TEZA 2015, Transmission

Day Five TEZA in images: Ako Ako, Workshops with Corinna school students, Strong Pacific Families, Sharemart, Volunteer Refinery, JIT, Creative Summits and

Images: Gabrielle McKone, George Staniland and Sophie Jerram

As part of his Ako Ako role-Swapping adventure, Ash took on the role of Tracey Wellington, CEO/co-founder of Kiwi Community Assistance, a food and resource recovery agency to assist people in the community.

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The TEZA Hub morning began with a visit from a group of young students from Corinna School who participated  in workshops, including salad making with Ros McIntosh, breadmaking with Simon Gray and cartooning with Zac Mateo.

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Volunteer Refinery worked with Corinna Students finishing with a street performance.

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Strong Pacific Families have been busy running a pop-up exhibition full of art and craft workshops showcasing the Tokelau community in Porirua.

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The Corinna students getting in on the action.

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Meanwhile Tim and the Just in Time Community Centre headed to Te Rito Gardens in Kenepuru for the afternoon.

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As midday came, the first of the two Creative Summit sessions was happening back at the TEZA Hub with artist presentations by Kemi and Niko, Andrea Selwood and Kedron Parker.

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All Good? – Pop-up Hair Salon’s hairdresser Jason Muir visited local hair salons where he spoke with hairdressers to chat about the intimacy of the act of cutting someone’s hair and the implicit role of the hairdresser as an unofficial counsellor. Here artist Faith Wilson gets a special cut at Zils in the CBD.

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Meanwhile visiting artist for the day thanks to Ash, Tracy Wellington gets stitching with Sharemart shop manager Lotte Kellaway to make a bag.

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Here’s Tracy embracing being Ash Holwell, the cyclist.

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Simon Gray with ‘mother’.

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Barbarian Production’s Thomas La Hood hawking for new haircut clients.

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Some of the Porirua People’s Library artists: Pip Adam, Faith and Lana Lopesi.

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TEZA 2015, Transmission

Response #4: Murdoch Stephens

Image: Jung Shim Krefft

I am friends with more Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa (TEZA) participants than not. A day in the life was more catching up with old pals than digesting new ones. It feels rude to not nod their way, but there are just so many of them to list here. This reflection is not going to be about what happened in the space on that day, but more about the atmosphere surrounding TEZA, especially in the other, air-conditioned, climate controlled parts of Porirua.

I joked with the TEZA crew on Tuesday about my scathing/scything critique-to-come. But I have no blade to apply to this project. As with a number of contemporary thinkers I want to liberate ‘criticality’ from the idea of casting judgment. Being critical might imply negativity but doing critique is a whole other thing.

Doing critique is woven into the way Mark, Sophie and the Letting Space crew have constructed TEZA. These people are not dupes who we can deploy our critique against, as if flicking on a light and welcoming them to some new understanding. Those involved with TEZA are the first to ask the critical questions: who is the art work for? What’s the role of class, race and space within the project? The TEZA crew have embarked on this project not in spite of these difficult questions but because of them: they want to participate in these discussions and don’t mind being the flint on which others’ critical knives are sharpened.

TRANSITIONAL

Out of some space. Around the corner. Over the seam. Nibbling at the edges. To something more like home.

Climate change is the big big big transition. A super-wicked problem. You think that wearing sunscreen in summer is a drag? Wait for this new mess: floods, hurricanes, storms. Water tables a-risin’.

I’m not a collapsitarian. I think we’ll mostly all survive. It’ll be one catastrophe after another. Always transitioning. No apocalypse. Crisis, crisis, softly, softly, slowly, slowly. Water tables a-risin’.

Retail spaces are being gutted and this is not going to change. Our city landscapes are fundamentally changing and there are going to be plenty of losers. These losers will be those who don’t understand the new sensitivities of the economic zones of our urban centres. We saw it in the 1980s with the expansion of the mall – every product was available in one place. The Warehouse did to small NZ retailers as Walmart did to the Mom & Pop stores of America.

