TEZA 2013

Response #3: Andrew Paul Wood

TEZA is, at first glance, not necessarily the easiest thing to describe. It reminds me somewhat of the Festival in Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky: an anarchic, nomadic civilisation of uploaded minds cum an alien godlike information plague. One that, originally intended to repair galactic information networks, drifts from world to world and, in return for information, even stories (it announces itself to an oppressed colony deliberately kept by its patrons in a feudal state by dropping cell phones and asking to be “entertained”), can literally give you whatever you want, resulting in total social, economic and political disruption. The Festival also contained within it (in stored form) a species that has evolved into a niche as critics providing commentary. A defence system of automated Bouncers. The chaotically dangerous Fringe which uses the planet itself as an artistic medium and thinks nothing of inducing a solar flare to paint an aurora.

TEZA though of course is far from omnipotent, lacks the scary elements, and is considerably more sensitive to its place in its host community of New Brighton – a beach-side suburb in quake-battered Christchurch East, which even before the ground intervened seemed caught in a downward economic spiral having once been a major commercial centre in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The intention seems to be to use artistic strategies to engage with the local community – creating a temporary special zone with its own rules of interaction and transaction. Like the Freetown of Christiana in Copenhagen more so than quarantined economic laboratory Hong Kong is to the People’s Republic of China. The vibe is optimism, sharing on all levels, provocative and perhaps a wee bit utopian. The theoretical structure might be loosely described as Ironic Pragmatist a la Richard Rorty in that no one is out to solve the world’s problems or even offer band aids. Rather, the intention is to provoke some thought about possible outside-the-box strategies for getting there, and the role of the arts in disrupting the received assumptions and hidebound socio-economic systems.

Interestingly TEZA also coincides with a feverishly contested by-election in Christchurch East, and so there are plenty of pollies roaming around kissing babies and pressing the flesh. One can only hope that some of the optimism, enthusiasm and lateral thinking may rub off on them. Fingers crossed – even the ACT rep paused briefly.

My TEZA tour of duty began Wednesday afternoon, by bus. For the more central suburbs, New Brighton is a bit of an unknown quantity – “here be dragons” and all that, which is a shame because it’s actually very nice and not at all the Zombie Apocalypse of popular imagination. I arrived part way through a very stimulating discussion about art, media, communication, fanzines and identity facilitated by design lecturer/ zine queen Kerry Anne Lee and local printmaker Kim Lowe. The evening culminated in a really amazing and informative presentation/discussion about nature, waste and recycling by a number of specialist businesses and community groups like Our Daily Waste, Rad Bikes, and the new Brighton Community Garden.  This was an eye-opener, finding out that some of the things we do under the impression that we are helping the environment are in fact not sustainable and mostly feel-good, but perhaps leading to a more enlightened approach in general.

In and around this were opportunities to watch Steve Carr’s short film Burnout in the mobile and miniscule Picture House – an A-frame billboard converted into a cinema for two by Heather Heywood and Tessa Peach – and a wonderful nocturnal artwork, Hinatore by Kura Puke and Stuart Foster where glow worm-like trailing strands of LEDs encoded in their natural frequency various enigmatic soundtracks to be picked by on headphones. It was magical.

The Thursday was even more intense, starting at 10am with an impromptu visit by Central New Brighton school for a Thank You Protest. It was the opposite of a protest complaining about something, and vaguely more in keeping with a Haight-Ashbury lovebombing ethos of thanks. It was such an incredibly sweet, warm fuzzy march up to New Brighton Pier and Library, better than Prozac, and repeated a little later when I travelled with Mark Amery, Mark Harvey and Tim J Veling to Freeville School for another Thank You Protest. The engagement was fantastic, more like a Wiggles concert than an arts project – but overshadowing the fun was the knowledge that the unique and progressive Freeville was one of the schools targeted for closure by Hekia Parata. In both cases the kids made their own signs announcing all of the things they loved and were grateful about New Brighton.

In and around lunch was another set of presentations, this time on social art and the “performance of democracy” by academic Graydon Diprose, and artists Heather Hayward and Tessa Peach, Richard Bartlett and Audrey Baldwin. I enjoyed Hayward and Peach, and Baldwins’s presentations – Heather and Tessa’s very much about social space interventions and relational aesthetics whereas Audrey’s inspired by more old school Abramovic-esque body/performance art applied to contemporary Christchurch situations like post-quake life, anti-rape culture protests and female sexuality.

Diprose’s thesis regarding the subjectivities of ‘work’ post the so-called ‘neoliberal consensus’ was very interesting, but I am not sure I agree with the premise that there is such a thing as a monolithic ‘neoliberal consensus’ in the first place, any more than I believed Francis Fukuyama was right about the triumph of capitalism. For one thing the political Left remains more or less Keynesian – interventionist even when donning the trappings of Third Way Blair/Clintonite neoliberal lite, which especially needs to be taken into account in an MMP system like ours. We are also beholden to countries like Saudi Arabia and China which are actually highly interventionist. Another factor is the ascendance of identity politics across the political spectrum (much like holy war replaced cold war). It also seems to me that the time banks and interventionist art groups he talks about as subverting neoliberal capitalism in some ways are inherently dependent on neoliberal capitalism for their raison d’etre in the first place and certainly for their autonomy, so it becomes quite difficult to understand them as independent of the system the operate in and respond to.  I’m being painfully reductive – I really need to read the thesis to get a full understanding.

