Artist Statement

Motif explores the role of motif in cultural practice, knowledge and memory: as sites of connection and separation; circularity and intersection; the individual, the collective and belonging; and the (re)excavation of past, present and future narratives. The work uses motif in the development of its music and video narratives, while also drawing on living motifs from the social, cultural and political landscapes between Moana Oceania and the West. It adopts the ocean as its primary motif—symbolic of the physical space of connection and separation between the Moana Oceanian region and the West, specifically Tonga and Australia—and builds on it using other symbols of transit, and transitional physical, psychological and emotional spaces.

Motif explores traditional elements of both Tongan and European music styles, such as tengihia (Tongan lament) and compositional techniques for developing motifs, in a contemporary electronic setting. In Tongan art forms, motif is an expression of the circular and intertwining nature of Tongan time and space, based on kupesi—abstract geometric motifs produced in tufunga lalava (the material art of lashing). In faiva hiva (the Tongan performance art of music), past motifs are weaved together with subtle changes in melody, rhythm, key and tempo, which in the process cleverly mask the element of repetition. These intersecting tendencies give rise to psychological-emotional outcomes of māfana (inner warmth), vela (fire) and tauēlangi (climaxed elation), which are expressed through improvised melodies or fakahēhē (solo vocal ornamentation) that only exist in the present moment. Motif draws on these concepts to construct the ‘space between’ two cultures as a space of incessant journeying and fluctuation without reaching a destination, climax or resolution; a transitional space of constant mediation between symmetrical and asymmetrical social, cultural and political values.

Motif is an internal expression of the borderlands; the internal struggle, shame, anxiety, confusion and fear of exclusion that can exist in the space between—the issues of disconnection and alienation that surround the silencing of these experiences, and the connection, unity and empowerment that can come from being heard. The performers navigate the physical landscape of memory: personal photographs; colonial imagery; World War I and the Pacific War; blackbirding of 350 people from 'Ata atoll, Tonga in 1863; the Dawn Raids and the Polynesian Panther movement; Western religion; tourist iconography; popular culture; and American Hollywood movies such as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and Hawaii (1966); while visual motifs of flowers and hair braiding signify the transference of memory from one generation to another.

Motif, 2018

Single-channel High Definition video

6 minutes, 47 seconds

16:9, colour, sound