Nathan Pohio’s Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun! was one of three projects by artists from Aotearoa New Zealand presented at documenta 14. Louise Garrett explores Pohio’s presentation in Kassel and invites the artist himself to reflect on his participation and to discuss the work he presented in Athens, documenta’s parallel location in 2017.
Following a delayed train journey from Frankfurt through clamorous August thunderstorms, I arrived in Kassel rather later than anticipated. With the documenta exhibition venues due to close shortly, it was expedient to walk straight to the object of my mission. This was a photographic installation by Nathan Pohio (Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe, and Kāi Tahu), which was situated at an outdoor site with the propitious name of Weinberg-Terrassen (vineyard terraces). But then the exasperating design of the documenta 14 map stepped in. Having missed a bridge, unmarked on the map, I found myself on the wrong side of a heaving three-lane motorway looping round the bottom of the Weinberg. Over the next two days, this character of Kassel as a city specially made for cars periodically reasserted itself. Strollers beware!
Like many other German cities devastated by bombing in World War II, Kassel was subject to post-war reconstructions underpinned by Fordist modes of growth in which wide, inhospitable arterial routes cut swathes through ancient town layouts. This period of reconstruction also provides the context for Arnold Bode’s first documenta in Kassel in 1955, in a location strategically close to the former GDR (East German) border. Bode’s initial intention was to help facilitate the cultural rehabilitation of Germany within post-war Europe in opposition to fascism and nationalism, and to restore the status of late-modernist works that had been deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis 01. “Entartete Kunst” (degenerate art) was a term used by the Nazi regime to refer to modernist art, including Expressionism, Impressionism, Dadaism, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), Fauvism and Cubism. The exhibition Entartete Kunst, which opened in Munich in 1937 and subsequently toured to twelve other cities, displayed 650 examples of this "degenerate art" confiscated from 32 German museums. The V & A in London holds a complete inventory of “Entartete Kunst” removed by the national socialists from German public institutions, mostly between 1937 and 1938. Downloadable here: www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/entartete-kunst/, accessed 19 October 2017. . Enter Adam Szymczyk and his documenta 14 curatorial team in 2017 whose approach, at least in part, was to honour Bode’s anti-authoritarian agenda by, in turn, attempting to dismantle modernism’s canonical narratives to make further space for voices implicated by the “Global South,” an ambiguous term that (arguably) indicates the geopolitics of internationally dispersed precariat classes, indigenous peoples, marginalised identities and minority groups 02. The decentering and decolonising impulse central to documenta 14 is of course not new in the history of biennials, triennials and documenta itself. The process of dismantling dominant Euro-American modernist-colonialist paradigms and the realignment of global relationships had been previously activated by, for example, the Biennale of Sydney (founded in 1963) and the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (founded in 1993), which both focus on the Asia-Pacific and Pacific Rim regions, resisting (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the curatorial positions of individual editions) the external imposition of Eurocentric models. In a parallel move, since 1984 the Havana Biennial has been known as “the tri-continental event” since it focuses on artists from Latin America, Africa and Asia. The Havana Biennial also facilitates debates on the conditions of postcoloniality and cosmopolitanism in contemporary cultural contexts, based on a “Third World” sensibility. See Raul Moarquech, Ferrara Balanquet and Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, “Decolonial AestheSis at the 11th Havana Biennial,” Social Text online, 15 July 2013: www.socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/decolonial-aesthesis-at-the-11th-havana-biennial/, accessed 20 October 2017. Interrogating (post)coloniality and (post)modernity in the contemporary political context has been a marked feature of documenta since the 10th edition in 1997, directed by Catherine David. Szymczyk’s gesture of “displacing” documenta from Kassel to Athens was preceded (for example) by Okwui Enwezor’s transdisciplinary “platforms” in documenta 11 (2002) in four continents, taking place in Vienna and Berlin, New Delhi, St. Lucia, Lagos and, finally, the exhibition