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Debris development

Updated: Oct 17, 2021

On the road with a box full of rubbish, Jade Townsend was collecting what others had left behind – fishing rope from beaches in Thailand, postcards from Ibiza, Christmas crackers from Liverpool, cotton thread from India. She transformed the debris into delicately woven and painted artworks for her exhibition Homesick/Sickhome, at Page Galleries last year.

Since then, the mahi of Homesick/Sickhome has evolved. Jade talks to us about where she’s coming from, and where she’s going.

Jade Townsend at "Homesick/Sickhome" at Page Galleries, Wellington, 2020. Photo by Victoria Birkinshaw.

How do you feel when you look back at Homesick/Sickhome?

It feels like a lifetime ago. I made the works with debris I collected across the globe in 2018/9 and I am instantly transported to the memory of our pre-Covid19 world when I look back at the exhibition. I find it compelling that new readings continually emerge in relation to the shifting global political landscape. For example, at the time I was concerned with narrowing visa restrictions in Europe that had separated my whānau but I could never have predicted how restricted our movement would become in 2021. I felt isolated living on a separate island from my whānau and with my new baby so I reimagined secondhand materials as contributions or offerings from ancestors. I acknowledge that there is a prevailing sadness and longing woven through my work but the mauri of the materials and my gentle handling of them is celebratory, I am an optimistic person.

What is home for you?

I am of dual heritage, I am Māori (Ngāti Kahungunu) on my paternal side and Scouse (Liverpool, England) on my maternal side. I grew up living between Whanganui in Aotearoa and Huyton, Liverpool, in England and have lived in many other cities within those countries too. I currently live on the North Shore, Auckland.

For me, “home” is a set of relationships. For the most part I can build, carry, and access those relationships wherever I go. But there are some relationships that are unique to my nature and environment. I learn about myself when I am away but I grow when I am home.

Does Homesick/Sickhome comment on current social or political issues?

This mahi was made in multiple countries as the UK election and Brexit deadline approached, but before the pandemic. My global exposure to these ruptures meant social and political issues were impossible to ignore. The systems I engaged daily – such as airports, taxis, visa applications, border control, and local tabloids – became more abrasive and rigid by the day. At times, it felt like the gates of the world were closing on us, and with hindsight they were.

Homesick/Sickhome reminds us of the importance of free movement. It celebrates cultural exchange and navigation through the origins of materials within each piece. However, the world now faces a completely different set of challenges than the one this show was originally made for. The show might now be read in new ways. Perhaps as mementos to travel, beacons or lures to stay home, or signals to a vibrant future full with a multiplicity of destinations.

"Hauhake" at Objectspace. Photos by Billy McQueen

How has the mahi developed?

Today, I am grateful to have concluded three projects as part of the evolution of Homesick/Sickhome. For the first, Hauhake at Objectspace, I invited 25 artists to create new work based on a selection of references by Hone Tūwhare and Ralph Hotere celebrating the importance of friendships between artists. Second, Whānau Mārama at Commercial Bay which had two parts: a curatorial project and a public art commission, where I invited a group of Māori artists to activate a selection of retail spaces, from window displays to digital advertising screens. I also created nine sculptural interpretations of the nine stars of Matariki along the public walkway of Commercial Bay – I loved working at large scale.

I was on site while these projects were open so that I could welcome, host, and hold the space. I learnt a lot about the quality of the audience’s engagement by witnessing it first-hand each day. For me, it is crucial to speak to the curatorial vision and support an audience's education and eventual love of contemporary indigenous art.

Working across curation, art direction, and project management isn’t entirely new for me; however, my desire to create opportunities for meaningful engagement between people, ideas, objects, and spaces came together in a way that I had never explored before.

What are you reading at the moment?

I absorb a few pages a day from a selection of pukapuka scattered around our whare. I am trying to balance reading fiction and non-fiction to give my mind space to play and imagine between more serious research projects.

Fourteen months ago, I was taking part in a programme (Re)imagining Indigenous Futures: an education programme towards revolution, organised by Kei Te Pai Press. There was a daily reading expectation, a challenge which lit a fire in my puku and mind. Unlike other times in my life when I studied, the combination of lockdown, motherhood, returning to Aotearoa, and unemployment created an urgency that I needed to make better sense of the future. Ani Mikaere, Leonie Pihama, Angela Davis, Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, Moana Jackson, Russell Means, Bell Hooks, Jackie Wang, Brenna Bhandar, and Te Kawehau Hoskins were a few of the authors in our reading list. I read with interest experiences by ordinary people that led to exceptional strategies for cultural revitalisation. For me, those texts are roadmaps which I lean on most days, often unconsciously.

Jade Townsend and her Matariki sculptures at "Whānau Mārama", Commercial Bay. Photo by Holly Burgess.

What are you most proud of?

I am not afraid to challenge myself to continually push, destroy, recover, and critique. I put those experiments out for public consumption which happens with the support of other artists, friends, galleries and commercial partnerships. After all, I want my art to leave my whare and continue to have its own life. It is important to me as a mother that, if I spend time in the studio away from whānau that I am pursuing art making that supports and unpacks our cultural dichotomy.

What’s next for you?

I’m painting on stretched linen for the first time in years and I’m interested to see where this may go. I am translating my Matariki journal (from written and hand-drawn entries into new paintings) and developing motifs from personal spiritual encounters. Perhaps I’ll exhibit them in summer… Otherwise, I am in group shows including When The Dust Settles at Artspace this Spring.

First published in ArtZone #88

This story is also available in te reo Māori. Read it here.


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