Self-portrait, 2018

Sound, still image

3 minutes, 5 seconds / 550 cm x 100 cm

Wearable art: Xavier Love

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Artist Statement

Self-portrait employs the Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Theory of Art—a derivative of the Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Philosophy of Reality, or tāvāism, formulated by Hūfanga Professor ‘Ōkusitino Māhina—as a conceptual framework; to interrogate the intersections between race, identity and belonging. The work unpacks standardised definitions of belonging: ‘to have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group’, or ‘to be rightly assigned to a specified category’ (Oxford Dictionary 2018). It explores identity as construct that asserts ‘ways of knowing’ rather than ‘ways of being’, whereby race does not necessarily impart experiences of belonging.

In this work, I experiment with the melodic, harmonic and temporal nature of two Tongan nose-flute melodies and three Tongan drum patterns transcribed by ethnomusicologist Richard Moyle in Tongan Music, 1987 (pp. 90 and 92; pp. 64-65 and 81), in order to express my fluctuating abilities to attain­­ the markers of identity that permit belonging to my racial group(s). I express this fluctuation as a movement between alignment and nonalignment within my reality, that is, from a tāvāist perspective ‘nature, mind and society’. Rather than accompanying flute with percussion, I wanted to create a polyphonic dialogue between two equal parts. I recorded the flute melodies in free time, and produced my arrangement of the three Tongan drum patterns: tā pailate, tā fakaona and tu’u fala using a uniform pulse. I rearranged the sounds to create homophonic and polyphonic textures, and applied time-stretch and distortion to create new sounds. I experimented with the temporal nature of the drum notations by shifting the position of notes within the bar, changing the time signature, and re-arranging their order. Finally, I combined the accented drum beats with the melodic notes of the nose-flute notations. I wanted to observe the tensions that organically arose, and to blur the lines between what is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of time. As a result, sometimes the flute and percussion scores come together in harmony and time, and at other times they are discordant.

The three photographic self-portraits present the constructed identities that orbit my biological body and facets of the natural environment. My body is interwoven with natural elements. I am bound to my family tree that is made of hard metal; its roots become my veins. Red and yellow lights strike parts of my skin, as symbols for Tonga and Australia’s national flowers: red heilala and golden wattle respectively. The tree sprouts a rose and a hibiscus as iconic symbols that have been historically impressed upon female sexuality. As the external constructs are internalised, my inner organs become exposed: my ribcage and heart are placed outside my body.