in Kassel. . The term Global South does not necessarily refer to the geographical demarcations of North and South, bifurcated by the equator 03. For further, and often conflicting, analysis of the term ‘Global South,’ see www.gssc.uni-koeln.de/node/451, accessed 19 October 2017. Documenta 13 (2012) included activities in Banff, Cairo, Alexandria and Kabul. . Indeed, documenta 14’s signature “displacement” to Athens, where documenta opened prior to the Kassel exhibition – a decentring move underpinned by the show’s by-line “Learning from Athens” – led Szymczyk to designate Athens as a paradigm or metaphor for the Global South as he understood it. Szymczyk’s statement, given on German Cultural Radio on 7 April prior to the public opening of documenta in Athens the following day 04. Szymczyk’s radio interview is cited in Iliana Fokianaki, “Documenting documenta 14 Athens,” Metropolis M, 5 May 2017: www.metropolism.com/en/opinion/31387_documenting_documenta_14_athens, accessed 20 October 2017. , was in response to earlier criticism that documenta had not embedded itself fully into the local art scene. His defence was countered by an angry public statement published in e-flux by Artists Against Evictions, in which the local Athenian activist group accused the documenta juggernaut of “culturally archiving crisis,” of “lament[ing] the discourse of illegitimate bodies” yet seemingly ignoring “the eradication of spaces for thousands of bodies who inhabit this city in autonomous units.” 05. Artists against evictions (AAE), “Open Letter to the Viewers, Participants and Cultural Workers of documenta 14,” e-flux conversations, 8 April 2017: www.conversations.e-flux.com/t/open-letter-to-the-viewers-participants-and-cultural-workers-of-documenta-14/6393, accessed 20 October 2017. Further commentary from AAE can be found in this interview: www.berlinartlink.com/2017/06/09/activism-documenta-14-an-interview-with-artists-against-eviction/, accessed 20 October 2017. At around the same time, the economist Yanis Varoufakis, who served as the Greek Minister of Finance from January to July 2015, recounted an earlier comment in which he likened the Athens’ leg of documenta to an exercise in “crisis” or “disaster tourism.” 06. Iliana Fokianaki and Yanis Varoufakis, “‘We Come Bearing Gifts’ – iLiana Fokianaki and Yanis Varoufakis on Documenta 14 Athens,” Art Agenda, 7 June 2017: www.art-agenda.com/reviews/d14/, accessed 20 October 2017.
Now, whether documenta 14 was merely the latest demonstration of the (art) world’s arrogance in (re)asserting itself as an expansive monolith seamlessly able to accommodate global subjects and crises, or whether it embodied its rather more radical proposition oriented round alternative political geographies 07. For a recent (December 2017) open letter signed by over 200 artists, curators and critics calling for reforms to documenta’s current supervisory structure in order to preserve the exhibition as a radical platform see here. documenta 14 artists published two letters in artforum.com in response to criticisms of the exhibition and its curatorial team in September 2017: “On the emancipatory possibility of decentred exhibitions” and in December 2017: “Defending the radical possibility of documenta.” , is not really the topic of this essay. I am going to leave it to others who may be better equipped to assess critically documenta 14’s particular contribution towards decolonising modernist paradigms and addressing urgent contemporary social issues – just two of the claims to be found in the exhibition’s curatorial propositions. That said, it’s worth noting the querulous situation into which Pohio’s Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun! temporarily entered when a version of the 2015 piece, originally commissioned by Scape Public Art (Christchurch, New Zealand), was installed on the Weinberg-Terrassen in Kassel. This appearance of Raise the anchor overlapped with the installation of a 2017 pendant piece, prominently positioned over the main entrance to the galleries of the EMST-National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens for the opening of “Learning from Athens” in April 2017. Notably, this was the first time that artists from New Zealand have appeared in documenta 08. The other artists were Ralph Hotere and the Mata Aho Collective. For further context for the New Zealand artists’ participation in documenta 14, see Jon Bywater’s article “Seeing documenta 14 from the other south” in Contemporary HUM. . Clearly, the curatorial intention to interrogate and destabilise the contested ground of modern structural models and their entanglement in colonial systems was an underlying impetus for Nathan’s invitation to documenta 14 (along with two other contributions from New Zealand artists and groups, all of whom identify as Māori).
