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Hineraukatauri and that Red Piano.

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Michael Parekowhai, He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, 2011, wood, ivory, brass, lacquer, steel, ebony, paua shell, resin, mother of pearl,  1670 mm x 2130 mm, Collection of Te Papa Tongarewa Michael Parekowhai, He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, 2011, wood, ivory, brass, lacquer, steel, ebony, paua shell, resin, mother of pearl,  1670 mm x 2130 mm, Collection of Te Papa Tongarewa Maree Sheehan, Ōtairongo (Dr. Te Rita Bernadette Papesch; Moana Maniapoto; Ramon Te Wake), 2020, audio portraits--as installed at Artspace Aotearoa. Photo: Sam Hartnett Maree Sheehan, Ōtairongo (Dr. Te Rita Bernadette Papesch; Moana Maniapoto; Ramon Te Wake), 2020, audio portraits--as installed at Artspace Aotearoa. Photo: Sam Hartnett Te Hau ki Turanga Ko Rongowhakaata. Photo: Te Papa / Michael O'Neill Māori Hall at the Dominion Museum, around 1936.  Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library. New Zealand Railways Collection

Recently a member of Toi Māori Aotearoa announced to me over lunch that Pākehā “just do not ‘get'” the fluid and non-binary relationship between wairua and atua that Māori enjoy—the intermingling relationship between Māori, their ancestors, gods and spirits and the representations that mark their existence. There are times when the representation may become the thing that is being represented.

EyeContact Essay #37

This is a parable of two worlds: te ao Māori and, what David Hall presumptively called “te ao Pākehā.” (1) This is the two-world distinction that drives New Zealand’s bicultural narratives. However, when this distinction is applied to New Zealand art it is not entirely clear how that distinction should be understood.

Naming the coloniser, a distinction first made by Māori, endured throughout the history of colonisation. The two-world distinction—let’s follow Hall’s lead and presume there is one—has subsequently become the principle social, cultural and political tool for redressing lasting social justice imbalances. In another way, the two-world distinction enforces the idea that there are two sides to New Zealand’s colonisation story because it emphasises the historical propensity of Pākehā to occlude Māori as an unwanted political, social and economic consequence of colonisation.

From a Pākehā art perspective at least, the white European part of the two-world distinction extends beyond New Zealand’s geographical borders and cultural boundaries. We like to think that New Zealand art is properly included in a much larger international art community, a narrative our arts elites are keen to emphasise. This is because much of the way Pākehā see and evaluate art is determined by engagements with the sort of art that is seen on the biennale circuit, appears reproduced online and is discussed in the international art journals.

But the two-world distinction in New Zealand art also means that Māori are ideologically untethered to Pākehā aesthetic values and visual biases. It also signals that Māori are independent and free to develop aesthetic, social and communal models of making, seeing and evaluating art that shows no obeisance to Pākehā aesthetics, their visual biases and reliance on the bourgeois art market to give Māori art meaning. The way Māori art is evaluated could well be retooled as a decolonising critique of the Pākehā gaze—to dredge up Lacan’s notorious noun. Here an older feminist critique of the male gaze, in which male desire determines how men reductively disempower women, is infused with the power and privilege of a self-serving patriarchy.

The male gaze was aggressively ‘deconstructed’ by second-wave feminists in the seventies and eighties with a mix of sexualised misandry and taunting takedowns of the phallus, the master signifier of absence often portrayed in mocking effigy of the male membrum virile. Recall the hilarious but equally scathing painting Considering Theory (1981) by expat New Zealand artist Alexis Hunter (1948-2014) (2). The anger, resentment and wit of women reclaiming their own personal power and collective identity, can be matched by any decolonising critique of the Pākehā gaze—a gaze that is already precoded with the privileges, biases and visual vocabularies of a coloniser.

The monocular gaze that is deeply rooted in the values of Western art holds together an edifice of art, privilege, power and money that is ready to be burned to the ground. That is, if the novel coronavirus and its runaway tramcar killing machine COVID-19 doesn’t first crash and blow apart everything as we know it. Yet the materials, practices, tools, technologies, exhibiting milieu and art training of many Māori artists are virtually indistinguishable from that of their Pākehā contemporaries, for the common materialities of these artists are the legacy of two thousand years of European cultural and technological evolution.

The same dynastic culture that thoroughly colonised Māori in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and, amongst other cultural travesties, wrought linguistic genocide on a whole people. Yet at one time Māori bought muskets because they recognised their utility in ongoing intertribal conflicts, being quite capable of adapting to new technologies and using them for their own ends. But when it comes to contemporary art the adoption of Pākehā materials and processes by Māori, the distinction between tradition and adoption becomes unclear.