The big businesses – the Warehouses and Walmarts – have survived the transition to the digital age. But only just. They offer their wares online, but it may be too little too late. TradeMe and other nimble online retailers from abroad have captured significant market shares. Online sales will expand and expand, the big box stores wont last.

When I read Reuben Friend’s analysis of the shop and business owners of Porirua’s wariness of TEZA, I read of a group of people who could feel the steady decline in the value of their assets, who had no idea about what they could do to halt it. In times like that – as the boat is sinking – we cling onto what ever seems the most stable. For those with a stake in retail property this stable thing is a phantom: the idea that the ‘downturn’ is temporary. That all it takes is a little extra effort from real estate agents and vacant commercial spaces will be filled with long-term tenants.

We’ve seen this in Wellington too, where retail is on the way out and service organisations are taking over. If a new store is to open in the CBD odds are that it’ll be there to provide food or drink.

I’ve been involved in running a community art space in central Wellington for three and a half years, in a space that all that time has remained open to be rented. Commercial clients who come in and want to rent the space almost exclusively want to set up a café or some sort of restaurant. With earthquake strengthening due, there has only been one really serious inquiry in all the years of our occupation. It is in spaces like this that the TEZA crew have honed what it means to produce good city atmospheres.

ECONOMIC

Retailers hate the Porirua climate. They want to welcome shoppers, not have them harried by wind and rain. They want doors wide open. But they don’t want leaves blowing in.

They have seen the big boxes offering total climate control. But now virtual, www space outsources the climate control. Shop from the comfort of your own home. A rainy weekend is optimal the perfect time for online sales. Sunday evening is the optimal end time for the TradeMe Auction.

TEZA emerged as a concept in 2012 based on a parody of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where the laws of a country are limited in a prescribed area so that business may thrive. The most formal SEZs tend to be manufacturing zones near export hubs where taxes aren’t paid and unions aren’t welcome. But there are many other forms of less formal SEZs – consider the Duty Free section of the airport, where consumers pay no tax on tobacco and alcohol.

ZONE

Porirua has North City. It is where the people are. There are scents – baking bread, perfume and disinfectant – and there is soft lighting. There’s no wind and you can park free for 240 minutes. They’re tender guests: no gang patches, no skateboarding, no photography and no list of these laws – if you don’t know how to behave you’re not welcome. It is the perfect site for those who play by unspoken rules.

Few come out onto the bricks of Cobham Court where the Porirua City Council have tried to make the atmosphere lighter by taking away the canopies. Now it is lighter but also windy. It would be safer to take the car.

Once upon a time there were city-states; fortifications. These became nation-states, built on wonky unity work (some islands are exceptions) and blurry boundaries. In each of these types of states there have been different exclusions, different ways to protect the common air. If climate change does indeed make an enemy of the atmosphere, then new fortifications will be needed. North City is a model of this kind of climate control.

But TEZA is nothing at all like a SEZ. It is a parody of those sites of privilege and exclusivity. TEZA is more like the Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) chronicled in Hakim Bey’s book T.A.Z. where he offers a history of ‘pirate utopias’ – small, temporary enclaves that attempt to claim and use a space for a small period of time. As Bey writes, “The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it”.

For TEZA there’s no such feeling of being about to be crushed: access to the empty, shopping spaces has been negotiated for a limited period of time; the liberation in question is a gift from those who own the buildings; the guerrilla operation is the benign promise of Art.

Some shop owners understand that they are in the business of creating atmospheres – they welcome attempts to lively up the space. But others are like those libertarians who want nothing to do with collective living, imagining their responsibility ends at the front door.

TEZA does not have the technology or resources of North City. Would it be better for it? Or is there something necessarily windswept and wastrel about the project?

of AOTEAROA

By count of open doors to the atmosphere TEZA wins out over the enclosed, planned space of North City. I couldn’t even find my way out of North City – exits are bad for business, threatening to atmospheres of contentment.

If North City is the air-conditioned, domesticated future city-state then TEZA has set up in the wastelands of those banished from the city. Not everyone fits into the curated pseudo-commons of the mall.