The complexities of the decolonising and “unlearning” discursive framing of documenta 14 aside, one common point of contention for some of the quinquennial’s critics was expressed by Pablo Larios in Frieze, when he claimed that documenta 14 suffered from “the demeaning of artwork to act as footnotes to [imprecisely articulated] critical arguments.” 09. Pablo Larios, “documenta 14 Kassel: Neue Galerie,” Frieze.com, 7 June 2017: www.frieze.com/article/documenta-14-kassel-neue-galerie?language=de, accessed 20 October 2017. To counter this perceived subordination of art to overweening institutional structures (represented by documenta, and other large-scale biennials and triennials that approximate this model), and in order to offer voice to the inherent critical potential of art as a site of resistance, I suggest it is necessary to attempt to speak to and through the artwork itself (and to try to discern what it might have to say back).
After negotiating the aforementioned motorway and scaling the terraces to the top of the Weinberg, I finally encountered Raise the anchor for the first time. The storm had passed, and under a glowering sky at dusk, the illuminated lightbox came into its own.
Raise the anchor was presented as a billboard-sized image in a free-standing structure similar to an advertising hoarding. The image was appropriated from a 1905 edition of the Canterbury Times, the daily broadsheet of the city of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand. (In fact, I met Nathan at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch around 1990 when he was a student at Ilam School of Fine Arts and I was studying art history in the adjacent building across the courtyard. For a time, we were flatmates in a ramshackle upstairs place sporting grass-green carpet. Hence you can forgive my adoption of the artist’s familiar name, since the use of the surname suggests a “proper” art-historical distance that doesn’t exist between this writer and the artist).
The image depicts an assembly of the escorting party to Mahaanui Marae of Ngāi Tūāhuriri dignitaries dressed in ceremonial korowai (woven cloaks), kākahu (feathered cloaks), and kōpare (headgear) on horseback. The escorts have been identified (as accurately as they can be at this present time) by Associate Professor Dr Te Maire Tau, Director, Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, Upoko (iwi advisor) for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tūāhuriri and Joseph Hullen, Senior Whakapapa Registration Advisor at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, as, from left to right: Irai Tuhuru, Korako, Henare Wepu, Henare Rupene, J. Kingi, Perewiti, Eruera Te Aika, Teoti Pitama, Tiki Ratana, Whakapere. These mounted figures flank a car in which Lord Plunket – the sixteenth Governor of New Zealand – and his wife, Lady Plunket, are seated, along with Hon. Kathleen Plunket, Captain Braithwaite, A.D.C. and Mr Waterfield (Private Secretary). Lord Plunket sports gloves and a bowler. His wife wears what looks like a fur coat and a typical Edwardian hat. Both outfits give the secured appearance of the European upper-middle-classes of the time. No doubt an expert could identify the model of the car, but protocol dictated that it would have been English-made (although probably with German or French internal components) befitting the governor’s constitutional and ceremonial role as representative of the English sovereign.
The photo opportunity was probably the prelude to a pōwhiri, or formal welcoming ceremony, in which manaakitanga – the duty to host – is ritually enacted between the tangata whenua – the locals, or literally “people of the land” – and the manuhiri – the guests visiting a local marae (Māori meeting house). Here, the tangata whenua are Ngāi Tūāhuriri: the hapū, or kinship group, of this particular area in Canterbury, located in Tuahiwi. 10. “The nearby Kaiapoi Pā was established by the first Ngāi Tahu ancestors when they settled Te Wai Pounamu. Kaiapoi Pā was the major capital, trading centre and point from which further penetration of the South Island occurred so the area is a genealogical centre for all Ngāi Tahu whānui (descendants).” www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz/te-runanga-o-ngai-tahu/papatipu-runanga/ngai-tuahuriri/, accessed 1 December 2017. It is thought that the photo might depict the hospitable local custom in which, as Dr. Te Maire Tau notes: “Senior members of Ngāi Tūāhuriri would escort manuhiri (visitors) from the edge of the Tuahiwi reserve to the Marae for their pōwhiri.” 11. Cited by Maatakiwi Wakefield, undated press release for Tiaki whenua: Caring for the Land: Matapopore. Ngāi Tūāhuriri is a sub-group of Kāi Tahu – the iwi (“tribe”) that settled in Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand) some 800 years ago.
