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The Occultation of the Sun

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Despite its technical mastery, the incredibly ambitious iPOVi betrays contradictions that become clear following a close reading of the publication. Given the provocative theme of imperial appropriation, Reihana's proud “ethics of ‘making' (as opposed to taking) …” (iPOV 8) has upended in unexpected ways, betraying a subtle duplicity. The representation of colonizer and the predominantly Polynesian indigènes at first seems satirical and cogent, but under a close reading of the interview and what her carefully chosen essayists say of her - and what she has to say of herself - it appears annoyingly fallible.

A comparative reading of Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape, and Theory by Dr. Rangihioa Panoho and Lisa Reihana: In Pursuit of Venus, edited by Rhana Devenport.

Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape, and Theory, Dr Rangihioa Panoho, Auckland: David Bateman Ltd., 2015. ISBN 978-1-86953-867-5. Referred to below as “MA.”

Lisa Reihana: In Pursuit of Venus, ed. Rhana Devenport, Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015, published on the occasion of the exhibition Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus (infected), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2 May - 30 August 2015. ISBN 978-0-86463-301-9. In keeping with the convention established in the publication, I will often refer to the publication as “iPOV” and the exhibition as “iPOVi.”

 

Proposition: Colin McCahon was a better Māori painter than Ralph Hotere.

The sentence of course is not a proposition; it was a bad-taste joke overheard soon after the major survey exhibition Ralph Hotere: Black Light opened at Te Papa in October 2001. In a propositional sense the quip is patently false: McCahon had and has no whākapapa. Whether good or bad, racist or non-racist, jokes need to be neither true nor false to be effective. The weight of their effectiveness, especially racially motivated ones, often rides on the back of an insult and the strategic use of an ambiguity, which in this case is the adjectival placement of the term “Māori.”

Clearly, the joke’s utility lies in its provocation but its point is simple: Ralph Hotere’s painting, was for a certain period, unequivocally influenced by Colin McCahon, and it in turn influenced an generation of Māori painters who followed. Whether propositionally true or false, depending on how one stereotypes difference, the provocation nevertheless belies a deep racial, cultural, philosophical and intellectual schism that continues to rive apart indigenous and non-indigenous readings of Māori art.

Ironically and unexpectedly, it is with Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape, and Theory that the notoriously inquisitional Māori art historian Dr. Rangihioa Panoho does much to allay the ignorance which drives much non-Māori feeling about Māori art. When it comes to Māori art in its relation to the predominantly Pākeha New Zealand art machine, Pahoho’s criticism never takes prisoners and his visual casuistry does not tolerate outsiders. This dates from his infamous takedown of Gordon Walters (amongst others) in his Headlands catalogue essay “Maori: at the Centre, on the Margins Centre.”(1) Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape, and Theory is an extremely well crafted, serious text, which given the tone of Panoho’s previous writings, is written with a surprisingly dispassionate and rational tone. Writing for New Zealand Listener, Nigel Borell described the book as “a labour of love.” (2)

Often voicing his disapproval of the extent that reward-based materialism and commercial efficacies have in many instances subsumed contemporary Māori art, Panoho nevertheless articulates the philosophical, deeply spiritual, and mythological character of Māori art. He lucidly points out the substantial differences between the way Māori and western cultures see and value Māori art. He does so with one simple intervention: he clearly names them.

On the other hand, the always politically savvy Lisa Reihana, whose exceptional new installation in Pursuit of Venus (infected) with its audience-seducing monumentalism, infectious theatricality, and fashionably satirical anti-imperialist tone, does little to diminish, let alone resolve the question of racial difference. Moreover, any such resolution is not her mandate, nor is it in her interest for it to be so. In other words, the conceptual cogency of iPOVi requires that racial tension between indigènes and colonising alterities be maintained.

When it comes to cultural politics, Reihana is no fool, and in the (edited) interview that is the dominant text of the lush Phil Kelly designed exhibition publication Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus (iPOV 4-19)), she appears forceful and extremely articulate: “I challenge stereotypes that developed in those [colonial] times and since, and the gaze of imperialism is turned back on itself with a speculative twist …” Despite its technical mastery, the incredibly ambitious iPOVi betrays contradictions that become clear following a close reading of the publication. Given the provocative theme of imperialist appropriation, Reihana’s proud “ethics of ‘making’ (as opposed to taking) …” (iPOV 8) becomes upended in unexpected ways, betraying a subtle duplicity. The representation of coloniser and the predominantly Polynesian indigènes at first seems satirical and cogent, but under a close reading of the text and what her carefully chosen essayists say of her - and what she has to say of herself - it becomes annoyingly fallible.

Times change. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, entire peoples have become colonised by an insidious new imperialism: stateless globalisation, the borderless fluidity of capital, the upward flow of wealth and the Balkanisation of privilege. With money comes power, and the traditional sites of imperial privilege have either been occupied by the once disenfranchised, or they have become defective and new ones have risen in their place.

India born, Oxford educated postcolonial theorist, Homi Bhabha (b. 1949), who is indebted to the Orientalist Edward Said’s views on imperial domination, characterises indigenous postcolonial identity with four pithy neologisms: hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence. However, iPOVi inadvertently introjects at least three of the four when it doubly disenfranchises the already disenfranchised.

