Here we are. In the world. We are bodies. There are edges.
And we have dependencies.
And we have untethering.
And we move upon these strata of all kinds—of memory, of land, of behaviour, of inheritance, of language, of touch—forming us and un-forming us, containing and releasing our bodies into all manner of climactic and emotional weather. Always, we have the ground, the water, the air—the great reliabilities, which are trustworthy, tender, and easy to forget in their always-thereness.
This side or that side, or almost. Standing by features three works by artists Richard Orjis, Emily Parr, and Janaína Moraes. Commissioned during the 2021 Covid lockdowns by curators Mark Harvey and Layne Waerea, the artists were invited to consider a series of questions about collectivity and the individual.
The three works that resulted from this invitation remind us that we don’t quite know where our bodies begin or end. They evoke the play of external and internal relationships and tensions that form our bodies.
In each work, the camera watches the movement of forms co-creating each other: ocean and beach, river and bank, mist and waterway, human body and chair, road and car, tree and earth. Bodies of different orders and materials shape-shift through time. Each video evokes a poetics of bodies held by spaces.
Emily Parr’s Through the Time Spiral: Te Muri I (2022) is a vehicle for time travel. Parr’s voice guides us into the landscape and through the decades. The visual rhythm of the tide takes us across the beach and down the years to low tide at Te Muri beach in “Christmas 1908 or 1909”, where the Kronfeld family gather with “friends and family from Auckland and Sāmoa”. Parr merges past and present, drawing still human figures over images of present day Te Muri beach and the waves gently washing with the tide. The figures are characters in a narrated story, evoking time as simultaneity, a past that is living alongside and within that which is evident in 2022.
Parr’s voice narrates the forbidden pleasure of abundant oyster gathering, policed even then by park rangers. She describes tricks and deceptions that will become family lore, the stories alive and circulating over generations, all the way to us here in the present day. In this five-minute work, Parr’s drawings and shoreline video take us right there, to a feast in a summer over a century ago, underneath the pōhutakawa, friends and family undertaking rituals of risk and pleasure alongside and held by the sea.
Watery bodies are also the central presence in Richard Orjis’s video Jerusalem (2022). Spectral, silvery black and white footage evokes intense cinematic portraits of the Whanganui river and the settlement of Jerusalem. The shimmering mist of Marika Pratley’s electronic score aurally meets the visual mist of the river. We hear a woman’s voice:
A serpent of water
a moving current of clay made by the mountain
fleeing to the sea
This is where ghosts cling to earth like mist
burning away before noon
Black and white landscape film, music and poetic text, these three elements convey a world where things are turning, shape-shifting and becoming other. In Jerusalem, Orjis pushes against the majesty of the landscape. He brings us back to the queer everyday of our “intoxicated, self-medicating” bodies, and recounts the first cultivation of marijuana plants along the river side by Sister Mother Mary Hohepa of The Sisters of Compassion.
In breaking rules, in pushing against convention, bodies find new forms, become other, find their leverage and displacement. In Orjis’ video we are as a we—bodies of water, geological bodies, insects, animals, humans. The Jerusalem mist enters our pores, touches plants we can inhale. A river we float in and will stay with us, moving us through time for years of further motion. This is a landscape that allows us to shed invisible weight, allows a different sense of gravity to enter the bones—bones built from the materials we digest, shaped by patterns of interaction with the earth.
A 70% skinboat
human river body
The third work in the series, Janaína Moraes’s tenho cadeira, nāo tenho cadeira (I have a chair, I don’t have a chair) (2021) stages a woman-chair co-embodiment, a portrait of carrying, negotiating, searching, dwelling, displacing, homing, and resting. It provokes questions like, ‘How do we rest or stabilise in this post-Covid moment, as we re-enter the world, carrying the supports that we need to survive with us?’
With a glitching, atmospheric soundtrack by Kristian Larsen, Moraes and her chair companion navigate a suburb of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Images become poems through the formal shapes of letters appearing and disappearing across the screen, between Portugese (Moraes is a Brazillian artist, currently living in Tāmaki) and English. Translation between languages becomes a space for both a renewal of what words can do and say, and another barrier for the artiist to negotiate, alongside footpaths, traffic, and caution tape.
A poem scrolls the screen in both Portugese and English, “It takes how long, to belong”. We see Moraes take her time reading the words on the caution tape, chair friend alongside her—“Restricted area, Please Keep Out”. Next, she’s at home, lying on the ground beside the upright chair, a human seedling, pores calling out for touch, for growth, for support, for life. In this world, it is a chair that is there to support her, dwell with her, hold her, accompany her.
Can a person be alone within a collective? And what makes an individual? Responding to these questions, these three video works propose our bodies are formed by different kinds of strata: they are river bodies, memory bodies, thing bodies at the edges of form, both resistant and compelled within a poetics of movement.