The Ngāi Tūāhuriri people depicted in the photo are part of the artist’s whanau, or family circle. Importantly, for Māori, the relationship between the land, the natural resources it sustains, and the people is not only symbiotic but familial: the land is regarded as a divine ancestor, a conviction that was recently recognised in settlements in which a river and a mountain in the North Island of New Zealand were granted legal status as human beings. 12. Eleanor Ainge Roy, “New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being,” Guardian, 16 March 2017: www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being, accessed 1 December 2017. Eleanor Ainge Roy, “New Zealand gives Mount Taranaki same legal rights as a person,” Guardian, 22 December 2017: www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/22/new-zealand-gives-mount-taranaki-same-legal-rights-as-a-person, accessed 31 January 2018. In Māori cosmology, the land is named Papatūānuku – Earth mother and wife of Rangi-nui – Sky father. All living things originate from their union. See entry in online Māori dictionary: www.maoridictionary.co.nz/search?idiom=&phrase=&proverb=&loan=&keywords=papatuanuku&search=, accessed 14 December 2017. Kāi Tahu’s kaitiakitanga – or stewardship – of this land-ancestor had been, from the early 19th century, challenged by British colonial models of land ownership and management. Just nine years after Kāi Tahu chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown in 1840, the iwi instigated the Kāi Tahu claim “Te Kerēme” against the Crown for breach of contract, in which Kāi Tahu accused the colonisers of land theft and submitting the local people to grave injustices 13. www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz/ngai-tahu/the-settlement/claim-history/, accessed 1 December 2017. – political grievances that have continued to determine Māori/New Zealand politics. These are the muddy waters flowing behind the seemingly equitable meeting depicted in the recomposed photo in Raise the anchor. On the foothills of the twentieth century, an intimation of past and future exploitation and land degradation – a sign of the material disruption to local ecologies of beliefs and practices relating the divine world to the natural – may be discerned in what appears to be an oil leak beneath the front of the governor’s car. 14. I stole this observation from documenta 14 artist Beth Stephens, who made the comment during the audience discussion following a talk called “The Gesture of Hospitality,” with Nathan Pohio, Hendrik Folkerts and Candice Hopkins at Parko Eleftherias, Athens Municipality Arts Center and Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance, Vassilissis Sofias, Athens, on 13 April 2017. The talk is recorded here: www.documenta14.de/en/calendar/16480/the-gesture-of-hospitality, accessed 14 December 2017. The pōwhiri that was to follow this meeting was no doubt an opportunity for Kāi Tahu to bring their claim to the attention of the Crown via their representatives, and to establish a context for future exchange and debate. 15. For further background on the significance of pōwhiri, see Jon Bywater, “Interrupting Perpetual Flight: a Local Practice of Locational Identification,” Afterall 13 (2006): 101-103.
This sketch of an historical context for the original 1905 image reconfigured in Raise the anchor suggests a particular temporal dynamic for the work that might be called “anachronistic” (like the image of the city of Kassel with which I began, where traces of a medieval town are encased by modern arterial motor routes). This idea of the anachronistic object is drawn from art historian Georges Didi-Huberman’s interpretation of history in terms of temporal discontinuities and disunities, a heuristic model that disrupts the order of a (modern) evolutionary or progressive model of history (the order of a progressive future represented by the car at the centre of the Raise the anchor image). Anachronism is, Didi-Huberman maintains, the condition for all works of art (contra art-historical models based on periodisation) since “in each historical object, all times encounter one another, collide, or base themselves plastically on one another, bifurcate, or even become entangled with each other.” 16. Georges Didi-Huberman, “History and Image: Has the ‘Epistemological Transformation’ Taken Place?” in Michael Zimmermann (ed.), The Art Historian: National Traditions and Institutional Practices, Clark Studies in the Visual Arts, Williamstown, 2003, 131. Following this line of temporal thinking, Raise the anchor can be seen as a telling example of this model of a cultural object that embodies a complex relational dynamic between past and future projections, since the latter not only characterises the tension Didi-Huberman draws out between a linear, chronological time structure and an anachronistic model, but also reflects conceptions of time in Māori cosmology, which might be understood as circular, in which the past, present and future are inextricably intertwined. 17. Kevin D. Lo and Carla Houkamu, “Exploring the Cultural Origins of Differences in Time Orientation between European New Zealanders and Māori,” NZJHRM, 12(3), Spring 2012 (105-123), 117.