I would have liked to have heard more about Bartlett’s involvement in Loomio – group decision-making software, an anarchist’s Facebook, but there was a bit of a random hijacking of the conversation which is par for the course.

In and around this, the truly wonderful rooster Phil Dadson perambulated around being Phil Dadson. A preeminent New Zealand sound artist, protean Dadson’s involvement took many forms, whether leading his bicycle choir around the New Brighton Mall, or popping up unexpectedly to deliver what sounded like Tibetan chants or Mongolian throat singing. The man is a national treasure.

The fantastic Mark Harvey was leading interactive collaborative performance pieces out in the street, and Thursday also saw the generous donation of a crane that lifted up the enormous tepee of Te o Marama – ‘The World of Light’, a collaboration between the inimitable Tim Barlow of Wellington and the formidable Te Urutahi Waikerepuru of Taranaki. The gigantic cone of cane struts and bioplastic and harakeke fibre skin acts as the omphalos/sacred navel of the TEZA site, anchoring it in place.

Kerry Ann Lee and Kim Lowe hosted another discussion about representation of identity in the media and methods the community can become their own media, which was a really empowering part of the day.

My evening concluded with another creative summit talk on how we value work, artistic practice as work, and ourselves. It included great projects like GapFiller and the New Brighton time bank. Time banks were a new concept to be – basically member-run labour exchanges that measure by time rather than labour. It was during this part of the evening that I started feeling a little uncomfortable. Here we were in New Brighton, one of the lowest rungs of Christchurch’s economic ladder, and it seemed to me that the issues and philosophies being discussed very much came out of a well-meaning, but relatively comfortable and middle class educated worldview with access to systems and knowledge that the folks outside the tent did not – poverty fetishism is always a risk. That’s not to undermine an important and worthwhile discussion, but I did question the relevance to the context of our host community. That’s just a minor cavil, and yet one that all such projects should be conscious of.

Can art/artists save the world? I don’t know and I doubt it, but they will contribute to that saving by opening minds and hearts and changing worldviews – no artist has ever been afraid of a blank sheet of paper. Events like TEZA are really important way of doing that. Goodwill should be considered a sustainable, renewable resource, and one rather suspects that TEZA was doing a better job of outreach than many of the politicians out there.

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TEZA 2013

#5 Day Three Thank You Protests in video and pictures

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Thursday began with a school coming to us, and us going to them. Entirely on their own initiative (having recieved the general invitation to participate) Central New Brighton School students arrived unannounced with Thank You signs.
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So we headed off down the mall on one of Mark Harvey’s Thank You Marches.

We ended up at the Pier only to find – you guessed it – some politicians.

Then it was in the van on a field trip to North New Brighton and Freeville School. Something like half of the families of the school have houses in the Red Zone and this is a school soon to close and be merged. Tim J Veling was our guide, having already spent extensive time here with the students developing works which see them consider the future of their school site. Here’s some of the more vacated surroundings.

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The result of a power workshop (highlighting how well these students work as groups with the seniors helping the juniors) was a Thank You March around the block, to a chorus of barking dogs.

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It was all over in 45 minutes with a rousing Thank You waiata and haka before we left.

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Images: Mark Amery and Bayley Corfield

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TEZA 2013

#6 The raising of Te Ao Marama – Day Three Continued

Lunch on Wednesday 27 November saw presentations from Gradon Diprose (recently arrived from Wellington to join us), Heather Hayward and Tessa Peach (Makeshift), Audrey Baldwin (The Social)  and Richard Bartlett (Loomio). Here are Heather and Tessa discussing their work.

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Afterwards Phil Dadson led everyone in a practise of his TEZA sonic cycle composition.

The afternoon was notable for the raising of Te Ao Marama (now clad) with the help of a crane (provided generously for free by Elevate).

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Proceedings were watched by quite a crowd including Labour candidate Poto and Audrey from the Community Garden.

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Here is some video of the raising.

Phil Dadson headed out on some solo vacant space aural performances

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And Tim J Veling, David Cook and their group of Canterbury students continued the mammoth effort of installing their collaborative work with Freeville School Students in a vacant space at the bottom of the mall.

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A highlight of the evening discussion on What Are You Worth? was Ash Holwell’s contribution of a red zone foraged salad and flowers, a parting gift as he left the zone.

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After dark things got busy with the light works with the first testing of Te Urutahi and Kiwi Henare’s AIO down by the pier, with a few friendly locals joining in. Images to follow, but it was magical onsite to come out of the discussion and see three lights piercing the cloud cover above.

