I started making this work when my kuia passed. I traveled home to live at her house for a year. I wanted to be close to her again. A story she told me that has stuck with me: the account of her father’s drowning on the Tongariro River in Tūrangi. I have since visited the spot again and again.
How does time pass in a day, in a year, in a life? Within Māori cosmology, Māui and his brothers famously bound Tama-nui-te-rā, onwatcher to our humanity. Before, it was cold and Māori were starved of time. Perhaps our movements were slow. Inhibited by an endless night.
He waiata aroha is a new moving-image installation by Tāmaki Makaurau-based artist James Tapsell-Kururangi. Moving closer towards his whānau oral histories, the film meditates on aroha, living and Māori conceptions of time and history.
The work was filmed at two locations: on the Tongariro River, close to where the artist’ great grandfather passed, and inside the house of his kuia in Rotorua. The film transits the length of the Te Arawa Waka, as Tama-nui-te-rāi comes to rest. Rather than acting to document these places, the film moves towards a semi-fictional space, where locations dense with meaning and memory for the artist act as touchstones, gateways into an imagined celestial space.
A waiata, composed by the artist, accompanies the images on screen. The waiata contains the many imagined voices of an imagined character: Te Rā; Māui and his brothers; the house of Tapsell-Kururangi’s kuia; his great grandfather. Together, these voices pose questions—around place and time, and the human condition.They observe life and death, like the sun rising and setting each day.
Produced by Tapsell-Kururangi in close collaboration with his whānau, friends and mentors, He waiata aroha is a song for the artist’s kuia, and for her father.
About the artist
James Tapsell-Kururangi (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Mākino, Tainui, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-a-Rākairoa) is the current curatorial intern for Te Tuhi. He runs Papatūnga in Tāmaki Makaurau. James graduated from Massey University with a Master of Fine Arts (First Class Honours) in 2019. He graduated with a Bachelor of Design (First Class Honours) specialising in photography in 2017. James is an emerging artist and writer; he has exhibited at ST PAUL St Gallery as part of the group exhibition How to live together (2019). His writing has been published with Lieu Journal and the Pantograph Punch.
Image: James Tapsell-Kururangi, He waiata aroha, 2021, still. Image courtesy of the artist.