ST Paul St Symposium 2018
Ko au te au/I am the ocean
Jordana Bragg and Bruce E. Phillips
I draw love into my lungs as I wake. It warms my core with potential and I lament the moment that it will exit leaving my chest empty.
My breath lingers in the cool morning air as I paddle out. The conditions are near perfect and I am eager to catch the wave that’s approaching, but a sharp glance from the only other person in the water reminds me that I will have to wait my turn. As I wait for the next set, my attention is drawn back to my breath and how it condenses in the sunlight. The experience rekindles a trail of thought from Dr. Valance Smith’s mihi whakatau (an official welcome speech)given at the symposium Ko au te au/I am the ocean.
“Aroha”, explained Smith, “is a compound word joining ‘aro’ meaning inner focus and attentiveness, ‘hā’ referring to the breath and our life force”. “We are the sea” he continued, and while “we don't speak the same reo, we bring our own values to it.” There is a lot to unpack from Smith’s mihi and how a notion of aroha or love might be applied to creative practice. Indeed, the art sector can sometimes seem like a vast ocean connecting a dynamic field of practitioners, histories and conversations. And upon this ocean, the personal and professional appear to be bound in the same life-giving breath—a breath that we draw on heavily as we paddle for a wave that might carry us through a project, or if we are fortunate, our entire career. However, in a small art scene like ours in Aotearoa, it can sometimes seem that we are all paddling for the same wave.
Competing for the same wave might also be a condition that we have accepted in order to participate in the global contemporary art system. As critic and curator Beti Žerovc argues, this system is essentially a neo-colonial force that is wedded to capitalist and neo-liberal imperatives bent on encouraging a mindset of individualism, a scarcity of resources, and an economy of attention that necessitates social manoeuvring. “The trend among the participants in the network is to try to secure for themselves the best available position”, she writes, “the possibility of exerting influence over the network is all usually related to the participant’s status in the network’s hierarchy . . . [artists and curators] demonstrate their competence with impressively extensive curricula vitae, which testify to their hyperactivity and connections with the most prestigious nodes in the global network.”If we accept Žerovc’s description of a hegemonic contemporary art complex, then we cannot ignore the systemic issue of self-interest being sought to the detriment of the collective. In so many words, this was an underlying sentiment of many conversations that occurred at Ko au te au/I am the ocean which also reflected the conveners’ aim to question “established thinking and practices” and “to activate structural and programmatic change within dominant institutionalised attitudes and their manifest inequity”.
Returning to etymology of the Māori word ‘aroha’ – often translated into English as ‘love’ – might offer some insight here.In preparation for this symposium, the artist Shannon Te Ao shared with me the whakatauki (proverb) “aroha mai, aroha atu”, which according to him expands the understanding of aroha. The whakatauki could be translated as ‘love is given, love is returned’, but Te Ao explained that it can be further understood as a flow of love emanating from inside out and from outside in. If we were to substitute the English word love in this translated whakatauki for Smith’s description of aroha, meaning a focused life-giving breath, then we can begin to picture a relational system that is based upon collective reciprocation rather than individual desire—which seems so entrenched within the meaning of the word love within Westernised consumer culture. It seems logical, then, that if the circulation of aroha stops, like it arguably does in the contemporary art system, then there can be very real consequences—a select few will absorb the creative energy of the many to ascend in prominence and will in turn exert their influence to maintain the hierarchy that they have profited from, while others will be deemed irrelevant, excluded, discriminated against or even dehumanised. Therefore, if aroha is not free flowing, then we have a shared responsibility to question what might be blocking its movement. And yet, we should also practice caution in being too quick to ascribe judgement in calling out inequitable practice. For, as critic and art historian Carol Duncan rightly reminds us, “[e]veryone feels caught up in a ‘system' whose controlling power is everywhere but in no one in particular . . . The art world is hardly an organised conspiracy”.