Despite their common materialities, there are of course major divergencies between Māori and Pākehā art. These lie in the unique iconographies, belief systems, “the seen and unseen worlds of Māori knowledge” (3) and the widespread identitarian impulse of contemporary Māori art, all of which are virtually absent from Pākehā art, with the notable exception of Theo Schoon and (possibly) Gordon Walters.

Pākehā artists’ use of indigenous motifs remains unsanctioned and offensive in the judgement of many Māori. This particular intersection of Māori and Pākehā worlds, one ostensibly forced by Pākehā, is notoriously challenged in the art-historical writings and critical essays of Rangihīroa Panoho, for example, and more recently by the indigenous-cultural-ownership activism staged at City Gallery, Wellington, whereby a loud and impassioned protest by Māori activists forced unexpected, and perhaps unwanted, attention on the exhibition Split Level View Finder: Theo Schoon and New Zealand Art (27 July-17 November 2019).

There are other significant differences between Māori and Pākehā that have bearing on the way in which Māori art is seen. These include the spiritual, cosmological, epistemological and ontological divergencies of Māori belief and Pākehā philosophical thinking. These divergencies hold hefty consequences for how Māori and Pākehā evaluate and give meaning to art. Herein lies a critical impasse: many Pākehā are not willing to, or are incapable of, giving away the art-critical voice that has become an integral force in the global reach of contemporary art.

Yet te ao Māori has reclaimed its cultural mana and now carries the power to enforce a sort of authoritative storytelling and representationalism that is unique to Māori culture. This is further strengthened by the insistence that Māori art will not be properly understood by Pākehā unless some key elements of Pākehā thinking are allayed: namely the Pākehā propensity to see the world in binary oppositional terms. Māori enjoy a fluid non-binary relationship between object and representation, and this is key to understanding Māori art.

Recently a member of Toi Māori Aotearoa announced to me over lunch that Pākehā “just do not ‘get’” the fluid and non-binary relationship between wairua and atua that Māori enjoy—the intermingling relationship between Māori, their ancestors, gods and spirits and the representations that mark their existence. There are times when the representation may become the thing that is being represented.

Of course this comment (it was really an accusation) embedded a not-so-subtle form of reverse racism. Yet like much racism it also expressed an element of truth which should not be ignored, especially if it is delivered in the form of a gleeful taunt.

For Māori, the relationship between material and non-material entities is inclusive and not static and oppositional as it is for Pākehā. The underlying assumption of this way of thinking about Pākehā lies presumably in the sort of Cartesian scepticism that has driven Western thought throughout the modern period. Starting from a ground of supreme skepticism in which he was certain of nothing, French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) arrived at the only conclusion he could: I think therefore I existed. The consequence of which meant that the dual separation of body and mind is indelible.

But the philosophical world is not bound by Cartesian dualism and the Western psyche has been corrupted by scientism and haunted by an ontology of being that is necessarily empty, as some French philosophers contend. How does the secular Pākehā for whom there are no gods, no ancestors who live past death, and no minor deities with whom to commune, approach Māori art practices that are intrinsically bound to atua?

There is the expectation held by many Māori that when it comes to Pākehā evaluating Māori art, the authority of indigenous fiat must be respected and above all adhered to. In other words, what Māori tell Pākehā about Māori art, about what it means and what it represents, is determinate. But for those Pākehā bought up on a staunch intellectual diet of post-modern skepticism, and for whom the idea that any state of representation is wholly corruptible, then that intersection of worlds will be empty.


In her major audio installation Ōtairongo, wāhine Māori artist Maree Sheehan uses what she calls “advanced digital technology to interpret and represent the identity of wāhine Māori through audio-portraiture, experienced within the realm of Hineraukatauri” (4). Hineraukatauri is the Māori atua of sound and music. Sheehan’s “… use of immersive binaural sound-capture technologies,” which when heard in the enclosed darkness of a number of tall fabric tent-like structures—a bag moth cocoon personifying Hineraukatauri —it is there, within the deep embrace of the goddess that “… our aural perception is elevated in ways that renegotiate how … wāhine Māori might be interpreted and represented.” (5)

The extrinsic messaging of the show is sincere and somewhat persuasive, but like much intentional messaging, of the sort that often accompanies emerging Māori art, it is authoritarian, didactic and prescriptive. This inevitably signals to art heretics that the message has exceeded the art.