Outside the mall are buildings that are depreciating in value. I counted five ‘dollar shops’ though a few were closed, signs left up like omens warning of quicksand: GOOD 2 U, CATCH A BARGAIN, DA DEALS, THE MIGHTY $ SHOP, 123 MART. There are some food stores, some barbers, Instant Finance.

It might not seem like a big deal to walk to these dim hutches outside North City, to navigate the wind and sun. But know that those inside North City do not want it. There are few exits – quite literally – to the North City. We can take the escalator up and down, we can walk around the building’s gentle curves. But search for an exit and you’ll soon find yourself lost. The building whispers, “why leave, why leave?” It is right: the atmosphere inside is just right.

Soft, seductive, sleepy: “Blessed are the sleepy ones for they shall soon drop off”.

When I do find the exit, I’m on the opposite side of where I thought I was. I walk down car ramps, traverse empty streets, am once more aware of the elements on my skin. Cruel exile! Oh to be back in the food court.

Well, we of the thick skin might be of the mind to say ‘its not so bad outside’ but most of the population are a long way from wanting a life that is not so bad. North City doesn’t advertise that. They advertise the best of all possible worlds.

We’re becoming accustomed to curated atmospheres. Sloterdijk asks us to think of the rules of the human zoo. Climate control will be the applied science of the 21st century. Domestication and house training await.

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TEZA 2015, Transmission

Day Four TEZA in images: Ako Ako, Sharemart, Volunteer Refinery, J.I.T, Strong Pacific Families, Hawai’i Craft, Food to Table workshop, All Good? Pop-Up shops and a rongoa session.

Images: Gabrielle McKone, Jung Shim Krefft and Amanda Joe

Tuesday was our busiest day yet, with 100s of people through the TEZA Hub. By lunchtime we were thrilled to see how we could accommodate no less than six different activities in the Hub at once, all exchanging with one another, while at the same time around the corner in Hartham Place there were another four events happening. Here’s a video of the Hub at lunchtime yesterday.

Meanwhile Ash Holwell was on his second role-swap day as part of Ako Ako, taking the role of Nick Lambert, a machine operator at wallpaper manufacturing company Aspiring Walls.

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Nick joined in with activities as an artist at the hub in the morning. Working on Tim Barlow’s lime rendering as part of Just in Time and Salad Making at lunchtime with Alicia Rich.

In the afternoon he completed his own project, installing a basketball hoop in the Lydney Place Laneway, where the young folks like to hang.

Here’s Sharemart on Tuesday morning, with our writer for the day Murdoch Stephens, and Daphne Swinton from Whanau Kotahi across the road (joining the zone for the week in the Old Flower Workshop) making a Christmas tree from pallets and fabric.

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Mark Harvey continued to work in the mall with locals.

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And Tim Barlow brought Just in Time to the Laneway setting up his lime rendering workshop with people starting to add their designs to his giant figure.

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Strong Pacific Families in Hartham Place hosted a Health Day.

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In Cobham Court Pip Adam began her lunchtime ‘Made-Up Times’ workshops inviting people to create the newspaper they want to read.

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At the hub Kawika with Korowai Aroha ran a weaving workshop, working with native plants sourced from the laneway as part of their project Mai ngā kôrero ô neherā, e hui pālua.

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Awhina Mitchell

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Bread was woven at the workshop for Simon’s Breadmakers project.

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Alicia for her salad making workshop at lunch collaborated with students from Trade and Commerce hospitality training further down the laneway. Shared lunch followed.

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As part of the Porirua People’s Library, People’s Radio has seen Access Radio in the Hub recording local stories. Here with the Columbian community involved in Sharemart. An audio archive can be found here.

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Meanwhile All Good? hair salon opened for the first time. One customer a mother of 11 had never had a professional haircut before.

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The Volunteer Refinery meanwhile moved to Pataka next to Ai Weiwei.

At 4pm The Breadmakers project held a launch at the Hub of ‘the Porirua Loaf’.

 

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After the launch Awhina Mitchell led a Rongoa session.