In other words, by replicating the historical Pasifika indigènes in the twenty-first century in service of a somewhat self-serving art work, it is through subtle cultural appropriation (albeit with plausible deniability, ‘deference’ and ‘ever respectful’ care (iPOV 54)), iPOVi betrays a reversal of power that replicates the very historical postcolonial conditions of power and appropriation that it seeks to condemn, while seemingly unaware that sites of socioeconomic privilege - from which entire cultures appropriate others - continue to shift. As Bhabha cleverly observes, when released of their imperial shackles, the once-colonised mimic and extend against others (typically their traditional foes) the very conditions that once bound them. Senegal born writer and filmmaker Ousame Sembène (b. 1923) in his hilarious postcolonial lampoon Xala (book 1973 - film 1975, 123 min) mocks the political rise and material prosperity of a privileged indigenous elite following Senegal’s independence from France in 1960.

In a relatively recent reversal of economic privilege, a largely Pasifika diaspora, which, under current NZ law are without the same constitutional rights and legislative resources of Māori, are increasingly occupying the politically voiceless socioeconomic base-class that was once occupied by indigenous New Zealanders. It is with a sense of deep sorrow and despair, that Pasifika artist Kalisolaite ‘Uhila brilliantly engages in his plight-of-the-homeless performance Mo’ui tukuhausia - first performed in 2012 at Te Tuhi and reprised in the 2014 Walters Prize exhibition. The widening jurisprudential and economic disparity between Māori and New Zealand Pasifika is increasingly causing social and political resentment of Māori by Pasifika, and a burgeoning class war seems inevitable.

Interestingly, this is a condition which Māori architecture historian Deidre Brown, in her iPOV essay “Pushing the Boat Out: Lisa Reihana on the World Scene,” acknowledges but then essentially glosses over with the erroneous, but morally charged and difficult-to-contest argument from the kinship of shared origins and the plight of mutually disenfranchised: ‘Reihana finds, and knows, her place as Māori alongside other Pacific artists.’ (iPOV, 54)

Lacking the serious authoritative power of Māori Art, and like many publications that accompany major solo exhibitions, iPOV is essentially a vanity piece whose efficacy, amongst other things, is to make both the artist and the commissioning institution look good. Any hint of Reihana’s self-promoting approach to art making and the less-evident conceptual duplicity she needs to win over a large Pākehā audience, has been cosmetically avoided.

In his compelling criticism within MA of Reihana’s 2001 installation Digital Mārae (digital photographs on aluminium, leather and DVD, collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki) Panoho objects to the way the work cynically endorses, amongst other things, the collecting institution’s own ill-informed idea of museum-based mārae and Reihana’s “extremely selective” self-aggrandising way of making art.

From her point of view, and always careful to blend the two discourses that will assure her the best politico-cultural cache - indigenousness with a woman’s voice - Reihana declares that,”Digital Mārae is about female ancestral figures and their stories … Digital Mārae references my family mārae, which has blue Formica walls and no carvings of the wharenui ” (quoted in MA 90). Elaborating further, she says: “I created a ‘generic wharenui‘ because as an urban Māori, it can be problematic to use ancestral figures. My strategy is one of quiet subversion.” (ibid.)

Panoho, however, is not buying any of it:

[T]he lines of identity appear blurred here. Whakapapa ‘genealogy’ involves the connection and identification of the individual with all living forms and with the spiritual forces that are associated with areas of nature. Reihana looks at Ranginui (featuring the actor Rangimoana Taylor) the Sky Father who is, in fact, an ancestor … This kind of reoccurring anomaly in Reihana’s work shows how confusing her preference for documenting her own circle of living connections is in relation to timeless cosmological content.

Her sacred space inhabited by images of friends and family dressed up as gods and cult fashion figures is unsettling. … The role playing enthralls some commentators. I find the same uneasiness with accepting known celebrities or stake holders in the guise of Arthurian or classical legend in [Victorian era photographer] Margaret Cameron’s work as I do envisioning local Māori identities in hip gear as demigods [spelling corrected]. (ibid. 90)

In a short discussion of the work of Māori artist Te Waru Rewiri, Panoho summons the Orwellian image of palimpsest or the erasure of a sacred text (or political text in Orwell’s case) so that another one can be written in its place. Panoho quotes Te Waru Rewiri:

As a Māori artist, I try to embrace the tapū nature of being Māori … in order to resurrect or reconstruct or redefine what it is that we had. This allows a kind of decolonization of self to take place … My belief is that we have got to get through a whole lot of colonial imprinting on our memories. (MA 46)

Panoho furthermore observes: “… Te Waru Rewiri clearly is describing a kind of erasure of recent ‘colonial’ layers in a personal search for a sacred kaupapa that needs resurrection.” (ibid 47)

Secular western thought has an awkward and disquieting relationship with the ontological Real. This hastens the psychological preference to understand Māori art in purely formal, material and aesthetic terms. When it comes to understanding Māori art, of the sort that engages with “sacred kaupapa,” we tend to get spooked.

On the other hand, iPOVi has it sussed. Pākehā audiences seem to prefer the simple, direct, dramaturgical mechanisms (i.e. everyone gets it) and the familiarity of context that massive displays of visual technology provides. All of which gives plenty of room for culturally illiterate poco-honkies to exorcise the colonial ghosts of past error.

Because cultural ignorance is a major factor in non-indigenous materialist approaches to Māori art, the inestimably important, deeply informative Māori Art does much to educate. However, if the veracity of contemporary Māori art is to be critically ratified in a cultural climate that on both sides, continues to harbour suspicion and still-raw feelings about NZ’s colonial history, then the critical engagement of Māori art by non-indigenous New Zealanders must be permitted to advance from possibly combative positions into uncharted territory.

