Indigenous critics Monique Grbec and Carissa Lee discuss Isabella Whāwhai Waru’s audio performance, Rest
Isabella Whāwhai Waru’s Kaitiaki: Striking Lava was to premiere at Next Wave Festival 2020. Instead, Rest was performed on May 23 as part of Next Wave’s Assemble, an online gathering of artists sharing ideas about leadership, community and care in a time of crisis.
Monique: Hey sis, how’s it going? I spent lots of the day yesterday in bed, making rest my priority. Avoiding housekeeping stress and mostly enjoying a calmness that I want more of.
Thinking about Isabella Whāwhai Waru’s Rest, I imagined being on a big mattress like a boat, breathing with the lulling rhythm of lapping water. The merging of Next Wave, Radiowave and the water visuals with Whāwhai Waru’s voice and choice of songs set a clear and present heartbeat. I loved the breathing, their breath with mine. Did you feel it?
Carissa: Things are good. Life has been a bit hectic, and listening to Rest gave me the chance to sit down and relax and just stop for a while. It was the first time in a long time. It felt like I had a friend there who was looking after me and playing me music.
Monique: Rest. It’s so simple a concept but seems so hard to do in life. I’m glad you found a friend in the mix. My frustrations with a crappy internet connection that cut out large chunks of conversation probably distorted my experience. I did feel the tenderness of acceptance when they said, “hey there you, shattered in a thousand pieces”. Molten warmth. I felt the chance for light to come through.
Was there a special moment for you?
Carissa: It’s been really interesting watching and listening to shows and seeing people say that that lack of good internet has been a barrier. It’s a shame – Australia should be doing better to assist with internet access. My family has been having frustrations with that issue too.
With the “shattered in a thousand pieces” section, I loved the idea that being broken can be an exciting time, because we get to decide how we re-form. It brought a lot of comfort to my current situation of grieving my Nan.
Monique: Oh darling, I’m sorry for your loss. I didn’t know. With Covid-19 restrictions this is a terrible time to be struggling to connect online with loved ones. It’s times like these where money and “location location location” really talks.
I was more in awe of the “hey there you”, the casual acceptance of the broken self over constructing a newer improved version of myself. It felt good to have that smashed up self seen.
Maybe it’s a socio-economic, generational thing. Being broken always filled me with shame. I feel a little jealous of Whāwhai Waru’s confidence, that they are able to work through the constructs that have confused and suffocated me. I’m not sure I feel capable or brave enough to reform.
Also, I didn’t really like the analogy that I was a cup, a piece of crockery. The last thing I’ve ever felt like I am is something that can be bought off a shelf. That said, I did drop out of school at 15.
Carissa: It’s all good, I’m slowly getting there. It’s weird at the moment, the only things that make me sad now are having to correct myself talking about the person in past tense as opposed to present. So strange.
Whāwhai Waru’s beautiful acknowledgement and embracing of us broken ones made me think of the Frou Frou song Let Go, where she says: “There’s beauty in the breakdown”. That we don’t have to be so concerned with trying to seem so together all the time. A lot of the songs that Whāwhai Waru played during their segment definitely resonated with this idea of embracing who we are, our imperfections, and making it work, making it ours.
Yeah, I agree about the cup analogy, as if we were created by some other presence. It’s not necessarily a belief thing for me, but it did feel like it was an image of a mass-produced item. However Whāwhai Waru might have meant it as a handmade item, that we’ve been crafted very carefully through our lives. I prefer this idea of being crafted by the lives we’ve lived, rather than some outside presence who designed and constructed us.
Monique: Yeah, they said that with their Tarot card, The Tower, which shows how destruction makes way for decisions of how things are rebuilt. I guess I’m more interested in their Ngāti Tukorehe, Te Ati Awahear knowledge. A tradition more closely linked with our ancestral experiences.
I know a bit about Moko, Maori tattooing, but I would love to hear Whāwhai Waru’s personal experience and understanding. What moko is for a sweet sensitive soul in this time and place.
Carissa: Overall, I think Rest felt like a safe space for Mob, that although whitefellas were welcome to listen, it felt like Whāwhai Waru was speaking to us directly, about our experiences when the world outside us tells us what we should think. They show how we need to trust ourselves, to trust our intuition. To remember that we come from knowledges far too old to be ignored. But instead of feeling anxious at this thought, they made me feel at peace with it. It would be nice to see one of their shows live, once everyone is allowed back in performance spaces again.
Monique: Really looking forward to seeing one of Whāwhai Waru’s shows, their story with the breath of movement. I also hope they take up a slot at 3KND radio. I would definitely listen. Their calm and steady dreamscape of connectivity is a glorious way to spend a Saturday night. Love to you Carissa xx