And the day finished with a great Creative Summit session in the evening, ‘Making Home in a New Land’, discussing our own and others migration, with speakers including visitor Aaron Packard (co-founder of 350 Aotearoa) and Moses Viliamu, fresh from getting the Tokelau exhibition next door installed.

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TEZA 2015, Transmission

Writer response #3: Rangimarie Sophie Jolley

Image: Gabrielle McKone

The Fruit of Diversity

For some strange reason, the vast and ever expanding universe that is Porirua is forever being swathed in the old brown cloak of ‘poverty, diversity and ghettoisms”. It baffles me that we live in a country which in attitude juxtaposes the affluent and the stricken, yet we seem ironically surprised when a community is able to nourish both.

Meet the new face of Porirua. His home has brick walls covered in ‘tasteful graffiti art’ or vibrant murals, a reliable public transport system to weave through ever expanding roads, the white hill of Whitby that hides behind a brown Creek of Cannon, a stinking inlet that adds a few million to his property view but robs his grandparents of the taste of home, ‘the tūturu locals’, as he calls them.

His face is clean shaven and fresh, lips curled to a smile, his eyes gleam the reflective dance of a sunny wave as it wafts on the Whittakers breeze. His shirt is stained with the grease of a pie from Waitangirua, his jeans streaked green from a childhood of skidding down hills in Titahi Bay.

This young man would be intrigued by the TEZA project. He might have taken his Aunty to Whānau Kōtahi in the Porirua CBD this week and dropped off bags of clothes. They would have stopped and chatted and discussed the developments. His eyes may have wandered across the rocks to behold a strange man… a man currently being covered in cardboard and duct tape.

He certainly wouldn’t have approached, but he would have listened and watched. He would have heard the man call “Can you give me a hand?” to the strangers walking past. He might have laughed quietly, both dismissive and admiring but appreciating the call for volunteers. His Aunty would hurry him away as the TV3 camera’s showed up, another ‘uplifting brown communities through art’ angle for the masses. Perfect shot.

That afternoon he may have called his sister, the purple haired, green eyed goddess currently of Aro Valley. Her conversation with him, his pleas for a visit and that degree in Social Economics might lead her to the TEZA Hub of a Porirua afternoon, partaking in a lunch time discussion pertaining to the struggles of living and thriving in the artistic realm.

She may have sipped on a guava/banana/acai berry smoothie as her tummy rumbled for the real taste of home and her mind reveled in the encouraging messages of the people still seemingly trapped within it. She may even have asked herself why she needed to leave… was it to be free? Her wanderings may take her along the pink pathway in Sharemart, she may have held hand sewn bags equal to the best of the Cuba boutique. ‘My instagram followers would love this!’ she’d snap, sharing the joy of rediscovering pride in her home.

After dinner with the family that night, the siblings may decide to detour on their way home, eager to participate in another of the summits to be held in the TEZA Hub: a solid serving of environmentalism on the degustation menu. They may have smirked at the constant polite references to the darker of the two as a representative of ‘the mana whenua’.

The pair may have nodded in agreement as a room full of enlightened strangers discussed the meal of every hui-ā-Iwi they had attended since birth. They may have even been relieved and proud that this conversation was happening in places other than the Marae, because they knew that these people would be listened to, when they claimed the faces of change.

Theirs may be a true reflection of the need for a TEZA project. I am confronted by the thought that communities aren’t as black and white as we might like to assume. When the roaring greens of Paekakariki met the slow waves of Elsdon we were treated to a diverse spectrum of art. Porirua should be proud of the seed it has planted and the fruit it has on display this week, if only because it depicts the true projection of its diversity.

These projects each contain unique aspects of human character and expression, regardless of social standing, race or financial distribution. Porirua is a nest of creative hives and to celebrate it as such is so refreshing, especially in the face of what I would deem to be traditionally monotonous ideals. In a hopeful country where the middle ground is white, it excites me to see Porirua utilised as the azure hub on a brilliant horizon.

Tino nui te mihi kia TEZA.

