Te Mahere o Sarah Hudson Written by Vicki Lenihan

Tūrei 24 Mei

Tuesday 24 May


The day I visit Sarah Hudson (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pūkeko) at Caselberg House in Whakaohorahi Broad Bay, autumn has just set in. The elements pulse with potency: Rakinui and Takaroa are broody and cool, while Papatūānuku glows with the abundance of kai and activity. I have been to this place before, to present a welcome afternoon tea for an earlier resident, Sarah’s friend and collaborator Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi). On this day the energy of the residence palpably beats to the new tune of its present occupants. Outside, a stray wee gumboot and a flung soft toy patiently wait for the return of their mistress (who is exploring the wilds with her pāpā). Inside, the Charles Brasch Studio is warm and welcoming, like my host. Sunlight beams through skylights in the corrugated roof illuminating the artist, and the wall behind her—a neatly organised corkboard of mementoes and working drawings—shimmers with the potency of the potential the arrangement contains.

I am star-struck and overshare, but the peppermint tea and Sarah’s gentle enthusiasm for where our kūmara vines connect and the overlaps in our whakaaro are calming and comforting, and soon I am honoured to be shown Sarah’s workbook—a collection of whenua panipani, earth pigment paint samples, both abstract and concrete, unfinished and complete, real and surreal at once.Sarah’s workbook is an atlas of discovery, a travelogue of places been and seen, of landscapes that inform, guide, and nourish. The turning pages trace a journey of encounters with whenua of significance to the record keeper. I am a passive observer, a day tripper, yet I feel that I have been invited to actively participate in this haereka and as if I’ve now been to all of these places too.

Sarah’s workbook is a passkey for time travelling. Each handmade page hums with the frequencies of longing and belonging, each a portal into a forever and a moment where Papa and Raki and Takaroa meet and one-uku forms. I am looking into the face of Papa’s eternal, forgiving love for us—it hovers above the surface and reaches out to me almost imperceptibly, almost too urgently. This workbook is a supernatural guide to the abundance of natural universes.

Sarah’s workbook is a ribboned hymnal, a songbook of distant and near mōteatea that reach out across space and time, of rhythms that fade and swell like the breath of the kaikaranga of the ages. These recordings are love songs, full of melancholy and hope, joy and loss, the past, the present, the future. These notes are brief but also sustained, both the fragment heard on the wind and the refrain that never leaves your subconscious.

Sarah’s workbook is a calendar of colour fields, an almanac of eons of seismic and meteorological data rendered in clay, the matter from whence we all are formed. The field notes are carefully hand drawn in pencil, as if they might stand later edits, yet the script is exact, flowing, unbound by either permanence or impermanence as if to say ‘ever’ and ‘never’ in the same instant. Every rectangle is evidence of the mauri that permeates all substance, of the ihi and wehi and wana that connect each speck to all others. Part spectral and wholly full-spectrum, these plots are measures of qualities that defy the limits of the physical realm; here is proof that the metaphysical is vibrating right there at the tips of the artist’s fingers.

Sarah’s workbook is a ledger of spells, a chronicle of magical and practical observations that connect us to the wisdom of our forebears. Every entry contains a recipe for reinvigoration—if you care to follow it. Waiting patiently here are the simple formulas our grandmothers were denounced for, that trademarked cosmetics and ‘wellness’ enterprises now charge a premium for: a sprinkling of this, a dash of that, a warm embrace, a deep breath.

I have been treated to one of those rare quiet awakenings, when one finds oneself in a wānaka space in which mātauraka is offered and absorbed and instantly becomes part of how one understands everything. An experience so quiet that some considerable time might pass before one notices the addition to the kete.

All too soon, my visit must conclude. Adventuring whānau have returned to Caselberg House, a little damp from dipping their toes (and then a bit more) into bracing Tomohaka waters, and another manuhiri is due to arrive at the Charles Brasch Studio any minute. The day has opened up, as they are wont to on Muaupoko, the Otago Peninsula. Rakinui and Takaroa bump myriad dark blues against each other and skim the vibrant kahukura of their love, Papatūānuku, while their various offspring jostle for my attention. I want to stay, to pick up lumpy taoka along the shoreline with Sarah, to survey my tūrakawaewae through her eyes, and hear how this place affects her perspective. Instead, as I turn my waka towards the city, I look forward to the opportunity to view this place as she interprets it, in the Blue Oyster Art Project Space, later towards the end of the harvest season. And I treasure the peppermint-coloured nugget of rongoā Sarah gives me as a parting gift.

Vicki Lenihan

Vicki Lenihan (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu) is a multimedia artist whose practice centres on sustainability, celebrating identity interwoven with our unique and irreplaceable environment, and highlighting issues connected to self-determination and hauora. She is also a writer; an educator; a museum professional; a regular broadcaster; an arts producer; Community Events Advisor – Cultural at the Dunedin City Council, and until recently Secretary of the Paemanu Ngāi Tahu Contemporary Visual Arts Charitable Trust.