In Te Ao Māori, there is a saying, Ka Mua, Ka Muri, which means something like “walking backwards into the future.” Depending on the context, mua can mean both the future and the past, and muri means both behind and the time after. Used as a noun, muri refers to the north, the place of the departed spirits. Drawing from this idea, the ancestral presence of the artist’s whanau (extended family) depicted in Raise the anchor are situated simultaneously ahead and behind, orienting potential futures, activated in the “now” of this (re)presentation. Like Walter Benjamin’s rather more apocalyptic vision of the angel of history, which is blown backwards into the future and envisions “one single catastrophe which keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet,” 18. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4; 1938-1940, edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003). Ka Mua, Ka Muri perceives history not as a chain of events but rather as conglomeration of past and future grasped in and contouring the present moment (to be revised in future “moments.”) A rather more hopeful unfolding of Benjamin’s idea is implied by the full title of the work, with its jaunty rhythm and exclamation mark: Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun!
This conglomeration of temporal modalities is mirrored in the layering of visual materialities and allusions that Raise the anchor embodies. The image is a digital re-presentation of a newspaper reproduction of the 1905 original taken for the Canterbury Times by C. I. Jennings, which the artist reconstructed by splicing together eight individual high resolution images. 19. Jamie Hanton, “Nathan Pohio, Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun!,” in Rosa Shiels (ed.), SCAPE 8: New Intimacies, Public Art Christchurch Biennial Artist Projects (Christchurch: SCAPE Public Art, 2015), 83.
John Collie (unseen) taking high resolution photographs of the Canterbury Times to create the digital material for Raise the Anchor. Photo: Nathan Pohio, 2015.
Nathan Pohio's research into photographs of the Canterbury Times to create Raise the Anchor. Photo courtesy of the artist.
The quiet otherworldliness of the figures depicted in the work may be a trace of the original conditions of the photograph, which would have required the subjects to remain supremely still due to the camera’s slow shutter speed. This transcendent, mythic quality is amplified by the cropping, scale and illumination of the image in the Raise the anchor installation in Kassel. The artist cropped the image to minimise the background and bring the figures full front and centre in a way that recalls a reimagined version of a poster for the 1960 American Western film The Magnificent Seven. This inscription of a cinematic language in the work is underscored by the scale of the illuminated lightbox and the unusual image ratio (4.00: 1): a rare use of Polyvision – three 35mm, 1.33:1 images projected side by side – which was first used in 1927 on Abel Gance’s monumental experimental film Napoléon. (The 2017 image produced for Athens adopts the image ratio 2:35:1 – the widescreen lens of Panavision – film technology introduced in the 1950s.) The actual Western frontier, mythologised by mid-twentieth century Westerns to which Raise the Anchor alludes, was closed around the turn of the twentieth century – a few years before this photo was taken. The rallying cry underpinning this westward expansion was “Manifest Destiny,” which, according to Jeremy Agnew, was “the concept that White Americans had the moral obligation to displace existing Native American cultures and settle the vast empty areas between Mississippi and the Pacific Coast.” 20. Jeremy Agnew, The Creation of the Cowboy Hero: Fiction, Film and Fact, (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2014), 7. In classic Hollywood cowboy films, the West came to symbolise perceived American ideals of “freedom, justice, self-reliance and the pioneer spirit.” 21. Agnew, Cowboy Hero, 8 The subjugated indigenous “Indians,” on the other hand, were generally cast as expendable villains: Agnew claims that in the “classic Hollywood period generic Indians existed as hordes of faceless, nameless enemies to be mown down by the hero and his companions. Their specific identity was blotted out.” 22. Agnew, Cowboy Hero, 14. The particularities of the figures encountering the viewer and the specificities of encounter documented in the Raise the Anchor image in the context of the pōwhiri, which is a formal occasion that performs a gesture of equitability between guest and host, presents a countervisuality 23. For an insightful reading of visuality and countervisuality, see Nicholas Mirzoff, “The Right to Look,” Critical Inquiry 37 (Spring 2011): 473-496. to the Manichean battles between the white cowboy hero and his faceless other, as represented in the classic Western film.
