Exploring Pacific Talanoa Research Methods in Visual Arts Installation and Performance Art Practices
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This practice-led PhD thesis encompasses a socially engaged installation and performance art practice that includes individual and co-operative performances. Performance art collectives—currently forming an important part of a Pacific art subculture in Aotearoa New Zealand—form part of a significant co-operative process. Through anecdotes of my own and my family’s lived experiences, from an inside or emic perspective, I set the tone and direction of the research and its approach to issues such as Pacific labour and ownership of fonua (land). The project explores the complexities of life and labour in the Pacific diaspora: how Pacific peoples adapt to relocation, issues of labour and laws around working, and how these play a part in our traditions, our living and family dynamics. The thesis project revolves around some key installation and performance art projects that include: she sows this ‘āina with her younger siblings, yet she cannot inherit that same ‘āina (2017) and Concrete is as Concrete Doesn’t (2017), both exhibited in the Honolulu Biennial; One Kiosk, Many Exchanges (2016), a project at the Emilia Maud Nixon Garden of Memories in Howick, Tāmaki Makaurau; you kids should only experience this for a moment – don't be here for life like me (2018) at Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau; and If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back? (2019) at Sydney’s 4A, incorporating the installation Section 69ZD Employment Relations Act 2000 (2019). These artworks are contextualised amongst other Pacific artists that I consider to be important as contributors to talanoa research methods in Aotearoa, including Edith Amituanai, Janet Lilo and Kalisolaite ‘Uhila. These comparisons to other Pacific artists function as talanoa between co-operative researchers/artists. The exegesis discusses notions of talanoa as a research method in relation to an emic (insider) viewpoint, the limbo perspective of the Pasifika edgewalkers and a politics of performance. The thesis project explores several related research questions. How do forms of talanoa operate across different tukufakaholo (generations) and therefore timeframes? This includes how lived experiences and knowledge (as research) are passed down through generations. This question explores the dynamics of anga fakatonga (the Tongan culture and subsequent upbringing my parents gave me) whilst living in Aotearoa. In contrasting traditional notions of talanoa with more contemporary Pacific diaspora experiences of urban living, I ask how talanoa is negotiated by the Pacific edgewalkers on the margins, a term borrowed from Anne-Marie Tupuola. This leads to another research question: in that talanoa can sometimes seek forms of unity and equilibrium (noa), how does Pacific talanoa engage with forms of political criticism? Throughout the project I ask, what are the practical problems encountered with Pacific talanoa? The overall thesis project explores the role of the artist researcher seeking out co-operations with various participants and often debunking the idea of the privileged researcher as external to the research they participate in. This problem has been approached from my perspective as a Tongan socially engaged installation and performance artist negotiating the complexities of the Pacific diaspora.