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It’s fucking expensive to be alive

an interview with Hana Pera Aoake
by Jackson Nieuwland

 

How do you identify yourself?

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou
Ko Taupiri te maunga.
Ko Waikato te awa.
Ko Tainui te waka.
Ko Waahi te marae.
Ko Ngāti mahuta te hapu.
Ko Tainui te iwi.
Kei te taha o tōku matua Pera tōku Kuia.
Kei te taha o tōku matua wiremu tōku koro.
Ko Weraiti te maunga.
Ko Waihou te awa.
Ko Koperu te Moana.
Ko Tainui te waka.
Ko Rengarenga te marae.
Ko Ngāti Hinerangi te hapu.
Ko Ngāti Raukawa te iwi.
Ko Aoake tōku whānau.
Ko Leanne tōku whaea.
Ko Wiremu tōku matua.
Ko Hana tōku ingoa.

 

Kia ora Hana. How does your Māori whakapapa affect your daily life and artistic practice?

My tūpuna are in my bones and I carry them with me always. They connect me physically to the whenua and remind me constantly of the strength of my people. We survived colonisation, so this gives me strength on a day to day basis. I think it’s embedded within everything I do and it’s never really been a choice. I think of my body as being a politicised space, it isn’t neutral in the way, say, a white body can be assumed to be. There’s also a geographical and cultural dislocation of being an urbanised body, but the process of reconnecting is a lifelong journey, which I think that everyone who is indigenous goes through. I’m also not from the rohe of where I’m living, but I think it is important to acknowledge that I live on unfairly confiscated, bought and sold land. The mana whenua of Te Whanganui-a-Tara is Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Taranaki Whānui and maybe other iwi, I’m not sure, but the displacement of some of these people comes from the Taranaki wars of which my tūpuna (Tainui) are partially responsible (although it was fuelled, obviously, by land-hungry settlers).

 

How does being Māori influence and overlap with other aspects of your personal identity (gender, sexuality, interests etc.)?

I always think about the way colonialism and technology has shaped what it means to be Māori now. I am indigenous and a digital ‘native’. I like the metaphor of weaving fibre optic cables together and of looking at the ocean in the same way as I look at the internet, an infinite wheke that is interconnected. I am also an urban Māori, who is in many ways an alien, through the ongoing processes of colonialism. Colonialism is responsible for the displacement of my language and tikanga, as well as causing the cycles of intergenerational trauma. I am the result of growing up within a dominant Pākehā monoculture which encourages the severing of these ties. I’m a cyborg alien that has no gender and a fluid sexuality. Lol.

 

How do you deal with these issues of identity, colonialism and alienation in your work?

I feel like it is always intuitive. Mostly the strategy I’ve always found useful is collaboration and bringing people and ideas together. It takes away some of the feelings of loneliness. I find being able to write and research with my friend Mya Morrison (within Fresh and Fruity) to be the best way to share and bring together disparate ideas in a way that feels very healing and positive.

 

Is working in this collaborative way a conscious challenge to neocolonial ideas of authorship and individual identity? How is Fresh and Fruity’s identity different from your own?

No? It’s just something I have always done. I used to work in the film industry, fashion and theatre, which are all collaborative industries. It seems natural to me to work with other people who complement and challenge my ideas. I like making things with other people, it’s less lonely. I am deeply inspired by the Bernadette Corporation, which is a collective from New York who were active in the 1990s and 2000s. They wrote a book called Reena Spaulings where they invited over one hundred people to anonymously contribute, including both non-writers and non-English speakers. I like that they identify as a corporation. Our name comes from Fresh ‘n’ Fruity yoghurt, which we used to dumpster dive. Lol. Our work is designed to mimic and mock patented ubiquitous corporate spheres to outline the relationship between capitalism and colonialism online. There is still this idea in Aotearoa of the ‘singular genius artist’, which just doesn’t exist for Māori. We did and do everything collectively, even the work we make as individuals is in some ways collective, because it connected to a whakapapa. I always think of Mya and I as weavers – weaving text which is like an complex code via a sea of fibre optic cables. I really like what Mata Aho say about collaboration: ‘We produce works with a single collective authorship that are bigger than our individual capabilities’. When you collaborate, you’re sharing space with someone in a culture that teaches you to strive towards individualism as an marker for success. Fresh and Fruity is funnier than my work because Mya is funnier and more clever than I am. Lol. It’s true though. We are also both Geminis. I think my work is much more sombre than Fresh and Fruity’s.

 

How do you begin collaborating with someone? I would imagine you have to develop a level of trust first. Or do you just contact someone you admire and ask them if they’d like to work with you?

I had some writing by a former collaborator plagiarised recently, so I’m pretty cautious now about who I work with and want to know their intentions first. In terms of writing, I’m pretty picky and tend to try and work with other Pacific writers who yeah, I admire, but who I also really care about. In terms of curating and making other forms of art, I work with artists who I think need space and care, who are in my peer group or who I think are making good work and who should have their works sitting in communion with other people. I think I have to respect them more so than like them in order to work with them. I will never work with a romantic partner again under any circumstances and would advise most people against it.

 

On a more practical level, how do you create a work collaboratively? I know you use Google Docs a lot, but how do you approach it? Do you take turns writing back and forth? Do you freely edit each other’s lines? What does the process look like?

It’s different with different people. When Mya and I work together, it’s generally back and forth and we go ham on each other’s writing. It’s easier for us both to edit each other’s writing. We are best friends, so we trust each other. It’s honestly just a tab I have open on my computer and phone that I look at, write in and edit.

 

As well as being very collaborative, your work spans a lot of different mediums: text, performance, video, installation etc. Why do you work across so many different mediums? Do you get something different out of each one?

I am not working in a way that is in any way different to the long lineage of Māori artists who have come before me. Māori artists like Diane Prince have worked in a multitude of mediums, but Prince is also a teacher, activist, academic and writer. These binaries between mediums to me are very arbitrary and colonial, but I also feel like one of the conditions of living in a post-fordist economy means you have to work in a multitude of ways in order to survive.

 

How do you manage to survive as an artist? You often write in your bio that your MFA has left you drowning in debt.

I’m a hustler. You can’t live off of art. Even really successful artists in Aotearoa can’t survive on making art alone, most of them teach. I’ve had a job since I was fourteen and even before that I had little jobs. I work a multitude of different jobs even now. In the last ten years I have worked as a gallery assistant, a PR, an administrator, a life drawing model, a barista, a library assistant, a door salesman, an actor, an artist assistant, a cam ‘girl’, a stylist, a model, a kitchen hand, a researcher, a florist, a gardener, a nanny, a carer, a social media strategist, a stripper, an editor, a reviewer, a baker and I’ve also worked shitty jobs in film, fashion theatre and even sold my socks and undies to strangers on the internet. You have to hustle if you want to live in Aotearoa … it’s fucking expensive to be alive.

 

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Permanent link to this article: http://4thfloorjournal.co.nz/contents-2018/hana-pera-aoake/its-fucking-expensive-to-be-alive/