Pakeha Talk About Their Lives (Review)

Kate McGill explores cultural faultlines in her one-woman show ‘Weave’, playing at Basement Theatre until 15 April.  

In the midst of a self-congratulatory talk about her own cultural awareness, a Pakeha character begins enthusiastically handing out pink and chocolate lamingtons into the audience. In the darkness of the tiny studio theatre, I bit into a chocolate lamington and felt a familiar discomfort; the proximity of sugary sweetness and racism.

Certainly McGill’s meditation on New Zealand identity from a range of cultural and socio-economic viewpoints makes for uncomfortable viewing, deliberately so. McGill is no stranger to difficult conversation. Her previous highly-acclaimed show Munted was based on experiences of the Christchurch earthquakes. Weave is ‘verbatim theatre’constructed entirely from the edited transcripts of interviews.

Discomfort, then.

McGill is careful not to exaggerate her characters into caricatures. The tension arises quietly. At one point, a young mum reflects on what an excellent mother she had, how ‘she set the bar high’. Her eyes fall and we are left to imagine her own feelings of inadequacy.

McGill keeps her portrayals efficient and hardworking – a short story rather than a novel – so that we feel empathetic towards some vulnerable characters but are still gently cued via tone and gesture to perspectives that are problematic.

She does well-intentioned-but-still-racist Pakeha incredibly well. There have been times when Pakeha have expressed racist ideas to me in authoritative, sing-songy voices, and where – despite my best intentions – I have been embarassed for the person and avoided the topic. Not because they might think I’m unkind or unjust. More because I find it difficult to disrupt their personal sense of authority.

It was refreshing to see a Pakeha actor begin a conversation about racism with a predominantly Pakeha audience. Sometimes we need to sit with discomfort in order to grow.

 

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The Opposite of Selfies

Last night I went to the opening of Jack Trolove’s evocative exhibition ‘The Body Remembers’ at Whitespace, which will be showing until the 17th of May.

Trolove’s portraits have an expressionistic quality; visceral brushstrokes of warm oranges and aqua blues across skin brought Toss Woollaston’s Southern landscapes to my mind. The potency of the portraits is in their ambiguity; the way their expressions hint at stories but the paintings leave enough space for an interpretive viewer. Trolove’s bio explains he is interested in ‘in-betweenness’.

What struck me about the paintings was their intimacy, and what they reveal about the self. Close-up, sometimes sleeping, sometimes uncomfortable or pensive, these are expressions and moments we don’t often see except for on the faces of lovers or spouses. These strangers have an intensified proximity to us, without the scaffolding we are used to in public spaces.

Think of the ‘selfie’ and what it conjures about subjectivity in this neoliberal capitalist moment. We are used to constant iterations of the ‘self’ as a facade of your best, most promotable qualities alongside commodities that act as furniture. Designer clothing, ironic and non-ironic branding, gold snake chains, black-rimmed glasses, retro sneakers and dark red lipstick. We are used to the idea that commodities tell us things about our unique selves, and about our worth.

Trolove’s paintings are the opposite of ‘selfies’. Without any adornment, they reveal bodies we don’t show to the world; bodies in pain, in idle moments, or bodies that resist easy recognisability. There is a richness in this.