From a psychological and biological perspective, there is a convincing argument thatfurther complicates this possibility of a relational system of aroha from flowing. This argument is from the study of kin selection where it has been observed that humans intuitively gravitate towards those with whom we find similarity or share familial bonds.For a system of aroha to be effective against the urge to be drawn to similarity it would have to encourage us to seek a kinship with difference as argued by social psychologists such as Ashtosh Varshney.This sentiment is comparable to theorist Donna Haraway’s argument that we must seek out unusual companions to make “odd kin”. She writes: “Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become-with, compose-with . . . all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense ... Kin is an assembling sort of word”.
When the next lines of swell rise high above the horizon we exchange a glance. He nods and with that approval I paddle. There is an etiquette for catching waves, and if it is maintained, a level of mutual respect is reached. It is a form of respect that acknowledges a shared vulnerability and makes certain that the cyclical energy of the sea is enjoyed safely by all. When this respect is broken, as it inevitably is, anger and frustration destroy the peaceful flow we are all seeking. It becomes unsafe, and everyone ends up losing. Perhaps the reciprocation of aroha might also be a type of relational code—a practice towards attaining synergy with others and to resist the self-seeking pull of the art world. It is hard to imagine an alternative beyond the system that currently surrounds us but what is apparent is that aroha and love in its most complex and elusive sense is a quantity that asks us to reach beyond the self and the kinship or political ties that divide us. As the philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote: “Love by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason . . . that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces.”
I lift love up and hold it steady. I twirl love around in my mind as I fall asleep. At night love hovers at an elevated right angle, bright and sharp above my head. I believe I might be bending it at such a degree it will break open leaving my hands to bleed.
I return by night train to my parent’s house in the Manawatu region to write about the concept of love. I pace the hallway of my childhood and adolescence, uninterrupted. In the silence of my right hand, a book. My best friend has lent me All About Love: New Visionsby bell hooks to prepare me. There is no idealism left over from my younger years, this place holds memories of explosive verbal fights. My earliest encounters of love, which were familial in form, encouraged rebellion, resilience and detachment. At least hooks can aid my understanding of the discomfort I experienced as a teenager. I open the book and my eyes fall on her diagnosis: Western society suffers from ‘lovelessness’, a sense of isolation created in the individual so profoundly by the absence of love that love becomes the only force that connects us back to the world and to each other. “[T]he world I was living in, the world of the present, was no longer a world open to love. I noticed that all around me I heard testimony that lovelessness had become the order of the day. I feel our nation's turning away from love as intensely as I felt love's abandonment in my girlhood.”This lovelessness, however, as I understand it now, is not a personal … or an incurable universal condition; rather, lovelessness is necessary for the proliferation of Western social power and control.
Love, when relegated to the realm of a loveless fantasy, intentionally removes suitable footing for love to emerge as a positive collective pursuit with a socio-political purpose. Actions towards othersthereby become viewed as motivated only for individual gain, creating our current fear-based economy. Fear of the self and fear of the other to service a sense of division and capital gain.
I told my mother I had returned home to find the Truth. We discussed the community-led ethos my peers and I work towards at MEANWHILE(artist-run space), the toxicity of the contemporary art industry, how mine and my peers’ time spent is motivated by an ethos of care because we work without financial gain, how much I appreciate that my friends cook meals big enough to feed our entire flat, and an article that likened society to a beehive. “I’m looking for a metaphor like that,” I said, “that takes the work out of comprehending something complex, you know? Society like a beehive, love like a ...” Muhammad Ali’s quote ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ came to mind, but without any further revelation, I gave up on the formulation of a metaphor. My mother offered a framework she encountered as a social worker, the model of ‘synergy vs scarcity’.
Constituted in the field of cross-cultural psychology,the concept of synergy, according to Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, refers to the process of cohesion between two or more elements from disparate and often conflicting parts to create a new whole – a whole that resists claims to a ‘universal human experience’. Synergy is a process towards all things becoming viewed as unified, which is set in direct contrast to the concept of scarcity. For the latter, as resources are conceptualised as limited and dividable, individuals are set in competition for them. Scarcity exists when we resist the urge to share.
