A walking practice : lessons in transience : an exegesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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4/9/2020. It was ten years today that the first earthquake shook Ōtautahi awake at 4.35 am. In the light of the day that followed neighbours gathered to look at fallen fences and cracked roads. The second earthquake killed one hundred and eighty-five of us and shattered the lives of thousands. It is impossible to list the myriad ways an event such as this impacts one's life just as it is impossible to measure grief and on-going trauma; and it is proving impossible to forget . . . I acknowledge the earthquakes as formative in terms of my art practice and life in general as they happened at a time when other milestones were being reached in my personal life; my mother had been diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer and my children were thinking about leaving home. It was a period of questioning, adjustment and re-negotiation that was dramatically pushed to the fore and suddenly required urgent resolution. Cataclysmic events have the effect of sharpening one’s focus and suddenly an entire city had to focus on survival; it drew us together and it forced us apart. Like tens of thousands of others, I was cast adrift from my life; unmoored and floating in this new reality. One morning years later, I cycled down Cashel Street and looked across the river at the new town and could not see where my place was; I did not recognise the buildings nor did I see how I had chosen to live reflected in the glass and steel. I started collecting bits of ephemera, small things which seemed as lost as I felt and which I recognised. This exegesis looks at the way those objects have become placeholders for memory in lieu of demolished buildings and lost people, and is about coming to terms with deterritorialisation after a cataclysmic, reshaping event because when the army moved off the streets and we were allowed back into the city, I could not find my memories; they had somehow been demolished with the places I knew and without something for them to attach themselves to they drifted away. A memory needs a spark to ignite it and the blank spaces and cordoned off places effectively shut memory down. Everything that had been permanent was seen to not be so; buildings of "significance" were deemed "dungers" by MP Gerry Brownlee and gleefully slated for demolition (Chapman para 5). I almost felt that Ōtautahi (Christchurch) needed a new name because it had become such a different city; overnight almost, the Ōtautahi that I knew had moved into the past and was now only available through the lens of time and past documentation. But what did that mean for those of us who chose to stay? The first thing for me was not to refer to Ōtautahi by its English name. That place was gone and with it a faux and unconsented hybridism that the dual name implied. As I recognise the earthquakes as being pivotal forces in shaping my current situation I also acknowledge tangata whenua, as any question of belonging in a European sense is tainted by our occupation of this place, and any notion of belonging that I try to establish is done in the knowledge that others have been unseated for me to have a place. There is an unease attached to the idea of belonging here and a feeling of impermanency, which is reflected in the objects I find as I walk in the city. My exegesis discusses a practice of finding place through walking and collecting detritus which speaks of the people with whom I co-exist and walk alongside. I have found a way to reassert my place in my own life, and in the life of my city by walking the streets and re-engaging with this place, step by step. My exegesis also looks at how what has been termed behaviour "verging on obsession" (Keane 6) is just another way of acknowledging the small moments, like the first coffee of the day, and bringing some gravitas to rituals performed inside the home, a private performance, and the repetition that makes them so affirming. My work also looks at how much I feel my identity is tied to place and belonging, and where ownership fits in that contentious duo of ideas.
Figures by Paulo Nazareth (© Frieze, All rights reserved) and Gedi Sibony (© DailyServing.com, All rights reserved) have been removed for copyright reasons, but may be accessed through the link provided.