strikes chip the sides and corners of the concrete, clearing away debris with his feet as he goes. He continues to strike, working away at the concrete similar to a gardener turning soil. The sound of steel hitting the concrete, sometimes hard and sometimes soft, would rhythmically echo through the street like church bells.
Throughout the day people visit the gallery, to eat, to meet and to see art. For eight hours of a clear sunny day the artist continues to laboriously work away at the concrete, almost as if in search of something. Flesh grips steel, steel attempts to penetrate concrete. As morning becomes afternoon, signs of his efforts become more apparent with resulting debris increasing. A pronounced groove running along the centre suggests where the artist spent much of his energy and time. The performance ends with the artist briefly staring at the concrete, possibly out of exhaustion or in awe of the concrete slab remaining in one entire piece.
The performance Simavao translated as concrete jungle encompasses multiple meanings and metaphors that reflect physical and emotional experiences many Pacific people faced after migrating to Aotearoa New Zealand. For many Pacific migrants in the 1950-1980s it was a life changing decision to leave their homeland in search of improving their lives. The decision to migrate was encouraged by the New Zealand government at the time. Pacific migration would service labour shortage and the influx of migrants would help boost the country’s economy. However, many Pacific migrants soon realised, their decision to leave their homeland would affect their lives more than ever. Kalisolaite adds:
With second-hand suitcases full of hopes, dreams and white sand beaches, our parents and grandparents migrated to New Zealand in search of the land of milk and honey. With a vision of improving the lives of their families, migrants were met with an icy wind and a concrete-paved city
As the artist mentions, upon arrival to Aotearoa New Zealand many were met with a foreign landscape blanketed with concrete buildings, motorways, roads and paved footpaths. The feeling of cold, hard, segmented concrete under one’s feet would have been a new and almost alien experience compared with the warm, soft and expansive land of sand and earth many Pacific people grew up with in their homeland.
Concrete pathways, driveways and foundations for fencing divided land and people to private living and gave meaning to private property. I imagine this would be something many had to adapt with when you consider the nature of shared and open living of village communities in the Islands.
The comparison of landscape makes me think of my childhood memories. One in particular is of staying the weekend at an aunt’s house in Mangere, to hang out with cousins. As you enter the property you are met with a stretch of dense taro plants growing the length of the driveway. A short walk from the end of the driveway you enter the back yard. A concrete pathway from the wash house door to the clothesline leads you to more taro plants and tall banana trees along the back fence. Because the house was a rental property, my auntie’s garden was fairly tamed and confined. I believe if my aunty had it her way the garden would have ventured out further, resembling large cocoa plantations she and the rest of my father’s family grew up with in Samoa.
Along with the physical experience and encounter of a concrete landscape, Kalisolaite’s performance also reflects the emotional challenges of adapting to new systems and structures. The struggle of breaking through concrete as witnessed in the performance Simavao, reminds me of my father’s childhood struggle of learning English after emigrating here in 1971. Being enrolled in a new school, in a different country where everyone speaks a different language was like hitting a concrete wall. Needless to say, the priorities in achievement were varied in the classroom. At the top of the list for my father was understanding exactly what the teacher was saying and not so much addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. With the help of two Samoan children who immigrated a few years earlier, my father eventually understood what the teachers were saying.
Many who joined the workforce experienced similar challenges, such as my father’s siblings who worked on factory concrete floors and assembly lines after migrating here. Most of my father’s siblings were employed in this line of work for many years, some still are. For many Pacific migrant children this line of work maybe familiar, as it was for Tongan artist Salome Tanuvasa and her video work Expensive Movements. In this four-channel video Salome humbly portrays the hard work ethic of Pacific factory workers and hotel staff who also migrated here. What I am reminded of when seeing this work is not only the challenges described above, but also how this hard work ethic over many years has contributed to the solid foundation of this country’s economy. What is beyond inspirational is that this long contribution essentially derives from great commitment and dedication to those they work for - their family; to provide shelter for their parents, to ensure their family is fed and to help their children succeed in life.
As a son and grandson of Pacific migrant parents and grandparents, it is clear for me to see how such challenges and struggles would be as rigid, dense and almost impenetrable like concrete to overcome. And as the artist spent eight hours of laboriously working away without penetrating the concrete to his satisfaction, one thing becomes clearer. Overcoming such immense challenges and struggles either physically and emotionally were not achieved in one day, but over many years of commitment and dedication to loved ones.
The multiple meanings and metaphors I spoke of earlier, do not just come from the personal memories I have shared today, but rather the similar and diverse memories, challenges and struggles experienced and influenced by Pacific migration to Aotearoa New Zealand. The actions performed, the sounds created, the concrete confronted and the thoughtfulness of the artist in the performance of Simavao evoke powerful memories of a history of adaptation, challenge, struggle and inspirational commitment, dedication and achievement.
Flesh grips steel, steel continues to break concrete.
This video documents a performance by Wellington-based artist, Shannon Te Ao in the Anderson Bay caves at Dunedin. In the late nineteenth century, four separate groups of Māori political prisoners were held in these caves while they worked on the Anderson Bay causeway and other parts of the city’s infrastructure. Many of these prisoners died from a consumption and what descendants describe as “heart break.” This video specifically references prisoners associated with the Parihaka movement; the ‘ploughmen’ who were detained without trial for non-violent protests against land confiscation.
In his performance, Te Ao is preparing potatoes. This act is suggestive of a whakanoa ceremony; a ritual to remove the tapu (restricted or prohibited) state of the caves, enabling him to be there without danger to himself and his collaborator, Iain Frengley. The artists are also citing Te Whiti, one of the leaders of Parihaka, who is reported as saying “Kua maoa te taewa” meaning “the potato has been cooked.” This was a response to government correspondence concerning the allocation of Māori reserve land as part of the post-New Zealand Land Wars confiscation process. The saying was interpreted as meaning that the matter was ‘overcooked’ and beyond further discussion.
The actor’s blackened face is another historical reference to Parihaka, whose citizens were given to experimental fashion and adornment styles. Given the performative nature of this art work, however, the black face makes other cultural references. Specifically, the African American caricature in nineteenth century North American vaudeville or minstrel theatre – and now considered an offensive cultural stereotype used only in a satirical way.
Mātou is a Māori term for ‘us’ or ‘we’: Mātou mātou e being a declaration of identity by an exclusive group. The identity of this group is expressed with symbols of authority – flags and placards placed in different landscapes, which are both claims to and protests about land.
The nature of these claims is ambiguous as indicated by the changing symbols; a commentary on how cultural identity politics and protest is an integral part of a contemporary Māori psyche even though we may be uncertain about the subject of the grievance.
Simavao: Concrete Jungle was an all day endurance performance by Auckland-based, Tongan artist, Kalisolaite ‘Uhila (Ite). Starting at 9.30 am, Ite struck this slab with a professional stone masonry spade until 4 pm. These actions were an expression of frustration with the reality of Pacific migration to New Zealand. He said:
"With second hand suitcases full of hopes, dreams and white sand beaches our parents and grandparents migrated to New Zealand in search of the land of milk and honey. With a vision of improving the lives of their families, migrants were met with an icy wind and a concrete paved city. The performance aims to highlight the reality and frustration that came with adapting to these new surroundings.”
Ite took no breaks, refused food and first aid provisions from gallery staff but did accept water that was offered by a member of the public. He received a number of invitations to dinner as well. Many visitors to the gallery asked him directly about his purpose and he was pleased with this level of interaction. This is the sixth public site performance that he has conducted yet the first time that viewers had asked him directly about his art work.
The act of striking the concrete had melodic, rhythmic and percussive qualities. However, we received a number of noise complaints as well as objections to the subject of the performance. Some people felt that if Ite was frustrated with his experience of migration from Tonga, then he should just return to his homeland. While the artist moved to New Zealand when he was six, he is planning a return to Tonga at the end of this year and indicated this was one of his last New Zealand art works.
However, this attitude toward Ite’s art work is not that simple. In the 1950s and 60s the New Zealand government actively encouraged migration from the Pacific Islands for the express purpose of manual labour. This policy established large Pacific Island communities in New Zealand, specifically in Auckland and Wellington. These migration policies have had long term impacts on Pacific culture and development. In a recent study, it was found that most Pacific people are transcultural, New Zealand born and English is their first language.*
This idea of a transcultural contemporary Polynesian cultural identity is central to the theme of Puehu: Cultural Dust (till 20 October).
A new generation of Polynesian artists are using video and performance art to express their cultural identity in real terms.
Puehu: Cultural Dust is a group exhibition that explores this movement and describes a vision of contemporary Polynesian culture in Aotearoa New Zealand that complicates mainstream stereotypes. This tension is indicated by the title, Puehu, a reference to the whakatauki “tutu ana te puehu,” which describes an orator kicking up dust on the marae and metaphorically refers to provocative debate.
The artists in this exhibition are part of the Puehu whānau – an informal collective of artists linked by personal and professional relationships. They document their work on this blog, which was established by Rangituhia Hollis in 2010. Nicholas Galanin, an Alaskan artist of Tlingit/Aleut ancestry, is much respected by the Puehu whānau and was invited to present video work as a guest artist. His inclusion reminds us of the expansiveness of the Pacific and the other indigenous cultures who share these waters.
The Suter Curator
This exhibition is in partnership with Nelson City Council and the Nelson Arts Festival to promote tangata whenua and Pasifika arts and acknowledge these communities as part of the wider Nelson whānau.
Performance: Saturday 24 August, The Suter Courtyard
Simavao: Concrete Jungle
An all-day endurance performance by Kalisolaite ‘Uhila
Floortalk: Saturday 7 September 2 pm, The Suter Art Gallery
Exhibiting artists, Sarah Jane Parton and Shannon Te Ao
Nelson Arts Festival Masked Parade: Friday 18 October from 7 pm, Upper Trafalgar Street
D.A.N.C.E. Art Club and The Taylors present ‘Painter Kanohi’, a free interactive zone featuring face painting, DJ Linda T and a pop-up photo studio
Nelson Arts Festival Film Premiere: Saturday 19 October 6 pm, The Suter Cinema
D.A.N.C.E. Art Club and The Taylors present ‘Our Mums’: an original film that celebrates motherhood and explores ideas around long distance relationships, suburban histories and the transitions of cultural traditions as they are passed down through the generations.
After Party: Saturday 19 October from 8.30 pm, Founders Heritage Park
D.A.N.C.E. Art Club will host an after party at The Granary Festival café, Founders Park featuring DJ Hard Talk, Imogenius and Linda T.
This is Maua, Maua e - & there’s no beautiful harmonics heard singing ‘Tatou, Tatou e’ out here. You’re singing to yourself. & there’s no place for ‘he iwi tahi tatou’ bullshit here, never was. It’s us and them. This is the time of Maua - the ‘we but not you’ of impersonal pronouns. Actually there’s not much out here, nought but Annabelle and I hiding from view. It’s just us looking deep into where the pilgrims circled the wagons. We’d been trying to get there for years. Been waiting for a way to climb up from the last place we climbed to. But each step, each up step to places higher than before was met with the same gravity. Everyone, everywhere is tenuously balanced on the cusp of falling, or already fallen. We aint middle class but we’re practicing. Got the first step down, which is to fear that this life’ll all end with a thud! & another brown couple’ll hit the dirt. Brain says “Get back to your feet”. Rising I check to see if I left an impression in the earth. Brain says “You will always get back up, what else you gonna do”. So I stand and shake off of my clothes. Annabelle’s already up and running off into the horizon. A good time to get out if ever there was one. I take a deep breath and inhale the dust that’s been kicked up. Fine nebulas particles swirling round - the fluid stuff of universe making and carcinogenic tumor growing. Fine fine dust. I recline, to smoke the casing air of roadside seating. A deep inhale and I taste the chill on my tongue of those frozen out. Roll around those words of defeat in my mouth long enough that I might turn them into weapons. Out here what grows more and more the focus, of mind is the warmth of each other. & Why? Eh! Et!To cling thoughts to every bit of heat, makes its increase inevitable. Hell! It works for demons, works for fear, then why not basic needs - energy invested & expended - to keep the ever fleeting energy in & by will alone produce heat.
Mata Mata is a collaborative conceptual art project by Rangituhia Hollis and Vaimaila Urale
A video taken on a short visit to the Mangere Art Centre in 2012
"Our first goal was to bring into the open and into public use our own interpretations of the customary weapons of Maori and Pacific peoples. It was during our research phase that we largely saw the beauty and presence of the customary weapons in a museological settings where they were typically treated as rarified objects, either hidden in archives or displayed in situ behind glass.In a way the weapons seemed disconnected from the cultures that they were once essential participles of. So we wanted to engage communities not simply as viewers but as active participants in an experiential pursuit, where they could take up our ‘weapons’ and compete with one another."
Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
John 14:6 The BIBLE
These are the words printed on a billboard outside the window of my apartment. I’ve read the sign so many times that I know this excerpt from the bible by heart. At night, through the walls I often hear passersby reciting the text. While these are irregular events occurring days or weeks apart there is continuity evident in the delivery of the phrase, from person to person. The booming voice of each speaker suggests a unanimity that the voice of god would be deep and resonant. In pairs, glass sliding doors rise vertically to indicate the compartmental divisions between floors, faces, external balconies and hidden interior rooms. Thin facades such as these allow for the aural transmission of developing understandings between unseen identities to pass in at least in one direction. Deeper into the hub of the city, the Kenneth Myers Centre on Shortland Street has its own spatial relationship with sound. A two layer brick wall shell, forms a 56 centimeter barrier intended to cocoon the interior from outside noise. As a result identities both inside and outside the walls function without any indication or knowledge of each others movements. Years experiencing intrusive audio bleed between the interior and exterior walls of inner city apartments has contributed to my understanding of just how rare this form of dissociation is in the city. It was this soundproofing that also intrigued Artists Jeremy Leatinu’u and Kalisolaite ‘Uhila when they were approached to develop the exhibition More than we know for the Gus Fisher Gallery. In response to this spatial anomaly; site specific sound engagements became their foundation concept for the exhibition. A mutual starting point from where their works could develop. Put simply Kalisolaite will stand on top of the building to welcome the audience in the Tongan language, directing them inside. While in the gallery video documentation of Jeremy’s physical/sound engagements on the exterior of the building will be shown. Both artists’ performances are intended to use sound to breach the seemingly impenetrable walls of the building. While in previous works sound may have been a byproduct of both of their practices it has yet to have been the focus. Rather ‘Uhila and Leatinu’u typically choose to take on board strategies of resistance to inequities or differences - that either absorb or redirect the energies of a public to whom they are often outsiders. In practice they allow space for others to come to terms with such divisions in their own time, without ever stating these differences overtly. At the time that I write this it is notable that neither of these artists have spoken in their work. Jeremy and Kalisolaite are not without language, they are both apart of a much wider discourse, one that places primacy on the efficacy of the corporeal.