Scarcity of resources as a prevailing concept in Western thinking functions much like the myth of lovelessness, love as a limited resource reserved for a select lucky few. Love and synergy, however they may be commodified (for example, by providing the illusion of increased positivity and therefore productivity), do challenge scarcity and lovelessness directly. Love and synergy, as forces motivated by unification, destabilise the Western distinctions between the material, social and psychological. By establishing the intrinsic inter-connectedness of all things, scarcity cannot continue to function.
Ka ngongo aroha ki ro aku pūkahukahu i a au e oho ana. He ahuareka ki taku pokapū me te pito mata, ā ka tangi au mo taua wā tonu ka puta, ka mahue mai taku poho kia pōaho noa.
E whakawheauau taku ngā i te pūa- ngiangioteataiaauehoeana.Katata paihuarere nei, a ka hihiri hoki ahau ki te auheke i te ngaru e haere mai ana, engari nā te mawhiti mai i tērā atu tangata anake ki roto i te wai ka whakamahara mai au kia tātari au ki te wā mōku. Ina tātari au ka hoki taku hinengaro ki taku ngā ka whaka- totahia i te hihi o te rā. Nā te wheako nei ka whakamōhou te ara whakaaro mā i te mihi whakatau i homai e Dr Valance Smith itehuitaumata: Ko au te au/Iam the ocean.
“Ko te aroha,” hei tā Smith, “he kupu pūhui e hono ana te ‘aro’ e whakamarama ana i te ngahunga o roto i te hinengaro ki te ‘ha’ e tiro ana ki te ngā, me te mauri hoki.” “We are the sea” e korero tonu ana a ia, waihoki “we don’t speak the same reo, we bring our own values to it.” He nui te wewete mai i te mihi nā Smith, ka pēhea te ariā o te aroha, te ipo rānei ka herea ki te mahi toi. Anō nei i ētahi wā ko te rāngai toi ka kitea hei moana nui e hono ana i te kura hīhiri o ngā mātanga, ngā hītori, ngā kōrerorero hoki. Kei runga anō i tēnei moana, ka āhua herengia te ringa ngaio me te matawhaiaro ki te hā ora ngātahi – he ngā taimaha i a tātou e hoe ana kia eke ngaru kia kawe tātou mō tō tātou ake hinonga; ki te waimarie tātou, mō tātou umanga roa rānei. Heoi anō rā, i te ao ringatoi pāpaku nei i Aotearoa
i ētahi wā ka hoehoe tātou mō te ngaru kōtahi noa, te āhua nei.
Kia whakataetae mō te ngaru kotahi, ēkene tētahi heipūtanga kua whakaaengia tātou kia kuhu katoa tātou i te pūnaha toi ao-whānui o nāianei. Hei tā Beti Žerovc, tētahi kaiarohaehae, kaikōwhiri whakaa- turanga hoki, ko tēnei pūnahi ko tētahi tōpana ao-koroniara-hou*, kua mārena ki ngā whakahau whai putea, whaka- hau ao-ohaoha-hou* hoki ka warea kē ki te whakatenatena he waiaro tūtahi, he rawa pūhore, te pīkari mimiti ka hemo i te rauhanga pāpori. “The trend among the participants in the network is to try to secure for themselves the best available position,” ka tuhi a ia, “the possibility of exerting influence over the network is all usually related to the participant’s status in the network’s hierarchy... [artists and curators] demonstrate their competence with impressively extensive curricula vitae, which testify to their hyperactivity and connections with the most prestig- ious nodes in the global network.” Mēnā ka whakaae tātou i te whakaaturanga o tētahi matatini toi mana-pehi o nāianei nā Žerovc, kāore e taea e tātou te waiho i te pūnaha whānuitanga e whakararu i te tūmatarau. Hei kupu whakarāpopoto, ko tēnei te whakaaro o raro iho i ngā kōrerorero maha e puta atu i Ko au te au / I am the ocean, e whaiwhakaaro ana i te takune o te tiamana hoki, kia uiuia: “established thinking and practices,” ā kia “activate structural and programmatic change within dominant institutionalised attitudes and their manifest inequity.”