Back on site Kura Puke and Stuart Foster’s Hinatore got a second night development on a wall. One simple word best describes it, as Andrew Paul Wood comments in our critical responses: ‘magical’.

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Images: Gabrielle McKone, Hannah Watkinson, Tim J Velling and Mark Amery

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TEZA 2013

Response#2: Mel Oliver

To reckon with the complex experience of social work means reckoning with its force as both support and constraint. What a pleasure; what a pain. Whether imagined in our ambivalent relation to kinship systems or our ambivalent relation to social institutions, all of these affects seem destined to accompany the choreography of the supporting act. But navigating that ambivalence seems necessary to perform our connection to the future now of people whom we may never know. Navigating that ambivalence on both intimate and public scales structures both the force and the provisionality of the promises we make to intimates and to strangers.[1]

New Brighton Mall was a happening place in the 1960s. It was the Saturday trading, the unique allowance for this block of shops to open on a few sacred weekend hours, that drew crowds from all around Christchurch. With the introduction of Saturday and then Sunday trading to the rest of New Zealand from the 1980s, the New Brighton Mall retail activity sharply declined and the area has since struggled to maintain its former vibrancy. Situating the Temporary Economic Zone Aotearoa (TEZA) project in the heart of this derelict shopping precinct thereby invokes a history of commercial exchange as the lure for people to come together, highlighting our traditional reliance on consumption as the means to create a sense of community.

TEZA occupies a patch of land in the middle of New Brighton Mall, adjacent to the Work and Income New Zealand office, a range of small businesses and empty shops. Various other organisations utilise this previously vacant lot for their activities and the setting is an alternative community hub of sorts. For this one week, Letting Space have claimed it as a small zone of respite from the financial systems that typically underpin society, facilitating a range of artist projects that endeavor to encompass and integrate other factors influential to an economy, such as happiness, indigenous knowledge or environmental concerns.

The first evening discussion, ‘Optimism without a permit’, failed to articulate much other than that this was a room of committed optimists, and I suppose was a warm up rather than setting of tone for the week. Hope is a beautiful thing, yet unless it is grounded in focused action, critical reflection and addressed to the issues at hand, a Pollyanna attitude is not necessarily constructive.

In contrast to this, the individual artist responses to the TEZA provocation have each developed specific projects with groups in New Brighton. For example, Tim J Veling and David Cook are working with Freeville School to create a new photographic mural; Kerry Ann Lee is putting together a zine; Phil Dadson is establishing a bicycle choir; Kim Paton is building a website for information on waste forecasting; and Mark Harvey is encouraging participants to make spontaneous interventions in the daily activities of strangers on the street. Given the nature of their works, the artists all face the particular difficulties of finding, creating or working with a new community, and must tackle the usual challenges for relational projects that demand flexibility in authorship, a collaborative outcome, and considerable energy to negotiate and engage with people. There is an openness and personal commitment to these small communities though, and as they develop the projects are following a series of threads that reflect the diversity of interests and individuals. The weather has put a dampener on activities, the rain and chill discouraging casual hanging out, but this hasn’t affected the spirits of those involved and there is considerable warmth inside the TEZA tent.

The debate that has arisen on Facebook seems focused on who can, is or should be associated with TEZA, revealing a disjunction between insiders and outsiders, intimates and strangers in relation to this event. Curated by Letting Space, the selection of community engagement projects were accompanied by an open invitation to the public, albeit with a specific focus in mind. However, simply dropping into the TEZA site, either physically or online, is not an especially fruitful way to experience any of the works or the project as a whole. Observing is not enough here, yet to participate requires slowing down – potentially frustrating for those accustomed to a certain way of encountering and spending time with contemporary art, and confusing for those who aren’t.

Instead of an easily digested moment, what TEZA seems to have successfully achieved is meaningful engagement with local organisations like Renew New Brighton and the Positive Directions Trust, acting to provide support, visibility, connection and recognition within a new context. A number of young men from PDT attended the Tuesday lunchtime speaking session, as well as the Labour Party MP Shane Jones. In addition to this, Metiria Turei and some Green party folk were on site in the afternoon, obviously expecting to find either good photo opportunities or a sympathetic audience.

Letting Space are known for their ability to work across disparate institutions and publics, embracing both social activism and visual arts to create projects that rethink how contemporary art can operate in relation to community. The appearance of these political representatives suggests that TEZA has here navigated institutional structures in a way that enabled their concept to be considered seriously beyond the frame of art, as both support and constraint.

With so much still in process, I’m looking forward to seeing the culmination of projects, relationships and talks at the end of the week – potentially a new kind of Saturday trading in action.


[1] Shannon Jackson, Social Works: performing art, supporting publics, Routledge: New York, 2011, p. 247.

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TEZA 2013

#4 Day Two in Pictures

tezawednesday-19Handy having some artists around in the sign department. Thanks to Kim Lowe, Kerry Ann Lee, Martin Trustrum and Artbox for the material.