In a cultural context that is bigger than the land-of-the-long-white-cloud, bigger than te ao Māori, bigger than anything understood by artistically landlocked Pākehā, the critical art world doesn’t easily tolerate unfamiliar prescriptivism and many emerging Māori artists have a lot of work to do if the distance between making and saying is not skilfully closed. This is no problem for established Māori artists like Lisa Reihana, Michael Parekowhai and Shane Cotton, for while the content of their work can be racially didactic (especially Reihana and Cotton), their success lies in the fact that the materiality of their practice is totally bourgeois; these shrewd artists have learned to press just the right buttons and with just the right pressure to engage a broad audience and garner wide-spread success.

But Ōtairongo presses all the best buttons for direct racial confrontation and it presses them hard. At times Sheehan’s work speaks in the direct voice of Māori political activism, and it does so with a force that is difficult to ignore. Ōtairongo garners the immense verbal weight of Māori oral tradition, Sheehan cleverly mixing an insurgent cry with the softer narrative voice of wāhine Māori storytelling.

The considerable achievement of Sheehan’s installation lies in the oral integrity of its subjects. The binaural audio structure of the work—a term which when Sheehan uses overstates the ordinary technical achievements of the work, because any kid with Logic Pro and a good mic could achieve the same layering effects—emphasises the political oratory of these powerful women in ways that are mesmerising and daunting, especially to male Pākehā who can summon up the tolerance to properly engage.

Clever artists manipulate such contingencies to the extent that they have learned to effectively manipulate. They quickly learn that mainstream success involves abandoning the dated avant-garde fetish of tyrannising their audience, instead learning to chaperone the viewer through the work by providing just enough visual clues for engagement.

It helps that mainstream art audiences are filled with those eager to feel good about themselves and they turn to art to realise this. Such audiences have few expectations and willingly gravitate to any artwork which promises their release from the boredom of life or a respite from the chaos that surrounds them.

Be not mistaken, Ōtairongo does not entrap its Pākehā audience with easy seduction. The aural component of this work is exceptional, Ōtairongo being a fine work that responsibly and effectively caries the mana and respect of a people and of women. Yet the listener and the viewer (the two here are the same) do not need to feel that they must be enclosed in the gestational cocoon of Hineraukatauri for the voices of Sheehan’s three protagonist wahine to be carried, heard, understood and accepted.

The materials and application of Sheehan’s installation—the cocoons—though are unconvincing and, like much contemporary Māori art, are over-burdened with extrinsic meaning. Sheehan’s choice of fabrics, colour, surface markings, representational form and construction, bear all the signs of being driven by an overconfident conceptual ego that belies the deeper silence-of-process that characterises mature talent. Few emerging artists realise that everything is written in the mark and the making, which always speaks truth no matter how unintentional and unwanted that truth may be.

But herein lies an art-political ransom for Pākehā: any critical evaluation of Māori art that is not deferential to what Māori say about themselves, no matter how unconvincingly and arbitrarily conceived narratives may seem to outsiders, such criticism inevitably runs the risk of being deemed insensitive, disrespectful, colonising, churlish or even racist. More so if the criticism is uncomfortably critical.

The upshot of this is that much unremarkable Māori art gets a free ticket to ride. For me, the work of (ex-policeman) Māori artist Darcy Nicholas springs to mind. When contemporary Māori art is ordinary—at least by Pākehā reckoning—but if the tribal stature of the artist is strong, then the deference and mana of the artist’s tribal standing can be summoned and conflated with the power and mana that is natural to great art. This alone can elevate unexceptional contemporary work, sidestep weaknesses within the message, and push Māori art to the point where it is beyond critical evaluation by Pākehā.

The success of Māori artists Reihana, Parekowhai, Cotton and the earlier work of Peter Robinson, have been achieved in art forms that are materially indistinguishable from their Pākehā contemporaries. For this reason, their work carries enough visual DNA already coded into its materials, application and technologies to garner widespread Pākehā acceptance.

Yet Ōtairongo is unlike the work of Reihana and Cotton who cleverly package their decolonising anger in ways that give Pākehā plenty of latitude to avoid discomfort and escape into the aesthetic properties. The sonic guts of Ōtairongo spits quietly in your face. It can be angry and at the same time tell stories of the domestic health of whānau and the love for tamariki and mokopuna. It is refreshing to engage with a contemporary Māori work of art that is without the unbearable posturing of Sheehan’s more successful Māori contemporaries.

