Shared Lines: Kaikōura, a review

by Audrey Baldwin

Shared Lines: Kaikōura (SL:K) took place over a week in February 2019. It was an ambitious project that aimed to engage the coastal town in a myriad of art forms with the intention of highlighting the role of art in building resilient, inclusive and vibrant communities. The festival pursued this goal by facilitating creativity, social engagement and a community-wide discussion of creative aspirations for the future.

 

The project was led by a small team of artists and producers, with individuals brought on board to lead key projects. Artistic director, Linda Lee spent over a year liaising with community leaders, the council and local organisations. With over 35 events taking place as part of the programme, we have elected to weave together different strands of the festival in the hopes of communicating a sense of the project as a whole.

 

The Shared Lines Kaikōura festival opened with a traditional group art exhibition. The Memorial Hall was transformed into a multipurpose space, with exhibition walls made onsite. The salon hang showcased over 100 works, with artists hailing from Wellington, Christchurch, Japan, Australia and Fiji as well as Kaikōura. The mood in different parts of the space shifted with tone, palette and medium – from sombre to vibrant, contemplative to expressive. The show had over 900 people through the doors over the week, enjoying dynamic conversations and visual relationships between works by both established, emerging, national and international artists.

 

A key element to the programme was the hosting of an international artist in residence and the creation of a site-specific artwork for the people of Kaikōura. We welcomed Japanese artist Yasuaki Igarashi to Aotearoa for a month-long residency, where he worked with the community to make a large-scale public installation. Sora Ami (Knitting the Sky) saw him teaching locals a traditional Japanese technique for making fishing nets. The work was largely about connection and understanding beyond language. Having worked with displaced Japanese communities, non-verbal children in South America and multiple nationalities in Antarctica, Igarashi was well versed in turning seemingly disparate individuals into creative collaborators – art being the shared language.

 

Throughout the month of February Yasuaki popped up in various settings. From beneath a blue gazebo, Igarashi engaged with locals and tourists alike. Most people spent five to ten minutes learning the technique and worked their way through a spool of rope while others made repeat visits - dedicating hours and days to the project. At the marae on Waitangi Day, toddlers wove in and out and under the nets being knitted by elders and visitors. Some hands well versed in raranga picked up the technique easily, others fumbled but grasped it with the help of those who’d spent time with the net.

 

The first Sora Ami was installed across a foot-bridge overlooking the Northern end of the town. This existing net was created with Japanese fishermen from various islands off the coast of the mainland. A second Sora-Ami was installed in Christchurch at The Arts Centre, it acted as both a physical and symbolic statement of unity between two places which share fault lines, history and experience. A few days afterwards, at the Southern wharf end, near the uplifted seabed, the freshly knitted Kaikōura Sora Ami was raised, connecting the vista of mountains, coastline and sea. The net was gently bellied by wind – moving like a collective breath in a shared environment.

 

Tying into the notion of collaborative making and learning, Audrey Baldwin’s Shared Snood offered macramé making lessons to passers-by. A children’s workshop was hosted by Te Ahi Wairua o Kaikōura (TAWK) and kids were taught how to knot friendship bracelets or contribute to panels making up the Kaikoura Snood. An adults’ workshop took place with conversations about the creation and sustaining of conscious communities. The sharing of stories, experiences and teaching of a new (if retro) skill brought people from different backgrounds together in a relaxed environment.

 

TAWK hosted a number of events, providing insight into the community and a much-appreciated central hub for many of our artists and producers. Linda Lee and local community leaders facilitated pepeha and raranga workshops, which had been run in the past, but reached new audiences as part of SL:K, while sharing new skills with our own visiting artists and allowing a deeper understanding of the history of Kaikōura.

 

Having local businesses and institutions happily engage with the project contributed to its success. The Kaikōura Museum hosted an open symposium, facilitated by Wellington based arts producer; Mark Amery, which opened up discussion and debate around the role of art in community. A series of talks from artists, councillors, planners and community leaders addressed the question “What’s art got to do with it?” and discussed how can we use art - in all its forms - to help us address community, economic and environmental issues and build resilient communities. The next morning, a post-symposium hui was arranged with the aim of creating a steering group and instigating an ongoing arts and culture strategy for the town.

 

The art trail brought a variety of works out of the gallery and into the street. More than 18 businesses hosted sculptures, paintings and prints for the duration of the festival. Margaret Lewis’ Aroha was a highlight in the middle of town – yellow duct tape transformed a chain-link fence into the framework for an upscaled embroidered text. Meanwhile Helene Olivia Smith enchanted young and old alike with her work, Once Were Moa – ceramic moa-scaled eggs arranged in a driftwood nest, left undisturbed and respected in public space.

 

The Slam Club was filled to the brim for Wednesday evening poetry night with a range of voices. Young first-time performers joined seasoned stage veterans and Amy Leigh Wicks’ poetry group came out in force for the open mic. Internationally acclaimed Tusiata Avia brought both tears and raucous applause while queer narratives came to the fore with words by Khye Hitchcock and Jennifer Shields.