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This morning we farewelled Letting Space co-producer Helen Kirlew Smith. You won’t have seen many photos of Helen thus far, that’s because she’s been the glue that has made this possible. Tirelessly working through the logistics that saw everyone arrive, accommodated, fed and the site looked after.

Also in the morning Mark Harvey launched his first ‘Thank You Protest’ for New Brighton

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Lunchtime we were blessed with a visit from Stuart Griffiths from Dunedin, a mentor to a number of our artists. We had  a great lunchtime session with Tim J Veling and David Cook on their Freeville Project, and then we welcomed to TEZA Wellington artist Kalya Ward, who discussed her current evolving work on the Avon/Okataro and its play with memory of Christchurch as a former resident now working at a distance.tezawednesday-36

Our final presentation was from Ash Howell on his work with a Natural History Museum in Europe. Ash also today launched a blog based work he is completing at TEZA: The Textural Noise Zone of Aotearoa.

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We have had no end of politicians of all persuasions, and its actually been something of a pleasure to have their ear (and us theirs) and for them to hang out. MP Shayne Jones joined us for lunch.

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And Greens Co-leader Metiria Turei with New Brighton candidate David Moorhouse hung out in the afternoon.

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Kim Paton meanwhile has been busy adding content to her new website  as part of her project Deadweight Loss.

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The muka-emplanted bioplastic coating for Te Ao Marama started to go on this afternoon and Tim Barlow also held a bioplastics workshop (these continue for the next three days).
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Our theme Wednesday, appropriately, was Nature Knows No Waste, the evening discussion involving Our Daily Waste, Spacecraft (Wikihouse), Free Store, Radbikes, New Brighton Community Gardens and others.

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We were delighted to welcome back after a day back in Wellington Stuart Foster and Kura Puke who trialled for the first time elements of their new work Hinatore in the Whare Toi – sound emitting trails of LED lights.

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Images: Gabrielle McKone, Kalya Ward and Mark Amery

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TEZA 2013

#3 Day One in Pictures

The rain did not abate at the beach today as we began Day One, but Mark Harvey’s Productive Promises began with offering shelter to Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta in town for the by-election to support Poto Williams.

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There are a lot of politicians around and we imagine they will grow as we do before the weekend.
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Other actions on Productive Promises first morning have included moving rubbish off a private vacant lot into public space for the council to pick up at the bequest of a concerned citizen.

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David Cook and Tim J Veling have been putting in the hours with University of Canterbury student help at Freeville School and our office shed (as of today now running off the grid on solar) and have been manhandling scaffolding to begin erection of the students work further down the mall.

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At lunch we had a great gathering of 25 to welcome artists Kim Lowe (New Brighton), Margaret Lewis (Auckland)  and Michelle Osborne (Auckland). All three gave presentations.

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Margaret’s session involved creating a fence out of wool as a group whilst discussing the topic of the day Optimism Does Not Need a Permit. Useful sentiments in a patch of bad weather.

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Today we also kicked off Kerry Ann Lee’s Alternating Currents project with the first of three discussions.

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These are part of the gathering process for a zine and poster project to be produced and launched by Sunday on migrant settlers and creating media representing their voices.

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Richard Bartlett kicked off the first presentations and discussions around our themes at 8pm and Heather Hayward and Tessa Peach opened their Picture House, a two person cinema.

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To facilitate this we trialled an experiment of taking two people at random out of the discussion and into the Picture House for a quick burst of art video inspiration (thanks to Mark Williams at circuit.org.nz for the curation, Rebecca Ann Hobbs for the work). Conference breakout and speed dating service all in one.

Images: Kim Paton, The Freeville Project and Mark Amery

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TEZA 2013

#2 Monday Powhiri and welcome to New Brighton

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At the TEZA hub

Part of the TEZA kaupapa is to explore what occupation looks like. Which is: to ask how we can be in public commons space and both acknowledge the local and indigenous and charge it up with the national, the global and universal. See it truly operate as an in-between space (a zone) where we come together with our diverse backgrounds and concerns.

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Having been welcomed to the ropu at Rapaki marae on Sunday, on Monday New Brighton wished to also welcome us with a powhiri. So our opening on Monday night saw us gather with friends from Christchurch and around New Zealand to be welcomed on.

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After days of hot sunny weather the rain came in on Monday but we were brightened by the arrival of Heather Hayward and Tessa Peach’s Picture House, Sharon with the bright bins from Our Daily Waste, and many friends from Christchurch, CNZ and around the country.

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Phil Tekao from Positive Directions Trust, who have become very much part of our whanau, welcomed us on. And he was followed by local councillor David East. We have been overwhelmed by the energy being given to us from New Brighton and find ourselves working hard to match it, to see true collaboration.

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Our kaumatua Te Huirangi Waikerepuru

Rain has not dampened spirits and it has been a time for realising our strength lies in this as a development time together, as friends new and to be made continue to arrive.

