Early 2015, I performed for MAU/Lemi Ponifasio’s I AM at Aotea Centre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. It was an intense and transformative experience. For a start, I was grateful for having been included as a volunteer, despite being an amateur to the world of performance (I had only started getting my toes wet in dance through contact improvisation a few months prior). There were two weeks of Muscle and Bone and mau rākau training with Charles Koroneho, then a week of rehearsals and hanging out with a diverse group of performers from all around the Pacific: Chile, Indonesia, Kiribati, Samoa, Aotearoa etc. For the first time, I realised how limited my contact with the indigenous cultures of this region is, and how little such collective experiences of making I have had. In addition, Lemi asked me to write a speech which began with “I am”, and to announce it in a strong voice, in my mother-tongue, which, overlapped with nine other native languages from the Pacific, formed the opening scene of the performance. It was a challenge for me on multiple levels: to speak with a strong voice, to speak Mandarin publicly in New Zealand, to write a speech about myself: Who am I?
That is a question the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa also wrote about in “Mindfulness in Action“,1 a book based on his lectures in the US in the 80’s. He said when people ask themselves this question, there is usual a gap, a blank space. Instead of filling it with quick fixes, one should sit with the gap, look around and appreciate its rawness: it is a good place to start. By working with what is available to us, we can be grounded rather than floating in the world of how we think we should be.
There are stories about the world that are told to us as soon as we were born.2 Stories about what one should do with one’s life, what kind of skills are useful for such ways of living, how we relate to other people and beings. When I decided to become an artist, I acquired a new story: that one can dream of anything and be encouraged to pursue it, no matter how crazy it may seem.
Desperation is not necessarily bad.
I had an idea to spend April training Aikido in Kyoto. Usually I would CouchSurf, but three weeks was simply too long for that. Instead, I looked on a web platform, where one could volunteer in exchange for a place to sleep. I wrote many cover-letter-like emails boasting what a fantastic cleaner/farm-helper/language teacher I could be, only to receive over a dozen polite rejection messages. Too many nomads much more organised than me! I researched the options involving money, but reached the conclusion that was really not an option (having not had regular income for a while, coupled with the realisation that there is a ‘profession’ where the ‘standard pay’ is below minimum wage), and fell into greater desperation. I went back to the website and started to look further afield. Miraculously, two days before I was to arrive at the Kansai Airport, I received a message from Kobe:
I am sorry for replying so late.
I watched your YouTube video and I really like your works, especially the chandelier – was it made from white paper?
We are doing a new project: Yume Nomad Apartment. We have lot of rubbish. I would like you to make some sculptures and furniture using those rubbish.
Could you come to here as soon as possible?
Knowing how to live frugally and resourcefully is a useful skill, no matter where you are.
When I started researching as an artist over a decade ago, I became curious about how material things in the world come together, in particular, the things everyday people make, using resources at hand – a kind of everyday resourcefulness. While one could trace this through certain design and art threads, this is much more alive and thriving in places like the local markets, the back alleys, backyards and well-loved kitchens around the world. This resourceful way of living and making also has a curious relationship with money: in places that have a lot of money, these are much harder to find.
Recently I’ve been reading books on economy and livelihood.3 How come humans are the only creatures that cannot live without money?4 What exactly do we need to live fulfilling lives? What are the alternatives to exchanging our time for money where the bulk becomes rent etc?
I’m writing this during the Zero Yen Research and Doing Tour with Chris Berthelsen. For the past few days we’ve been gleaning free materials around Akishima, Tokyo. Learning from the inspiring creativity of local children, we have been making wheels out of cardboard, inner tubes, PET bottles and sticks. Now I have a better understanding of why wheelbarrows and trolleys are structured as they are. Tomorrow we will hit the road with our mobile-house-making-kit, rambling, visiting and making together with interesting people, finding sheltered nooks to dwell in, perhaps discovering more questions than answers.
1 Shambala Press, 2015
2 I think this sentence was from Chris Kraus but cannot trace the original text
3 Henry David Thoreau, Charles Eisenstein, Kyohei Sakaguchi, Tomi Astikainen, https://astikainen.wordpress.com
4 Sakaguchi, Kyohei. How to Build an Indie-Nation「独立国家のつくり方」