Welcome to TEZA – not public art as you may know it
Sunday 24th November, 2013
With characteristic frankness the late Mike Kelley observed that public art is “a pleasure that is forced upon a public that in most cases finds no pleasure in it.” He then set about making a public artwork like no other, creating a life-sized replica of his childhood home, hitching it to a trailer and moving it around the communities of Detroit. After its journey it was intended to be a creative and community centre, a new kind of art space in an innocuous suburban shell. The last phase of ‘Mobile homestead’ was finally realised this year. Permanently parked in a lot next to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, it is now free and open to anyone to use as they see fit. 1
I think Mike Kelley would have loved the TEZA Hub and the projects that have been generated around its environs in New Brighton and beyond. Physically and conceptually the TEZA has all the hallmarks of a new kind of art and community space and it’s very light on its feet, finishing in just one week.
So what’s actually going on?
Inspired by the idea of creating an alternative to the essentially exploitative Special Economic Zones being trialled in Asia and Africa, curators Sophie Jerram and Mark Amery are supporting artworks that investigate new systems of exchange. Ones which give value to human relationships rather than being about financial gain.
The projects forming the basis of TEZA are participatory in nature, which might be better described as people getting together to do things with artists in fun and thoughtful ways. In fact, what’s enchanting about the description of the works is that you might barely recognise them as art. A bicycle choir? Waste forecasting? “We should all be doing our happy work,” suggests performance artist Mark Harvey. Let’s get together and “become the media” declares Kerry Ann Lee. As fellow curator and writer Blair French has noted of Letting Space’s work, it’s about “social transformation under the guise of contemporary art, which actually assists in the transformation of the norms of contemporary art itself.”
The emphasis is on meaningful short-term engagements between artists, organisations and businesses in New Brighton and well beyond, with the potential for on-going community benefits. Being ‘in the zone’ is to be part of a different approach to urban revitalisation, one where artists from outside are working inside the everyday life of local groups for social good. Overarching all the projects is a respect for those holding mana whenua and a shared understanding of the way an observance of tikanga Maori enhances relationships, connecting us to the land, to nature and to each other.
We started with a powhiri at the Wheke Marae under blue skies, the sea mist in New Brighton having given way to searing sun over the Port Hills. In Rapaki Bay all is tranquil. While the good weather may not last, it’s certain that the heartfelt welcome from Ngati Wheke and their wonderful hospitality will sustain an open-ended (and risky) programme of events.
The Bicycle Choir – practice run (standing)
Back at the TEZA wharenui afterwards with Phil Dadson some newcomers have trickled in. This is a Bicycle Choir practice thrown in opportunistically so we’re a small (but enthusiastic) group. There are ‘warm ups’ with free-flow kind of sounds made. The idea is to vocalise around a note and listen to each other for harmonies. The theme of dissonant voices becoming sonically unified was taken further (quite a bit further as it turned out) in the form of a lively and mobilising ‘get on your bike canon’ which had a tricky little rhythm known as the Hocket (a Dadson speciality). We did our best. I went to sleep that night humming in my head – one, one, one, one, uni-fi –ca-tion
Monday 25th November
At the TEZA hub the ground’s wet though not muddy – this is the beach after all – and I pick my way across the back of the site from Beresford St, having come from the bus stop. The wharepaku is on the far left side and there’s a definitive track winding through in continuous use, which is a reminder of its life as the Creative Quarter of New Brighton. There were already some important community structures in place here which have been enhanced for TEZA. Mall-side is the wharekai and meet and greet structure (tent) and wharenui with kuaha or entrance-way (two connecting tents, one long for walking through). More centrally there’s an off-the-grid office (solar-powered) and a wharetoi (a gallery or studio space whose use is to be determined by those who come as the week evolves – itself a collective decision). Pride of place however, is given to Te Ao Marama which at present lies elegantly on its side, its wooden supports giving it the appearance of a hīnaki (eel trap), a description which everybody is quite pleased with.
This is the ‘physical space’ for TEZA and the first project to be subject to some lively creative development dialogue on Loomio, the digital media platform set up by another core TEZA member Richard Bartlett, among others. Loomio emerged from a groups involvement in the Occupy movement, a fact which made it immediately endearing, notwithstanding its practical design qualities as a collaborative decision-making tool. This space is clearly a work in progress, transitional if you will.