Nāku noa,

Rangimarie Sophie Jolley

 

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TEZA 2015, Transmission

Response #2: Lana Lopesi

Image: Andrew Matautia

Who is it for?

Lana Lopesi

Porirua was one of a number of places my dad lived during his childhood. He lived in a state house on Warspite Ave going to Cannons Creek School. His memory of Porirua is waiting for my Grandfather to beat up my Grandmother then going on the bus back up to Auckland, till a week later they would be back in Porirua again, waiting for the cycle to re-start, eventually settling in West Auckland.

Driving past patched members on the way to the Waitangirua Market on Saturday morning to see the Bread Makers of Porirua, Unite by Simon Gray stall, I can’t help but think what we as TEZA know about the varied Porirua lived experiences. Regardless of my Dad’s connection to this place, I am in no way local and neither is TEZA.

TEZA without a doubt is well intentioned, conscious of their positions as outsiders. As Mark Amery recently wrote, “… who are we as outsiders to come in and make the space? The reality is that it’s precisely because we don’t come from one local agenda or group that we have the ability to at least trial opening out new common ground for the wild flowers to spring up in.” But I still can’t help but feel like a cultural tourist reflecting on stereotyped references of the community and to movies like The Dark Horse, waiting to see how the community will react to these various projects across the city. I wonder though if we did have a shared local agenda maybe we would know more about what the community wants and needs (or if they want us at all), rather than designing projects based on our own assumptions, subsequently looking for community buy-in.

Bread Makers of Porirua, Unite by Simon could be a model for community art making in a suburb other than your own. Rather than waiting for TEZA week to get the ball rolling, in a way this week is just another week with other outcomes. Simon put together sourdough starter packs with locally sourced ingredients which he has already distributed all over the city.

The markets are full of roti wraps, like curry but in wrap form. Genius! I sat down to eat my brunch and was joined by a beautiful couple who insisted I try their dumplings. In their hand was a flyer for Paula MacEwan’s The Active Citizens Funeral (who also runs Koha Shed Cannons Creek). So there I was, staring at this woman’s moko kauai, eating dinner for breakfast, brainstorming how we would like to go. Death, a strangely unifying and comforting subject.

Faith Wilson (collaborator for the Porirua People’s Library) and I were heading for the Oasis Community Centre a space right in Mall where you can have tea, a sit down and a chat they also offer services like helping to write your CV. It was good relational aesthetics without trying. On our way in, we bumped into Katarina who was giving us a flyer for that same space. Holding a TEZA programme she asked if we were involved, going on to tell us that Simon dropped a sourdough starter kit to her house a couple of weeks ago. When we walked in, our brunch dates were already sitting there. More women followed, insisting we eat their panikeke. The breaking of bread in Porirua is already happening. There was a wealth of hospitality, generosity and no expectation for your time or your conversations, but more just a fixed safe space, whether you wanted it or not.

The first TEZA Creative Summit was at Te Rito Gardens (after a tour of the Porirua Hospital Museum and gardens themselves). And again there was Simon who had made his bread into Pizza. I have to confess I don’t know anything about gardening and very little about mental health. We are all so polite, a critical and open discussion between 25ish strangers is a hard thing to ask. Wiremu Grace talked about how the land itself was once stolen and is currently being sold back to Ngāti Toa but the general conversation revolved around mental health, the role of safe places, providing people with purpose, and rongoā. With an autistic brother I couldn’t help but wonder who are we to decide what an individual’s purpose is, and is it appropriate to talking about people and not with people.

A quick rush back to the TEZA hub and voila the project was launched. And yet again there Simon was with even more bread, quickly followed by karaoke, chop suey and punch, thanks to the Kava Club.

I’m new to Chop Suey Hui and this deluxe edition was something special. While slightly under populated, the hosting was on fire. The night opened with a local rapper and ended with a local DJ, both played with conviction, I was into it.