Ōtairongo is more incendiary, and therefore a lot more convincing, than the anti-colonial messaging of Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-2017), for example, which is disappointingly sanitised and not amplified by its monumentalism and visual seduction.

The wāhine o Ōtairongo are powerful women and Sheehan’s work not only celebrates this irrefutable truth, it also emphasises that these women are real, women whose words have not been neutered by the canonising force of Pākehā historicity.

Spoken in te reo Māori and in the vulgate that is quickly becoming the new New Zealand English—English language heavily punctuated with Māori terms and expressions—they tell stories of wahine Māori who stand on firm moral ground. These are stories that come not from the sovereign sites of power occupied only by men, but are narratives that emerge from the depth of the social body. The resolve of Sheehan’s protagonists may indeed give life to stories whose power and truth are summoned from the gestational womb of Hineraukatauri, but one thing becomes patently clear: anger is not a bug of human life but a feature. (6)

The colonisation of Aotearoa by a dynastic imperial force has inflicted considerable cultural, social and economic destruction on Māori. Understandably, this has given rise to the indignation and anger of a proud and wilful people. The political drive to redress past and current grievances is energised and active. Political public protest is an effective device to draw attention to, and garner support for, any issue needing redress. The effectiveness of the recent Ihumātao land protests has effectively demonstrated this.

In a wider context, the theatre of victim anger easily garners an audience because it is attractive to believe that the victims of injustice are always right and that their righteous displeasure and suffering is always justifiable. Yet like many wilful people, Māori are quite capable of being racist. These days it is injudicious to even suggest that the victims of social injustice may themselves be to blame, or have in some way contributed to their own condition. The untamable power of social shaming is so widespread that insinuation may be all that is needed to ruin a career. Besides, earnest Pākehā with a natural tendency towards moral fatigue will be reluctant to face down angry social justice warriors.

There is therefore a general canniness among Pākehā cultural elite to acquiesce to all things Māori because it serves their professional self-interests to do so. This is especially true of New Zealand’s public sector. Yet the way in which some Pākehā conduct themselves under the social force of bicultural expectation, can be comical, especially when contrasted with the oratory credibility of wāhine o Ōtairongo.

In Auckland, the wit and social intelligence needed to display the signifiers of class and cultural authority without theatrical excess, is effectively absent. Few of our self-styled cultural mouthpieces understand, and even fewer have mastered, the nuanced skills of virtue signalling needed to lift the complex social theatre that is New Zealand biculturalism above the pantomime it too easily becomes.


Credulity clings to Michael Parekowhai’s fabled red piano He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river (2011) with a simple mix of popular acceptance and bicultural fiat. Yet woven into the symbolic fabric of that red piano (in some lights it looks pink) runs the ludic threads of a method that is extremely interesting.

It turns out that He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river was carved by a Pākehā artisan commissioned by Parekowhai. If this is true, then it immediately begs the question: if Parekowhai’s work conceals a duplicity, then does it really matter?

The answer is not simple. Given that so much bicultural palaver has been made of Parekowhai’s work, and given that it is common in advanced arts cultures for artists to commission others to make their work, the distinction between Māori tradition, adaption and adoption remains clouded.

The first time I saw Parekowhai’s piano, it whispered: “Speak your worst of me, it makes no difference. The enormous cultural investment that has already been paid to and for me will protect me from critical attack. Who would dare speak against me? For to attack me is to attack all Māori. I have been elevated in the public discourse, so high have I risen, that I have been rendered untouchable.”

When the milestone exhibition Te Māori (1984-85) (7) opened at the New York Metropolitan Museum of art in 1984, te ao Māori spoke to the world and, for a moment at least, the world saw and heard. And when the art world bowed in homage before Māori, the mana of their gods and ancestors transcended their representations.

The carved meeting house Te Hau-ki-Tūranga was built in the early 1840s at Ōrākaiapu pā near Gisborne. The whare whakairo was once housed at the New Zealand Dominion Museum in Wellington, where I first saw it as a child, probably in the late 1950s. It spooked me then because I was too young, too white and too middle-class to fully understand the power and mana of whakairo Māori.

Te Hau-ki-Tūranga was carved with metal tools by the master carver Raharuhi Rukupō. It is widely considered to mark the zenith of the Tūranga style for which the carver is most celebrated. In 1998 Te Hau-ki-Tūranga was moved from the old National Museum building to Te Papa where it is currently displayed. The whare whakairo was returned to Rongowhakaata iwi near Gasbourne as part of their Treaty of Waitangi settlement. The iwi maintains ownership of the sacred building.

