SLOW Saturday: Word Power

This week at work was mostly spent working on some object labels for an exhibition which, for the most part, entails re-working existing labels. This means that my best friends this week have been a thesaurus and the DNZB. What I have been reminded of this week is the power of words, inside the institution and outside of it, how we write labels directly influences how people read art and taonga. It seems simple enough but it is still an inherently political decision to privilege Māori frames of reference over Pākehā. 

With this in mind, let's look at words.

1. LitCrawl

I've already mentioned this in a few places but this year's LitCrawl Wellington is going to be ... lit *insert fire emoji*

It's the biggest LitCrawl yet and helps build the case for Wellington becoming a UNESCO Creative City of Literature alongside Dunedin and 20 or so other countries around the world. 

This year, Nina and I will be chairing a panel called 'A Cacophony of Voices' that will look at the need for critical writing in the sector. Joining us on the panel will be artist/curator Bridget Reweti and director of the Dowse and board chair for the Pantograph Punch, Courtney Johnston. Come join us at Bartley + Co on Saturday 11 November!

2. e-tangata Storytellers event

Showing the breadth and depth of engaging literary events, there will be a talk this coming Monday 2 October with the editors and a couple of contributors to e-tangata. This online magazine regularly sheds light on perspectives that are unlikely to be covered by mainstream media. This event looks to provide further insight into their strategic approach and aims for the future.

I'll be in Christchurch that evening so please go along for me.

3. Editorial work

After my stint at The Wireless during Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, I've well and truly caught the bug for editing. Working with contributors to help them realise their vision was a truly affirming experience. I've just recently joined The Pantograph Punch as their new Editor - Kaupapa Māori and can't wait to see what kind of content comes to me and how I can help writers with their work.

And now I'm starting to read more around what it means to be an editor and found this interview with the very experienced Jane Parkin very helpful.

4. Silent films and the Pacific Underground

Speaking of editing, and in this instance the absence of words, here is a piece of writing from Bridget Reweti about a recent event at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision where Pacific Underground put music to silent archival footage from across the Pacific. I wasn't able to get along to this event so am grateful to Bridget for writing this piece, and given how she writes about how Pacific Underground were able to carry the audience through a complex film viewing, I'm so gutted to have missed it. 

I had a preliminary edit of this article and it's always so great to then see things go 'live' in the big, wide world. Here's an excerpt: "Their narrative interpretation and portrayal through music was a reclamation of Pacific ownership over ourselves, our images and our tīpuna in these films. Pacific Underground broached the colonial histories and contemporary realities of Pacific peoples while gently holding my hand throughout Silent Spring Films. They made it okay to watch." 

5. British Museum and #AskACurator day

Back to labels. Working within a museum means I know how much work goes into putting an exhibition together and how much we can labour over an object label that is 100 words long. The general public does not know this and this imbalance of understanding came to the fore during the recent #AskACurator day on twitter when the British Museum answered a question about labels. The answer given was unfortunate as it appeared flippant and as if it disregarded the histories of all Asian countries, an attitude that I'd like to think the Keeper of Asia doesn't have (must remember to google what 'Keeper' means). The response from the public was swift and direct, arguing that the complex history is the story and that they shouldn't assume the audience wouldn't be able to understand because, hey, Asians go to museums too.

(As an aside, most people could name gods from Norse, Greek, Roman histories, perhaps even their own Gods from their own cultures too, what's a few more Gods?)

As a means of being able to move forward from this, the biggest lesson I took from this is that as museum workers we can't assume that giving a "yes, but" answer about how interpretation is part of the process and we need to aim our labels at a specific reading age will be sufficient for visitors. That might be how our institutions run interpretation, but they don't know that, and that they don't know that is because of us. We need to communicate that out. We also need to communicate that labels are but one piece to the wider offering of knowledge that museums provide and that audiences are welcome to engage with us in a plethora of other ways.


And because I'm always late to the game, I've only just discovered who Cardi B is: