Spring Time is Heart-break
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū’s new exhibition Spring Time is Heart-break: Contemporary Art in Aotearoa takes its title from one of six poems written as memorials by Ursula Bethell after the death of her partner Effie Pollen. The couple’s relationship mirrored the seasonal changes in the garden they tended together during the decade that Bethell was writing poetry on Ngā Kohatu Whakarakaraka o Tamatea Pōkai Whenua, the Port Hills overlooking Ōtautahi Christchurch. For the poet, signs of spring became a bittersweet reminder of her lost love. Reading Bethell’s work today, her evocation of intense feelings and embeddedness with the land not only reflects the ethos of our present time, but also resonates with many of the works in the exhibition. Bethell claims that we are kin with the environment, foreshadowing ideas of human/non-human interconnectedness and echoing tangata whenua understandings of whakapapa to the whenua. Artist Aliyah Winter brought Bethell to our attention while she was conducting research for a new work; our choice of title was made to encompass seasons, temporality and emotion, as might be applied to contemporary practice in Aotearoa.
Writing on the virtues of filmic possibility, Susan Sontag identifies that “the distinctive cinematic unit is not the image, but the principle of connection between the images: the relation of a ‘shot’ to the one that preceded and the one that comes after.” It is this ability to manipulate the structure of film that makes the medium special; editing, Sontag proposes, is the reason for film to exist at all. The continuation or dissolution of one scene into the next constitutes the materiality of the moving image; it is defined by the seams where it also might be undone. As such, an artist’s choice to work with moving image comes from an appreciation of its distinct characteristics.
“Orpheus hesitated beside the black river. With so much to look forward to he looked back.”
I drive north through darkening skies. Dim headlights diffuse a blue pallor over the sinking plains and pooling wetlands that glow in dusk. The car bends the coast before turning inland to ascend the thicket of pine that cuts across the dark island. Forest hedging the summit accedes to widening de- pressions in the land. Its recesses withhold rubbled secrets of a past that appear and recede without warning. I am driving into October.
If Objects Could Walk, Where Would They Go?
In early 2023, I was fortunate enough to travel to Seoul and Gwangju, Korea. This was my first time visiting this eastern part of Asia – a continent I thought I knew quite well through shared cross-cultural histories, migrations, tourism, friends and relatives, literature and pop culture. The trip reminded me, however, that many countries in Asia are still almost completely closed-off, inaccessible or strictly controlled by their governing bodies. This intensified the unease I felt every time I boarded a plane to visit another country, returning to my birthplace in Thailand, or crossing the motu. It’s the mobility privilege; everywhere I go, I remember those who cannot leave.
Capturing the Airs
In the archive there is a stillness, an air of silence animated by the low hum of electronics: servers buzzing, computer screens flickering, wires, old analogue equipment. I load an audio file into a software program with a few clicks of the mouse. Its waveform unfurls on my screen, a horizontal axis of blue lines accentuated by vertical peaks and troughs, rendering the singing breath and its energetic highs and lows. I press play and ambient sounds flood the speakers. The magnetic tape hisses, jumps and crackles as it winds along, the swell of laughter, singing voices, traffic passing by – inflections of a bygone era. I’m transported to the memory of learning mā'ulu'ulu, a Tongan group dance, as a young girl. After church on Sundays, in the middle of winter, we would pack into the cold hall for rehearsal, kept warm by the movement of bodies swaying together.
Watch Your Tongue
I te tīmatanga ko te hiahia Mai i te hiahia ko te mahara
Mai i te mahara ko te whakaaro Ka puta ko te kupu e.
In the beginning was the desire From the desire came the remembrance
From the remembrance came the conscious thought From the conscious thought came the word.
Te Rā at Christchurch Art Gallery
On 8 July 2023, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū opened Te Rā: The Māori Sail to the public. The opening was a celebratory event to which manuhiri travelled from around Aotearoa, excited by the opportunity to view the only known customary Māori sail in existence. The development of the exhibition required the knowledge and skills of numerous experts from the Gallery team and elsewhere in Aotearoa, Australia and England. This photo-essay documents the work that went into the installation, and some of the people that made it happen.
Ka Oho te Taonga, Ka Oho te Tangata
In 2014, a team of University of Waikato researchers led by Linda Tuhiwai Smith CNZM travelled to Norway to present their research at the New Zealand Studies Association Conference, held at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo. The group included myself and Aroha Mitchell (researchers, artists and kairaranga), Rangi Mataamua (researcher and scholar of Māori astronomy) and Haki Tuaupiki (researcher, navigator/waka sailor).
Linda knew of my fascination with Te Rā and encouraged me to organise a visit to the British Museum while we were overseas. Emails flew back and forth between Aotearoa and London, and fortunately the times aligned and we arranged to spend two days at the museum documenting the construction of, and reflecting on the function of, this taonga.
Whenua is a Portal
Manawa mai tēnei i Ahuone mai
Manawa mai tēnei i whenuatia
Manawa mai tēnei he kapunga oneone
Tēnei te mauri
E whakaata mai nei e
Verses and Visions of Ship Nails and Tail Feathers
The ways that we curate history can make all the difference in the ways we value each other now. As I round the corner on a decade spent working in heritage and curatorial collection management, my beloved museum wrapped in its gothic stone cloak is under decant. It seems the tide is always high, and my mind needs to revel in the freedom of writing in a foreign tongue about that which matters to me. So here is a collection of verses and visions, data and drama about art and artefacts intended to counter what I would describe as the lingering monocular view of histories and heritage material.