I’m already booked in for a new do at the All-Good? Pop up Hair Salon and the space that’s been created for artists all with social interests is beyond valuable. During the project presentations Kerry Ann Lee (also of the Porirua People’s Library) asked the audience how many of them work and live in Porirua, about 10 hands went up. Again that raised the flag are we talking about the community and not with it? I just wonder when we vacate our temporary space and go back to our day jobs who will it all have been for.

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TEZA 2015, Transmission

Response #1: Reuben Friend

Image: Gabrielle McKone

If an art falls on a community, and nobody recognises it, is it still an art?

Art or Community Service

Reuben Friend

Reflecting back on my childhood, it pains me now to say that I am from ‘South Auckland’. Not because of any shame or middle-class desire to distant myself from my past, but because it feels like a cliché, as if succeeding in any given industry is somehow more miraculous coming from a certain part of town.

I know that today I am very fortunate to be where I am, happily perched up in my alabaster alcove, my white-walled and glass-encased Director’s office, looking down from my window at the visitors entering our beautiful cultural facility here at Pātaka Art Gallery and Museum in Porirua. That is until this morning, when I heard TV Breakfast show host Paul Henry ask award-winning Titahi Bay opera singer Amelia Berry how she managed to become so successful having come from ‘Porirua’… and once again that same familiar ‘provincial-cringe’ pinches at my side. What is it about labels that makes it so hard to overcome the stigma that accompanies them?

I remember Peter McLeavey, the late legendary Wellington art dealer, speak to me about this once. He recalled a story about two Mongrel Mob members from Porirua who somehow ventured into his Wellington art gallery during the installation of a McCahon exhibition many decades ago. Upon entering the gallery these burly Māori men were instantly taken back, as if somehow repelled from the gallery by an invisible cultural force field. Or perhaps it was more like an economic electric fence, one that delivered culture shocks, striking the heart with a fear of feeling out of place. From this experience McCahon created the infamous ‘Scared, eh boy’ painting, a message that still rings true to me today.

As an insider looking down from my vantage point today, I see a very different cultural dynamic playing out here in Porirua. Today at Pātaka, the wealthy white business men sit comfortably in their suits sipping short blacks, beside a group of leather-bound Blacks happily sipping their flat whites. Boom box wielding youngsters practice their pre-rehearsed freestyle cyphers, shuffling blissfully past John Key’s bodyguards on security detail ahead of the Prime Minister’s breakfast here at Pātaka.

Despite this breaking down of boundaries and barriers, there remains a stubborn, persistent attitude that Porirua is somehow less. Much like ‘South Auckland’, it is not the label ‘Porirua’ that pains me. I’m cool with the label. But I’m more than ready to do away with the baggage and assumptions that accompany it – assumptions that take ‘realistic expectations’ and twist them into a passive aggressive euphemism for ‘knowing your place’.

Porirua is a young, burgeoning city. Close to twenty percent of the community is under the age of twenty-five and our much beloved Mayor and Deputy Mayor are both well under the age of forty. At only fifty years of age, this city is home to the an eclectic mix of culturally and economically diverse communities. Here long-established family homes in Waitangirua and Cannons Creek sit nestled in amongst the newly minted white-cubed subdivisions of Whitby and Grenada North.

While many of the industries upon which this city was founded have long since closed or shifted shop offshore, the new influx of residents and industries beginning to take root here signals a positive revitalisation of the city centre and suburbs. Overall there is a very real sense of a dynamic community with as many strengths as it has problems.

Despite this cultural and economic milieu, the provincial cringe enveloping our locality clings to the label ‘Porirua’ like tissue paper caught in the wash. No matter how many cycles it goes through, the fluff finds a way to linger longer than expected to one’s attire. If you live with the fluff long enough, you learn to pay-it-no-mind.

I’ve been rocking the ‘fluff’ here in Porirua for the past few years, moving between Cannons Creek and Titahi Bay, while earning a living working freelance curatorial projects in Australia and the Pacific Islands. Flying in and out of the Windy City, one of the biggest things that hit me every time I came back home from overseas is the dilapidated state of the Porirua Cobham Court shopping area – an area affectionately referred to as the ‘Canopies’, despite the recent removal of the actual canopies.