The Magnificent Seven was a Hollywood re-working of the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai, a reference that offers further texture to the complex cinematic codes and indigenous narratives underscoring Raise the anchor. Besides implying an alternative to the homogenising effects on indigenous cultures typical of the classic western, cited above, Seven Samurai itself was an attempt to, in the words of the director, “reinvent the samurai epic,” moving beyond the generic, superficial depictions and narratives of B-level westerns. 24. Ian Nathan, “The Magnificence of the 7 Samurai: Way of the Warrior: Back Story: ‘Seven Samurai,’ ” Empire, April 2010; 250; Arts Premium Collection, 130. In turn, Kurosawa drew on the heroic anti-heroism of the films of the American director John Ford, figuring an interchange of cross-cultural adaptation significant to Māori culture through the long nineteenth and twentieth centuries, under the sign of the unfinished processes of (de)colonisation. Kurosawa drew on an historical account (rather than an archetypal narrative) for his story, in which a group of village peasants call on the services of master-less samurai to protect them against a gang of armed bandits. The narrative portrays the samurai as noble drifters, bereft of their status as the official warrior figures of Japanese society due to the invention of the gun and the introduction of the horse as an instrument of warfare (Sengoku Period, 1534-1615). 25. Bert Cardullo, “The Circumstance of the East, the Fate of the West: Notes, Mostly on the Seven Samurai,” Literature/Film Quarterly; 1985; 13, 2; Arts Premium Collection, 112. Film critic Bert Cardullo argues that Seven Samurai presents a battle against circumstances rather than a capitulation to “fate,” dominating in western tragedy. According to Cardullo: “‘Fate’ is something man has invented to explain away his own obsessions and inadequacies. Circumstance is real or tangible; man is most often defeated by it. At his best, he meets it (the adverse kind, that is) on equal ground, and if he does not triumph, he does not lose, either.” He identifies that “tragedy focuses on one character [and the distinction of his “noble” destruction]; the work of circumstance, on several or many.” Thus, he suggests, Seven Samurai “is not about the seven samurai themselves, it is about the characteristics of samurai – courage, honour, dignity – that circumstance conspires to bring out in others.” 26. Cardullo, “Circumstance of the East,” 113-4.
Circumstances position individuals in a cycle of material relations: squarely within the world rather than in a position of transcendence or self-glorification. Kurosawa’s narrative trope of circumstance, then, imagines an alternative sense of unity between (human) beings and their situations that disrupts the oppositional divide that separates (say) coloniser and colonised. In the 1905 image re-presented in Raise the Anchor, the underlying relationship between the governing English crown representatives and their indigenous hosts is highly ambiguous. While embedded in unequal power relations and legal subjection on the part of the Crown, the moment of the encounter speaks to the ongoing circumstances of this performative exchange of the potentiality of a more equitable future. The pōwhiri itself creates the space for this possibility, as well as reversing the subject positions between coloniser and colonised, since here Māori claim their rightful – and emancipatory – duty to host.