Arapata Hakiwai (a chief executive officer and kaihautū at Te Papa), who is also of Rongowhakaata descent, says he regularly visits Te Hau-ki-Tūranga at the museum: “I greet my ancestors and say, you know, ‘continue to look after us’ and to say…’we have our people working here and they’re working with you’ …”, such is the power and mana of whakairo.

The depth of mystery and mana of Te Hau-ki-Turanga is risibly absent from He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, although both sit in state at Te Papa. Yet the lacquer surface of the piano sits so thick with irony that it overlays Parekowhai’s project with unexpected meaning.

It is mistaken to look for wairua and mystery in that piano and expect its carving to match the artistic mastery of Raharuhi Rukupō. At a time when academics race to write convincing decolonisation narratives for Māori, He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river becomes a clever bicultural shapeshifter.

As much as Parekowhai’s piano has been elevated to stratospheric heights of cultural credulity by the enormous sum that Te Papa paid for it, we should not overlook how cleverly, albeit unwittingly, Parekowhai’s work speaks the saccharine words of heresy when it asks: do contemporary Māori artists need to explicitly honour wairua and tradition when they make art?

One peculiarity of New Zealand biculturalism is its labile relationship with uncomfortable historical facts. Parekowhai’s piano embeds a cunning bait and switch duplicity, which if it is properly engaged with, could send our bicultural messaging agents into a spin.

In Western thought the idea that there are original things has been thoroughly interrogated by the French philosophers Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard and Gilles Deleuze, and amongst others, the German philosophers Walter Benjamin and Martin Heidegger. New Zealand art’s short-lived obsession with post-structuralist theory in the late nineteen-eighties (think of Richard Killeen’s fabled cutouts) momentarily contested the idea that any work of art could be original. To simplify this idea: in art, nothing is new.

This way of thinking very quickly piddled out, but the out-sourcing practices of artists like Donald Judd, Jeff Koons and Billy Apple® continue to call into question the art fetish of originality. Being successful means that artists can afford to pay others to manually craft their art, and even, is in the case with Warhol, to come up with ideas. While at Elam, and in the early part of his career, Parekowhai was a big fan of Koons. It is little wonder that He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river honours the art-making practices of that all-white artist.

The last time I saw Parekowhai’s red piano downstairs at City Gallery, Wellington, I had heard the backstory of its making. This fake whakairo has become more real than that which it copies—this is post-authentic whakairo. I was probably more surprised by the realisation that I was seeing contemporary Māori art through a postmodern lens.

In a different tenor, respected go-to art writer Justin Paton asks a parallel question of Parekowhai’s piano: “Is it a European instrument decorated with Māori carving, or a Māori carving that has engulfed a piece of European high culture,” But this provokes a further question: does the Māori commissioned, Pākehā ‘made’ He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river constitute an act of reverse colonisation? When a Māori artist commissions a Pākehā artisan to carve a work of contemporary Māori art—one that imitates the ancient art of whakairo—is the artist cleverly directing a Pākehā artisan to overwrite the indices of sovereignty and privilege that continue to bolster white European privilege, or do Parekowhai’s choices reflect a sort of artistic opportunism where the artist has looked to the sovereign culture to carve the piano, because no respected Māori carver would agree to do so? Parekowhai himself can best answer that question.

However not all contemporary art need fall under the intellectual rubric of Pākehā theoretical thinking. One wonders what Māori have to say about the Pākehā carving of He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river. What might be said, say, by the cultural sectarian Rangihiroa Panoho who has already reproved New Zealand’s most successful Māori artists for selling out and playing from both ends of the bicultural divide.

Even if the materiality of Parekowhai’s challenging work points to a practice ethic that is more opportunist, pragmatic and duplicitous than the wry artistic nous it pretends, the productive trace of any work of art is tagged the moment it enters the public domain, and the inescapable process of narrative spinning begins.

Parekowhai’s piano addresses a twenty-first century Pākehā audience by using all the narrative clues that are easily recognised and accepted. But if the success of He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river was less bourgeois, it could speak (without self-contradiction) of how colonisation has urbanised and fiscally disenfranchised a people.

In much the same way as lacquer sets hard on any surface, the will of a coloniser may befoul ancestral land and blood may harden red on the earth. But if that piano were able to play another tune—the song of Hineraukatauri, for example—it would first need to transcend the body that binds it and the artist’s ego trapped deep within its form. Then and only then could that pure song be heard in all possible worlds.

