Sasha Francis and Tom Danby on Mark Harvey: My own resistance / An Afternoon in the Sun

The cross-pollination series continues in 2018, with a number of creative and written responses to festival performances. Sasha and Tom respond to Mark Harvey’s four-part ‘Interloper’ – Sasha touches on all four performances, Tom reflects on the first installment held on Parliament Grounds. Sasha Francis is the writing curator for PAWA 2018.  Sasha recently completed her Master’s thesis in Sociology.  Her work weaves together relationality, radical everyday practice, political activism and speculative materialism.  Tom Danby is a graduate of Victoria University who still haunts the University library. He enjoys art and occasionally writing about it.


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My own resistance

Thought leaders:

You told me that ‘thought leaders’ are generally the men we all know, offering us global tours to share with us their special thought-leading thoughts, as offerings granted for the price of ticket sales and speakers fees. Their names: Elon Musk, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Milton Friedman.  Or local men. Local voices. Local places. Our own kind of fees. Parliament grounds us as the seat and space of this sort of power institutionalised, carried in the cultural norms that manifest in these so-called public spaces.

You carefully take our eyes and our lead.

Climb a tree because the body is a medium for every person. The proximity of touch: hand on your back makes you a real and fleshy being, an invitation, a playful laugh.

Remember: we guide each other through.

Complaints:

If I could breathe ink, associations between your hands and mind would be the bricks on the pavement. What have we built?  Leaving commodification of the city at the first step down, I try to make sense of the world from the inside of this Pākehā outside.  

Mark faces down into the space between the bricks tucked behind the shadow of Lord Plimmerton.  A body laid flat for two hours, posed between bustle and building.  Before it all started, Mark told us about Mr John Plimmerton – “the father of Wellington,” a businessman, an investor, a well-known-figure.   But this is also Te Whanganui-a-tara.

A woman walks passed us as we line the corridor with bodies:

Mark: Hello, would you like to exchange complaints?

Woman: I’d like to make it clear that I HAVE NOTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT.

Where does that resistance come from? When was it that we trained ourselves to disavow our own thoughts if they did not functionally serve us in ways that continued our own disavowal? 

Frustrations and disappointments are our complaints which make up more than the words said – there’s some difficult boundary wall that I have got used to, have disciplined myself, have to speak to try get outside of.  This is a letting go of my own resistances.  Then we’re all complaining together, a sweet release. We’re elated, try to draw people in. 

I want to complain about my own unconscious bias. Decolonising – what has it taken so long, why am I so bad at it? I want to complain about that.  I want to complain about the rise of Fascism.  I want to complain about the conceptual distinction between native and non-native plants, and how those distinctions are premised on a plant being ‘native’ if it has been on this land for only 100 years. I’d like to complain about not seeing the soil. I’d like to complain about Mike Hoskings. I’d like to complain about capitalism.  I’d like to complain about the overwhelming nature of that complaint. I’d like to complain that I’ve never seen you in a dress, Mark.

I want to complain that I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say that might shift things even a little. I want to complain that we’re so used to critique and that we’re not used to being kind without reward. I want to complain about how resistant we all are to change. I want to complain about how we’re encouraged to be consumers before we are ancestors. I want to complain that I can’t figure out what the future looks like, except that it looks pretty dark from here. I want to complain that sometimes things feel pointless, that sometimes I want to give up. I want to complain about my stubborn resilient refusal, about my own passive activation, about my own lack of innocence in this place, about trying to balance mourning the old and acting into the new.

I think of these thoughts everytime I walk past the Plimmerton statue.

Shared Advice:

We are walking backwards into the future, but this time you’re my conversation partner and we’re exchanging life tips and instead of seeing a pile of debris pile before us as the wind of history continues to propel us, we’re in Civic Square. AstroTurf underfoot. You’re going round in circles, a brisk walk. I am almost running to keep up. 

We all have things to teach each other, you remind me in this moment, as things come out that seem to displace and re-surface thoughts from before. A disruption of hierarchies, a disruption of space.

Pullling thoughts and smiles, you blend into what is. It’s almost entirely fresh.  A handshake, a walking that weaves together our different pathways and talks through the things we’ve learnt.

Guilt:

Our bodies are the ground marked by a memorial to the missionaries we did not remember, marked by the people we were raised by, marked by the land we came from. Could we give space, name, acknowledgement to guilt if that was what was needed to move beyond it’s silencing refusal and taboo?

