The first three recipients of the Pasifika Arts Research Fellowships, 2012.
Fakaalofa atu! Talofa lava! Bula vinaka! Malo e Lelei! Taloha ni! Kia orana katoatoa! Kam na mauri!
Michael: Malo! how is your art exhibition going?
Janet: Malo — it’s going really well thanks.
When I was on residency at Massey I spent most of my time working in the foyer studio space. On one side, I had the pleasure of Mt. Victoria who greeted me with the morning sun, and on the other I had Michael. Each day I watched him digging the dirt and shifting it from one place to another and each day I noticed the sweat beads on his forehead. Sometimes he would take the back of his glove and wipe it across his head, then stop for a cigarette. Brown-end Taylor- mades. From the inside of the building I would look out the window to the place where he was digging and try to compare my work to his. I wondered if I was working as hard as he was so I tried my best to make my brain sweat too. I saw my father, my brothers, my uncles, and cousins but I noticed people walk by and not see him at all. Even in high visibility.
Blue is identified as a pigmentation phenomenon, which gives us a colour that identifies and surfaces the world. But blue is also said to be the seat of a sensation — the blues. Therefore, it is not only a colour but also a feeling. It is as if blue is something that can distinguish itself, from itself. In this way, blue is like a storm, which is a movement in itself, a ‘winding up’ that creates a point of stillness as its eye.
John Pule’s 15 poems on large paper, has this quality. They create a shifting alphabet of feeling that places ‘We’ the reader at the eye of the clamour of being. Take for instance the lines below:
from the ground
carry it as
If it were
With it by
enjoy the day
It is the impossible journey of 'We' as the returning of the dead. We are made to recover our shadowed being, the ancestors, the calling dead strewn on the floor. It asks us to quietly sit by the window of the day and contemplate the work of the soul that has just been traversed by its distanced self. The work here does not identify or surface a world for us. It causes a non-sequential and textured effect on the soul. Therefore, it stirs an atmospheric memory, like Gilles Deleuze’s 'lightning' that distinguishes itself from a black sky "as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it". Deleuze says of this queer becoming, that it is "as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be ground creating a cruel and monstrous struggle within our soul."
It is this feeling, a struggle, a blue sense that I enjoy in John Pule’s work. They recover more than a simple return of the dead. They also bring back something monstrous, an opposition to our becoming-ancestor as something that cannot distinguish itself from itself, but somehow continues to espouse that which divorces it.
My work deals with foreignness. The intricacies of identity are based on one’s positioning in relation to the pre-existing ‘Other.’ While at Massey foreignness became normalized as this was my first residency. Unsure of my role, what exactly it consisted of was lost in the grey matter. After all, what does it mean to reside within an institution I know nothing about, transplanted into a new environment where the operating system does not speak to mine?
Uncertainty is life.
The work I produced while on campus looks into how uncertainty, fear, shame, and guilt both moulds and forms identity. It interests me because it becomes the card played most often when trying to alter the behaviour of others: “your father would be rolling in his grave”, “you’re carrying our name, the family, the village.” Collective guilt also keeps the flock in line.
“Now do as you’re told Coco!”