I’m putting together some thoughts and works for a show to fundraise for Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP, working with survivors of sexual abuse and their whanau.
I’m writing labels, and thinking / feeling through these works:
All of my Club works were made in response to the violence and abuse that we experience on the street and in public places. As women, queer and trans* communities, non-binary people, who are targeted
with judgements, assumptions and worse. When I was stopped on the street by a group of men and verbally abused, I began to wonder what a queer, revolutionary response or defense would look like. I imagined my friends, lovers and communities appearing in drag, as punks, activists, femmes, heros, in glittery heels and shabby glory. These clubs were what I imagined we might carry; to resist these forces of fear and shame with pride, colour and surety in our own being and collective existence.
I’m in the process of making my second publication about a project. Both of them have been to do with buildings, and process, and how to create and hold things together. The first, a physical building, the second, the building we make together by how we stick together. The structures that we form through solidarity, love and connection.
Both are using the same method; assemblage, complex, sticky and with each piece related actively. You can read one way, and then the other. This is the best way I can make sense.
I found this piece of writing and images from the first one; Inhabitance, so here they are… if you’d like to pre-purchase a copy of the second one, about We Don’t Have to Be The Building, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting points of nature and human maintenance in buildings and the built environment. I walk around to see what I find in the neighbourhood. Gutters are rich with trees, drips have made drawings down the side of buildings, and posters have made a mummy of a house. There is a bin which has been papered to make it look weatherboarded. Drawings are everywhere.
I found the information about this place in the archives. It was owned by a woman and she wanted all of the best materials used. The best concrete, rimu and roofing. Now there are holes everywhere made by borer and when I bang a nail into the wall dust falls and falls. Without maintenance there is accretion. This is a scene where human action plays against inaction; because nothing has been done these patterns of mould and falling paper pile up. And my drawing repeats them, extends them, makes them clearer.
Someone broke the window in a shop next door. I looked in and saw that there were flags in there. I hadn’t noticed them before. Is this what I would do if I broke in? Is this what I am doing in here? Leaving a mark, leaving many marks. Leaving a sign of inhabitance and noticing what was found here.
The tap drips. The bath is accumulated with water which has stained it brown. So what would I accumulate here? There is colour which drips also and builds up. The glitter in the bath, and the pastel which is imitating the spread of mould on the walls. There is a kind of communication here.
Things hold on, and things hold in. Lines are travelling through this space becoming tight and slack, falling into puddles or holding doors closed. Paper, wool and wood all serve the same purpose,
a structure within a structure which is holding its own
I have been trying to figure out what the function of these objects is. Outside a gallery, outside. Close to a body, yours and mine. I lent some sculptures to a theatre group for a piece they were making. They came to my studio, and when I saw them cradle these objects, a flash of something came across me. It’s like a message too fast to see; a glimpse of the sense I am seeking. They held them like living beings; like live beings. Alive, to live, tricky and changing, processes halted mid stream so they still look like they are growing.
I have been trying to figure out what I have been doing with my life; what I have spent my time practicing and perfecting. What is this craft, and what use is it?
Recently a friend died of breast cancer. There’s nothing that makes you feel as fucking useless as serious illness. All of our human efforts small in comparison to the inexorable passage from this body to the next place. The huge wave. I was in the studio one day, and just felt so strongly to give her a sculpture. It’s not often I do this- I think people should be able to choose what they want to live with visually. But in this case, it felt like all I could do. I gave her Femme Club, a glittery, encrusted, lumpy weapon for the spirit. How we resist what we cannot change in poetic ways. How we try to offer each other strength and hope, beauty and the fierce moments we need to survive every day.
I started making these clubs when I was verbally assaulted and stopped on the street by a gang of men, one of whom pulled out his dick to show me he was a man. At the same time my genderqueer lover was being teased and bullied in their workplace and both of us felt like getting smaller, as well as fighting, standing our ground. These objects were like talisman, ritual objects, my attempts to make the internal battle visual, external, physical. To make it real. Here it is, it looks like this for me, and maybe it can help you too.
The way through. The ways things come through from that side to this; through matter, lumpy, drippy and complicated. Barely held together, trying to get born in the most difficult ways.
We have always needed objects to remind us: memento mori to remind us that we will die, and flourishes to remind us to live.
Recently I watched a video interview recorded with a witch, Pam Grossman, who lives in New York City. I watched it in an auditorium in City Gallery, and afterwards there was a live Skype where we could ask her questions. I asked her how we can keep ourselves safe when we bring these things into these most unsafe environments. The gallery, the institutions, the white and hard spaces. How do we bring the guts and fire and tangles that lift us through and keep us safe? How can we be brave enough to do what we need, and what we know, what our ancestors knew and passed down in their bones and ours. My acupuncturist told me that week that in Chinese medicine there is no distinction between the mind and the belly, the emotions and the bones. That they are literally the same things, and everything holds everything else. Your bones are made of your fear and your guts are a tangle of your love. Maybe the body, the matter we are here in, has some connection like this to the matter we make from.
