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Issue 11, 2015

Pretentious

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News

  • Boyd Wilson steps finally safe?

  • Chancellor remembers who what when where why, but forgets how

  • Stoners safe for now

  • Poppin caps… on their heads

  • Lincoln is Dairy-ing other Ewe-nies to follow suit

  • Features

  • philip

    Come On! Feel the Harsh Noise!

    – SPONSORED – Ever walked past a construction site with a friend? Tyres squeal, diggers crunch, the yells of the foreman at unpredictable moments sound like a rasping opera singer. Amongst the cacophony you might be privy to the death-rattle of a spade being dragged across concrete, the dissonant hum of some industrial equipment that […]

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  • malick

    The Malickthon

    – SPONSORED – “My mother died of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My father had kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral, he gave it to the yardman. He tried to act cheerful, but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in […]

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  • gus

    Panel Experts

    – SPONSORED – A few weeks ago, the City Library hosted the annual Comicfest event, which aims to spotlight the work of New Zealand comic artists—from political cartoonists to longform comic writers—and encourage aspiring artists and writers to create and share their own work. This was why I was here. Ever since I learnt that […]

    by

  • philip

    Come On! Feel the Harsh Noise!

    – SPONSORED – Ever walked past a construction site with a friend? Tyres squeal, diggers crunch, the yells of the foreman at unpredictable moments sound like a rasping opera singer. Amongst the cacophony you might be privy to the death-rattle of a spade being dragged across concrete, the dissonant hum of some industrial equipment that […]

    by

  • malick

    The Malickthon

    – SPONSORED – “My mother died of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My father had kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral, he gave it to the yardman. He tried to act cheerful, but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in […]

    by

  • gus

    Panel Experts

    – SPONSORED – A few weeks ago, the City Library hosted the annual Comicfest event, which aims to spotlight the work of New Zealand comic artists—from political cartoonists to longform comic writers—and encourage aspiring artists and writers to create and share their own work. This was why I was here. Ever since I learnt that […]

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • Shovel Knight

    ★★★★½

    Shovel Knight is a delicious blend of the old school and the new. It’s a side-scroller adventure game that reminds the player of the 8-bit era, while packing in heavy RPG elements, Dark Souls-esque death mechanics, and replayability. At first glance it might appear that Shovel Knight can’t contend with the AAA titles which today saturate the games industry. Fortunately that assessment would be wrong. So very very wrong.

    Shovel Knight was initially released in 2014 on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U consoles. Though this once sparked jealousy in gamers who owned more current generation console systems, last month we joyously received the game on PS4 and Xbox One! Not much is new in this more recent package. You can now earn trophies and achievements whilst playing on the new respective systems. The biggest addition, however, is an extra fight with console mascots. On Playstation you can fight Kratos (of God of War fame). On Xbox you can fight the Battle Toads (the main characters of an old Rareware property).

    As previously mentioned, Shovel Knight looks like it would be at home on a NES or SNES system. The game intentionally pays homage to the retro. But this is not to be taken as a slight to the game’s aesthetic. The colourfully vibrant world and overload of pixels mean this game would be an impossibility on the consoles of yesteryear. The art direction here is superb. Shovel Knight’s enemies come in the form of six bosses, the Order of No Quarter, and their big bad boss. Each one of these characters has a unique visual personality that distinguishes them from the others. This is not even to mention the prettiness of the game’s different worlds. Developer Yacht Club Games takes us from snowy wildernesses to ominous castles and all the way back again. Complementing these visuals is an upbeat bit tune soundtrack which really ties the whole “feel” together.

    Though the game’s main quest can be chivalrously defeated by Shovel Knight (and a decent player) in around six-ish hours, what you’ll be doing for those six hours and afterwards makes this package well worth the $20 entrance fee. Shovel Knight is a fun guy. He makes a habit of disposing of enemies by innovatively bouncing on them with his shovel. This game mechanic is reminiscent of Scrooge McDuck’s pogo stick in Ducktales (wooooo ooooo). The ability to relinquish one’s enemies and traverse the environment in this way keeps the game’s minute-to-minute gameplay fresh. Whilst shovel pogo-ing you’ll move through stages collecting treasure to upgrade Shovel Knight’s gear so he might ultimately become powerful enough to sweep aside the Order of No Quarter.