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Sophie Jerram, Mark Amery and Gabrielle McKone feeling the love

The most visual symbol of this apart from the continual growth of the site is Tim Barlow and Te Urutahi Waikerepuru’s Te Ao Marama.

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It continues to change daily and now, with strapping, resembles a hinaki or eel trap, as might have been used here nearby on the Okataro (Avon)  and the spiralling out of connections the whole TEZA project means for us.

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We embed an audio snippet from the opening night with the artists introducing their projects to give you an indication of its scope (note recording omits Mark Harvey’s introduction and starts part way into Richard Bartlett’s). Here also is Phil Dadson complete with bicycle horn introducing his.

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Images: Gabrielle McKone and Mark Amery

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TEZA 2013

#1 Powhiri

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A TEZA contingent gathered and travelled to the wonderful Te Wheke, Rapaki Marae, Ohinehou/Lytteton Harbour on a beautiful day, a ribbon of mist coming up the harbour to welcome us.

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This was our powhiri to welcome the group to the whanau. The new marae Te Wheke opened just before the first Christchurch earthquake, providing shelter during the second.

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Our party was led by Parikaha kaumatua Dr Te Huirangi Waikerepuru (left below), daughter Te Urutahi (right below with Kura Puke) and Tengaruru Wineera of Taranaki.

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There’s a special connection here. Ripapa Island in the harbour was used temporarily in 1880 as a prison for 150 of Te Whiti’s followers of passive resistance.

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More recently we were told Taranaki iwi provided harakeke to complete the weaving in Te Wheke.

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Meanwhile at the TEZA hub (viewable now via webcam) as the evening drew in Tim Barlow has begun construction on Te Ao Marama (here with Richard Bartlett), his work with Te Urutahi.

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As Te writes, “Tim Barlow and I propose that Te Ao Mārama is installed in the TEZA hub area linking Te Ao Mārama within a space where facilitated gatherings of people will be welcomed and embraced and encouraged to share, contribute and participate in an array of activities for the duration of TEZA. Te Ao Mārama will be illuminated in the evenings to reflect new learnings gained and shared.”

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Images: Anake Goodall, David Cook, Gabrielle McKone and Mark Amery

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TEZA 2013

On the Birth of TEZA – Richard Meros

The concept of TEZA began for independent public art producers Letting Space in 2011 on a trip to ISEA, Istanbul. Discussion ensued around the pervasiveness of the ‘international artist’ working as a dislocated figure disconnected from local communities.  In 2012 an approach was made to create TEZA in the desert of New Mexico for ISEA 2012.   TEZA didn’t eventuate in that instance, but a number of the artists have continued on the journey, and some produced their works in New Mexico independently.   Always intended as a structure that could move between locations, TEZA has finally found its first iteration in Christchurch.

In this essay written in 2012 ahead of the planned New Mexican installation, unpublished until now, writer Richard Meros explores some of the TEZA concepts. Concepts which still largely underpin the Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa today.

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Entrance to Clark Special Economic Zone, Philippines

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MIXING WITH THE LOCALS

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The Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa (TEZA) was initially proposed as an art project aimed at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2012.

The project was a response to the lack of interaction with local communities at ISEA in Istanbul in 2011. Flying in and flying out of the conference, the conference offered little recognition or engagement with the particular Eurasian land bridge on which it was held. Despite the variety of international contributions, or perhaps because of the focus on it, the conference felt like another stepping-stone on the path to placelessness and homogenization. To some of the participants at ISEA 2011, the feeling was that art was just as de-spatialised as the economic activities in Special Economic Zones (SEZ).

The artists that coalesce around TEZA want to find a way to have art bring something of value to the people where ISEA symposiums are held. For Albuquerque that value would be crafted around an intersection between art and the indigenous practices of both Aotearoa/New Zealand and the people of the New Mexican pueblos.

Framing this collective of artists as TEZA is meant to be a parody of the Special Economic Zone. Part of the parody is a joke about the ability of people from Aotearoa (New Zealand) to exploit on a global scale. ‘Not us,’ we’d joke, ‘not the number eight wire bumpkin from the back-paddock of the Pacific!’ The joke might be that Aotearoa is a post-colonial society and has had so much experience with the destructive side of colonization that we’d be the last on board with the colonialist/imperialist role of the SEZs.

Although TEZA was not able to fully participate in the 2012 Albuquerque summit, the ground work for a future project based in Christchurch and then Sydney has been laid. Producing these projects closer to home will solve some of the logistical challenges of TEZA, while also fundamentally changing the dynamics of who the traditional or indigenous peoples are that TEZA seeks to engage with. On the one hand there might be an ease of dealing with the Ngai Tahu iwi of Õtatahi there is perhaps more at stake with an attempt at working with the indigenous of a place called home. With Sydney there are also pre-existing thoughts on what New Zealanders might be trying to do when taking an indigenous peoples seriously.

