Kaore te aroha (Endless is the love), 2009. 7’50”
City Gallery, Nueva Zelanda. www.citygallery.org.nz
New Zealand participates in this edition with Rachel Rakena’ s intimate video. The act of eating, the anxiety, the smile of satisfaction makes this work universal. Contemplating time and paying attention to the process of food intake accounts for the possibility of art transforming a mundane and routine act into an unforgettable image:
Rachael Rakena’s work Kāore te aroha (Endless is the love), 2009, is a love song in moving image, where the act of eating becomes a metaphor for ideas of longing, plenitude and fulfilment. The work presents both a moment of intimate observation, and one of self absorption. Apparently unaware of his audience, a solitary man feasts hungrily on a fish head, while the camera hungrily watches him. In his satisfied smile at the end of the film, we as viewers are also satisfied, replete. The song is completed as he looks up, laughs, in contented acknowledgement of his audience and of the moment.
Rachael Rakena is a digital video artist, whose practice spans performance and installation. She often works collaboratively. Of Māori descent, she draws on the narratives and histories of her tribal Kai Tahu, Ngā Puhi and Pākehā (European) ancestry. Rakena has coined the term Toi Rerehiko as a way of describing and locating her practice. Toi Rerehiko, which plays on ‘rorohiko’, the Māori word for computer, is an electronic media art form immersed in Māori tikanga (customs) and values. Kaore Te Aroha (Endless is the Love), is part of an ongoing series, He Waiata Whaiaipo, and follows from highly acclaimed collaborations which have featured in prestigious international art events including the Busan Biennale 2008, the Venice Biennale 2007 and the Biennale of Sydney 2006.
Water is a consistent feature of Rakena's work. The artist has spoken of it representing a tribal, Ngai Tahu, space—destabilising assumptions that Maori identity is primarily land-based. It also operates metaphorically, providing a kind of amniotic fluid for the protection of culture. In Kāore te aroha (Endless is the love), the seated figure appears immersed to the waist in dark still liquid; he eats at the ‘table’ of Tangaroa, the Māori god of the sea. The raw fish he consumes with gusto comes from the sea, a source not only of food but of stories, particularly discovery narratives. The sea and its fishing grounds were as important to early Māori as the land; traditionally kaimoana (seafood) has always played a fundamental role in hospitality and celebration. In this film the water seems to embrace the figure; it surrounds, nourishes and protects him.
As an island nation, New Zealand’s origin myths frequently draw on the sea as birthplace or beginning. Here Rakena’s simple narrative makes reference to those myths, while focusing on the vitality and presence of a single loved one. The film plays on repeat, a recurring cycle of hunger, nourishment and satisfaction. The act of indulgence is private, methodical, and unselfconscious. It is as much about the enjoyment of an intimate ritual as about basic sustenance.
In addition to the obvious examination of the cultural specificities of food, the work’s high production values and visual gloss contribute a sense of the consumable. As viewers we are outside of the situation, yet the picture is so visceral that we can almost feel the flesh and wiry bone structure of the fish, the briny taste. While Rakena’s subject appears wholly engrossed in the activity and in the moment, we are similarly held, and sustained, by the picture.
(Ngai Tahu, Nga Puhi) has a Master of Fine Arts (Distinction) is a lecturer at Massey University, School of Maori Visual Arts. She has exhibited in New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, France, Britain and the United States. In 2007, Aniwaniwa a collaborative project with Brett Graham was included in the collateral events section of the 2007 Venice Biennale. In 2006, she and Graham represented New Zealand at the Biennale of Sydney with the collaborative installation UFOB. Other major international exhibitions of recent years have included Pasifika Styles at Cambridge University in the UK, and Dateline: Contemporary Art from the Pacific at Neuer Berliner Kunstverien.