8 metres away, 8 moments too many, my distance joins me.  What do I feel guilty about?  What is it to talk intimately with a stranger whose face you’ve come to know? The self as if it were the space between that doesn’t quite make it in the journey across.  Words trail into sunlight, the grouting beneath our feet in the clasp of two hands, in a grin that weighs heavily on my thoughts.  Do things fall quiet in the conversation that you share?

Commemoration, history, heaviness; the release. The body, the word, the land. Do you know the stories carried in stone between us?  We become magnets to the things we refuse to see, to the ways significance changes when we put ourselves into the world as if a thing found differently every time.  What do you carry? What kind of openness are you ready to see?

The feelings are almost just as they were, as we say them to the sun becomes a ritual that gives us name. Genealogical stories that orient us: a curled finger tries to let go of the things my hands hold in the marks I was born with.  Two bodies lay together, words in the breeze, curled gently, the fetal space between.

I want to tell you that sometimes I am not good, that I always feel disappointed and disappointing, that I feel the weight of my body and what it affords me, that I see your face and mine, that maintenance of distance is an active refusal, that I hate the truth of these feelings that you’re asking about but are too raw to share yet, to even put them into words. To be guilty calls first to reckon with honest acknowledgement. Dissociation requires distance.  So I move back and let others – more open, more courageous –  go first. 

But these are the rituals we need, thank you. 

– Contributed by Sasha Francis

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A Sunny Afternoon with Mark Harvey

I had little idea what I was walking into as I made my way down the Terrace to the parliament lawns to see Mark Harvey in his performance piece titled Interloper. What I did know about the piece came from the short description and it included the words “Colonisation” and “patriarchy”. They were coupled with other terms familiar to almost anyone who has taken a humanities paper at university; “political discourses, histories and potentialities”. But what worried me far more than these particularly heavy topics was the insinuation that Mark would be sparking “conversations with spectators”. Would this be a reenactment of the awkward stony silences of my university tutorials or some fresh new horror.  However, what I found on that particularly sunny Friday afternoon on the purportedly public lawns of parliament was a genial and amusing performer.

Any anxiety I may have had was assuaged fairly quickly on the start of the performance which saw Mark blindfolded at the top of the steps of parliament, the idea being that he would be lead by an ‘audience’ member, in direction as well as thought, around the public grounds. The top of the steps provided something like a stage with most of the gathered sat or standing around the bottom of the steps looking up at Mark backgrounded by the grand stone walls of parliament. But he was quickly informed by parliamentary security that there were “health and safety” concerns in regards a to blindfolded man walking around near concrete steps. This provided the first opportunity of insight into Mark’s personality and why he would choose a performance that requires him to walk up to random people in a park to talk “politics”. The security guard was quickly laughing along with Mark as they discussed the performance and Mark tried to cajole him into becoming his “thought leader”. But the security guard remained steadfast in his commitment to the job as well as displaying typical Kiwi self deprecation when it came to the questions Mark posed to him in regards to those lofty topics referred to above.

Mark’s goal for the piece seemed simply to make people talk. The setting, the public lawns of parliament, naturally framed what would be discussed yet it never intruded on what was simply a pleasant Wellington day spent in a park. As an audience member I found myself in an interesting position. I could follow Mark around as he approached various unsuspecting individuals and groups in his attempt to start a conversation, essentially becoming part of the performance and a performer in my own right or I could hang off, blend into the background and the various other people dotted around the lawn waiting for colleagues and friends and enjoying the sun. From a distance there was much comedy to be found in the performance as when Mark was lead up a tree or when a group of high school girls faked a phone call and quickly scattered before Mark could approach. From that distance too I could watch how little an intrusion Mark’s presence was on the dozens of people who used the park as thoroughfare on their journey home from work. Some certainly noticed the blindfolded man carefully walking around the grounds but more still seemed completely oblivious.

After and hour and half or so of watching Mark be lead around the laws I started to feel bad for the soles of Mark’s feet. But then I remembered two other key phrases from the performance description: “physical endurance and duration”. It would be a fascinating visual accompaniment to the performance to see a heat map of all of Marks steps.  Unfortunately, I missed the rest of Mark’s performances and therefore the chance to see how his performance grew but what I did experience was certainly something new and certainly unique as well as being far more enjoyable than those awkward University tutorials.

– Contributed by Tom Danby


Thank you to Wellington City Council for your support of Mark Harvey. 

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