    Following the game’s conclusion you can visit side areas unrelated to the main quest, gather collectables and work at the many “feats” challenged by Yacht Club in the pause menu (the completion of which unlocks tied achievements and trophies). Perhaps Shovel Knight’s greatest success is the depth it offers for more skilled or masochistic players. There are several risk/reward systems within the game. For example, death sees shovel knight drop bags of money, which if not recovered are lost forever. Later levels will kill you with greater regularity, but offer more treasure. Also, each stage has checkpoints, but if the player decides to destroy them, he is gifted with treasure at the expense of a respawn point. The inclusion of a New Game Plus mode further ensures Shovel Knight’s status as a solid investment.

    Shovel Knight is an excellent homage to the games of yore. It works equally well as a modern action RPG, and as a reminder that side-scrollers are still as relevant and fun as they ever were. Whether you look at the excellent art, sound or game design, it is hard to see Shovel Knight as anything besides a worthy $20 purchase. Its more deep and punishing mechanics would keep me coming back for more far into my 15th hour. Shovel Knight is the best game I’ve played all year. It is worthy of your time and coin.

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  • Astrid Desbordes—The Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

    Gecko Press is doing a wonderful job—selecting only a few works to publish each year allows their focus to fall to seriously good books. The Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster is one of the first kid’s books to make me genuinely laugh out loud. It swings from sincere sweet moments, to quirky jokes, at a rather surprising and incredibly enjoyable pace.

    Following a format that shares similarities to early chapter books and comic strips, the story is told through pictures and speech bubbles, with vivid illustrations lending to the development of the story. Each story is only two or three pages long, allowing for small stories to be developed within the larger story. Following the Hamster who, along with his friends in the clearing, goes on an adventure to the North Pole, despite Hamster wanting to visit his cousins on the moon. Alongside this plot is a romance that blooms between the hedgehog and the mole, and that is bloody cute.

    Much like other kids books, beneath the initial kids-appeal lies a sea of big ideas adults find interesting, and that children need to learn. Here the biggest concept is selfishness, with Hamster being unapologetically selfish, and his friends entirely accepting.

    Hamster is like the Michael Scott of kids’ books—he just wants to impress other people, and be a bit powerful. Hamster creates lies he can live in, creating his own extraordinary world. He’s not afraid of the word no, telling his friends what he thinks regardless of the repercussions. This trait, while breaking many of society’s rules of conduct, is entirely endearing to his character, he is bold and honest, and not limited by people’s perceptions. His friends all accept this attribute, never blinking an eyelid when he says they can’t share his snacks, nor can they sit by him. As my boyfriend said when reading this, “that Hamster is a dick!”, but for kids, selfishness is treated with humour and ridiculousness. The Hamster’s startlingly rude remarks are the basis of a lot of the humour, which presents the negativity of selfishness in a gentler way, while clearly presenting the negative attributes.

    The book is full of bold and lively illustrations, which brings the world of these friends to life, and shit those animals are cute. Especially the mole—the mole is so, so cute.

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  • Nosaj Thing—Fated

    ★★★½

    Fated is L.A.-based Jason Chung’s third album in six years, a 15-track and 34-minute wonder that serves as a continuation of the sound he established in Home (2013) and Drift (2009). Chung’s work as Nosaj Thing thus far has been about “measuring and manipulating an audible distance between lucidity and obscurity” (David Hogg) and this album is no different.

    On Fated, Chung combines his masterful production with his usual transcendent and ethereal sound—and the result is pretty sublime. He maintains a strong control over the whole album, from the carefully constructed vibe of it all, to the finer details of each individual track.