Ka hoki mai ki te mātai pūtaketanga kupu mō te kupu ‘aroha’ kua whakapāke- hatia noatia ki te kupu ‘love’ – kia tukua te māramatanga. Ina whakariterite mō tēnei hui taumata, i waha mai te ringatoi a Shannon Te Ao te whakatauki “aroha mai, aroha atu”, hei tāna, ka whakanui i te māramatanga o te aroha. Ko te whaka- tauki ka whakamāoritia “ko te aroha e hoatu, te aroha e hoki mai,” engari ka mea a Te Ao, ka whakamāramatia tonutia pēnei, ko te aroha o roto ka maringi ana ki waho, o waho ka maringi mai hoki ki roto. Mēnā ka whakakapi te kupu ‘love’ i roto i tēnei whakatauki whakamāori- tia mō te whakaaturanga o te ‘aroha’ nā Smith, ko te ngā whai oranga, ka tīmata e tātou te kite i te pūnaha hōnonga ki runga i te kōtahitanga mahue ana te hiahia o te takitahi, ka tino mau ai ki te tautuhi i te ao Pākehā me ōna tikanga hokohoko. Me te mea nei, mēnā ka kāti te maringi o te aroha ko te āhua nei tērā o te pūnaha toi o nāianei, katahi te tino tukunga iho mai. He hiranga torutoru ka mimiti i te hiringa auaha o te nuinga kātahi ka piki ake ki te matararahi, katahi ka aweawetia kia purutia ki te raupapa tangata ko rātou i whai hua ai, i ērā atu i whakaarohia ki a hauwarea, unuhia, auka- tihia, – whaka-kuare katoatia. Nā reira, mēnā te aroha e kore e maringi, ko tātou e whaipānga ki te rapu e puru ana te rere. Me tūpato anō tātou kei whakawā tere ai i te whakatoihara. Nā Carol Duncan, te kai arohaehae, kaitāhuhu kōrero toi hoki, ka whakamaharatia tika tātou, “[e]very- one feels caught up in a ‘system’ whose controlling power is everywhere but in no one in particular... The art world is hardly an organised conspiracy.”
Mai i te mātai hinengaro me te mātai koiora, ka tū te tino whakaaro ka whaka- raru anō te aheinga o tetahi pūnaha whakawhanaungatanga o te aroha, kia maringi ai. Nā tē rangahau mō te tipako whanaungatanga tēnei taupatupatu, ka kitea ko ngā tāngata ka manako noa ki te hunga āhua rite, ngā whanaunga rānei. Mō tētahi pūnaha aroha kia mauto- hetia te hiahia te whakamanea nā ki ngā mea orite, ka whakatenatena ki te kimi i tētahi whanaungatanga kē, hei tā ngā kaimātai hinengaro, pērā i a Ashtosh Varshney. He whakaaro whakarite tēnei ki te korero o Donna Haraway, ka kimikimi i ngā hoa rerekē kia hangaia e tātou he “whanau whanoke.” Ka tuhi a ia: “Who and whatever we are, we need to make- with – become-with, compose-with... all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense... Kin is an assembling sort of word.”
Ina ngā rārangi amotai e tukituki mai ana ka pupuke ake ki runga i te paerangi, ka whakawhiti tirohanga māua. Ka tungou mai ia, me te whakaaetanga rā ka hoe ahau. He tikanga anō mō te eke ngaru, mēnā kua pupuritia, ka ekehia te taumata whakaute. He momo ngākau whakaute i tūtohu te pānekeneke tohatoha a ka whakatūturutia te ngao tauhangarua o te moana, kia whakahuarekahia e te katoa. Ina tēnei maruhe ka whati, kāore e kore ka whatia, nā te pukuriri me te mangeo o te maringi rongomau ka hiria e tātou katoa. Ka whakawhara ā, ka hinga tātou katoa. Tērā pea te tauwhakaipo, he tikanga whakautuutu hoki – kia whaka- tūtuki ngaotahi ki a ērā atu me te wawao i te tūtahitanga o te ao toi. He uaua ki te pohewatia he pūnaha kē atu i tērā e horo- paki ana tātou ināianei, engari ko te mea tīahoaho mai ana ko te aroha me āna āhua pīroiroi, āhua autaia hoki, he āhua- tanga ka pātai mai ki a tātou ki te whātoro atu i te whaiaro, atu i te whanaungatanga, atu anō i ngā tōrangapū rānei e wehewehe ana tātou. Nā te kai rapunga whakaaro, ko Hannah Arendt i tuhia: “Love by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason... that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces.”