In a series of late writings and seminars, Jacques Derrida spoke of the aporia between the principles of unconditional or absolute hospitality – the principle or “law” of allowing whomever or whatever enters one’s domain “without reservations or calculations” – and conditional hospitality – the laws required to control and protect “home.” Rather than setting these two principles of hospitality in opposition to one another, Derrida argues for an irreducible relation between the two, in which the hyperbolic, unlimited ethics of hospitality orients the realm of legislation operating between hosts and guests. This, he proposes, is “the unstable place of strategy and decision.” Raise the Anchor, and the context of the pōwhiri as a scenario for encounter, occupies this contradictory space of calculated openness, of mutual decipherability, between indigenous hosts and colonising guests (who nevertheless claim the rights to “conditional” hospitality, as Derrida understands it). It speaks to the (im)possibility of a hospitality that addresses the other whilst avoiding, as Derrida writes, “a police inquisition, a registration of information, or a straightforward frontier control. A difference both subtle and fundamental, a question that arises on the threshold of “home,” and on the threshold between two inflections. An art and a poetics, but an entire politics depends on it, an entire ethics is decided by it.” 27. Jacques Derrida, “The Principle of Hospitality,” in Derrida, Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005), 66-7. The presentation of Raise the Anchor subtly enacts this threshold politics to which Derrida alludes, a politics underwritten by Māori kinship to its living relative and ancestor: the land. This value system represents a radical difference to the sovereign claim to land ownership and property upheld by the two figures occupying the centre of the image who signify, rather, the colonial will to eliminate such indigenous conditions of knowledge. 28. For a wider discussion of this point, see Julian Brave NoiseCat, “The western idea of private property is flawed. Indigenous peoples have it right,” The Guardian, 27 March, 2017. The landmark decision to grant a New Zealand river human status, mentioned earlier, suggests a turning that may be seen to reflect Derrida’s desire for the (im)possibility of unconditional hospitality. Might this mark a decolonising route?
During my final farewell to Raise the anchor a couple of days after I arrived in Kassel, after a cyclonic immersion into (most of) the rest of the exhibition, I came to appreciate the work’s silence. Many of the other exhibiting venues were full of strident voices issuing from the plethora of artworks redolent of the political issues that Szymczyk and his team had sought to engage: unequal power relations and the subjugations and depredations inherent to contemporary scenarios of migration, economic crises, ecological degradation, (neo)colonial violence, spatial politics etc. etc. Works more or less powerful, but often deafening, to my ears. In her essential book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, first published in 1999, Linda Tuhiwai-Smith speaks of a “certain noisiness” to the sense in which “colonialism has reduced indigenous peoples to making claims and assertions about our rights and dues.” 29. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London and New York: Zed Books; Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1999), 143. From my perspective at least, Raise the Anchor instead keeps its own counsel, but this perceived silence speaks eloquently to what political scientist Franke Wilmer refers to as “the unfinished business of decolonization.” 30. Franke Wilmer, The Indigenous Voice in World Politics (US: Sage, 1993).
Walking backwards into the future, I want to end on the installation of Raise the anchor in Athens, as here we might begin to account for the work in terms of the call for the decolonisation of the institution, a key aspect of the vision dreamt for the political potential of documenta 14. Prior to the appearance of a reconstructed version of the 2015 piece in Kassel, documenta opened in Athens on 8 April 2017 with a parallel piece of Raise the Anchor. The Athens presentation appropriated a second photograph of the event of the meeting at the village of Tuahiwi in 1905 – this one depicts a more casual semi-circular arrangement of the welcoming party of mounted escorts behind the car with the governor, his wife and aides. Without the concentrated cropping of the 2015 billboard image, the version produced for Athens opens onto the demarcated fields in front of the village, and the trees and hills of the landscape beyond. This image was mounted directly onto the wall above the entrance of the main foyer at the EMST-National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. To offer his experience of how the work came to be displayed as it was, I asked Nathan to finish off this article with his own account (below).
I would like to thank Pauline Autet for commissioning this article. Thanks also to Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins for paying for my flights between London and Frankfurt as well as accommodation in Kassel. I am also grateful to HUM/Creative New Zealand for the writer’s fee. Above all, thanks to Nathan for endeavouring to respond to the many questions I had about the work, and for contributing his thoughts to the text.
Nathan Pohio, Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun!, 2017. Image source: Maoris in native costume escorting his excellency Lord Plunket, 31 May 1905 photographed by C I Jennings for the Canterbury Times. From the Bishop Collection of the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand, Ref 1923.53.747.
Iaean Cranwell, Puamiria Parata-Goodall and Nathan Pohio, post whakatau mauri ceremony at The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST), 2017. With Nathan Pohio’s Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun! (2017), ceramic ink on PVC Vinyl, wooden stretcher, 2.4 x 6m. Photo: Hendrik Folkerts.