But before getting into the specifics of TEZA it is necessary to know a little more about the Special Economic Zones. From the arts community it is easy enough to come at SEZs with the same sort of mortified moralizing that any good liberal uses to approach deregulated capitalism. There will be plenty of time to judge SEZs. But let us first describe the reasons for the space that is the Special Economic Zone and the projects built on these lands.

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The Special Economic Zones

A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a space within a nation that is dedicated to the theology of global capitalism. Think of it like the state of the Vatican City in Rome. The Vatican is to the Italian ideology of Catholicism as the special economic zone is to worldwide ideology of global capitalism. Each zone is surrounded on all sides by a nation, and this nation suffuses the zone with it’s culture, but the zone operates under it’s own legislative conditions.

The legislative conditions that are particular to SEZs address one or more inadequacies of the host nation. These inadequacies are generally that the larger state has too much bureaucratic red tape, an unstable fiscal regime or the absence of a suitable infrastructure. Tax breaks, relaxed laws and other inducements encourage multi-national companies (MNCs) to base themselves in these zones.

The host government hopes the MNCs will provide jobs, infrastructure and stability where it once was not. Broadly, the SEZ is to create a culture of employment and employability. The tribal or collectivist identity of the worker is reformed in the SEZ into that of a vigorous individualist. The masses of humanity are reshaped into rational economic actors.

In the long term, the host nation wants to go beyond the low-wage labour of the SEZ. In the best-case scenario, the low-paid labourers from SEZs gain experience and turn into desirable workers who are skilled enough to work in high-tech, high-value manufacturing. Along with this up-skilling comes an increase in wages. This is where Taiwan is always pointed out as the exemplar. The original MNCs leave, but they are replaced either by MNCs or local companies headed by the employees up-skilled in the low-wage jobs. The years of sweatshop labour, if all of the manufacturing work in this area might come under that term, are seen by those who propose SEZs as a sort of apprenticeship in manufaturing.

The dream is that the government is then able to sustain itself on the tax base from these new industries. At this point, the SEZs are no longer needed. The country is to have reformed itself,  created infrastructure, a skilled workforce and fiscal stability.

This is the ideology of our global capitalism. It is an internationalist ideology and this can be seen in the desertion of industry from the West and into China, and from there to the next low-wage countries such as Bangladesh. There is a remarkable glint in the eye of the neo-liberal economists and politicians who genuinely believe that they have found this road to Eden. To those caught up in the logic of free-market economics, there is no escape and why would anyone want an alternative when the payoff is prosperity?

The neo-liberals want the whole country to embrace the dictums of the SEZs. That’s what they suggest. Instead of the SEZ being dismantled, those in love with the concepts of free-markets want the whole country to become one giant SEZ. They see this as a gift of progress and liberation from a history of tin-pot despots, oligarchs or warlords.

These economists have a reason for every failure of a country to become the utopic, high-wage zone that they have prophesised. The reason often relies on the racial or ethnic backwardness of the people involved rather than the repulsiveness of the dehumanized labour on offer. The neo-liberal economists, like all half-shod theologists, have an answer for ever complication. And that is all they want. They want to have an unfalsifiable answer to every possible question asked.

These economists have produced a remarkable system of explanations. And the problem is not that they’re wrong, but that their system of explanations is impossible to prove wrong. Their system of explanation deny the complexity of the variant world lives, not to mention the role of power in political economy, and always squarely lump the blame for failure on the shoulders of the individual (two parts laziness, they huff, and one part endemic stupidity) and never, ever accounts for systemic issues.

In short, the SEZ is a utopic experiment for the neo-liberal economist. And utopias are necessarily pragmatic projects. Pragmatism requires the dismissal of complexities that cannot be programmed out of existence in the short to medium term. As such, a number of complexities are left out of the picture.

It is to the complexities that we’ll now turn.

TEZA in Albuquerque

What are the complexities that TEZA address when they raise a knowing eyebrow at the SEZs? The complexities are based around the people who live in the space where  international art symposiums are held. As such, the site in question should be considered: the Albuquerque region of New Mexico.

The aim of drawing out these complexities is not to resolve them into a backslapping unity. It is the SEZ, not TEZA, that needs to erase complexity as the overseers of these zones seek to homogenise a space into a workplace and a people into a labour force. The complexities that will be discussed are not ‘bad’ or limiting issues that need to be eradicated. The reverse is true. At their base, these tensions are what constitute the identity of TEZA.

TEZA’s project was to create a relationship with a local pueblo (indigenous tribe or village) in the next ISEA location. This relationship was to be non-commercial, at least in terms of money – time being a less tangible measurement of worth. The reason for a focus on non-commercial relations was an eagerness within TEZA to share a project unmediated by the cash exchange culture that has become a hallmark of the conference circuit.

In terms of trade, what TEZA was offering might best be considered to be a barter. TEZA, as representatives of the arts, was in the less attractive position. They would offer the pueblo a panoply of what artists have always offered: enlivenment, entertainment, visions of a different future. TEZA were also the instigators of the exchange. In turn, TEZA would request the pueblo to offer a canopy for TEZA, lending them space and a regional connection that had not been present in prior symposiums.