As Alain Badiou has made patently clear, difference must be incorporated into something other than itself if it is to be properly understood. The familiar way of understanding racial difference through mutual stereotyping is insidious, but its attempted eradication through the authoritarian forces of political correctness is both duplicitous and ultimately ineffective.

Whereas Dr. Rangihiroa Panoho can, with impunity it seems, sceptically question the representational integrity of Reihana’s work - i.e. its Māoriness - what non-indigenous New Zealander could ever penetrate the bubble of cultural conceit that she has enclosed around her work, and question where this has taken her? To do so would first require running the gauntlet of racial outrage or cries of cultural insensitivity, or confronting the incautious fury of those against ‘sexism’, usually a significant anti-progressive Pākehā force that does not know how to go forward.

That is, one hopes, until now.

Terrence Handscomb

(1) Rangihiroa Panoho, “Maori: at the Centre, on the Margins Centre,” in Headlands: Thinking Through New Zealand Art, ed. Robert Leonard et al. (Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art Ltd., 1992), 122-134.
(2) Nigel Borell, “A sense of place,” The New Zealand Listener, July 25-31, 2015, 52

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This Discussion has 27 comments.

Comment

Ralph Paine, 11:11 a.m. 2 September, 2015

I.
No doubt the Waitangi process has led to reconfigured power/knowledge effects, new distributions and accumulations of wealth, the formation of new elites, etc. And no doubt too that immigration from the Pacific Island nations and territories has led to similar outcomes, both here in Aotearoa and back in said nations and territories. Tracking these historical sequences, or attempting to cognitively map the shifting lines and contours of their causal connections/disconnections, juridical and political networks, financial flows, ideological constructs, etc. - and the feedback loops involved ¬- is a way more nuanced task than you make out. For example, class here would be a set of differences operating just as much WITHIN particular ethnic groups as between them, and thus any mention or analysis of class should comply with your Badiou-inspired insistence that difference is always to be thought as difference-within-difference. In other words, there are class tensions and conflicts operating between Tongans and Tongans (for example), Maori and Maori, pakeha and pakeha, etc., and also between Tongans, Maori, and pakeha. How best to assess the nature of these tensions and conflicts, how they are distributed or being played out, etc. is open to ideological, theoretical and methodological debate.

Claiming as you do that there’s a coming “class war” between Pasifika peoples and Maori seems like a wild card manoeuvre designed for shock value rather than a serious assessment of potentials held within the current situation. Your statement, for example, that Pasifika peoples under “current NZ law are without the same constitutional rights and legislative resources of Māori” displays inflammatory intentions. A better way to state the case would be to say that under current NZ law all citizens, as citizens – and including Pasifika citizens - have the same rights and legislative resources, but that Maori citizens have additional rights and legislative resources, these based on the mutual recognition by the Crown and iwi of the Treaty of Waitangi as binding. Of course on a bad day we all know that the law is an ass, and so yeah, in reality class is a major factor in all our abilities (or lack thereof) to access and use our rights and legislative resources. In any case, what is to be done to ameliorate the detrimental consequences of both the Waitangi process and Pasifika immigration is a concern shared throughout: you add nothing positive.

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Ralph Paine, 11:12 a.m. 2 September, 2015

II.
But all that pales in comparison to your vituperative and OTT claim that, despite her assertion of adopting a cautious ethico-political approach in the ways of making and presenting art, Reihana remains a cultural imperialist of the New World Order; that she is a dispossessor, an appropriator, a motif thief, a coloniser of others’ cultural resources, a member of a profiteering Maori elite, etc. The proof of this claim lies, you say, not in her works themselves but in the various texts collected in the book published by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki to accompany Reihana’s project In Pursuit of Venus [infected] 2015, including in particular an interview between Reihana and the Gallery’s director, Rhana Devenport. Now what strikes me as 100% inadmissible here is a complete lack of actual textural evidence to back up your claim. Where are the quotes proving Reihana’s “duplicity”? Where the analysis of said interview? Your “close reading” has revealed nada, zilch, nothing except vicious insinuation and an assertion that the book is self-serving for both artist and institution... Duh! Or, via some weird associative leap, that because a certain post-colonial author in Africa has written a satirical novel about the newly formed elites of his country then somehow Reihana should be ridiculed likewise. Or further, that a joining of “spiritual” forces with Panaho in condemning Reihana for displaying an inauthentic maori-ness somehow enhances the gravitas of your claims...

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Ralph Paine, 11:13 a.m. 2 September, 2015

III.
Yes, today in Aotearoa ethnicity and entrepreneurialism go hand-in-hand within iwi, NGOs, corporations, government departments and agencies, the field of art production, education, tourism, etc. But this is a global phenomenon too. This is an aspect of our contemporary given. In their enthralling 2009 text Ethnicity, Inc. Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff ask why it is that ethnicity as a phenomenon is on the rise... Why now? “Perhaps,” they say “it is because the identity economy is itself a congealed product - a fusion both hot and cold, if you will - of three elemental features of the neoliberal moment: the apotheosis of intellectual property and the more-or-less coercive reduction of culture to it; the displacement of politics into the realm of the law; and the growing naturalization of the trope of identity - especially cultural identity, at once essentialised and made the subject of choice, construction, consumption - as the taken-for-granted domain of collective action in the Age of Entrepreneurialism and Human Capital.”