At the Tuahiwi village in 1905 there were two photographs taken of the escorting party to Mahaanui Marae. The more formal of the photographs became Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course for the centre of an ever setting sun! (2015). This existing work was the basis of my invitation to participate in documenta 14 in Kassel. My proposal to Hendrik Folkerts and Adam Szymczyk was to produce the second image, that felt more like documentary material, as a work for Athens. Because exhibition periods overlapped, the two images existed simultaneously in two separate spaces for a duration of 40 of documenta 14’s two 100 day-exhibitions. This resonated as a kind of conceptual framing that has been present in my work since 1999. I felt this sat well within documenta’s proposed methodology of displacement, learning and unlearning, and as a platform for indigenous voices to comment on colonial experience on and to the international art scene. I think colonialism as an idea has relevance beyond history, it remains all too relevant in more everyday terms.
I’m one for letting things happen, I like to see people meeting ideas and instigating cultural exchanges, this I think allows others to participate in my work. With that, something which struck me was how the principle of the work was recognised and drawn into the exhibition design of documenta in Athens. The lightbox work can act as a ngutu or waharoa – a portal or entry point. Hendrik wished to see this happen in Kassel and Athens and, although this was more explicit in Athens, it worked in principle in Kassel as a motorway into the city was just below the work’s beautiful location. On behalf of the documenta 14 curatorial team, Hendrik asked if I would consider installing the 2017 work in Athens in the main foyer of the National Contemporary Art Gallery EMST to act as a ngutu, or waharoa, through which to enter the exhibition.
Honoured by the invitation I arranged through my upoko (Council Chairperson and iwi advisor) Dr Te Maire Tau and Creative New Zealand, for Puamiria Parata Goodall and Iaean Cranwell to come to Athens and perform the various ceremonies and protocols the work required. I quickly came to appreciate how Māori are not at liberty to set ceremonies aside when inconvenient or otherwise demanding: the ceremonies are a real discipline and commitment. Three ceremonies were carried out, firstly a whakatau mauri to settle the ancestors at EMST, the next day a mihi was made to the city of Athens thanking them for inviting our ancestors, and then another at Phaleron War Cemetery, which contains burial and commemorative sites for 2,029 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War. We held a mihi to the ancestors buried there, forming whakawhanaungatanga, a connection between those at EMST and Phaleron and, of course, home. This important value, whakawhanaungatanga remains in place, significantly carried over as Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course for the centre of an ever setting sun! (2017) has been acquired as an artist gift into the permanent collections at National Gallery of Contemporary Art EMST. Tuahiwi now has two forms of ancestral presence in Athens.
I would like to thank Louise Garrett for writing this remarkable essay and Pauline Autet of HUM for commissioning Louise, and recognise my Upoko Dr Te Maire Tau for his ongoing support in this 3 year project. Ngāi Tahu, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāti Wheke, I love you dearly. To Deborah McCormick and SCAPE Public Art for commissioning me in 2014, and to Creative New Zealand, Te Waka Toi, Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery, my sincere gratitude. I would like to acknowledge Adam Szymczyk and Annette Kulenkampff and the entire documenta 14 Team, thank you, WOW! To Hendrik Folkerts, Candice Hopkins, Fanny Hauser and Michelangelo Corsaro, my humblest thanks, what a blast! Laura Preston and Sriwhana Spong, how fortunate I was to find two kiwis working for documenta! To old friends Francis Upritchard and Jon Bywater, thanks for the support and companionship! Friends of the Aotearoa art scene that came all the way to d14! Fellow participating artists from around the world and Aotearoa New Zealand, the late Ralph Hotere and Mata Aho collective and my mum - to all these and the many more - Mauriora!
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos’ address at the opening of documenta 14, with Nathan’s Pohio’s Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun! (2017) installed in the foyer of EMST, Athens, 2017. © Stadt Kassel; Photo: Harry Soremski.
Visiting Phaleron War Cemetery, burial and memorial site to 2,029 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, Athens, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Visiting Phaleron War Cemetery, burial and memorial site to 2,029 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, Athens, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.