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When Discourse is Only about Discourse

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Jeremy Leatinu'u, Queen Victoria, 2013

Perhaps it's time to stop back patting and generate discourse that is generative and inclusive, not theoretical. 'Since 1984: He aha te ahurea-rua?' enters this unresolved art discourse around community and engagement, making little effort to connect. Maybe I'm scornful because I feel left out. But a closed wānanga mimics almost exactly the privileged feeding of New York bourgeoisie by Rirkrit Tiravanija.




Waikare Komene, Johnson Witehira, Tanya Ruka, Rik Wilson, Elisapeta Heta, Sarah Hudson, Will Ngakuru, Ammon Ngakuru, Rangituhia Hollis, Jeremy Leatinu’u
Since 1984: He aha te ahurea-rua?
Curated by Martin Awa Clarke Langdon


17 April - 22 May 2015

Curator Martin Langdon sets up a couple of great paths of interrogation in Since 1984: He aha te ahurea-rua?, asking what is biculturalism and what are the effects of institutional biculturalism? Consequently the exhibition can be defined as two parts: works in the space, and a wānanga.

In the space artists explore wide viewpoints on ‘institutionalised biculuturalism’, spanning the school yard to national monumentism and crossing from installation to new media. Yet they all feel complimentary to the pallet podium in the corner holding the gallery space for Elisapeta Heta’s Noho Symposium.

Elisapeta Heta’s wānanga was a work that unfortunately I was not privileged to experience - nor were many others. The exhibition synopsis states “Heta’s work will provide the occasion for a full weekend of korero among invited participants”, but what a tease. The shared experience of the wānanga seemed to be based on ideas of whakawhanaungatanga (or the action of relating to others), manaakitanga (hospitality, kindness, generosity) and korero. As an outsider it’s hard to guess what the actual korero that occurred that weekend was about, other than conceptually being interested in discourse itself.

The wānanga’s focus on indigenous ideas of engagement and conversation aligns with relational contemporary art spanning back to the 1940s. This is not a new form of art making or looking. Engagement is a word hot on everyone’s tongue. It’s written into the strategic plan of every council, gallery space and funding body. Yet after 55 years post Joseph Beuys’ social sculptures, 25 years post relational aesthetics and 15 years post decolonising methodologies, haven’t we had enough discourse about discourse?

Perhaps it’s time to stop back patting and generate discourse that is generative and inclusive, not theoretical. Since 1984: He aha te ahurea-rua? enters this unresolved art discourse around community and engagement, making little effort to connect. Maybe I’m scornful because I feel left out. But a closed wānanga mimics almost exactly the privileged feeding of New York bourgeoisie by Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Does anything change by giving it a mātauranga Māori basis? Or, by framing it as art, are you welcoming the same levels of exclusivity? When decolonising methodologies are applied as art, quite often they become relational art issues, continuing to promote exclusivity regardless of the framing.

The exhibition synopsis doesn’t claim to be about engagement, but it is. Perhaps too I’m confusing inclusion protocols surrounding wānanga and inclusion protocols surrounding relational contemporary art. Decolonising methodologies applied as art, often becomes relational art, continuing to promote exclusivity regardless of the indigenous paradigms.

I consider Since 1984: He aha te ahurea-rua? as a whole to be a critical discussion set up for a predetermined peer group that many are not a part of. So much so that the whakawhanungatanga and manaakitanga that seem to have been so integral to this core group are lost on its wider audience. Who is this exhibition for? I don’t think it’s for me.

Lana Lopesi

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This Discussion has 6 comments.


Rangituhia Hollis, 10:43 a.m. 14 May, 2015

It is a shame that all of the other works in the exhibition have been surmised as addendum, to that of Heta's. As there are a number of innovations that are evident in these works that have not been mentioned in this review. Perhaps this signals a lack of capacity on the part of the author or the site in general or perhaps I am likewise scornful because I have been left out. The thing is that Maori will still be looking elsewhere, for traces that their articulations can be understood by the mainstream. As for the exclusivity of the wananga you simply need to wait for the book.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 8:40 a.m. 15 May, 2015

I am a little puzzled by what you mean by 'the mainstream', Rangituhia, but if you are referring to EyeContact, then I see this site as presenting the views of a mixture of various, very different, opinionated individuals - that are not politically cohesive. Deliberately so, because after all, it is a forum.

Maori writers keen to present reviews as part of a long term writing practice - and looking for an audience - are of course absolutely welcome. The more talented people that come onboard the better. I'm easy to contact.

Rangituhia Hollis, 11:17 a.m. 15 May, 2015

Kia ora John, I was referring to the eyecontact site, as a part of a larger beast. I think that you are maybe downplaying the current saturation of the site as a forum within the illusive and evolving schema of art and cultural critique in NZ - but the kumara doesn't talk of its own sweetness. I don't see mainstream equating with the homogeneity of opinion either, rather with breadth of coverage and accessibility - and not necessarily whether or not something is canonical - but rather all the solid stuff that makes it clear if something has a monopoly.

Ralph Paine, 5:41 p.m. 15 May, 2015

Methinks the kumara patch requires some extra mulch Rangi.

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Ralph Paine, 3:44 p.m. 14 May, 2015

In my experience artists either GET together, or they’re GOT together; and thus two different kinds of organisational desire run through any given art world. When artists get together they tend to compose their groups autonomously and non-hierarchically, that is to say, they self-organise—an artist-run collective is a good example. On the other hand, when artists are got together their groups tend to be composed hierarchically via institutionally constituted procedures, powers and divisions of labour, that is to say, they are organised by more powerful others—a curated exhibition/event inside an art school gallery is a good example. Felix Guattari talked about this as the difference between group-subjects and subjected-groups.

Obviously things are more mixed up than this: for example, an autonomous artist may sign a contract with a dealer, thus getting herself together with a group of artists commonly known as a ‘stable’. Or, was it the dealer who got her into the stable? Was it economic necessity? Was it a desire to exhibit, to be famous? Whatever the case, there are all kinds of subtle/not so subtle hierarchies operating in the art market. And there are complex feedback loops operating between the art market, art schools, public galleries, and even the artist-run collectives. Autonomy is a difficult thing.

In any case, it seems to me that what is being described and critiqued here is an attempt to create an autonomous, self-organising group (group-subject), but this within the confines, and via the powers and procedures of, a hierarchical institution. This kind of attempt is very common in art-pedagogical situations: a hierarchical organisation wants to teach non-hierarchical procedures (of course this is not to say that there are not greater or lesser stratified organisations). However, today (as yesterday) this contradictory or paradoxical state of affairs is the place from which an important strain of art discourse or theory begins. In other words, contradictions and paradoxes are productive for thinking. For example: can we get our sh_t done without the necessity of hierarchies; what hierarchies do we find in contemporary Maori and Pasifika worlds; is there a flat or even low ontology/theory available to us; can we construct one? Anyhows...

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Ralph Paine, 5:34 p.m. 14 May, 2015

And, I forgot to add, always groups have different degrees and types of exclusivity/openness; just as the art that they produce will induce greater or less welcoming affect... "What's the vibe here?" "What kinda atmosphere am I suspended in?"

Negotiating one's way around the groups and the differing affects/vibes/atmospheres which go to compose any given art world at any given time can be a troubling, sometimes paranoia-inducing, pastime. Or...

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