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Ralph Paine, 11:14 a.m. 2 September, 2015

IV.
Reihana is an entrepreneur – she mentions the fact in her Devenport interview. How else could she have produced a work such as iPOVi? And what contemporary artist is not to some degree or other entrepreneurial? Right here right now, how else could we survive? Doubtless too that the “subject” (in both senses of the word) of Reihana’s art is an ethnic one - she explores and experiments with the shifting valences of ethnic subjectivity (and including gendered subjectivity). But in my view she is neither subsumed within nor over determined by either entrepreneurialism or ethnicity (or gender). Rather, these terms jointly name the historical conditions of her artistic practice – her play-ground, as it were - but always the artworks produced are in excess of both the terms and the conditions of their production and including the discourse part of that production; that is to say (and to speak like Deleuze and Guattari) the artworks produced contain amazing deterritorialized/deterritorializing potentials. In this sense, iPOVi was not produced for an already existing audience of “pc-honkies” feminists, pakeha, etc. Rather, and like all great art, iPOVi was produced for an audience yet-to-come. In the Devenport interview Reihana discusses her desire to play with an indigenous point of view, and she mentions various options. But maybe the “speculative twist” in the completed iPOVi is that if the scenarios occurring in the projection are taking place in a fanciful non-place, on an any-island-whatsoever, a generic island, then who are the indigenous of this non-place? After visiting iPOVi at least ten times I came to the realisation that the indigenous point of view was to be multiply-located, that is to say, located not only among ALL the players in the panoramic projection, but also (up front, down back, left, right, in the middle, arriving, departing, settling in, moving around...) in the darkened zone of the gallery space itself. In other words, iPOVi highlights the utopian possibility that to be here is to be from here.

 In reply

Terrence Handscomb, 4:50 p.m. 21 September, 2015

Things I have learned from my engagement with Eyecontact:
• The best way to infuriate Ralph Paine is to ignore him.
• The second best way is take him seriously – it only makes him worse.
• The third best way is to write something with which he doesn’t agree. That always winds him up.

I have been overseas for three weeks and well out of internet range, so it is with delight to find your comments, which despite some occasional clumsiness, has forced me to retract “the best ways to infuriate RP” as hopelessly outdated. Despite putting words in my mouth that I didn’t put there myself (a condition exasperated by my personal goal to keep my EC essays to 2K words and thereby hopelessly truncating my arguments and collapsing them into the sort of generalizations which Scott Hamilton got a good sniff of), it is refreshing to discover that your writing, in this comment at least, has become significantly more enjoyable to read than your previous diatribes and OMG it refreshingly raises some well-observed critical points. I am not being sarcastic here: well done!

I also agree with Scott. I have had little or no access to the social science literature; but nor am I interested in it. Of course, I am “interested to learn about the way that politically oriented movements within the Pasifika community are taking inspiration from, rather reacting against, Maori efforts …” but this is a minor point that too much was made of. The generalization, if there is indeed one, is that the flow of capital corrupts, and according to Thomas Piketty (whom I have already discussed in previous EC postings) the corruption afforded of vast personal wealths will escalate across whole demarcations. Despite the well intentions of the social sciences to see otherwise, the radical distribution of wealth will change things in unforeseen ways, many of which Piketty presages. Nevertheless, main argument has little to do with an implied class war between Māori and Pacifika (we’ll have to wait and see). It has more to do with postcolonial identity, on a number of fronts, in which a number of ironies appear. As I see it, iPOVi is riddled with them.

Terrence Handscomb, 4:51 p.m. 21 September, 2015

ii). Following the decline of nineteenth-century European imperialism, of the five dominant postcolonial states in which a colonizing settler majority remained (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States) New Zealand’s European postcolonial identity is the only one that has, to a significant extent, introjected the culture of the once colonized. This is not without theoretical irony. The more recent call for non-indigenous New Zealanders (who are notoriously lazy when it comes to “other” languages) to make a greater effort with te reo (having once almost obliterated it), has triggered an ironic reversal of Bhabha’s theory. Albeit under the rubric of political partnership and deep cultural respect, Pākeha postcolonial identity has significantly mimicked and hybridized many aspects of Māori culture. This reversal is often contextualized in a postcolonial discourse of power whereby cultural hybridity and mimicry by the colonizer is characterized as cultural appropriation. Again, any depth and subtle intellectual texture is sadly lacking in the in-your-face mono-dimensional intellectual play of iPOVi. I already acknowledged the textual adroitness of Reihana’s interview, but despite this you find a lot more depth and theoretical savvy in iPOVi than I do.

The almost genocidal erasure (Australia) or exile from traditional tribal lands (Australia, Canada and the United States) of indigenes in New Zealand never reached the ruthlessness and the extent of obliteration that it did in the other colonies. Nonetheless, the psychological and spiritual affects of the European colonization of Māori has been devastating. Exasperated by Pākehā land confiscation, urbanization (an exile of sorts), poor health care and the egregious near destruction of te reo Māori, the legacy of colonial cultural erasure is a significant reoccurring theme in contemporary Māori art. Panoho goes to great lengths to extrapolate this and, in his view, correct it. I found it a tough read, but unlike Andrew Wood, I have come away with great respect for Panoho’s book.

Terrence Handscomb, 4:53 p.m. 21 September, 2015

iii). To many non-indigenous New Zealanders, on some nutty psychological level the name “Māori” has become the semiotic marker of some frightful colonial error for which they are somehow made to feel responsible, and yet are uncertain as to why.

To many of us, “Māori culture” has become an evidential placeholder of that which was once taken, not in truth, but in ignorance and by force. This is a tough discourse, but it is also Panoho’s challenge.

Bottom line (which of course is Badiouian, i.e. not Deleuzeian): when an art object enters the public domain the semiotics of its meaning are up for grabs. “Otherness is omnipresent. It’s in the order of things.”

