Artist: Robert George
“Imagine, though, that the makers of Fourth Cinema come to accent whanaugatanga or wairua or aroha in their productions”
- Barry Barclay
Death, like life, is one moment intrinsically linked with the human experience. While we all have different ways of seeing, understanding and functioning in this world, the event of leaving life is unchanging, unchangeable.
It is not this moment of the death, but the moments before which are the focus of Robert George’s (Ngāti Kuki Airani and Te Arawa) latest film work, a memoir for falling light, currently on exhibition at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery. The five-channel film depicts a multi-perspective narrative, including that of a son, a daughter and a father, recounting the psychological and emotional impact of a loved one’s last moments. George’s own father was a well-loved and respected senior artist, who helped pioneer contemporary Pacific art. When word of his being sick circulated, the art community itself paused; he finally left us in early 2016. In several journals, George recorded his own “personal experience of looking after his father through the final stages of illness” as the basis for a memoir of falling light.
Despite the autobiographical nature of the project, George’s approach to storytelling was an open-ended and inclusive one. He facilitated group conversations with all of the actors – Tigilau Ness, Pascall Atiga-Bridger, Evotia Araiti and Mataara Paitai – about their own experiences with grief and loss, allowing them to embody a narrative of their own in their performances. This was further enabled by the fact that the film had no pre-written script, or script at all for that matter. This connecting - or whanaungatanga - through shared experiences created a collaborative, reciprocal working relationship, with director and actors bouncing off each other equally.
At Te Uru the film is projected onto a white purpose-built wall that curves its way through the space. In front of the wall sits a couch, a lamp, a table and a chair, relocated from the film set itself into the gallery space, bringing with them some of the film’s wairua. Nonetheless, presenting in a gallery such as Te Uru - which is designed to win architecture awards, not to display art – failed to really bring out the materiality of film; as the space is near impossible to completely darken the quality of the projection was somewhat blown out.
Despite this fault of the physical space, a memoir for falling light was more ambitious than any other installations I have seen at Te Uru, and still impactful and exciting in its scope. The characteristics of whanaungatanga and wairua – so central to a memoir for falling light - are something which celebrated Māori filmmaker Barry Barclay included in his definition of ‘Fourth Cinema’ or Indigenous cinema, which is to say cinema which is made from a philosophically Indigenous perspective, not only in its subjectivity but in conceptions, production and presentation. Adding to the catalogue of ‘Fourth Cinema’, Robert George brings the often unspoken to a position of prominence, pulling on the human in all of us.
Glossary for Te Reo Māori terms:
whanaungatanga: relationship, kinship, sense of family connection - a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging. It develops as a result of kinship rights and obligations, which also serve to strengthen each member of the kin group. It also extends to others to whom one develops a close familial, friendship or reciprocal relationship.
wairua: spirit, soul - spirit of a person which exists beyond death. It is the non-physical spirit, distinct from the body and the mauri. To some, the wairua resides in the heart or mind of someone while others believe it is part of the whole person and is not located at any particular part of the body. The wairua begins its existence when the eyes form in the foetus and is immortal.
aroha: to love, feel pity, feel concern for, feel compassion, empathise.
Lana Lopesi (Satapuala/Siumu is a writer and critic of art and culture. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Pantograph Punch and Contributing Editor of Design Assembly.