Terrence Handscomb

(1) David Hall, ‘Admit Nothing: Mapping Denial,’ Reading Room (2018) 08.18 68-85; 73. In a footnote Hall acknowledges: “The framework of ao, of ‘Worlds,’ is indebted to Anne Salmon, Tears of Rangi: Experiment Across Worlds (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017).”

(2) See the online video in which curator Laura Castagnini and art historian Elizabeth Eastmond describe the life and art of Alexis Hunter:

(3) Nigel Borell, Curator of Māori Art, Auckland Art Gallery on Maree Sheehan’s Artspace exhibition: “Ōtairongo by Maree Sheehan presents an exciting opportunity to rethink and reconsider the scope of contemporary Māori art. The artist’s sonic portraiture project allows for new readings and understandings about representation that highlights the seen and unseen worlds of Māori knowledge in new ways.”, downloaded 19 March 2020.

(4) Maree Sheehan, Ōtairongo, Artspace Aotearoa, 7 March-16 May 2020.

(5) Quoted from publicity for Ōtairongo, Artspace Aotearoa - downloaded 4 March 2020.

(6) Cf. “On Anger,” eds. Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen, (2020) Boston Review Forum 13 (45.1) p.7.

(7) Te Māori opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1984. It later toured North America, visiting St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco. The exhibition later toured New Zealand, visiting the four main centres.

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This Discussion has 9 comments.


Andrew Paul Wood, 7:50 p.m. 20 April, 2020

I think a significant part of the distinction is moot. Anything can be taonga if the tangata whenua invest that value in it - it doesn't have to be made by a tohunga or even Māori as in the case of the portraits by Lindauer and Goldie. There's an obvious parallel with Duchamp's readymades - they become because of their context. As for "the fluid and non-binary relationship between wairua and atua", I think there are two points of aiding understanding for the respectful Pākehā, either through European folk traditions, or through a range of applicable parallel concepts from Heidegger, Foucault, Deleuze, Debord. It wasn't that long ago my ancestors were still worshiping the spirits of springs and wells under the names of Catholic saints. Every day science reveals how little we know about the nature of reality - surely it is better to be humble before it rather than overanalyse it (he said with his hand on the Penguin edition of Plotinus).

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Ralph Paine, 2:58 p.m. 4 May, 2020

THE OTHER ... And out along thy reef thou dost collect Wrecks of Thought.

Perhaps we’re all ethnographers now. Observer-Informants sitting on some glorious beach in Hawaiki, making field notes-to-self, gazing at the other while the other gazes back. Perhaps the relation between the Māori world and the Pakeha world is itself fluid and non-binary. Why not? Given this scenario the two worlds will co-condition each other, but only as Possible Worlds. Suddenly it’s as if we’ve embarked on a mutually constitutive conceptual adventure, an experiment in generic thought: Universal Moana.

And so along the way, beneath the sun and the moon and the stars, each world will keep on keeping on as the other world’s other, as its virtual transformative principle. By embarking, by entering into a fluid and non-binary relation—a fractal between-two, so to speak—the Māori world and the Pakeha world will sur-face together, cross over, entwine, but always via the Aternal possibility of a becoming-other.

Yet caution: the other world’s other is only a Possible World. That is to say, not an illusion or fantasy, but a virtual. No world is capable of actualising its virtual other. No world is capable of expressing its other Possible World. The Māori world expresses the Māori world. The Pakeha world expresses the Pakeha world. Tautologies? Yes, but dynamic and powerful ones. Meaning: each world remains coextensive with its own implicit and autopoietic values, beliefs, language, myths, genealogies, art, political formation, division of labour (gendered and otherwise), cosmology, etc. and continues to express itself via these. Hence: a world is not actualised via some predetermined technical plane. A world is actualised via its expressions. Yet by also maintaining the implicit possibility of another world, each world can certainly think with or alongside this possibility, if it so chooses.

Parekowhai’s He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand River is an expression of the Māori world. Already it can play its virtual song in any Possible World whatever.

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Ralph Paine, 1:31 p.m. 9 May, 2020

Regarding the technical plane, why is it that neither muskets nor smart phones, printing presses nor combustion engines, the alphabet nor double-entry book keeping, have destroyed the Māori world? How is it that the Māori world and the Pakeha world can share a common technical plane and at the same time maintain their implicit and autopoietic values, beliefs, etc.? In somewhat counter-intuitive manner, perhaps the answer lies in saying that the technical plane is also a virtual; that is, not a virtual ‘world’ but rather a virtuality of technique, a generic plane of technical possibility that both worlds can choose from and use in order to enhance the efficacy of their expressions.