And yes! This is all unsubstantiated opinion, which may well turn out to be true, but equally well turn out to be false. This is the great thing about opinions, as opposed to hypotheses, opinions are multivalent. Substantiated opinions make some claim to be plausibly true well before they are proved to be either true or false. I make no such claim.
P.S. Poco = Postcolonial just like Pomo = Postmodern.

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Scott Hamilton, 7:46 a.m. 4 September, 2015

'Claiming as you do that there’s a coming “class war” between Pasifika peoples and Maori'

This seemed a very unfortunate claim to me, as well. I think Terrence would be interested to learn about the way that politically oriented movements within the Pasifika community are taking inspiration from, rather reacting against, Maori efforts at achieving tino rangatiratanga movement. For example, the Leo Bilingual Coalition, which campaigns for the official acknowledgement and use in schools of five Pacific Islands languages, is inspired by and makes reference to the earlier movement for official recognition of te reo Maori.

It's very problematic to make generalisations about Maori becoming enriched and empowered as a result of the Treaty process. Iwi are class divided and - usually - politically divided, and each has had a different relation with the Treaty process. Many iwi haven't settled yet. The largest iwi in the country hasn't even begun to negotiate with the Crown!

The other major problem with Terrence's piece is its lack of understanding of the literature on early contacts between palangi and Pacific peoples. I'll get to that later.

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Scott Hamilton, 6:55 a.m. 22 September, 2015

Hi Terrence,

You've now written several lengthy comments, on top of your original review, without discussing the subject of Lisa Reihana's work - the early contacts between Polynesian peoples and European mariners like Cook. I suspect that you haven't discussed the subject of Reihana's work because you don't know anything about it.

To the extent that you have any view of the early contacts between palangi and Pacific peoples, you seem to hold to the opinion that these contacts were a one-sided and exploitative affair, which set the stage for the colonisation of the region a century later. The 'fatal impact' view of early contact in the Pacific was made famous by Alan Moorehead in the '40s, and is still clung to, more less unreflectively, by both conservative and liberal palangi.

If you put down the Deleuze and took up Epeli Hau'ofa for a couple of hours you'd have a much better chance of understanding what Reihana's work is doing. Have a read of his great essay 'Our Sea of Islands', with its plea for a two-sided view of Pacific history, that acknowledges the agency of islanders, who were as mobile and enterprising and dynamic as men like Cook:
http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/12960/v6n1-148-161-dialogue.pdf?sequence

Have a look at Cook's own journals, and the journals of his crew members like Anderson and Wales, and you'll also get a sense of the two-sidedness of the early encounters between palangi and Pacific peoples. You'll also see the extent to which Pacific societies were connected by trade and religion and gossip.

It is this sense of two-sidedness and mobility that Reihana is trying to emphasise, as she shows early encounters from a Pacific as well as a palangi perspective. She's not some Maori entrepeneur exploiting Pacific peoples with whom she has only an historical connection by depicting their suffering - she's an artist from Aotearoa, one corner of the great Polynesian triangle, celebrating the enterprise and canniness and bawdiness of her ancestors in both Aotearoa and tropical Polynesia. She shows them haggling and trading and fighting and studying and tattooing the palangi, who are neither demonised as proto-colonists nor idealised as bringers of enlightenment to dark islands.

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Terrence Handscomb, 8:30 a.m. 22 September, 2015

If you are wondering what on earth my P.S. is about it is because our tinkering webmaster, who simply loves to clean up, changed “poco-honkys” to “pc-honkys” without telling me. This of course changes the meaning in ways that were not intended.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 9:26 a.m. 22 September, 2015

Poco was a country-rock band formed in the late sixties out of the disintegrating Buffalo Springfield, so 'Poco-honkies' makes little sense in this debate. Who would ever think 'post-colonial'? We tinker to clarify.

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Terrence Handscomb, 10:05 a.m. 22 September, 2015

Fair comment. Despite the fact that my argument is a nutty mix of Badiou and Laruelle and not really Deleuzeian, what you say is perfectly valid, commendable and appears to be one that is informed by a specialist knowledge and more than adequate reading list. However, your take on iPOVi, while extremely viable, is not one that I wish to match, nor do I see it as my task to do so. Nor is it my interest. To make such links with Reihana’s work is best done by others, but it is an error to believe that I should also be the one to do so.

My position with EC is one that I am still carving out. It is also an error to see it only as one of provocation, as Ralph suggested. My art has often evoked this criticism, especially in the past. In the spirit of deconstruction (recently revived by French philosopher François Laruelle – he calls himself a non-philosopher) and a whacky take on Badiou’s one-dimensional ontology and obscure ideas of higher-dimensional materiality informed by the Princeton School of Einstein, Gödel and Weyl, I have assigned myself the possibly stupid task of exploring that which is not always evident in the myths and discourses that surround contemporary art, but using the language and style that others may enjoy.

The sort of discourse that you attribute to iPOVi will always slip under my radar but appear on the screens of just about everyone else. I see in iPOVi a number of contradictions that are more closely linked to the post Marxist-theory of the subaltern put forward by Bhabha – a theory which has pretty much informed the vocabulary of academic postcolonial studies – than the anthropological, historical and sociological texts that you favour. My “attack” (if you like) of iPOVi is motivated by my aversion to what I see as the conceit and posturing of arts institutional discourse and the overarching assumptions that what artists say of their work and their intensions of making, is in fact what you actually get. Remember, my essay was a review of the publication iPOV in a cross-reading with Panoho’s book, not necessarily one of the exhibition iPOVi.

