J' pas compris : / an abandoned project.
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
The conclusion at which I here arrived is that I have no business here. So here are my notes, because while I may not be personally at the core of the issue, my place within the solution is at best vague. The problem is the general feeling of detachment within New Zealand. If I have a position it is something like that of a seagull with a fish in its beak, standing on a 'no fishing' sign.
The architecture of post colonial space: Consider the subjects of the paintings of Lindauer and Goldie, the later with their purported ‘defeated’ continences, in front of their homes, and wharenui. They sit within the context of a period of great change. After initial contact with european cultures, new tools and techniques transformed the wharenui, the landscape, and the environment of interactions and trade. All the while the distant eye of the colonizers was drawing closer. And distant figures in a changing landscape became the individual subjects of the Goldie paintings. Of the Lindauer images, precious as the paintings are as a record one cannot help feeling their naivety as evidence of the Bohemianès European perspective, it is in the photographs true faces of the time can be seen. The individuality represented in this portraiture have more to do with the western sense of self than that of the subject, even though the paintings became venerated by the māori themselves.
On the other side of the world an ‘image’ of the māori was added to a collection of images of indigenous peoples from all over the globe. This process of colonisation, collection, and recording was not new. In times when city states united in western europe to form empires, the otherness of different communities served to enrich the arts and languages of these empires, and transformed the cultures under the waves of this movement.
The history of the south-pacific has specific qualities. Firstly it happened from across a great geographical divide. And secondly, it happened post-enlightenment. It happened in a time when art and science were developing under a new humanist ideology. (The pervasiveness of the Imperialist dogma didn’t, and hasn’t, changed the geographical facts, Europe is still on the other side of the world.)
(Possible sub-headings; 1. The faces of ancestors: Faces and figures as symbols, and as vessels.
2. How are representations embodiments, and what do they contain?)
Alternative theme Anthropomorphism and the landscape: The ancient history of the New Zealand landscape was a geological one. No great civilisations had left their mark here prior to the māori. So the faces of their ancestors came from the mountains, the forests, the birds, and from the darkness.
3. White-washing colonial history. Grievance and discussion; agreeing to disagree, and the residue of cultural bias. Landscape reclaims cultural artifact in different ways. The materiality of the culture affects this. If a culture is built in stone, then the remains, the residue, of the culture remains a discernable part of the landscape. The architecture of the cultural psyche has perceivable points of reference. Within an oral tradition…The greatest insult to an oral tradition is to discount the language.
Contemporary māori sculpture uses contemporary materials to create new solidity.
(Factors of influence; Oriori, and historical distortion.
Soil. Colour. Solidity.
Drafted statement of intention (discarded); Utilising the photography of the late 19th-century, primarily the Lindauer collection, I intend to produce portrait-style paintings of Māori from this period. Later described as a defeated people, and painted in either the highly ‘europeanised’ (I’ve heard one person describe the Lindauer pictures as ‘Disney-fied’) manner of Lindauer , or in the humanist style of Goldie with its technical virtuosity and its pathos. The humanist approach it seems to me is less ideologically burdened than the work of the photographic technician Lindauer. However my painting is that of a caucasian, fourth generation New Zealander (family identifying as Irish) taught a history that falls very much in line behind this archival idea of a defeated, and disenfranchised, indigenous population. So what new perspective can one have? (And is isolation a concept imported to New Zealand with the colonial settlers? What part does the museum play in colonial history?
How exactly are the cultural rhythms of a people indigenous to New Zealand altered in this period in such a way as to produce distortion and preservation?
It is true that the impact of colonisation on the Māori, as intense as it was in the period from 1890 to 1930, was only just beginning. So there was a people who can look back only 2 or 3 generations to the first arrivals of the European.
The problems with any historical characterisation of a people lies firstly in assigning a collective emotion to them; and secondly in the fact that it says as much, if not more, about the representer as the represented.
They are works of art, the idiosyncrasies of Lindauer’s photographic technique are generated by the challenges of that process, and the ‘resolutions’ are those of a western painter.
This is a phenomenon of all colonial activity within the period. Photography is a new medium to the colonizer as well as the colonised, but it is a device from the source (so to speak).
History is whitewashed, literally. The fetish for this classical rigidity somehow serving well the anthropologist. However the generating of an affected historical record was utilizing the new tools in a way open to an evolving forensic examination. What good an archive of preserved specimens? A ghoulish trade in human heads, robbing the practice of it’s original meaning, serves as a fine illustration of conquest as sport or passtime. Cultures are collectible, but in the end a colonizer will be colonized. The landscape and the stories attached to it will affect the immigrant, and this place will become the homeland for their future generations.
For me the camera lens opens a broad array of possibilities for contemplation. We know the historical facts, more or less, what we need to understand about New Zealand is the trauma.
Somewhere in the tension between backward looking culture and ignorance of historical fact; story telling, mythology, and cultural Identity. A forward looking culture needs to find some resolution without glossing over important historical facts.