Problem: how to warrant this choosing and using with reciprocity/utu? And likewise, how to ensure that the mutually constitutive conceptual adventure (as above) be conducted under the sign of reciprocity/utu? In other words, how to always take so as to give, give so as to take—un-greedily? It is said that the Waitangi process acts as the provider of such an assurance. Hence: under the auspices of said process, an iwi-state art school is conceived as entirely Māori and also Pakeha, entirely Pakeha and also Māori.

And yet ...

I am the Peoples of the Earth
And a People yet to come
Wrap me round with your double bind
The one from the Land
The other from the Sea
And throw me into
The House of the World

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jim barr, 4:40 p.m. 27 May, 2020

Handscomb claims Parekowhai’s piano He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river ‘conceals a duplicity’ because he has just found out it was carved by a Pākehā. Shamefully no-one thought to alert Handscomb to this at the time of its making, although it was never a secret. But then Handscomb’s piece goes on accusing Parekowhai of ‘…stratospheric heights of cultural credulity’, ‘saccharine words of heresy’, ‘fake whakairo’ and ‘artistic opportunism’ and any point that might have been made gets kind of lost in general abuse of the artist rather than the art.

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Terrence Handscomb, 10:20 a.m. 11 June, 2020

Thanks for verifying that as fact. Now everyone knows it’s true.

The Pākehā making of Parekowhai’s piano may indeed be old news to art insiders, but there are good reasons why this little known fact is notably absent from New Zealand’s art-historical canon.

Either the Pākehā carving of the piano is of no cultural nor artistic consequence to Māori, and therefore no one really cares how it was made nor by whom; or the Pākehā carving does matter but the truth of its making has been conveniently kept quiet by those whom would otherwise gain when Te Papa bought the work and huge amounts of public money changed hands – $1.3M from Te Papa’s acquisitions budget, the remaining $0.2M from fundraising. The enormous sum (by New Zealand standards) made a bold claim about the work’s importance, for Māori in particular and New Zealand culture in general.

Te Papa: ‘Te Papa Board Chair Sir Wira Gardiner says the passion and storytelling of artist Michael Parekowhai are alive in the newly acquired piece. “He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river is a beautiful melding of whakapapa or genealogy and artistic interpretation. These are the stories Te Papa is proud to share with all of our communities, and Michael Parekowhai has done New Zealand proud” [5 December 2011]’.

Herein lies the duplicity.

The relationship between money and art is narrative based, a principle Peter McLeavey mastered and Michael Lett is quickly learning. Whomever controls the narrative manipulates the direction in which artist’s prestige and privilege flows. When I speak of Parekowhai’s “duplicity” I am talking of strategic silence; by the artist, his agents and his followers, at a time when airing the fact that a significant piece of contemporary Māori art was in fact made by a Pākehā. This could have easily jeopardised the purchase. In my reading of the work the semiotic markers of that history had stuck to that awful red surface and gave the work new meaning.

In art there is the lingering belief that once a work of art enters the public domain an artist may relinquish any moral and intellectual agency as to its meaning and intention. It is enough for an artist to make a work and the challenge is for others to find its meaning. This means that an artist’s moral and intellectual responsibility for a work is easily diminished and explained away by others, such as dealers, curators, collectors and other lobbyists whom support an artist and their work. Saying that Parekowhai was up-front about its making from the beginning, is not enough to explain what the work has become and the bicultural contradictions it now represents.

If the Pākehā carving of He kōrero pūrākau mo te awanui o te motu: story of a New Zealand river doesn’t matter to Māori, and its making is therefore legitimate and justifiable, then I want to hear that from Māori, not by implication from a Pākehā with vested interests to protect and art allegiances to defend.

Terrence Handscomb, 10:22 a.m. 11 June, 2020

Toi whakairo holds special significance for Māori. Atua speak to and through tohunga whakairo. I recall Lisa Reihana telling of how she is one-with-her-ancestors when she makes art (my dim memory has brutalised her words, and therefore their exact meaning). Did a Pākehā artisan, with (presumably) no whakapapa, commune with Māori atua in the carving of that piano? Or is Parekowhai’s artist’s intention enough for atua to speak through that agency? Only Māori can only answer these questions.