    “Don’t Mind Me” is one highlight from the album, featuring vocals by Whoarei, who boasts a production credit on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and is signed to Chung’s label Timetable. The track is upbeat and yet pretty glum, and is definitely one of my favourites.

    “Cold Stares” features Chance the Rapper and Maceo Haymes (The O’My’s). The track picks up when Chance starts rapping introspective verses over Chung’s ethereal beat: “Silent and solemn, Smeagol to Gollum / Evil done got him / Doctors say we believe its a problem / Possessed by a demon, they won’t leave it inside him”. Obviously any LoTR reference is a winner and Chance’s rapping is on point. He continues with a depressing look into the world of drug addiction: “Devil whistles in his ear, out of tune / On an empty ass bed, can’t remember how to spoon / Can’t forget how the spoon / Was the bowl for the soup for his arm”.

    My favourite tracks on the album are those where the narrative is aided by a vocalist, but that’s not to say that Chung is any less moving without one. “A” is one such track, featuring no vocals but is still a stuttering 2 minutes that works pretty well. “Light #5” is also worth a mention, following “Light #1” and “Light #2” from Drift and Home’s “Light 3”. It’s cool to see this progression and it’s so interesting to see this become a recurring theme in each of Chung’s albums.

    The album flows well and it moulds itself into a continued sound; the tracks blend effortlessly to create a harmonious listening experience that can easily turn into background noise. It’s not exactly an album that demands your attention, but Fated is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of acts like Flying Lotus and El-P.

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  • Django Django—Born Under Saturn

    ★★★½

    Born Under Saturn is the second studio album from London-based art rock band Django Django, following the release of their self-titled debut in 2012. Django Django has managed to master their psychedelic sound through an array of synth-pop, electro, and indie rock influences. The LP was recorded over a period of 18 months and produced by drummer Dave Maclean.

    The album opens with “Giant”, a track that clocks in at nearly six minutes long. “Shake and Tremble” sees the quartet repurpose surf-guitar riffs without it sounding too much like surf rock, though that vibe is definitely present. It’s easily one of my favourite songs on the album, and for me this is the track that sees them furthest from what they created on their debut effort Django Django.

    “Found You” is another highlight. “First Light” is one of the better tracks on the album; it’s vaguely psychedelic and lyrically interesting (“Sending out a signal from a city, we went / Towards a future that is greener than the money we spent / Discover beaches buried deeper underneath the cement / Look down through the cracks for the gold that they’re hiding”).

    “Pause Repeat” makes use of offbeat, syncopated rhythm and key changes. The seemingly monotone vocals remind me of their earlier stuff, though the chorus mixes this up a bit—but perhaps not as successfully as it could have done. These layered vocal harmonies are a prominent aspect of Born Under Saturn, much like on Django Django before it. “Reflections” similarly makes heavy use of the layered harmonies, with their strong accents being juxtaposed against Caribbean-inspired rhythms.

    Born Under Saturn is a clear display of ability, after an incredibly difficult-to-follow debut release. It’s more of the same, but in a good way, and they’ve definitely built on their sound. However, the general consensus amongst critics seems to be that the album could have used a little more fine-tuning, and I have to agree. Some of the tracks are a bit too lengthy and it feels like they’re overextending themselves. It’s clear that Born Under Saturn definitely could have benefitted from some editing. It’s a great album, but not as jaw-dropping as their Mercury-nominated debut LP—though undoubtedly still worth a listen.

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  • Woman in Gold

    ★★½

    Woman in Gold is partly a legal drama, partly a film about the lead up to and fallout from the Holocaust, and partly a vehicle for Helen Mirren to play the sassy underdog. It’s ultimately forgettable. Mirren plays Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish widow living in Los Angeles. After the death of her sister, she finds some letters which give her cause to contact her friend’s lawyer son, Randol Schonberg (Ryan Reynolds).