What you see as ill-informed generalizations on my part, are nothing more than outer-space probes which I accept may invariably get mixed up with my caustic style and sense of humor that pisses people off. This is not new. Okay, call them mere provocations but this is to suggest that they should represent some veracity of truth and consistency of knowledge that must support the artist’s work at best, or provide viable criticism at least, but that I should do so in the sort of well-ordered universe I do not intellectually occupy.

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Terrence Handscomb, 10:06 a.m. 22 September, 2015

For the record (but especially for Ralph): I would rather stand alongside François Laruelle at the gates of hell and cast fear into the pit than enter Badiou’s white-crystal heaven of ramified truths and faithful subjects. That place is far too Platonic and Catholic for me. I suspect that it is a place you would rather I occupied. As far as I am concerned, truths are born of mutations which thrive best in the coinductive circuitry of abstract automata, not in the hands of mortals on earth nor of gods in heaven.

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Scott Hamilton, 10:36 a.m. 22 September, 2015

I'm all for probing and provoking, Terrence: what I'm against are ill-informed lunges at ethnic groups that have suffered enough from ignorance over the years.

You might cite this or that continental philosopher in support of your arguments, but I think that your claims that Maori are becoming a privileged class and that Maori are and waging class war against Pasifika New Zealanders have more to do with redneck Pakeha talkback callers and bloggers than they do with Badiou.

A few years ago I had some arguments with John Ansell, the adman who helped create Don Brash's anti-Maori election campaigns of 2008 and 2011 (cf http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/john-ansell-lizard-creature_9281.html https://www.maoritelevision.com/news/national/native-affairs-tall-tales). The rhetoric you've used here against Maori in general, and Lisa Reihana in particular, is almost identical to that deployed by Ansell. Like you, Ansell claims that the postcolonial state has elevated Maori to elite status; like you, he contrasts oppressed Pasifika New Zealanders to privileged Maori, and talks about a coming struggle between them.

You've been called on your claims by Ralph Paine and by me. You seem to have responded by admitting that you don't know anything about the subject of the artwork you were reviewing, and that you don't have any evidence for your claims about Maori. Yet none of this matters, apparently, because your claims were only intended as 'outer space probes'.

I suspect you're in danger of disappearing up your own backside, rather than into outer space.

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Ralph Paine, 3:36 p.m. 23 September, 2015

Thank you Mr Hamilton.

Thing is Mr Handscomb, like the proverbial dog’s dinner, you’re all over the fu_cking place, flailing around, rushing hither and yon, squirming and spluttering while in desperate search of some idiotic escape route to scram down. As in your essay, there is nothing, zero, nada, zilch, in your replies to justify the claims you have made against Reihana. So right here right now, that’s what pisses me off – big time. And what also pisses me off big time is the way you misrepresent and abuse the names Deleuze, Badiou, Piketty, Laruelle, and yes, even Panoho.

Regarding Laruelle, there is no possible way he would be standing beside you at “the gates of hell" casting fear into the pit. No, my guess is he’s way too concerned with the radical immanence of the Human-in-Human to be interested in your histrionic bullsh_t Mr Handscomb. Whether positively or critically, let’s use the name Laruelle in solidarity with the spirit of his actual texts; and, in solidarity with the texts of his best commentators: Katerina Kolozova, Alexander R Galloway, Ray Brasssier, John Mullarkey... And yes, Deleuze and Guattari. Written over twenty years ago, the last page of D&G’s final text “What is Philosophy?” is in many ways a beautiful and prescient homage to Laruelle.

 In reply

Terrence Handscomb, 11:08 p.m. 23 September, 2015

So what pisses me off right now, is your old trick of resorting to the name-dropping of commentators and interlocutors, and phrase-dropping of key terms as a way of establishing franchised ownership of a name or idea without actually saying anything; the very thing you accuse me of. Don't bother telling me how much you know. I'm not interested. Moreover, Scott’s earlier overtures, although well intentioned, still exude the odor of ransom which I have no intension of meeting. Another time perhaps.

This whole thing is quickly descending into personal vitriol, with the two of you like snapping dogs egging each other on. I am in no mood to revisit my essay or comments any more than I already have. I am quite prepared to let both stand on their own merits and let those who support the essay do so, and those who do not can, like you two, plop on my lawn for all I care. I will still have to clean up the mess.

There is no grace in this anymore, if indeed there ever was.

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Ralph Paine, 10:22 a.m. 24 September, 2015

Methinks it was your personal vitriol against Reihana that got all this started.

And methinks too that it was your misuse of certain names that I questioned, especially the name Laruelle. And in fact I did say something in that regard; I said Laruelle is concerned with the potentials of living in THIS WORLD (as expressed in his concept “Human-in-Human”). As John Mullarkey puts it, Laruelle’s is “one of the most demanding and provocative intellectual practices within contemporary theory: an absolutely immanent, democratic, and materialist mode of thinking." Seems to me that the What and the How of your saying bears no fidelity to Laruelle’s project. But my aim here is not toward ownership claims or know-it-all status. Rather, my aim is pedagogical.

You're right, there never was any grace here - but again, that was your call.

 In reply

Terrence Handscomb, 1:56 p.m. 24 September, 2015

Seeing this is getting confessional, my great regret of this thread was to not take the first four lines of my first post seriously, but I think we are finally getting somewhere. Thanks for that, but you're not getting a BJ, not from me at least, but do ask Andrew.

