[Disclaimer: I made it to Melbourne, Australia in one happy piece, but I wrote this a few weeks ago, so it’s a bit outdated. I’ve finally arrived in a place where the internet is reliable enough to post this. A more contemporary post will soon follow!]
Second entry to let you know that I’m still alive! Thinking of it now though, I suppose the question of whether or not I'm alive isn’t such a big concern while I’m in New Zealand. Everything is wonderfully benign here, and has been since the extinction of Haast’s Eagle 600-odd years ago. It’s a bit ironic that there are so few fierce plants and animals here. After all, we're so close to Australia, a country that seems to be competing with only itself on all “world’s deadliest _____” list for flora and fauna.
Anyway, sidetrack aside, I’m writing to you from a one-day stop in Wellington, the southernmost city on New Zealand’s North Island. Much has happened since I described Rarotonga (Narnia) to you. I’ve spent the past two weeks in and around Auckland. This study abroad trip is divided into three classes: drawing, printmaking, and cultural studies. In Auckland, we completed the first part of our printmaking course. While work for the drawing course can be done just about anywhere, a studio is needed for printmaking.
Now, a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t tell you much more about printmaking than what I learned from carving potatoes with butter knives, dipping them in paint, and pressing them onto construction paper when I was a kid. In fact, it wasn’t until I actually set foot in the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) printmaking studio and listened to my professor’s introductory talk that I first learned there are, in fact, quite a few different types of printmaking. Some techniques have been around for centuries and were truly the first photocopiers, and others are relatively new inventions that utilize modern tools. We were given the option of learning one of two types: relief or intaglio. Relief involves carving into plastic, linoleum, or wood, using chisels, or knives. Intaglio uses acid and magic (“the lovechild of metalworking and drawing”, my compatriot Jordan tells me). We didn’t all have to choose the same type, but whatever we chose, we had to understand that we’d be married to it until the end of the program. Although I have to admit I was awfully tempted about the prospect of using what amounts to weapons to make art, I can never turn down an opportunity to work with acid. And magic*. I chose intaglio.
Annika doing intaglio:
Eric doing intaglio:
Courtney doing relief:
Hannah doing relief:
Holly's relief print:
We ducked out of Auckland for a weekend and drove for three hours up to a Maori marae in the Waipoua forest, which is the largest stand of old-growth kauri tree forest in the world. We went on a walk around the forest and got an up close and personal look at the trees. Kauris are phenomenally large trees that covered most of the North Island of New Zealand when Maori people arrived here a thousand-odd years ago, but when Europeans arrived in the 18th century, the white settlers quickly logged nearly every tree to make ships’ masts and spars. Only small stands on kaori exist today, but there are efforts to expand conservation efforts.
Steven, our naturalist and the patron saint of kauri trees (he works tirelessly on kauri conservation legislation):
Big, beautiful trees:
And some smaller forest wonders:
The marae itself is inhabited by two really well-known artists (who happen to be siblings) and their families. Alex Nathan is a metal smith and his brother, Manos, is a ceramic artist. In our few days there, we learned a few Maori games (both contemporary and traditional), walked down to a beautiful beach, drew, and tried to absorb as much about Maori culture and art as possible from Alex, Manos and their families.
Manos and Fred (our professor):
Alex and Eleanor (one of our TAs):
Our adventure to the beach:
Our cozy sleeping arrangement:
It was hard for me not to make comparisons to the Aboriginal camp where we stayed in Australia last year (on the Biology trip), even though I am fully aware that Aboriginal Australians and Maori are quite different in history, culture, and tradition. For me, though, staying at the camp and at the marae were events that were more like each other than they were with anything else I had experienced. At the marae, I found myself comparing the manner in which we first met our hosts, comparing how knowledge was passed on to us, and comparing how culture was shared with us. And amid these constant comparisons, I suddenly realized just how much the brief period of time I spent at Aboriginal camp in Wollombi sparked changes in me. It began a slow shift in the way I interact with the land, the way I treat strangers, and the way I think of my place in the world. Because the rearview mirrors that allow us to remember our past are distorted, it's easy to convince ourselves that the slow personal change we experience is not actually happening at all. My time at the marae was something of a checkpoint that enabled me to see just how far I’d come in the past year in many of my attitudes. It was an unexpected but invaluable surprise, and it made me exceptionally thankful that I was able to have not just one, but two experiences like this.
Unfortunately, we were only able to be at the marae for a weekend, as we had things to do, places to see, and people to meet back in Auckland. I partook in all of these activities one afternoon when three friends and I stumbled across Charles and The Hum. We were walking around the city and we noticed a big house that was covered in plastic and appeared to be under construction quite close to where we were staying. Its intrigue was compounded by the presence of a large blackboard with chalk outside that invited us to finish the sentence, “Before I die I want to…”. We walked around the side of the house and saw a small coffee shack with some people outside of it. As we soon learned, these people were Charles (soon-to-be known as our "toothless friend") and two German backpackers. We began to talk with Charles, and before we knew it, he was giving us a tour of the house and the scaffolding and the roof, which had sweeping views of Auckland. Because Charles was quite the talker, I’ll give you the SparkNotes version of what he told us. The people who rent the house had made it into an open space where both locals and travelers could spend a night or two when they needed a place to stay. In exchange for a bed in which to sleep and a homecooked meal, they agreed to help out a bit around the house, do some maintenance tasks, work in the coffee shop, and so on. The house was in a bit of a state of disrepair, though, and the landlord decided he wanted to get rid of his tenants, tear down the house, and sell the land. The tenants had grown quite attached to the house and had no desire to be kicked out, and so they took the landlord to court on the grounds that the house was a historic site. It was one of the first houses built by white settlers in Auckland in the early 19th century and it was first used to house the family of a man appointed by the British to help govern the new settlement. Not much had been done to the house since then, and almost everything – including the kauri-wood walls – was basically as it was in the 1800s. And so, in order to turn it into a historic site, the tenants decided to fix it up and try to recall the magnificence it must have had in its glory days. Charles had been living there and painting the place for three weeks when we met him; he left his job as a nurse to work on the house because he was so enthralled by the spirit of the place (“ti-kanga”, as he called it in Maori). In the time we were in Auckland, I returned to talk with charles Charles and visit The Hum several times because I, too, was drawn by the spirit of the place.
I actually did my first print in the printmaking studio on Charles and the Hum. I wish I could show you, but I forgot to take a picture of it before we boxed everything up and shipped it back to the states at the end of our time in Auckland. Ah well.
Okay, I think that's about it for now. Since Auckland, we've hiked a smoaking, ash-spitting volcano, but that's a story for another time. Apparently it's -16°F in Minnesota right now. I would normally gloat about how warm it is here, but -16° is just too cold to be that mean. I'm sorry, folks back home. I'm sending you warm, sunny thoughts. I hope it helps.
*Okay, for those of you who actually want to know how intaglio works: you begin with a sheet of either copper or zinc. For either of those materials, you can scratch into the surface with a needle tool, cover it with ink, then wipe most of it away and roll it through a printing press on a sheet of paper. The ink will stick to the metal burrs created when you scratch the metal with a needle, and the area that you scratch will turn dark when printed. It is only if you begin with a zinc plate that you can incorporate acid and magic into the process. You begin by covering the plate with a paint-on “resist”. Then, you gently scratch into the resist with a needle tool and submerge it in acid for a few minutes. The acid will etch into the plate where the resist has been scratched through, when you ink and print the plate, the etched grooves will hold ink and print dark onto the paper. Magic.