    Originally Randol is frustrated with having to deal with this weird old lady but eventually realises she has a very rare case that could potentially be life changing. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Maria’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, is the woman featured in Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting which became known as Woman in Gold. Maria’s uncle commissioned the portrait from Klimt and it hung in the family’s Viennese home until it and everything else was taken by the Nazis. Maria and her husband manage to escape Nazi-controlled Vienna and make it to America. The film is primarily concerned with the story of the legal battle between Maria and the Austrian government for whom the painting is very nationally significant, having been hung in the Belvedere Gallery since it was taken. The painting is now worth over one hundred million dollars.

    The film lives or dies on the audience really caring about Maria getting the painting back from the Austrian government, who are represented as unceasingly miserly and evil. The film uses many different tools to achieve this and yet it failed. That this reasonably well off woman is going to become a multi-millionaire is, with all due respect to her suffering, not the most interesting or emotional story about this time period.

    The most effective scene in the film is the scene of Maria and her husband escaping Austria, which is shot like a Cold War thriller. It was genuinely exciting but it made the modern scenes seem especially dull. Mirren’s constant wisecracks made Altmann seem insufferable rather than endearing. The film is paced rather poorly, with build-ups and payoffs coming at disjointed times. The use of the inherent and incomparable emotion of the holocaust to make us feel good about Altmann getting this family heirloom back (which she immediately sells) left me with an uneasy feeling. It is not a terrible film, and there are some things to like, but overall it was by the numbers and a bit of a drag.

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  • Testament of Youth

    ★★★½

    Let’s not beat around the bush here: war sucks. Nothing to me is more horrifying than the thought of being given a gun and ordered to kill another, for reasons that so often seem petty and pointless. It’s never that simple of course, but the point stands. The First World War was especially a waste, with the various fronts from the fields of France to the beaches of Gallipoli devolving into a collective quagmire of human misery rarely seen before.

    Vera Brittain saw the lot of it, serving as a nurse during the War and having her fiancé, brother and two close friends die on the front line. She channelled her grief and sorrow from her wartime experiences into her memoirs and campaigning for peace throughout her lifetime, becoming an icon of the pacifist movement and admired by feminists for her strong will to fight expectations. Testament of Youth is an iconic work of literature for its uncompromising depiction of the war and its lingering effects amongst ordinary people, so it is not surprising that, in the wake of the 100th anniversary of the War, it would see a film adaptation. As a work of anti-war fiction it never stood a chance against the original, but nevertheless it is a war film worth seeing, especially if Anzac Day stirred you up this year.

    Testament of Youth works as a drama because it refuses to pull its punches about how horrific the First World War really was for ordinary people. What many young men and women of England thought would be the greatest adventure of their lives was really a clusterfuck of blood, mud, and missing limbs, and that’s exactly what this film shows. Many aspects of the wartime experience are here, from the decision to help out through to the trauma of losing those closest to you. The cinematography works here to capture both the beauty of the English countryside and all of its peace and tranquillity, perhaps reflecting the ideals of a non-violent world that Brittain campaigned for long after the war, and the horrors of the muddied fields of France complete with mounds of dead bodies, a contrast which is not lost on the viewer. The gore alone, mostly seen in the field hospitals where young Ms. Brittain treated the grievously wounded, wouldn’t be out of place in Saw, but that’s not what we’re at the cinema to see; it instead enhances those feelings of grief and loss that are so central to Vera Brittain’s story.

    It’s a shame then that the film falls just short of being able to fully convey these feelings because of rather shoddy acting. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander does perfectly well, even fantastically, as Brittain; her on-screen presence often being that which best carries the film forward. In a film of this type, the emotion the characters show has to feel natural, be reflective of how we actually react to horrific situations, and this is what Vikander does best; I haven’t seen better cinematic crying for a very long time. Kit Harington, playing Brittain’s lover Roland Leighton, is just stiff as a board here. He looks incredibly uncomfortable having to play the sweetheart, a man changed by the war, and every time he appeared he sucked the soul out of what could have been touching and sentimental moments. I don’t watch Game of Thrones so I’m not sure how good he can be, but his performance here doesn’t leave a good impression upon me. This is problematic because Roland as a character is supposed to be Vera’s main motivation for her decisions, and Harington couldn’t deliver when it really mattered. He probably should have stayed back at the Wall. Hayley Atwell is also in this, but I couldn’t tell who or where she was. Not a good sign if you want me to watch and/or like Agent Carter.