It is the very difficulty of Laruelle’s texts which, as I see it, has exacerbated a good part of this exchange. One of the motivations for agreeing to take on the task of book-reviewing iPOV (a project you previously abandoned then handed over to me, so I was thoroughly pissed when you came the raw prawn with me) was a close reading of Laruelle’s brave, defiant and thoroughly engaging book “Anti-Badiou,” which as an almost-lapsed Badiou acolyte, I have immense respect for. “Anti-Badiou” is a text which is sure to piss off Badiouian scholars as much as Badiou’s “Deleuze: the Clamor of Being” pissed off Deleuzeians when it first appeared in English translation. The dynamism and adroit originality of “Anti-Badiou,” which together with Badiou’s and Alain Finkielkraut’s “Confrontation,” became one of the main motivations to accept the challenge to write the essay.

About the time I was meeting with Badiou (2008-2011) he was right in the thick of a very public and vitriolic debate with Finkielkraut (neither side would give in) over Badiou’s criticism of how the word “Jew” has been so completely hijacked by the state of Israel, that it has become impossible to criticize Israel’s egregious and undeniable one-sided brutality and military overkill in Gaza, and how the label “anti-semite” is used to discredit any one who disagrees with Israel’s policies and what it sees as its military rights over the whole of Palestine. “Confrontation” chronicles this conflict.

Badiou's feelings on the matter affected me. So I was primed to have I have a similar reaction (yes, yes it’s not the same) to certain representations of contemporary Māori art whereby it is, to a good degree, impossible to criticise it without pissing off a lot of people (it is naive to suggest that Reihana has not capitalized on this). This is something I have found to my immediate detriment with how quickly this comment thread spun out. Of course you blame me for the threads ungracious decline – I expect it of you– but I also accept that I am quite culpable for my caustic tongue, which invariably incites heated opposition and at times great difficulties for me.

You are right, Laruelle is tough, but I am determined to engage his primary texts and to speak absolutely in my own name, with my own voice; my lesson from "Confrontations." In all fairness, any time you engage a primary text in your own voice and in your own way, your writing becomes impossible to understand. I often find myself wondering what on earth you are going on about, and I am not the only one. Show a little more tolerance.

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Ralph Paine, 3:05 p.m. 24 September, 2015

In my view, the similarity lies between the Palestinian struggle and the Maori struggle.

To even hint at a similarity between the Maori struggle and the Zionist State of Israel displays a gross ignorance of history and politics.

I'm afraid your Badiou transference issues have got the better of you Mr Handscomb. It should now be quite clear to all that you set out reviewing the iPOVi publication with the aim already in mind of attacking Reihana for simply being Maori.

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Scott Hamilton, 3:38 p.m. 24 September, 2015

'It is the very difficulty of Laruelle’s texts which, as I see it, has exacerbated a good part of this exchange.'

I don't your credibility problems have much to do with the finer points of the thinking of this or that European intellectual, Terrence.

Your first problem is that you've tried to review an artwork without knowing anything about its subject - the early contacts between Pacific Islanders and Europeans.

Your second problem is that you've made a series of hackneyed and highly tendentious statements about Maori - that they have privileges the rest of us lack, that they are waging class war against Pacific Islanders - without providing any evidence for these claims.

Your third problem is that when you've been asked to substantiate your argument about the position of Maori you've refused, and when you've been invited to discuss the early history of contacts between palangi and Pacific Islanders you've said you're not interested.

You can drop the names of a thousand French intellectuals, and you won't be one bit closer to dealing with these problems.

I'm not against highfalutin' discussions of European intellectuals - I wrote a book about a highfalutin' European intellectual, after all - but there's something very naive, and thoroughly colonial, about your attempts to understand this part of the world through the prism of philosophers who have never set foot here.

Go and read Epeli Hau'ofa.

 In reply

Ralph Paine, 4:56 p.m. 24 September, 2015

Back in the 1980s, while Mururoa atoll continued suffering the ignominy of being a nuclear test-site, my old friend George Hubbard used to love teasing me by randomly exclaiming “Keep French theory out of the South Pacific!” I would always reply “The French military-industrial complex, YES! But theory? To the contrary, today we require fresh thought and must seek out the best, and right now the French are the best!” These exchanges became a running joke between us. Of course today it is very apparent that rather than simply emitting from supercharged centres, radical thought emerges and travels along the pathways of a way more multidimensional network of radiance.

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Scott Hamilton, 7:10 p.m. 24 September, 2015

I agree that there isn't necessarily a contradiction between European theory and South Pacific reality.

I used to teach at the 'Atenisi (Athens) Institute, which was founded by the Tongan devotee of Socrates and Heraclitus Futa Helu. Helu's knowledge of Heraclitus helped him write pioneering essays on Tongan culture.

Louis Althusser was a pretty abstruse French philosopher, and yet the new and more complex way of analysing societies that he developed out of his readings of Marx had an electrifying effect on sociologists and anthropologists studying this part of the world. Dave Bedggood used Althusser to help him understand the Maori economy in a new way, and Roger Neich used Althusser when he studied marae in the Bay of Plenty.

Problems arise, though, when people use theory as a way of avoiding a subject. There's a very long history of New Zealanders importing pretentious but ultimately simplistic intellectual schema from the northern hemisphere, and using those schema to turn out dogmatic opinions on local reality. The turn to neo-liberalism in the '80s is the most tragic example of this trend, but I think it has been a problem on the left as much as the right. I wrote a satire a few years ago about the right-on, theoried up Pakeha who insist on lecturing Maori about their backwardness: http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2010/05/first-white-marxists-reach-tuhoe_11.html

 In reply

Ralph Paine, 10:35 a.m. 28 September, 2015

Is not Reihana's "iPOVi" set on the foreshore of an any-island-whatever, on the foreshore of Erewhon (nowhere/now here)?

