Cameron Ah Loo-Matamua
‘cassette tape garden recorder’ is an image of a dream. It collects, forages, extracts, imagines, mythologizes, and yearns. It memorialises, as both elegy and as ode. It is excessive and meandering and playful. It is a house and a womb.
I sit with my friend in this house for months–years–and she explains her life to me. Nââwié Tutugoro was born on the hottest day of 1993 in the back garden of a Grey Lynn villa, a water birth baby. There is sugarcane there, sourced by her father and propagated for his family to sit with and be shaded by, to munch on and contemplate alongside. There are oak leaves too, drifting in from the roadside as a perhaps unwelcome guest, but a guest nonetheless. And then there is the hot tub, an anomaly amongst all that lush green and brown earth, the literal birthplace of the artist. It has warm waters. An extension of the womb and a canal for mother and child to swim in and be held by. It bubbles and swirls and spits. It is life and potentiality.
I speak with my friend about her intentions in attempting to replicate her memories, about rendering them into a sort of digital living quarters. I am reminded of a story she has told me of her father constructing a ‘grande case’ in the back garden where she was born, an ancestral form of ceremonial architecture or dwelling that is specific to the Kanak peoples. He collected and foraged materials from their surrounding neighbourhoods and erected from memory the impressive structure. Like the planting of sugarcane, the grande case locates her father and his family in Kanaky/New Caledonia via Grey Lynn, and vice versa. It acts as another portal to life and its endless potentials, to places seen and unseen, visited and missed. I can tell through her recollections of its building how proud her father was of his achievement, he beams while presenting his work for the camera. There are images of him hosting friends and loved ones over kava, much like Nââwié has hosted me in her house these past few months and years.
I visit the house more frequently and am introduced to other symbols and artefacts that she has rematerialised. She tells me of a mural painted on the family garage exterior in 1998, a joint exercise between father and daughter to mark support for the Nuclear Free Pacific movement. In this house it is abstracted. Its waves flow as blue lines, misty frequencies set in chunks of black. There are also two prints the artist has drawn as a child, one depicts a vase of tendrilous flowers and the other is a portrait of her father “when he had hair.” They are titled ‘boy drank all that magnolia wine’ and ‘mon père cool’ respectively. In this house they are satin towels floating on either side of a washing line, more whimsical than they are functional. They are images, memories reformatted and repurposed in the logic of her dreams. And then there is a Persian rug, the surface upon which her grandfather died and her little brother was born. It holds the hot tub, her birth canal that bubbles and swirls and spits.
There is so much in this house–it is excessive. It exceeds language to produce its own vernacular, defying the strictures of mere ekphrasis or the limited context in which it is presented. It acts in its own logic much like dreams and memories and traumas and joys do. My friend would like you to sit in her house, her grande case, her dreams. To come inside like how the weatherboards and the oak leaves and the sugarcane and the earth has. To perhaps sing a song, hum a tune, or say a prayer. To feel welcomed and loved and at home.
CAMERON AH LOO-MATAMUA is a writer, curator and educator. They are based in Tāmaki Makaurau and work for St Paul St Gallery, AUT. They write poetry and about art, often with a collaborative approach. They are a friend of the artist and have enjoyed listening to the stories that make up her life and practice.