Synthetic cannabis hit the area hard a few years ago and the outside mall shopping area took a major dive. Begging for spare change to feed addictions became common place and many shops folded with the decline in cashed-up clientele. We now have a reef of washed up ‘vacant’ stores that ooze with a palpable sense of disheartening dereliction. Visually and emotionally it weighs heavy on the hearts and minds of our community, becoming one of the major points of contention in the neighbourhood over recent years.

The centre is now undergoing a major redevelopment project which local business owners are hoping will encourage higher profile stores and clientele back into the city centre. The assumed aim of this activity is to create an area where the more metropolitan-minded individual will feel more suited to come and partake in some retail therapy, to enjoy a nice coffee or craft beer or two, and enjoy a meal within a boutique-style village atmosphere.

Much like the McCahon situation at McLeavey’s, hopes and anxieties run high on both sides of the economic fence – particularly with the area currently resembling a construction site, suspending store owner anxieties in a state of trepidation around their futures and the future of the area.

In the midst of this maelstrom a stranger strolled into town. Riding abreast their award-winning reputation for complex and innovative urban art projects, this sophisticated stranger strode into the city centre with a gusto that took much of the community by surprise. Letting Space (with their Urban Dream Brokerage service) have brought with them their much-admired philosophy of ‘social-agency’ and ‘anything-can-be-an-art’. In doing so they have managed to stir up some difficult conversations that many stakeholders are either too polite or too politic to discuss on public record.

For the past month I have been absolutely fixated on these outsiders. These lovely Pākehā outsiders, working their magic in and on our community.

I’ve been a fan of Letting Space since first visiting Tao Wells’ Beneficiary’s Office in Wellington, only to be greeted with a sign reading ‘Off to play golf’. The Porirua iteration of the TEZA project, Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa, has been a much welcomed, albeit often confusing, chance for our community to come together to talk about our favourite subject, ourselves. Much like a close friend who is too close to your situation, sometimes a friendly stranger is just what is needed to provide some perspective.

Initially claiming the abandoned old McDonald’s building in Cobham Court as their home-base, a building rich in symbolic resonance of a once thriving community centre, an interesting development occurred whereby the intersections between art audiences and community service providers overlapped. Social agency through art and community activation is not a new proposition for art-insiders, however the concept of art-community collaboration fell awkwardly on our community like a club-footed three-legged race. The concept of an art space with no traditionally recognisable ‘art’ took some explanation, with many people calling me directly at my office at Pātaka for a quiet word to explain exactly how this whole Urban Dream Brokerage ‘art-thingie’ actually works.

During the launch of the Porirua Urban Dream Brokerage at Old McD’s, as it is nostalgically known in the community, I witnessed a great turn out from our community. A mix of artists and social agitators, all gathered under the umbrella of TEZA to help make positive change in our community. As great as this sight was, for me there was a real sense that the overarching project was lost on most of those in attendance. Many people I spoke with didn’t understand how this project constituted art. Old chestnut expectations of ‘paintings’ on walls, ‘sculptures’ and weaving loomed large in the minds of those in attendance, many of whom pulled me aside, asking me to explain the project to them. As the conversations revolved around the room it became abundantly clear that most of the people who attended this event were from social service providers, those well-intentioned members of our community offering food, clothing, shelter and financial assistance under the umbrella of charities, social welfare groups and government assistance agencies – with a sprinkling of artists and activists in the mix.

Watching these events unfold, the underlying issue for me initially revolved around a question of whether the community actually recognised this project as an ‘art’, or more simply another avenue for the already abundant social service providers in our community to set up yet another outlet in the city centre.

Most of these groups were known to me through various avenues in my life, mostly outside of the art world, and my initial reaction following the launch was that these groups perceived this project merely as a free rental space, a place where gambling addiction groups, food distribution agents and other well-meaning providers could meet for free to work in the community. I still largely believe this to be true, particularly after an urgent request for more ‘obvious art’ for display purposes appeared in my email-inbox, suggesting a quick response was needed to calm stakeholder and community confusion about exactly where the ‘art’ was.

