A Dry Winter
Samuel Te Kani
A dry winter feels un-Auckland but here we are.
The notion of New Zealand gothic is like a rusted curlicue, a gate between past and future, with the present skating on a lock that won't budge. There's a decor of stasis here, a guilt or hurt around settler-ism that's turned inward, turned rotted, cloaking itself in a conspiracy of decency, disguising itself in the naïveté of modernity which presents the Now as a zero sum, as a tabula rasa. The rivulets (read wounds) of colonial impositions quite forgot, but only on this surface where we skate amidst globalised institutions relying uniformly on cultural amnesiacs to function; amnesiacs who would gladly ignore their own missing limbs, their own sceptic gashes weighing heavy on their dreams like the best of fevers.
David Lynch would be proud of the bugs under our native grasses.
A dry winter. A dry and temperate winter feeling like an early spring, feeling like a mashing up of the seasonal wheel, a blending of the colours with an outcome of beige. When red of blood runs into brown of soil, neither retain their vivid appeals, both succumb to the homogenised slush of artistic free-for-alls, merrily exchanging/extracting from one another until definition is properly lost, forever maybe. Is the world really an open space? Is that openness truly desirable? How liberal should we be, when freedom is too often equated with the parasitic liberties of competitive consumption, including the consumption of intellectual property that nullifies the thinking of the thinker by extorting them of their goods, stripping those goods of context and effectively killing their radical potential; lest something so dangerous go unchecked. A weed is a weed is a weed. Until weeds are patented.
Then it's an ideal Mother's Day gift from The Plant Barn.
A bone-dry winter with water restrictions, the makings of an arid dust-bowl for a future. The Noma Guide To Fermentation has a section on preparing human flesh, so come the Mad Max decor of tomorrow those people prone to urban pickling should be right as rain, inner-city high-rises effectively becoming vertical stacks of livestock by which they'll feed their families. With other families (light or dark meat, I don't see/taste colour!).
Infantilised beyond belief to register phenomena as currency, all phenomena intangible or tangible and every subtle gradation between. If Katherine Mansfield were alive she'd skate merrily over the surface of today and mine every fissure for a good story, her intentions divine but results varying from age to age. Enclosed within the indigenous embrace of Pakeha, Mansfield would dull her eye to the complications of her ground and sweep her hand over the needful things of history and say 'I just want a room of my own!'.
And so with Art with a Capital A, and so with all our visual disciplines, all our cultures high and low existing within a neoliberal visual field; everything is interface, everything is a technology of the surface. We are figurines to be arranged in a decor of ... what? Who decides on the architecture of our lives? Who is tasked with wringing meaning from the demands of history? What seership and to whom is that seership granted by which the past and present can be reconciled?
If artists think it's artists then artists might need to leave their rooms every once in a while.
A dry winter when the healing dark is meant to enclose us, the re-enchanting waters of Te Po rising and filling the vacancies left by the clumsy revels of summer. We cannot have an endless summer. A summer redoubled is death.
How are we meant to gauge healing?
Laudable pus, the surfacing of toxins which would otherwise have burrowed even deeper into systems, perhaps invisibly so, toxifying the body as cancer unseen. Which isn't to say violence is a tool towards healing, maybe only a symptom when the infection calls for it; a cure to match the crucible.
A riot, a kerfuffle, a bleeding out, a wave of devastation, an untimely plague.
If Te Po had a book with the secret history of the world it's pages would be blank, being heiress of the void. And from this a disciple of night might ascertain this lesson, that a (false?) memory of hurt is better than the radiant abyss, that an imperfect story is better than no story. So while we dream of an un-problematic evacuation of everything we carry, Te Po giggles knowing our constitutions, giggles knowing we would never willingly relinquish these fabricated roles in this fabricated tableaux in this fabricated theatre along this fabricated timeline.
Fabricated to Te Po maybe, who gets to hover immaterially outside the manifest world, giggling at our deformities and misfortunes which we duly hold up as currency, traumas as coins like mana from heaven. Like Christ, holding up His wounds to the On High and pitching unconscionable suffering as the only means towards salvation, so do we cleave with perverse glee to a story of demon overlords with their heel on our throats.
Do we think this will bring the rain?
Te Po's children are witches, her western equivalent in myth being Hecate, goddess of witchcraft, herald of night-terrors. She is the Crone of the triple goddess preceded by Maiden and Mother, and thus Void-ish qualities are associated with women, with femininity; whether this is because the female has been characterised as subordinate to male (and in subjugating also vilifying, mystifying, eroticising etc), or from a childish pairing of the un-made with the vaginal. These are all players in the consummate character of Te Po, gathering past and present together in her blackish bottomless maws. A pit.
The notion of witch and of satanic pleasure (which often marks the presence of the witch hidden amongst the heather and native brush), is counter to the dryness of patrilineal settler-ism. She represents the deathly pursuit of work beyond that of making empire, the latter being pitted against a raw untrammelled Aotearoa which Jane Campion famously characterised as a Bronte spinoff.
The land itself a villain, harbouring magical villainy.
That a woman is seen as a dire distraction from the pursuits of empire, that dangerous pleasure is embroidered into the untended land as Te Po's matronly realm; the shadows are seeded with History's exclusions, and now they gather and breach the curlicued frame of History with menstrual colour (like iron oxide, like the kokowai-painted beams of the marae), that frame specifically reserved for plasma-whites and average dicks in wedding-bands. Something crawls out of the pit with apocalyptic yearning.
A dry winter yes. But who needs rain when you've got lube.
SAMUEL TE KANI (b.1990) is a writer based in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand. They are the author of blogs Apocalypsistic and Grindr Guyz, and write personalised erotic fiction for cash. Selected texts include To queer or not to queer: What can galleries do to address homophobia?, The Spinoff, 2020; Ranger Don, Our Selves, 2020; Oh My Goddess; Meditations on an emerging Micro-Genre in Film, Matters #8, 2019; Is That A Camera In Your Pants?, Leste #7, 2019; On the Anti-Fascism Rally, The Spinoff, 2019; Of Neckbeards and Dragons, Toi Maori Aotearoa, 2019; Braids, Le Roy #5, 2016; A Phenomenology of Film, Artspace Aotearoa, 2016. Te Kani has also exhibited in Under Your Skin You Look Divine, Basement Specialist Adult Store & Cruise Club, 2018 and Dirt Future, Artspace Aotearoa, 2017.