While the principal focus of TEZA is social and transactional rather than physical, this place really does everyone proud. In fact it’s the humility of the structures, looking quite DIY but actually planned and designed over a long development process by Tim Barlow in collaboration with Te Urutahi Waikerepuru and the curators, that are key. There are also deeper issues of occupation being explored here. The artists draw from both historical and more contemporary temporary Maori architectural practices especially, including temporary and improvised built forms of ‘occupation’ which have been conventionally dismissed in architectural discourse. 1
We learn that the people of New Brighton want to welcome us at our opening, so we prepare to be welcomed again. It’s a little after 7pm and the karanga has started. We move slowly across the site bumping umbrellas to the kuaha adorned with driftwood, filing men first into the warmth of the wharenui. Again the orations are inspiring and moving and this time we sing our waiata in a rather more accomplished fashion. Later Te Urutahi Waikerepuru reminds us that abundance is always within us and not reliant on external factors.
Tuesday 26th November: Warm –ups
It’s 10am and there’s a packed day ahead and artist Mark Harvey is keen to get started with Productive Promises. We’ve done our introductions and head straight to a nearby empty gap/parking lot to pick up accumulated rubbish, a task suggested beforehand and an obviously productive start to the day. It’s a small group so far; more are expected as the morning progresses. We are joined by Justin Gregory of Radio New Zealand, who has no qualms with the yucky bits and readily takes part in some other more playful actions when not conducting discreet interviews on the side.
Mark suggests a ‘protective shield’ – it’s a tried and true option for those of us who took part in Productive Bodies in Wellington and everyone agrees, consensus being important to the way the project is developed. We manage to nobble Nanaia Mahuta coming out of the Labour Party office, who cooperates amiably, pulling her suitcase behind her as we circle around holding hands and walk her towards her car.
Harvey’s playful process encourages us to think creatively about ways of being productive together. Ways that would bring a sense of confidence and happiness in New Brighton as a place to live and visit. As with the Letting Space work for the NZ International Arts Festival in Wellington in 2012, Productive Bodies, the central premise of the work is that happiness and productivity are closely connected. 1
We are also involving passers-by in our actions for Productive Promises, but this time the emphasis on participation and collaboration is going to be stepped up a notch as we connect in with local organisations and businesses while we go about our work.
According to the artist, the shape of what we create will be defined not only by what we make up as a group, but also the exchange we have with local participants in deciding what we do. This clearly reflects the TEZA aims and Harvey quotes the Happy Planet Index to show that there are economic measures of worth other than income.
Getting into it
The weather’s still wet and we take to providing shelter for people (a small blue waterproof cover was purchased beforehand by the artist) and chatting to them as they walk along. Our new participants include Hannah with baby Knox, and the ‘retired’ member of our group readily provides assistance as we move along in exaggerated fashion in the rain. It’s the modesty of the artist’s ideas which make the project so appealing. A strong conceptual base including a ‘Nietzschean understanding of experimentation’ 2 underpins the artist’s way of working. Nonethelessthe quote for the project comes from his mum.: “We should all be trying to find our happy work”. But what does that mean? The artist is not unaware of the slippage, especially post-quake in the Eastern suburbs.
I’ve been privy to some powerful performances by Mark Harvey, including I am a wee bit stumped (Newton Old Folks Association Hall) but this one takes the cake. I’m standing umbrella in hand by the entranceway to the New Brighton Public Library which is currently under repair and watching this artist carefully assisting an elderly gentleman down some broken steps. It’s a surreal art/life moment. The job done, the artist bounds back up energetically and repeats the process again. In its repeating the action becomes more playful and when assistance is not really required, even a little idiotic. This is the artists oeuvre.
We cross the street, deliberately stopping traffic on our way, pleasing pedestrians and annoying drivers, which is pretty typical we think. We’re looking forward to trying some new things after lunch.
By now a bigger group, its decided that there’s room for a little more engagement with the locals and we ask people to suggest a logo for a T Shirt, which we then write on the pavement in chalk. New Brighton Up and Coming! Bright Skies in New Brighton! There are some nifty drawings of whales too. “Do you have anything to add?” This is generally what TEZA is saying.
- Elena Goukassian ’Sculpture’ October 2013 Vol 32 No. 8
- Letting Space www.lettingspace.org.nz
- Wood, Peter ‘Trespassers will be Eaten: The Maori Land Occupation Structures of Waikaremoana’