Sunday 29 April 2012

Day 394: New Plymouth

I generally have the feeling that relations between the indigenous people of New Zealand and the various newish arrivals on this bit of geography are not the worst in the world.  I realise the standard for worst is pretty low and things are not perfect here either.  Still, the only piece of active hostility I knew of recently was the Prime Minister nearly getting nutted on Waitangi Day, and even he seemed to understand that this was part of the role of prime minister.  If only our prime ministers would follow his excellent example... Well anyway, that was the only piece of hostility I knew of until this morning, when I was walking down the street in New Plymouth and a lady of Maori origin who was walking in the opposite direction informed me that all white people were bastards and that if she had her way we'd all be on the slab.  I was a bit surprised, because I had thought sacrificing people on slabs was a custom of the indigenous people in my part of the world (a very, very, long time ago, obviously), and that her ancestors had stuck to just eating people. Seriously though, I can't quite imagine anyone going through life in New Zealand hurling abuse at every white person they see, so either she was having a very bad day, or she was just being selective - maybe privileging people who are a bit smaller than her, have obnoxiously white hair, or look as though, unlike her, they are having quite a nice day.  If she had seemed at all disposed to open conversation on the topic, instead of just hurling vulgar abuse, I could have told her I was leaving the day after tomorrow.  It would surely have warmed the cockles of her heart, thought it would have been embarrassing to decide whether it was more diplomatic to appear to share her joy, or look flatteringly downcast at the idea.

I am rather downcast at the idea, actually.  I've been regarding Auckland with distaste for the last few days, purely because it has an international airport at which I'm expected.  It's not as though I want to stay indefinitely, but I keep thinking, oh, maybe another month...  New Plymouth is trying to cure me of that.  Not only does it contain the one-woman Maori Defense League and a Mount Taranaki firmly hidden under a mass of cloud and rain, but I am staying in a hostel where the staff have been ordered not to issue any heating devices until June.  It is coldish and dampish, and I can't even imagine spending May under such conditions. I managed to get an electric blanket from the girl at the desk by looking pitiful. New Plymouth does have its upside.  Even though it is quite large, you can walk everywhere I needed to go, because of a careful system of footpaths through parks, fields and cemeteries, and along the seafront. 

It has a very interesting contemporary art museum with a focus on film, called the Govett-Brewster.  I have to say this museum has a lot of the usual display problems films pose for contemporary art museums.  They don't seem to have the idea of keeping them in separate soundproof areas.  They did provide headsets which were effective for some of the films.  Hilariously, the wires on some of the headsets weren't long enough to allow you to wear them and stand inside the circle of screens you were meant to be viewing.  I thought we had invented wireless headsets by now? The gallery doesn't give you any way of arranging to see films from the beginning, such as a timer for when they'll restart.  Even a restart button might be perfectly reasonable on a day like today, when I was virtually the only person in the place.  Some contemporary films can be viewed in a loop, but these ones were all structured from beginning to end and needed to be watched that way. I was very interested in a couple of the films, for a total viewing time of over an hour, so I had to wait around quite a lot, with half an eye on the screen so I didn't miss the restart.

I know I spend a lot of time critiquing museum and gallery displays, probably more time than I spend critiquing the contents.  I think they have degrees for people like me so maybe I missed my calling in life.  The films I watched were Criminal Case 40/61:Reverb by Andrea Geyer about the trial of Eichmann as recorded by Hannah Arendt and Guiding Light by Liam Gillick and Anton Vidokle. Both films were, in their own ways, about the relationship between the individual and the collectivity, which happen to be topics I'm interested in right now.  So, I considered the day well spent.

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