Whakanuia: November's celebration of great stuff

Pretty maps, a medical atlas and advice from the playwright as a young man

This month: SOUL, Atlas, Byrt, Taylor and Brooks give us pretty protesting; a medical journal (but not as you know it); evidence of the existence of New Zealand art theory; advice from the playwright as a young man; and free drinks (hopefully)

Living History: the latest SOUL campaign for Ihumātao

The battle to save the area surrounding the ancient and archeologically significant Otuataua Stonefields near Auckland Airport from the developers has been going on for two years now – or should we say 153 years? The Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) campaigners want to make it clear that the present danger to the site has its roots in early colonial machinations, and they have found two clever and surprisingly beautiful ways of making the historic seem immediate and the virtual seem personal.

Firstly, they have put up suburb-specific posters in Tāmaki Makaurau areas like Penrose, Greenlane and Remuera, warning residents that if they refuse to swear an oath to the Mayor, they have to abandon their homes and “retire to Waikato” or be ejected. The language is based on an 1863 proclamation from Governor Grey stating that natives in Ihumātao and surrounding areas had to swear allegiance to the Queen or give up their lands. Unsurprisingly, says SOUL, land was confiscated whether or not the owners were “loyal”, and leases were being offered to Pakeha settlers only two weeks after the proclamation. The SOUL posters with their anachronistic language amuse in their incongruity, but they also invite today’s mostly non-Māori suburbanites to identify with 19th century mana whenua. This taste of history is particularly sharp given the current anxiety over homes – and because the most recent promises over this land were made and broken within the last decade.

To find out what the history actually means, the posters invite us to SOUL’s second attractive initiative: the Protect Ihumātao virtual occupation. Instead of a boring petition, you see a map “occupied” by red dots – and a new one will appear carrying your name if you join in. The site is designed by Sugar&Partners – who executed the same idea for the Ports of Auckland dispute – but this time the sepia toned map is based on real 19th century survey maps. From the copperplate writing to the individualising and quantifying of each contribution (that’s my name on that red dot on that particular part of the land), the Protect Ihumātao campaign gives a sense of proud identification, purpose, and continuing history through aesthetics as well as content.

It may be educational but will it really “send a powerful message” to the powers that be? Time will tell. The tents and caravan of Te Wai-ō-Hua’s Kaitiaki Village on the would-be development site may be more effective – but this is not an either/or situation. As the recent Standing Rock “check in” showed, online occupation can’t beat the real thing but, across the tyranny of distance, it can hearten and tautoko those putting in the effort on the ground.

Map of the Human Heart: Atlas journal

Prescribing scribes – that is, medicos who write – have a surprisingly prominent international history (you don’t get so many engineer poets). Current local luminaries include poet and GP Glenn Colquhoun (whose latest work is an essay on the very topic of balancing “his life lived in two parts”), and playwright, poet and paediatrician Renee Liang – whose (non-medical) Bonefeeder opera will debut at next year’s Auckland Arts Festival.

Now a new local literary journal aims “to foster a greater appreciation of creativity in medicine”. Atlas – not to be confused with the also-fascinating Atlas Obscura – is a welcome and ambitious addition to the literary landscape. Focussed (thus far) on health systems of doctors and patients, it hopes “to shift our medical conversations away from the rigid and prescriptive, to a form that reflects and celebrates our complexities.” Edited by Auckland medical student Helen Ker, most of the writing is sparkling. “The floppy-disk contains what is left of my heart, in JPEG format. … Sometimes I edit it in Microsoft Paint,” says the narrator in Elizabeth Morton’s ‘Gristle’. Meanwhile, in ‘Taking Your Son to the Detox Clinic’ Frankie McMillan writes: “He himself has tried the back door but it’s locked, even the biscuits are under key, but he only has to ask, they are fruit fingers and not too bad.”

Does it matter whether the reader knows how much these stories are based on real life experience? Probably. After reading ‘Gristle’, we now want to know if one really can meet one’s porcine heart donor “twice before the butchering”. And we look forward to more.

The Personal is Pertinent: Anthony Byrt’s new book

Art writing as an industry is somewhat underdeveloped here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and we need more people claiming the title of ‘art theorist’ outside the hallowed realm of academic journals. So Anthony Byrt's highly anticipated The Model World: Travels to the Edge of Contemporary Art (AUP) is an exciting contribution to good quality, long-form art writing and thinking in this country. Essentially it's an analysis of our contemporary art. The word ‘analysis’ is not sexy but Byrt draws the reader in with family tragedy and private conversations, and focusses on a carefully selected number of New Zealand artists who each typify a moment – or perhaps even a movement – significant in our current arts landscape. A grand survey of the horizon from a viewpoint presented as personal.

“Don’t Write What’s Cool”: Our Very Own Award Winners

It’s been an exciting month for the Pantograph Punch crew: our music writer, composer Alex Taylor, won a $25,000 Arts Foundation Next Generation award, while our Auckland theatre editor Sam Brooks won the $10,000 Bruce Mason award for an outstanding emerging New Zealand playwright. We’re thrilled and delighted, and you should totally see Sam’s endearing comedy Riding in Cars with (Mostly Straight) Boys this week or sometime in the next month as it tours around Auckland and Palmerston North and Wellington and back to Auckland again. We leave you with an extract from Sam’s acceptance speech given at the presentation hosted by Playmarket in Wellington on 13 November:

Some advice to playwrights, young old, big, small, whoever you may be.

Don’t write what’s cool.

Don’t write what you think will sell 90% houses.

Don’t write that play you think will win you that award because it’ll be the kind of play that you think wins awards.

What is cool changes faster than you think, and last year’s hit is today’s flop.

Write about what you need to see when you go into a theatre, write about what makes you cry, what makes you angry, what makes you need a hug, write about what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you up at night.

Because I guarantee, I guarantee you there are other people who need to see somebody else talking about that, so they feel a little less alone in the world. At the end of it, that’s what we do. We make people feel a little less alone in the world.

The world is a terrifying place right now. I just did my little gay show in a little gay car for some teenagers in Whangarei the other night, and at least one of those teenagers was a gay boy, and a gay boy who had probably never seen a gay man from New Zealand, a gay man from National-voting, All Black-loving, colonially messed up New Zealand, represented in his town, on a stage right in front of him. In that moment, something I wrote, something I did made that kid feel a little less alone and made the world feel a little less terrifying for him.

Do that. Write that. Be that.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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