Ka hikina te aroha e ahau, kātahi ka mau māhoi. Ka koromiromirohia te aroha i tōku hinengaro, ka hinga moe ana ahau. I te pō ka tīonionitia te aroha i te koki hāngai tairanga ake, kitakita koi ana ki runga ake i tōku māhunga. E whakapono ana ahau ka kōwhakiwhakina te koki ka pakaru, ka mahue aku ringa i te hūtoto pea.
Ka hoki ahau ki te whare o ōku mātua ki Manawatu mā runga tereina ki te tuhituhi e pā ana te ariā o te aroha. Ka toihā hūrokuroku i te kauhanganui o taku tamarikitanga, taku taiohinga hoki. Kei roto i te hamūmūtanga o taku ringa matau, he pukapuka. I homai e taku hoa pumau, All About Love: New Visions nā bell hooks, kia whakariteritea ahau. Kua pou te ngākau rorotu i oku tau rangatahi, ka pupuri ai tēnei wāhi ki ngā mauma- haratanga o ngā whawhai-ā-waha. Ōku tūtakitaki ipo tōmua, nā te whānau e tipu, i whakamanawa te whananga, te aumangea, te wehenga. Mā te aha ka taea e hooks te āwhina mai i ahau kia whakamārama te manawarau i wheako ahau i taku taiohitanga. Ka tuwheratia te pukapuka e ahau, ka mātaki aku karu ki tona whakataunga: Ko te pākatokato o te porihanga pākeha ko te aroha korenga, te rongo tūhāhā i hangaia ngoto i roto i te tangata nā te aroha kore, ā, ko te aroha kau ana te ngao ka tūhono tātou ki te ao whānui, tātou ki a tātou. “[T]he world
I was living in, the world of the present, was no longer a world open to love. I noticed that all around me I heard testi- mony that lovelessness had become the order of the day. I feel our nation’s turn- ing away from love as intensely as I felt love’s abandonment in my girlhood.” Heoi anō, ko tēnei aroha korenga, i taku whakamāramatanga anō i nāianei, ehara i te mea matawhaiaro... ehara i te mate tuamatangi; engaringari, ko te aroha korenga e matea ana ki te whakaranea e te mana pāpori pākehā, te whakatuanui pākehā hoki.
Ko te aroha, ina tānoa ki te wāhi pohewa aroha kore, ka tango takune te wai tōtika o te aroha ki te puaki hei whai ngā- kaupai mō te katoa, me te kaupapa tōran- gapū pāpori. Nō reira ngā mahi ki ērā atu, ka kitea hei mahi whai utu takitahi anake, hangaia tō tātou nei ohaoha mataku. Ko te mataku o te tangata takitahi me te mataku o te tangata atu rā, kia mahia te āhua whakawehewehe me te whai moni hua.
I kīīa atu ahau ki toku Māma, kua hoki ahau ki te kainga kia kitea te Pono. I kōrerorero māua mō te wairua nō te hāpori ka aro atu ahau me ōku aropā ki a MEANWHILE (wāhi mana-ringatoi), te tāoke o te ahumahi toi o nāianei, pēhea te whakamahi o toku wā me ērā o ōku aropā ka whakaohoohotia nā tētahi wairua manaaki, nā te mea, ka mahi kore-utu mātou ā ka ngākaunui ahau nā te tahu kai nui o ōku hoa kia whāngai tātou katoa o te whare, me tētahi pūrongo i whāritea te pāpori ki tētahi pouaka pī. “Kei te tītiro ahau ki tētahi kupu whaka- rite pērā,“ i mea ahau, “ka whakakore i te uaua o te māramatanga I tētahi mea pīroiroi, e mohio ana ne? Ka rite te pāpori ki te pouaka pī, ka rite te aroha ki te...” Te takitaki o Muhammad Ali, ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ ka rewa mai, engari tē whāwhāki, i tukua e ahau te whakakaupapa o tētahi kupu whakarite. Ko toku Māma i tuku tētahi anga nā tōna mahi hei tauwhiro, ko te tauira o ‘te mahi tahi tātākina i te pūhoretanga’.