But while a written contract provides trust for a fiduciary relationship, there is no such option for the kind of good-faith exchange proposed by TEZA. Instead, TEZA would have to build a relationship of trust to the pueblo through establishing credibility via two likely channels: their professional status as artists, as measured by their participation in ISEA, and their indigenous affiliations in New Zealand, through several artists position as tangatu whenua.

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The indigenous side of TEZA

Indigeneity is established through birth and trust is established through the inheritance of the particular indigenous group’s past behaviours. TEZA attempts to form trust based on the shared indigenous values between the people of the New Mexican pueblo and the Māori artists involved in TEZA.

Quite simple, TEZA is saying ‘you are indigenous, we are indigenous. You can trust us.’

But is TEZA indigenous? Is it legitimately Māori?

Some of the artists from TEZA are Māori, but some are also Pakeha. So perhaps it is best to look at how TEZA conducts itself to see if their practices side more with the Pakeha or the Māori.

One important factor in favour of TEZA establishing its credibility as indigenous is their principles of engagement which suggest that they will follow the Māori tikanga, or protocols, at their proposed encampment. Examples offered of thesetypes of behaviours include the blessing of food, and of welcoming visitors as a group.

But what might these protocols look like at a level that might make the indigenous part of TEZA seem trustworthy to the New Mexican pueblo? Is it enough to eat right? What would a tikanga of Māori organisation look like at a strategic or societal level that can be contrasted with the protocols of a SEZ?

At the level of organization there are a number of  protocols of Māori Business that speak to the issue of trust. First, Māori businesses have to deal with the multiple and collective ownership of resources.  Second, beneficiaries of the iwi recognise the central role of inheritance as a source of wealth. Lastly, turangawaewae, or standing place, determines the authority of the speaker to have his or her say.

An overt stating of these tikanga of Māori business is absent from TEZA’s main outline, though they are not necessarily missing from their actual practice. TEZA is certainly a collective. They have come together less out of an an inherited right, than out of a commitment to the arts. And given that the place of speaking is to be an international arts symposium, the turangawaewae of TEZA is taken more from prestige in an art community than in the indigenous community. That’s not to suggest that members of TEZA don’t have sufficient standing to speak, but that the validity of their vocie at ISEA is determined more by their point of standing as artists.

TEZA is not singularly interested in indigenous communities. Instead, members of TEZA have coalesced around another identity: that of the artist. A select number of TEZA’s members could use their position as indigenous to New Zealand to approach the pueblo in kind. But to really secure a collaborative relationship based on trust, the value of the exchange needs to be shown. This value would be based on TEZA’s ability to make a convincing case for the worth of the artistic endeavour that it had planned for ISEA.

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The offer of art from TEZA

What can TEZA offer the pueblo?

“Art.”

But what is Art?

“Good grief! If you have to ask, then I’m not telling.”

Sorry. I mean, what is ‘art’?

“That’s better, but you’re still not getting an answer.”

TEZA’s use of the art world establishes trust through an appeal to the generation of new ideas and their future value. Or if you wish, and I paraphrase Duchamp, it is love. In it’s simplest expression. Or maybe it is beauty. Art is in the eye of the beholder? Why not?

“Because it is a bloody lie!”

Many of the TEZA artists attempt to establish trust by playing on the idea of a different future or a reframing of the present. This appeal is not particularly directed at the indigenous of New Mexico, but at a general humanity. This is the promise of art to the New Mexican audience: it is a promise of self-creation; of agency.

“They’d be mad to accept it.”

Both artist groups and indigenous groups from TEZA are seeking to form bonds of trust across an international community. But can these two groups function together? Both have made appeals to values that cannot be strictly measured in terms of money. But how can trust be established across such a divide in space?

“They can’t. The hippies tried it in the 60s; tried to go back to the land and  set up communes amongst the pueblo in New Mexico. They just raised local property prices and pissed off the people they wanted to be a part of.”

Perhaps TEZA’s attempt at establishing trust faces too many barriers. The temporariness of the exhibit and the thousands of kilometers of distance between New Zealand and New Mexico might make people suspicious about the idea of the interaction at TEZA leading to trust and a long-term relationship. But are long term relationships really the only possible positive result of relationships of trust?

“Say what?”

Is it possible to form bonds of trust in the short term that are not based on deception or economic exchange and which have positive outcomes?

“Sounds hifalutin. Why not look at what actually happened with this TEZA group? I mean, did the pueblos actually agree to participate. What’s with all this skirting around the edges?”

At the beginning of the project, there was a sense in TEZA that the groups in New Mexico were overwhelmed by those wishing to interact with them as the indigenous. That is to say, the first contact from TEZA was ignored.