    There is still a lot to like about Testament of Youth, however. You literally could not make up a better wartime story than Vera Brittain’s, and while this adaptation is not perfect, it is well suited to those who appreciate good drama and aren’t afraid to bust out the tissues when the wave of feels hits them. Jolly good show.

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  • Dior And I

    ★★★★

    Parisienne icon; fashion house; luxury goods company; and one of the world-renowned labels that’s spurred countless Chinatown spinoffs—now, it’s director Frédéric Tcheng’s latest in a line-up of documentary homages to beloved fashion figures. Tcheng’s previous work on Valentino and Vreeland has been well regarded, and Dior and I is no exception to the rule, with his affinity for the world of fashion shining through. The film is an eloquent, humble take on the world of the revolutionary fashion house, and will likely appeal to fashion lovers, fashionistas, and the fashionably challenged who just like pretty things.

    Perhaps the basis of the film’s wide appeal is due to the fact it’s less about the garments than one might expect; if you’re looking for a rerun of Dior’s 2012 line, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a thoughtful, honest introduction to some of the people in the biz, including newbie house director Raf Simons, and an insightful commentary on what’s behind a name.

    The freshness of Tcheng’s filmmaking comes largely from his approach to structure. In some senses, it’s a very basic narrative: it’s a behind-the-scenes chronicle that aligns us with newcomer Simons, demands our allegiance to him, and produces a sense of revelry in his success. The portrait of Raf is beautifully balanced, though, with sketches of his incorrigible team, and it’s this attention to the plebs that lifts the tone of the whole film. Amongst this arc, Tcheng displays his ability to add historical interjections without weighing down the narrative, lightly touching upon elements of Christian Dior’s life and work to create a kind of mythology of the house of Dior. It’s an interesting approach, given Simons’ own assertion that “the past is not romantic to me”. Nevertheless, Tcheng infuses the life of the past into the film in a manner that leaves the tired biopic approach of the contemporaneous Yves Saint Laurent in the dust.

    The precise work of creating haute couture garments is echoed in Tcheng’s careful takes, and the film seems self-aware in its ability to gauge just how much of the angst of preparing the collection the audience wants to see before the focus shifts to a lighter anecdote or character sketch. Editing and cinematography echo the House’s style: it’s generally clean cut and simply “pretty”, with just the right number of breathtaking moments. This isn’t the most hard-hitting documentary I’ve seen. It’s not the most meaningful, or even the most stylish. But the “wow” moments alone make it worth the runtime: you should probably see it if you like pretty things.

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  • Sam Riviere—Kim Kardashian’s Marriage

    Within the confines of the strikingly minimalistic book covers of Faber & Faber lives Riviere’s ultra relevant display of society’s ephemeral artifice. Love her or (more likely) hate her, Kim Kardashian is a cornerstone for all things now. With her own book recently released, in the form of a faux-art book, she represents, in so many ways, the aspects of society we haven’t quite grown comfortable with yet. Riviere’s collection has no doubt had a few sales attributed to its connection to the buxom business mogul, despite the collection having, largely, very little to do with it. Kim K exists as a symbol, but for this collection Riviere also uses the number of days Kim K was married to Chris Humphries (72) as a restriction for the number of poems contained within. Riviere is one of the most significant poets of the post-internet poetry movement, which relies on the randomised internet based sourcing of language and content.

