SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) Written by Piupiu Maya Turei

Tūrei 24 Mei

Tuesday 24 May


SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) is a whole experience. Reverberating and luscious, Harrington's hanging ropes beautifully filled the gallery with embodied whakapapa. Turumeke literally refigured the landscape of Blue Oyster into an expansive, imaginative space of limitless and relational potential. Nigel Borell (in this Circuit panel discussion) called SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) his favourite exhibition of 2021. 

Laser cut plastic stars are threaded onto thick red ropes hanging from the ceiling, which define the space like aisles. The gallery is turned into a supermarket. At times, the supermarket has soylent green cereals and Ngoi Ngoi playing on the Classic Hits radio station above you. Sometimes the supermarket is having a Christmas special and your toddler is given approximately 500 chocolate animals, all individually wrapped. At other times the supermarket is the whenua around you and you are out in the sun with the whanauka, digging up Tī Kōuka roots for the hangi tonight. Tī Kōuka have been used as migrational markers for centuries in Te Waipounamu — sign posts for a good place for eeling, or a sweet spot for kōura. 

The ropes hang in a way that makes it impossible to avoid coming into contact with them. Secured to the ceiling, they almost touch the floor. About a centimetre of space between the bottom of the knot and floor meant that any breeze (small or large) would jostle the ropes, creating an oscillating forest. Bright red and seemingly endless, they remind us of descent — in all the political, directional and ancestral ways.

Present in the air of the gallery, Tāhaku Irika, a multi-channel audio recording echoed in the gallery.  The creation of this waiata was a whānau affair -  intertwining lines of whakapapa intersect in its making. Composed by Kommi Tamati-Elliffe, performed by Marlon Williams and Tamati-Elliffe, and produced by Tom Lynch. Together, they dug the hangi pit, heated the iron, peeled the spuds, and lifted an audio feast for us to enjoy. 

Tāhaku Irika is ancient in form and futuristic in application. The old days present in the way the waiata moves through space and the future manifested in the high definition recording. Like hearing a karanga projected out from dawn's mist, or the sound of Nan's kettle on the boil, or how you know it’s mum's car pulling up by the rev of engine, Tāhaku Irika (like everything in this exhibition) is an ancient Māori touchstone birthed seamlessly into the 21st century.

Made of Parāoa and cord, Maheno, a taonga Heitiki floats on a handmade mount,  literally glowing through an open doorway into the limitless void near the back of the gallery. She appears as a shining beacon, nestled in the darkness at the far edge of the exhibition. Named by Kiri Jarden (Turumeke's mum) and living as an emblem of endless time, Maheno had us captivated. For days and months after seeing the show, I saw visions of her — her eyes sparkling in the darkness.

At the opening for Paemanu: Tauraka Toi at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, I saw Maheno again — around Turumeke's neck on top of a breezy linen suit. Later in the day, I spot Kiri wearing her. Maheno glows — the mauri instilled in her a collaboration of carver and commissioner, its roots extending to the beginning of toi itself.

Maheno, with her serrated paua eyes and forked tongue embodies the living mātauraka all of us Māori inherited from our tūpuna, whether we know it or not. Her carved head and body traces her whakapapa to places like Kaiapoi and Hawaiki. All of the artworks in SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) testify to the ability of culture to move through time and technology. 

The whakataukī  ‘Ehara i te tī, e wana ake’ is about how, unlike the tī kōuka, we don't regenerate if our heads are cut off. I wouldn't survive if my head was cut off, but in many ways, we do live on through our whakapapa. Our lives extend forward and backward through time, as we position ourselves in the context of our bloodlines. Often it is said that as Māori, we never walk alone — our tūpuna are always with us, beside us, in us. When we are called on to marae through kāranga, wairua swirls all around, encompassing us in a whariki which is never unwoven or lost. The cyclic nature of time means we cannot be separated from all the tamariki in our whānau, never removed from our whaea and matua, always linked to the nans and koros, rendering us immortal. We all return to Hine-nui-te-Pō and feast with our tūpuna.

Like the tī kōuka, we sprout from the still weeping wounds of our tūpuna. Because of whakapapa, every time the colonists try to take us out we come back — again and again and again. When they fuck up a vaccine roll out, we're practicing mutual aid and taking them to court.

Being a breeder can be complicated. SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) called out to us — whakapapa will anchor you in stormy seas, so your waka doesn't over turn and litter the beach with kete full of your kūmara.  

SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) was one of those exhibitions, proving to me that we are literally undefeatable. Whakapapa is undeniable. 

Piupiu Maya Turei

Piupiu Maya Turei (Ngāti Kahungunu-ki-Wairarapa, Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi) is an artist, curator, musician and mother. She is currently the Curatorial Intern at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Check out E-Kare, the 2 person art collective she is a part of ~ Instagram: @e_kare777 / www.e-kare.bandcamp.com