Thoughts as I Eat
An Essay on the closing of Slow Boil at Artspace Aotearoa
"When I don’t bring fresh flowers, the room starts to feel it"
I listen to a woman talk about having a place to stay that is indoors after being on the street for twenty years. She finally had a room, and everyday, she made it hers. The way she described the room reminded me of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, rich in visual imagery from the mix of dark browns that follow the wood grain of a carved stairwell, to the the patterns woven into ensembles of exotic bird and flora to create floor-to-ceiling curtains. However, in juxtaposition to Bleak House, the content of this description was modest, set on Karangahape Road in a hostel shared with others down on their luck. The pride was evident. She spoke with vigor and we share in her celebration. Also located on K road, and where we are currently enjoying hangi with new friends with new stories, is Artspace Aotearoa. I think about how this kai has brought us together; two seemingly opposing contexts. The contemporary art scene and those experiencing homelessness. We have been brought together despite societally instilled boundaries that object to the merging of these socially-charged dualisms. We are brought together because, like many other galleries in the area, we are in a geographic space that sits at the intersection of class, power, and inequity. Karangahape Road is a melting pot of unique personalities, and I feel a sad happiness that we are here, mixing and mingling over a yummy kai.
The show is one of cartography at multiple levels. The work displays the impacts of geographic boundarying through war torn heat maps, natural disaster recounts, and the gentle changes of greenery to dried brown edges as a result of our industrial development and aggressive expansion.
Those implications within Aotearoa are mapped out through the OIAs strewn about and hung on the wall in the front part of the gallery. I think about Crown engagement, and there are boundarying actions happening here too. The process is clinical. Redacting personal information is required for the privacy of all involved, but it divorces us from that feeling that we are engaging with the thoughts of real people. Moreover, after having done a few OIAs and submissions myself, I realise that this system does not work. It is a system that does not cater to those who are marginalised and othered, adding to this systematic and purposeful division of classes and people. Take Māori for example. We are a people who appreciate kanohi ki te kanohi and ongoing engagement. One submission that runs through a system that may or may not be answered is not how we work. OIAs that map out the technicalities of upcoming regulations rather than summarising and simplifying into practicalities are not how we work. This use of unclear terminologies and resistance to interpret policy-speak is an act of oppression, which has always occurred. One only has to go through a few of our legislative movements relating to Māori land to know that the jargon is colonially driven. And it is the same for others or others. It is unfeasible to believe that these systems of knowledge sharing between central government (aka the Crown) and our everyday person is accessible and transparent. The people who are most adversely impacted by many of these changes brought forth from the central body, are average people who probably have no idea where to go when shit hits the fan. And that is exactly the point. The system is hard and fast, and these quick turnovers mean that those who will oppose are not able to have a say. Otherness is yet to be addressed in our political processes, and I believe that this show focuses on these other voices and the challenges that are faced when those on the periphery have no systemic backstop in place.
This reflects back to the dinner and the presence of those who frequent Karangahape Road; as art lovers, passer-bys, people who keep up with the events on-street, and those who live here. The social divide disappears for a few hours and we are all brought together through one commonality: K Road. Those living on the streets are engaged with, they were welcome, they sing their lungs out and have no shame in shouting their auē's. Art friends mingle and disperse amongst themselves. The staff manaaki us all and, one by one, check on the tables. There is aroha and there is support.
In summary Slow boil maintained relationships with those living on the margins through sharing kai. Every Saturday, boil up was offered to the masses. Every Saturday, the same people come back and get to know the space and people. Every Saturday, these people feel more and more comfortable. Relationships are formed through ongoing engagement and those processes of trust that happen when you get to know someone, or in this case, somewhere. The closing emphasised that Artspace Aotearoa acts as the crossroads between different worlds, both through geographical placement on k road, and the endeavour to challenge art, contemporaneity, and community