Following the reincarnation of Old McD’s as a site, the events that followed subsequently failed to really excited the community. Still half confused about the project in general, most of the comments I heard from the wider community were that they had noticed some people shuffling around that still half-empty, still rundown, construction-site-of-a-building. There was an exhibition of a Korean artist in residence and a wearable art show and inhabitation by Te Wananga o Aotearoa, but these too failed to convince the stakeholders and old McD’s closed its doors to Letting Space. There was to be no more TEZing McDonalds.

Currently, the construction taking place in Cobham Court has raised serious concerns from store owners worried that these interruptions will discourage clientele from visiting the area during the Christmas season. Furthermore, there are concerns that the community art activities taking place in some of the newly established TEZA venues are adding to the unrefined, construction-like feel of the area. As great as artist run spaces are, and as great as it is to have people bringing these once vacant spaces back to life, the retailers here desire higher-profile stores to be operating in the area to encourage more business. The community needs the business too, to provide jobs and draw rate payments into the community.

Having spent the past few weeks coming in and out of the various TEZA projects hosted within other now recently-re-inhabited stores, such as Kerry Ann Lee’s project, Porirua People’s Library, Stronger Pacific Families, the Porirua Arts Council, Sharemart and others, a new question has come to mind. Regardless of whether a community actually understands the conceptual premise of a relational/community-activation type project, does that take anything away from the success of the overall project?

The question I now ask is, what measures of success should be applied to this project?

Unlike Wellington, with its skyscrapers and bustling city center, small retailers here in the suburbs make a huge impact on the surrounding areas. If we were to measure the success of TEZA Porirua in terms of individual art projects, then I would have to say that Letting Space have brokered some quaint little projects that have activated small pockets of our community in a pleasant, albeit possibly fleeting, manner. If we were to measure in terms of activation of the wider city centre then the measurements becomes somewhat more complex, ranging from positive reactions from those who are happy just to see the stores re-occupied, through to less-than-impressed store owners who perceive these activations as merely free-loading hippies (I’m not sure whether the concept of ‘hipster’ has quite dawned on our local horizons just yet) getting free rent in run-down stores without generating any real revenue for the centre.

If however, we measured the success of this project in terms of the critical dialogue and self-analysis that the overall project has elicited in our community, then I could not think of any other medium through which such conversations could be better facilitated.

TEZA Porirua has been a subversively powerful force in the community, a stealthy sleeper-project, distilled in plain-view of the community, germinating slowly, a solution brewing questions as it matures.

In the same way that people who make assumptions about Porirua do not quite ‘get it’, similarly just because a community doesn’t quite ‘get’ the concept of an art project, does not mean that it is not a success. While each of these groups are focused on their individual projects, and similarly stakeholders being equally focused on their key economic performance indicators, the real art here is that of Sophie, Mark and the Letting Space team. This is their art. Social agency through community activation and empowerment.

I think we have to stop thinking about Letting Space as curators or art agents, and legitimately consider the Urban Dream Brokerage itself as an art. They have activated our community in a way that no one else could or would have. It is these agitations and the discussions they provoke that make this project so amazing, complex and indeed timely. It has formed a forum through which we can gather and filter our collective thoughts.

At the time of completing this text, I have been again been whisked away to Australia, working on yet another arts project in Meanjin Brisbane, and I was unfortunately unable to attend the recent Kava Club opening with TEZA in another space facilitated by Letting Space’s Urban Dream Brokerage. But even here, three hours flight away from Porirua, I have bumped into a group of Wellingtonians participating in the saVAage Klub project at the Queensland Art Gallery Gallery of Modern Art.

As they mention to me that they were disappointed to miss the Kava Club in Porirua I start to feel lighter, as if some more of the provincial ‘fluff’ had fallen off of my attire, smiling a big smile from South Auckland to Porirua, all the way across to Australia.

Ngā mihi Letting Space. Ngā mihi aroha. Nāku noa nei, Reuben

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