I said to Pam the witch that in this country, the indigenous people have vast knowledge and wisdom over how to protect and bring things from the spirit world to the human one. I have been blessed to be supported by tangata whenua in many of my openings, making the safe paths with ancient and powerful knowledge and practice. Other times I have made it up, feeling for my psychic ancestors and the resonances that come through. Asking for help from people who can welcome me in when there is no-one and I feel like a vampire who literally cannot cross the threshold without an invite. I saw it today with a five year old. Asked to go inside my home because it was cold, she said no I would rather go and be in the car. I thought hey, of course, she hasn’t been invited in, and jumped up saying I’ll walk you, I’ll show you the way, you are welcome. Children know these things and say so much more easily.
We all have something we know. One person who welcomed me said in Chinese culture we would sweep out the space, so they did. They brought me crystals, and the other person brought me a flower, and we banged the silent, white walls.
I asked Pam, what would you advise to keep ourselves safe? She said throw a circle. Decide what your intention is for the space. Ask from the seven directions. And make sure you have eaten enough food, meditate. Keep yourself grounded so whatever swirls around you, you are grounded.
Always this balance between the body and the spirit, one a gateway to the other and both the same and kept separate and put through the processes that used to be done by a church. But witchcraft is outside the church.
I think, I have always known this, and I’ve been taught it again. Pray, make physical, make the path, maintain the path, breathe, feed the people.
We need objects to take us through and carry us back. We need them to protect us, to remind us and reflect us.
Could it be that this practice is a kind of medicine?
Could it be that these objects are a kind of poultice?
Weaving in, weaving out, is about femininity, expression, colour, difficulty and the skills we have learnt to create homes and spaces for ourselves.
Being on a residency means having to build a temporary home in a new country. This home is made from local materials and influenced by vernacular structures. I think of architecture as how we arrange the spaces around us, including the small spaces. In India I have been fascinated by how things are arranged; the sweets hanging outside a shop, the bamboo scaffolds; bundles of flowers discarded at the end of the day.
I want to make things which have a sense of being alive, growing, exuberance, and reveal their own fragility and the difficulty of growing. We live in bodies which get broken, and I want my sculptures to be like that. Vulnerable and yet brave, scaffold, on crutches and yet still moving.
There are so many hand skills here; everyday, useful items, made by hand. Everything is arranged beautifully. The skills needed to make them take time to learn, and then become part of the body; as natural and unthinking as walking. I became interested in skills because I know they are part of a community, a culture, that we learn and do things together. Also, skills became part of how I could acknowledge my whiteness in this culture. Rather than repeat and exploit a white history of taking from a country, I wanted to see if I could transform it a little, by being humble enough to try and learn, deliberately doing things which are new to me; to make myself vulnerable.
I am very grateful to Mona for teaching me how to tie flowers, and also a new stitch; forms of structure that I have used throughout this project. Learning the flower tying gave me a metaphor for the project; weaving. At the beginning of a residency, there are no connections. As time passes, some threads become connected. With people and places, new routines begin to create form. Like making a nest; a bird choosing available materials to wedge itself into the local environment. Some threads are temporary, or need replacing. Strengthening is required, re weaving in and adding new elements. All are part of the whole.
I’d like to talk about femininity and femaleness. I have been struck by the gender difference in public space compared to what I am used to. The street seems very male to me; places where men drink tea, eat food and congregate. I wondered where my space could be, where I could express myself, and so I have made it. I have heard stories of Rangoli, and connections between femininity and nature here. I think of nature as wild, much stronger than we think, and disregarding of human control. I wanted to build this structure which spilled out onto the street, in the same way that a tree does. Putting aside the rules, boundaries and acceptable ways to take up space, trees just grow wherever they can find a foothold. This is how I made my work, and how I made connections with women here. I trawled face book groups, went to workshops, said yes to every offer of help, and slowly wove myself in to feeling like I had some threads connecting me. Rani pink threads. Through conversations, gifts of fabric pieces, and working together, I have created this show from fragments of stories in which I both learn, and recognise myself.
I am very grateful to everyone who has made this project possible. The women who have come and shared stories, time and energy with me building and installing the show; Mona, Priyanka, Varsha, Bhavani, Bindu, and Vidhna for the gift of fabric. Also to Asia New Zealand for funding this residency, and Shanthi Rd, Suresh and Sandeep for hosting me here. Particular thanks to Suresh for his wonderful knowledge of this city and materials shopping in the heat! Thank you to Shiva for your help, and constant encouragement and energy! Finally thank you to everyone who befriended me here. Being an artist on residency means I am here temporarily, and I am very grateful for warm welcomes, friendship, and delivery of food and drink while I couldn’t walk!