Ka whakawaihangatia ki roto i te mātai hinengaro whakawhitiwhiti tikanga a-iwi, te ariā o te mahi tahi, e ai ki a Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, ka kōrero mō te tukanga o te mahi tahi ki waenga i ngā huānga e rua neke atu i ngā tūtanga rerekē, rongorua hoki ki te hanga he mea tūtahi hou – he mea tūtahi ka ātete i ngā whakapaenga mō te whakawhanuitanga o te wheako tangata ki te ao katoa. Ko te mahi tahi he tukanga kia whakakotahi te kitenga o ngā mea katoa, he mea rerekē tērā ki te ariā o te pūhoretanga. Mō te mātāmuri, mēnā ngā rawa ka kite a-ariā he tūpā, he wehewehe hoki, ka noho tauwhāinga te takitahi. Ka tū te pūhoretanga, e ātete ana tātou te akiaki kia toha.
Ko te pūhoretanga o ngā rawa hei aro- aro whakatuanui ki roto i ngā whakaaro Pākehā ka mahi orite ki te pū-rākau o te aroha korenga, ko te aroha hei rawa tūpā i tāpui mō tētahi roopu angitu. Ko te aroha me te mahi tahi, ahakoa ka wha- karawatia (pēnei te pohewa mo te nga- kaunui ia nei hoki te tōnui) ka werohia tonutia te pūhore me te aroha korenga hoki. Ko te aroha me te mahi tahi, hei tōpana ka whakahihiko i te whakakotahi, tututia te whakawetewete o ngā rerekē- tanga Pākehā mō te rawa, te pāpori, me te taha hinengaro. Nā te herenga pūmau o ngā mea katoa, kīhai te pūhoretanga e āhei tonu ana.
bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, 765th edition (New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2018).
Note: I disagree with the term “others” as I believe that it is cruel by definition. Perhaps ‘each other’ is a softer framing, but I have left it in to prompt consideration for its usefulness as a constraint upon my theorisation of love as synergistic. In future writing, I hope to formulate a less loaded term for such relational dynamics.
Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment: Insights from Cultural Diversity, 1 edition (Calgary: Brush Education, 2012).
Beti Zerovc, When Attitudes Become the Norm: The Contemporary Curator and Institutional Art, IZA Editions (Berlin: AC Books, 2017), 112.
‘Ko Au Te Au/I Am the Ocean’, St Paul St Gallery, 2018, https://stpaulst.aut.ac.nz/symposium/symposium-2018.
C Duncan, in The Aesthetics of Power: Essays in the Critical Art History(Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 175.
Oren Harman, The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness(New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011); Michael Bond, The Power of Others: Peer Pressure, Groupthink, and How the People Around Us Shape Everything We Do(London: Oneworld Publications, 2015); Ashutosh Varshney, ‘Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, And Rationality’, in Peace Studies: Critical Concepts in Political Science, ed. Matthew Evangelista (Taylor & Francis, 2005).
Varshney, ‘Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, And Rationality’.
Donna J. Haraway, ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin’, Environmental Humanities6 (2015), 161.
Hannah Arendt and Margaret Canovan, The Human Condition, 2nd Edition, 2nd edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), 242
The two-column format of this text is influenced by Anna-Marie White’s essay ‘KaihonoĀhua: Māori Modernism/Vision Mixer: Pākehā Primitivism’ in Kaihono Āhua / Vision Mixer:Revisioning Contemporary New Zealand Art, Nelson: The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi oWhakatū, 2014, pp. 2-34.
Te reo Māori translation is by Alvie McKree courtesy of St Paul St Gallery, Auckland.