 

Binge Culture’s multi award-winning performance, Whales, was an obvious choice for bringing to Kaikōura. Audience members were called to action in order to help save a pod of beached ‘whales’ and guide them back into the ocean.

 

Jason Muir also brought his playful and disarming work, Kaikōura Kutz, south. Punters caped up for a free haircut and chatted about their relationship to their communities, culture and politics in the public sphere. The performances took place in multiple locations – from a sheltered doorway on the main street, alongside sheep shearing competitions at the A&P show to discussing ideologies from atop the picturesque peninsula. Muir curated 17 haircuts over the course of the week including the scissors being turned on him by local hairdresser Joanna York. Several Kutz were recorded by filmographer John Lake, which will be released online in due course. Due to the street theatre nature of some of the pop ups, they were able to attract a diverse audience with around 150 passers-by interacting along the way.

 

On Friday, we opened the space late for an evening showcasing performance-based practices. Louie Neale opened the performance art evening with an elegant, poignant work addressing the fluidity of gender in a society confined by binaries. The Wellington-based artist began seated on the beach, their handmade costume-sculpture modelled on amorphous jellyfish. With slow and graceful movements, they unfurled and picked their way along shifting stones to more solid ground. Donning unfitting heeled boots, Neale navigated through the Memorial Park with a quiet dignity and confidence that grew as they stepped onto concrete. Once inside the gallery space, their movement bloomed into a swirling, spinning celebratory dance where the costume expanded, thrumming, floating and shifting in space. As the audience spilled into the gallery space, Neale took a seat on a white, tasselled cushion, becoming static once more as the next performance began.

 

Fantasing began their surreal, site specific musical performance stationed in different areas of the Memorial Hall. A disembodied voice answered an apparent phone call:

 

“Please hold the line

Press 1 for whale sounds

Press 2 for UFO abductions

Press 3 for the absentee line

Press 4 if you need a phone charger

Press 5 for a mullet

Press 6 for dolphins flipping

For everything else, please press the star”

 

The drummer in denim dungarees began a simple, dedicated percussion that lent rhythm to the building voices. A suspicious, bulbous assemblage of brown and cream fabric on the floor shifted slightly; at times breathing raspily into a microphone. A guitar squealed and poetry emanated from within a beer box head-dress-come-mask, while across the way, the bassist in a seafoam green dress harmonized delicately.

The performance combined conversational snippets both banal and insightful in a singsong cadence.

 

“Who’s not here?

We’re leaving in the morning, we’re leaving in the morning.

Does anyone have a charger?

We’re leaving in the morning”

 

Gradually, the band formed an orderly line and left the gallery, radio mics still on. Scraps of post-gig chatter filtering through until the group passed out of range and silence returned.

 

Shay Hooray was next, having snuck onto the curtained stage, he welcomed the audience with nonsensically elongated articulations and exaggerated facial expressions. The crowd thus captivated, he went on to perform his famous Rubber-band Boy act in absurdist silence, his constricted and contorted face in the middle of a floating picture frame.

 

Local artist, Steve Gill took to the floor with a spoken word piece Newtearoa. Orated in deadpan fashion by the poet in amphibious attire – wetsuit, flippers, snorkel and cricket pads, complete with diving weights. His voice filled the hall, listing a litany of place names, histories and memories; travelling the breadth of our land as he traversed the gallery space.

 

Upon Gill’s exit, Audrey Baldwin began activating the Kaikōura Snood. Artists inhabited the snood-space first, lifting it up and encircling themselves in the macramé sculpture. She invited everyone to join in, leaning back and supporting each other. With slight undulations, shifts in weight and pressure, the snood swayed gently as people adjusted their stance or angle. The tension was solely in the materials holding the people and space together. Borrowing a newly learned ritual from co-producer Amber Clausner; the artist led everyone in a “grapefruit” ceremony where they shared what they were grateful for. The snood was disbanded in a gently choreographed way and laid back on the floor.

 

Throughout the week, the Pie in the Sky team had visited each and every school, running workshops with kids on how to light up their bikes in preparation for a public bike parade on the final night of the festival. They researched the “confidential” archive files of the Kaikōura Museum and worked secretly at the Community Space/Menz Shed, creating a float and an audio accompaniment that wove together whale song and de-classified recordings from the legendary UFO sighting above the town just over 40 years ago. A white whale, paper-skinned and lit up, was flanked by flashing, glowing bicycles, scooters and prams in a surreal procession from the Pier Hotel to the Memorial Hall. Pie in the Sky then transformed into their alter-egos Bric-a-brac Ravers and got the kids dancing their energy out as the adults dried off.

 

The frantic energy espoused in the final event was somewhat of a metaphor for the ambition, exuberance and earnestness of the festival over all. Multiple methods, materials and approaches were undertaken, all with the same aim - to bring arts to the fore as a method of connecting and empowering people and communities. The manaakitanga of the Kaikōura community provided fertile ground for visiting artists to share their ideas and engage in exchange, discussion with locals. The outcome was the beginning of a wider sense of the value that the arts brings to a community - especially one still in recovery.