Groups who are overwhelmed often resort to the market to make decisions for them. People that can be trusted are the ones who will front up with cash for our services. For a New Zealander the weariness of an indigenous group to great every offer of cultural ‘exchange’ with glee is easy to understand when we spot the plethora of requests on local iwi to provide welcomes to visitors.

Some valid points need to be addressed: how should the pueblo differentiate TEZAs claim to wanting mutual exchange from a group that simply wishes to appropriate the cultural value of indigeneity? Why shouldn’t indigenous groups everywhere, burnt by years of imperialism, be suspicious of a group that claims to be interested in mutual exchange? Why shouldn’t they demand American Express as the quickest route to accessing the legitimacy of their services?

“Whoar! Sounds like we need a deus ex machine to solve this one. Where is He, the god from the skies, to solve this entangled plot?”

It was this overwhelming of the formal channels for interaction that led to a third identity to come to the fore in TEZA. The emergence of gender as a node of communication allowed the establishing of trusts from a position of marginality and across informal indigenous structures.

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The Women of TEZA

To establish the TEZA host for the ISEA symposium in New Mexico, communications did not go through formal channels. The actual relationships were built through an informality that evaded the patriarchal indigenous structures. The formal networks were eschewed because while the indigenous organisations may be marked as marginal in relationship to the non-indigenous, they are still saturated with requests from many within the dominant culture to use their credibility for some symbolic ends.

So while the official hierarchy ignored the original contact, it was through informal contact with  women on the margins of the indigenous organisations that a relationship of trust began.

The conflict between gender and indigenous culture is not new to New Zealanders. Gender and indigenous practice has created many headlines in New Zealand, particularly in relations to the objection by Titewhai Harawira to Helen Clark speaking on the marae as outside of protocol. Men are the traditional orators and occupy the first rows any set of meetings and, as with Pakeha, men also dominate Māori organizational hierarchies. While women are responsible for welcoming guests onto the marae, they are also responsible for providing the food and so are generally sequestered in the kitchen.

Planning sessions with five women across numerous locations in two countries co-ordinated a plan for ISEA in New Mexico. Solid relations of trust and plans for the operation of the two week symposium were established. TEZA reached the point where more official sanctioning would be needed, but where there was an advocate in New Mexico that would likely enable this to take place.

It is yet to be seen how the relationships between women and indigenous organisations will hold up when put into practice. Will the formal male relationships take over once the bonds of trust are formalised into actual agreements? Will the men ride in carrying the TEZA flag and be assumed to have been behind the project all along? Will gender divisions at the organizational level become manifest in any of the artistic activities on site?

In the end these questions were never answered. They petered out as funding for the New Mexico ISEA became too difficult to find. Instead, TEZA is set to operate in closer to home: Christchurch and/or Sydney. At these sites, perhaps formal channels will prove more fruitful, and women will be able to organise along official lines from the beginning.

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Conclusion

The Special Economic Zones of the world plow on. They homogenize space, drop in the seeds of capital, and bloom green with profit. These relatively small zones, near trade routes, may seem bustling and eager, but this activity is tightly controlled and avoids any meaning beyond quantifiable gains. The only conflict on the ground in a SEZ is that of how much can be produced , of what quality, in what amount of time. To play the role of the farmer, you need the cash to get them magic seeds.

As a conclusion, a sort of intermission entertainment while we wait for TEZA to return in Christchurch of Sydney, lets look at the place of the three identities drawn on by TEZA and how they fare in the landscape of the SEZ.

What is the place in SEZs for the indigenous?  If we take the concept of turangawaewae literally, then the SEZ is an impossible place of quicksand or shuddering earthquakes or simple unsustainability. The land on which the SEZ functions has been wiped of all historical context and presented as 100% pure.  onto which the new infrastructure and fiscal regime can be built.

And women? How do women fare in SEZs? Some might imagine these zones are masculine places of industry and mateship, a sort of New Frontierland where women are either prostitutes, the prim wife of the Governor, or one of the plucky few who play with the men. But in terms of sweatshops and factories, today women play as important a role as men. In fact, many sweatshops (used as a synonym for the range of industrial activities which occurs in SEZs, not just fabric manufacturing) intentionally hire young women so that foremen can more easily physically intimidate them. These practices are clearly shown in Micha Peled’s award-winning documentary China Blue. Women play a central role within SEZs. They are the most desirable proletariat.

Art might be the most contentious of omissions from SEZs. How far can we stretch the definition of art to include the practices of SEZs?

“You’re seriously asking if sweatshop labour is performance art?”

Art is open to all aspects of life including homogeneity, mechanical reproduction, routine and monotony. But can anyone really argue that SEZs hold any hope for art? Or is there something to art that demands an agency unfound in the SEZ? This is just the question which TEZA will seek to answer as it pairs art to the indigenous, and people to a place.

Richard Meros is a New Zealand-based writer. His most recent book Easy Whistle Solo was released by Lawrence & Gibson in 2012. His next book, Dating Westerners: tips for the new rich of the developing world is due in early 2014. Find out more at http://www.richardmeros.com

 

 

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