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May 26, 2018 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Intimacy and the Environment

Recently, at an artist talk I went to by Ngahuia Harrison (Ngātiwai, Ngāpuhi), in conjunction with her exhibition at Enjoy Public Art Gallery, I huti a Manaia i te ika and his heart was broken, she said now there is not enough kaimoana in the Whangarei Harbour to feed the community, that this, for her people, is real poverty. This understanding, that something that was once abundant is now scarce, is a critical reminder embedded in Harrison’s work. In the video work of this show, I huti a Manaia i te ika, a panoramic scene traces across the horizon of the Whangarei Harbour, where the hills turn into an industrial mass. Working in photography, Harrison offers the philosophies of Ngātiwai as a way to work through dominance of the planet, and towards coexistence.
Another example where art is used to navigate a relationship to the environment is in Bronte and Ange Perry’s recent exhibition and my heart is soft, also at Enjoy. The exhibition was comprised of a series of panels of Pōhutakawa and swamp Kauri that Bronte had planed down to a flat surface, and then laser cut with proverbs in te reo and verses from the Croatian bible. These were arranged with pieces of basalt rock and other natural elements in the gallery space. Two tāniko, woven by Ange Perry, were suspended from the ceiling. In combining these different elements in and my heart is soft, the viewing experience is immersive, and an emphasis is placed on the importance of the materials chosen.
Bronte’s choice to work with swamp Kauri is meaningful. Swamp Kauri is one of the most expensive timbers in the world, and has a long history of illegal acquisition and exportation because of this value. The swamp Kauri that Bronte worked with was purchased second hand, and although it is difficult to know how it was originally obtained, its use in Bronte’s work acknowledges it as taonga, not as a resource that can be used by anyone. Its home is in Northland, and in this way, swamp Kauri provides a physicality to Bronte and Ange Perry’s process of reconnecting to this region, and reconciling their Māori, Croatian, and Pākehā ancestry.
Indigenous ways of thinking about the land and grassroots methods are the most effective responses to climate concerns. The intimacy in Perry and Harrison’s work is not something we often allow ourselves when grappling with environmental concerns. It is an immensely Western world view to think about complex climate solutions only on a global scale; we are called to think of future generations, resource depletion, and extreme weather events. This large-scale thinking tends to encourage apathy and disillusionment. How can we think about a personal relationship to environment? What do we care for and what would we miss? The fog rolling in the way it did the night before, cold jaw ache of the first swim of the summer, taking the bus from Lower Hutt to the city and looking back at the clear outline of the valley.

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