Immersion Acrylic paint, pigment, pastel, charcoal on hand made paper Heap Fabric, coconut husks Gutter flower Paper, paint, wool Absorption Acrylic paint, pigment, pastel, charcoal on hand made paper Gentle holding shape Onion sack, wool, net, fabric, rope, bamboo Tied back to shelter Onion sack, wool, net, fabric, rope, bamboo Two more female bodies (1) Pastel, pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper Two more female bodies (2) Pastel, pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper Ropes (1) Pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper Ropes (2) Pencil, graphite, charcoal on Fabriano paper Flop and slump Onion sack, wool, net, fabric, rope, bamboo, paper, paint Weaving in, weaving out (Installation) Fabric, hand made paper, streamers, glue, ribbons, bamboo, coconut rope, fabric, banana leaves, coconut palm leaves, paint, tinsel
I be myself. I build these things to express and shelter this being now. There is no shelter, there is only being. I cannot protect myself from who I am, I can only accept it and show it. I am the storm. I am the heavy rain. I am the gentle shy sunshine. I work to make myself visible. I shed layers of shame which would numb me.
There is no shelter, only expression
Making myself visible, finding the threads
To join together in difference
Threads of the feminine
Weaving myself in.
When people ask me “what are you doing?’ I’m starting to say, I’m building a palace. A cane palace, he asks, and I say yes, and there will be paper, and fabric, and shiny parts. It’s kind of amazing how what I am making really is what I wrote in my proposal. A shelter, an expression of identity, an external showing and letting in. I’m starting to feel comfy up there, even though my arms get sore. I built that platform real strong, layers and layers and triangles like my dad taught me from looking at bridges. I’ve tried all the structural parts with coconut rope, and then I’m adding Rani pink wool. Rani means queen I learnt and Suresh and I both laughed. It’s the colour my hair used to be when it was freshly dyed; a real bright, fuchsia pink. My sweetheart calls me their queen, and it’s not about ruling or staking claim. It’s something to do with femme identity, queer identity. I see it in the gender queer folk here; walking tall and proud because that’s the space you’ve got, so work it. It is making an offer, but not compromising. It is showing with pride the vulnerable as it grows. It is accepting ones nature. All of the people who ask me what I am doing are men. I tell them you see how the street is so male, people like you? Well I am a woman, and this will be something feminine coming into the street. It’s a humble palace, built by one, to house one. It’s an externalised body. The lower deck is the size of a single bed. The boys who come to see after school twitter like birds all talking at once. They get it; Auntie Auntie! It’s a house Auntie!
Down the road is a real bamboo palace; built over three storeys high I reckon, delicate and strong and extraordinary. There’s no platforms on it, just bamboo poles which deft and confident feet balance on, treading the high wires to keep on building.
February 2013 – with Sandersons Gallery, Parnell, Auckland http://www.sanderson.co.nz/
Your abandoned movement has opened a new room in me will explore how we create open and yet private spaces to protect and encourage queer intimacy, identity and play.
This sculpture is a kind of human nest, a shelter which rests, holding onto a tree. Contingent, temporary and fluid, it is a shelter which opens and closes. Buffeted by the weather, it reveals its raggedness at the same time as its beauty. Built in various directions, with pockets, platforms and a myriad of spaces, it explores how we are presenting and finding space for identity at the same time we are creating and living it.
I have these fantasies. They go like this:
I will draw one thing
I will concentrate
I will fit one thing, on one piece of paper
It will be even
You will be able to read it
And as I am squinting at breadfruit and looking for where the shadows lie and what shape they really are, something shifts and I am shoulder against the paper, breathing green. I tell them think of it like falling in love, make your looking obsessive, don’t let go. They look at me like a wild thing, and when she shoves a rubber in fury towards me with her wrist I say YES, THAT! Put that on the page.
And it spreads, and I can’t help myself
It’s like when you write the word bed to me
It’s like when it finally rains here
Something opens anew, and it is not a room, but it feels like home, like remembering perfect sense
Things shift, catch and other, hold, spread and swarm.
She says I can only write by looking sideways and I say yes, they are all contained here, if we can only find trust enough to reach them
I have been called many things in my life. And then lately someone called me a peacock. I only knew from half dreams what they sound like. They made me screech and perform on a street corner, dancing on kerbs and feeling my spin stretch and lift sky proud, shimmering feathers, showing off.
Their butch found my femme, and there was joy and terror in it. Terrified of revealing, showing, wearing skirts which have always felt absolutely like sex to me. Of not being queer enough, political enough. If I care so much about expression and beauty and process and art and I don’t know the right words for anything, but I want to, is that enough? And if I can’t walk in high heels or write as well as I want to or build bridges to you or burn them in fury, is that enough?
And if what I want to do when they tell you ugly things in your ear and threaten you
and block my path is smother them with colour is this enough? And if when they make me fear to walk my own town without a big black coat if all I want to do is make an army of glittery dripping soldiers who flood bigness and love and wash the streets with shiny paths is this resistance enough?
We are in this together
I read you walking and stumbling eyes wide taking it in trying not to trip over curving roots and wishing to fall directly into soft places where hardness grows
Be slammed up against this backless place and push in return
Can we be more flexible?
These things they are my vents
I am looking directly now actually searching
I am looking directly now and there are many
I must create a space with safe open walls and you ask to come in?
Tell me your story
Open your mouth
And I say to you
Ride me home and my hips fit all the way up to my jaw and you say
I am the wind and I made the sound
This is not a note this is a stake
This is not a performance this is as best as I can say