From my own Pākehā perspective, Parekowhai commissioning a Pākehā to make the work was a dodgy but brave move that drips with irony. Yet the predominant bicultural narrative served up by Te Papa to justify the purchase ignores all of this.

This is a time when contemporary Māori art is not properly understood by sceptical Pākehā who are driven away by the oppositional narratives of Māori identity politics. To these skeptics, what Māori say about contemporary Māori art can seem arbitrary and mutable. This is further aggravated by the observation that the principle differences between contemporary Māori and Pākehā arts are not ontological nor material, they are semiotic. Apart from its content, politics and iconography (the semiotic part), contemporary Māori art – the sort of bourgeois art that Parekowhai, Reihana and Cotton make – differs little from its Pākehā counterpart. In other words both arts share the same material ontology and social milieux.

So how does contemporary Māori art effectively differ from Pākehā art? A thorough interrogation of Parekowhai’s piano is a good place to start. The work’s complexity, contradictions and ironies could point to astute new readings of contemporary New Zealand art at a time when race and privilege are being relitigated. These readings could not only readjust the polarised intersectionality of coloniser and colonised, but they could also impeach the burgeoning new forms of privilege and difference that bourgeois art, both Māori and Pākehā, keep hidden.

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jim barr, 8:29 p.m. 15 June, 2020

Terrence I really think the time for bemoaning the fact that some Pakeha don't understand Maori culture has passed. It certainly could have done without 800 words worth on EyeContact

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Ralph Paine, 1:59 p.m. 18 June, 2020

Māori = X

The name “Māori” continues to seek its adequacy within the real: Māori = X, or becoming-Māori. Meanwhile, this continuity of becoming finds itself broken open by every DECISION to use this name: being-Māori. The being of Māori is a temporal and open linguistic act of naming. If suddenly from within my hesitant sense of things I decide to bring together a name and an artwork by stating “This is Māori”, then this act, this severing of time in the precariousness of a here and now, is also a NEW generation of being, this because the act breaks with the past in order to then rejoin and somehow enhance the future. Of course my decision is merely a singular event. But it is a singular event located in a common field or network of other such events. Language is the community of these events—a being-with—and so my act of naming can only participate in the dialogue and perhaps clashing of this community. All linguistic praxis seeks no other form of truth.

It is said by the community (of the two worlds) that Michael Parekowhai’s He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand River is Māori. To the contrary, Mr Handscomb says that it is not-Māori. His saying thus clashes with that of the community. He is against the saying of this community, against its consensus. Why? Why does he want to negate He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu’s exceptional standing as being-Māori? What counter-truth is Handscomb seeking?

It seems clear that Handscomb thinks (all?) contemporary Māori art is enslaved within a servile consciousness, that is to say, captured by consensus inside a system of overt ranking; swallowed up entirely in the fabrication of exchangeable products and services; fully operational within a generic regime of signs, etc. He names all this using the 19th century epithet “Bourgeois”. I kinda get where he’s coming from, but aren’t we all enslaved here? And given today’s entirely globalised conditions, wouldn’t “Nation-State-Capitalist” be a more useful name in figuring out “WHAT IS TO BE DONE?”?

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Ralph Paine, 2:05 p.m. 18 June, 2020

Thus, and in brief, although the Pakeha world was the historical conduit through which a Nation-State-Capitalist system violently imposed itself on the Māori world, today the consensus within the Māori world is to embrace and attempt to totally transform this system by means of the Waitangi Process—initially, by forcing the State to recognise the Treaty as binding; and subsequently, by entering into negotiations toward monetary reparations, return of land, the instigation of a bi-cultural Nation, the right of co-governance at all levels, the freedom to conduct business in the Capitalist marketplace, and so on & so forth & into the future . . . In other words, the Waitangi Process = Māori Liberation, and thus we ain’t seen nothing yet!

Of course nothing is certain, and doubtless the Māori world is fully aware of some of the many dangers lying ahead—for example, that any further sustained pursuit of property and juridical rights by iwi, hapu, etc. using concepts and precepts derived from State law—and in conjunction with the mechanisms and force of that law—might result in the loss of an amazing historical willingness and ability to partake in a militant struggle against the State.

Anyhows, back to contemporary art. Yes, Parekowhai, Reihana, Cotton, et. al have embraced the Nation-State-Capitalist system. But decisively, and in SOME WAY to assist in transforming this system, they have done so as Māori. They are the Waitangi Process. They are Māori Liberation. They are Māori = X. MOANA FUTURISM.

Stop pissing in the waka Mr Handscomb. It stinks.

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