Although placed in the statute books some years ago The Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 remains central to post-colonial political debate in Aotearoa. Arguing from a position both against the State and from outside the neo-traditional iwi based political structures, my article "Negri’s tent: Rough outlines on the being of māori" (link below) participates in this debate. If an important linguistic division lies between proper names and common names, then the article is also an experiment with this division. The starting point was to highlight to myself an often forgotten difference in meaning between the proper name Māori and the common name māori; to make this difference grow until the two versions of the name took on a rather complex and unstable relationship. To do this it seemed necessary to refrain from using the proper name Māori anywhere in the body of the text. Given the rapidly growing dangers of any politics based in ethnic identity alone(see my comment above concerning "Ethnicity, Inc." by Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff), I felt—in the wake of so many others—that a conceptual space needed to be developed in which the openness and co-operation of a ‘belonging-as-such’ (Agamben) was what was important for the coming world. Meaning ‘common’, ‘fresh’, and ‘people’, the common name māori seems to me exemplary when attempting to imagine the topology of such a space. In contrast, the meaning of the proper name Māori has become thoroughly over-determined and therefore somewhat out of bounds to any political imaginary beyond that of specific bloodlines. My article is also an affirmation of Spivak’s claim (in Radical Philosophy 157, p. 31) that ‘linguistic diversity is not an obstacle to an effectively international socialism, but rather its constitutive double bind’; yet I attempt this via an affirmation and celebration—within a set of localised conditions—of Negri’s thought.

http://www.naturalselection.org.nz/archive/3/3.7_Ralph_Paine.pdf

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Owen Pratt, 8:52 p.m. 24 September, 2015

Terrence, I agree that here is a failure of connection between the work and the narrative surrounding it. As soon as I saw the word 'disrupts' in the gallery text I thought f-ck that. But as to the motivations you ascribe to Lisa Reihana, I part company with you. Rather than scheming and savvy, I thought the piece was quite naive and simply illustrative of Anne Salmond's texts - not at all disruptive.

There are many other aspects of the project which are highly intelligent and profound.

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Richard Taylor, 1:13 a.m. 26 September, 2015

Does Comrade Philosopher Handscomb know how to boil an egg?

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Scott Hamilton, 12:07 a.m. 28 September, 2015

Terrence's claim that Maori culture has the same relationship to the New Zealand state as Zionism has to the Israeli state is quite revealing.

I think that Terrence has greatly exaggerated the privileges and powers that Maori have, and falsely decided that Maori enjoy a sort of dominance over other New Zealanders, because he has misinterpreted the use of Maori motifs and images by the New Zealand state.

He says that the postcolonial New Zealand state uses Maori imagery to legitimise and promote itself. But the use of Maori symbols and slogans by the New Zealand state and by Pakeha society is not at all new. A century ago this country was often known by the name Maoriland; eighty years ago banknotes adorned with the visage of King Tawhiao, the leader of the Waikato Kingdom that waged war against colonial Pakeha and the British Empire. As numerous scholars have shown, colonial societies in general, and Pakeha colonial society in particular, have appropriated the culture of the colonised (Jean Stafford and Mark Williams' book Maoriland might particularly interest Terrence.)

I think that Terrence is mixing up this very old appropriation with something much more recent, and much more admirable - the provision of state resources to advocates of Maori culture. By the mid-'80s the generation of Maori activists that had begun organising in the late '60s were beginning to win recognition for Maori language and culture from the state. The Maori Language Act in 1986 opened the way for the growth of the kohanga reo movement; the early decisions of the Waitangi Tribunal set a precedent for pieces of legislation like the Auckland Museum Act, laws that gave Maori a say in the running of museums and archives and gave them back some control over their artefacts and texts.

It is very easy to exaggerate the extent of the gains that Maori activists have made over the last three decades. The case of the Auckland tribe Waiohua, which has lately been protesting almost invisibly against plans to develop sites it considers sacred on the southwest fringes of the city, shows how little institutional power many iwi still have.

I think that Terrence has confused the appropriation of Maori culture by the New Zealand state, which is something very old and something without any real value to Maori, with the more recent wins that Maori cultural activists have had, and come to the conclusion that Maori have gained some privileged access to the state and to the legal system. He's wrong.

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harry rickit, 2:43 p.m. 1 October, 2015

My two cents. Lisa Reihana's installation In Pursuit of Venus (Infected) comments on European kitsch, the commercialisation of cultural tropes. Charging Reihana with being materialistic, or entrepreneurial, and assuming this is problematic for Maori artists is suspect because of the subject matter 'the material' of the wallpaper, is elevated by Reihana from the low status of decor to a work of art. Materialism is part of the work's genesis, as inescapable as the commercial reality of making a large work. I don't see what the alternative avenue is for artists, Kickstarter? The work can be characterised in terms of post-colonial discourse, sure. I'm not sure if that discourse empowers the viewer, though. Whether you name a dimension of the work as mimicry or appropriation, as spectacle and I think it's presentation asks to be considered in terms of the body's visibility to the gaze, Reihana's work affirms 'wordlessly' a collective history, whether Maori or of the greater Moana Nui a Kiwa. This is a major achievement, as it subverts the political reality of NZ today where history is Anzac Day and not much else besides.
Any work of art that makes the youth in particular read and think about NZ's history is a success in my opinion.

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