    This collection takes the reader through the artifice of life; found language sourced through Google searches intermingles with the signs of familiarity, creating a feeling of randomised connection and disconnection. With a range of varied poems, the subjects obscured, the words produce a pathway for connections. You sort of feel like you’re getting to the point, but the point is dodging you. Post-internet poetry plays with the artificial surfaces that the eminence of the internet generates; Riviere masters this, and hints to an oblique depth, while denying access. The basis of this duality is in fact very similar to my experience of the technology and language of the internet—I know there’s hardcore technology involved, but I understand very little of it. My own experiences are invited to the discussion through this disconnected randomised distortion the poetry plays with. In this way it is reminiscent of post-modern styles being entirely aware of its efforts, and doing it anyway.

    For Riviere the process he undergoes to generate the work is incredibly essential to the product, yet his process is not promoted or discussed, for a magician never reveals his tricks. However, it also underpins so many important themes that run throughout the collection, products being one such essential concept. This collection is a really interesting one, which is both accessible and hyper-intellectual, so basically just your classic poetry collection, I suppose.

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  • Enjoy Gallery

    I’ve always been intrigued by art project spaces—galleries that are defined by the contemporary, often highly experimental art they show, and by their commitment to the community in which they exist. As such, independent art space Enjoy Gallery was one of the first galleries I sought out when I arrived in Wellington a few months ago.

    Located on Cuba St, Enjoy is the oldest independent art space in Wellington, having started in 2000. Enjoy Curator and Manager Emma Ng explains its evolution since then—“Enjoy was originally an artist run space run by contemporary artists in Wellington and it was really about them being able to show experimental art. Then slowly over the years the gallery has professionalised more. Now instead of being artist-run as such there’s a board of trustees.” However, the space is “still completely non-commercial and independent. The idea is that it’s a space where artists can make work that is more experimental and which shows a lot of emerging artists as well.” This is a pretty important role both for contemporary artists and the wider community, especially given that “Wellington doesn’t have a lot of artist-run spaces, compared to say Auckland where there seems to be an artist-run space popping up every year and sticking around for a year or two.”

    Walking up the stairs and entering the space is in itself a pretty aesthetic experience—the tall windows allow natural light into the white space, where you instantly feel serene and contemplative. A wonderful space to experience a huge variety of art—not to mention Enjoy’s amazing library, which contains the kinds of “smaller books and publications that are difficult to find elsewhere”. Similarly, the space is really inclusive and community-focused, and you can sense that right away when you come into the space and have a chat with Emma or the Communications and Publications Manager, Louise. As Emma states, “Enjoy’s mission at the moment is an open engagement with the Enjoy community and the city and I think there is a certain responsibility to show a variety of work. I see us as being a community space not just for artists, but for designers and writers, and all those creative people we work with.”

    In this vein, Enjoy provides a lot of opportunities for students, such as volunteering which involves babysitting the galleries on weekends and helping out at openings—both great ways to get to know the shows through being in the space for a longer period of time. There are also six-month long internships, with Enjoy having a “really varied internship program, so it depends on the intern and at the start we’ll have a chat to them about what their interests are and create something tailored to their what they want to learn—it could be design, archiving, writing and publishing.” Enjoy calls for applications at the beginning and middle of each year, although “the initial contact with us is just coming in and having a chat.”

    Outside of that, Enjoy also commissions one piece of writing per exhibition for which there’s no formal application process—“it’s more a matter of people coming in and if they express an interest in a certain show, we’ll invite them. We’re always looking for new people to write and I think because it’s not an openly advertised opportunity, it’s something we struggle with, finding new people to write responses. So I always encourage people to come in and have a chat to us if they’re interested in volunteering, writing or anything like that.”

    If you’re interested in checking out Enjoy, just go! Right now they’re featuring a group show called Something Felt, Something Shared, focusing on the intangible and transient, from psychic readings to online chat forums and ghosts. It’s a great place for anyone interested in art to get more involved and to experience work that is on the cutting edge of what’s being created today.

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  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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    : - SPONSORED - As Dani and I thought about what we’d like to see in this queer edition of Salient, we reflected on the state of UniQ as it stands right now, both at Victoria University and throughout the country. As we come to the end of our time as co-presidents for 2017 we con