Yesterday, as my students first guffawed and then sighed, I laboured with a fading marker pen over a dirty whiteboard in an effort to draw a map of 'Eua, the diamond-shaped, Manhattan-sized island which is the southernmost inhabited piece of Tonga, and almost the closest inhabited island to New Zealand.
Along with 'Iliasa Helu, I am leading an 'Atenisi expedition to 'Eua this weekend, and my drawing, with its childish lines and smudged names, was the only detailed map of the place most of the students had ever seen. 'Eua is notorious for its limestone sinkholes and caves, out of which huge banyan trees often grow, and into which reckless visitors occasionally vanish. "I think we need a local guide" one of the students said, after frowning at the vague details I had drawn on the board. "And we need a map that makes sense."
If only I had known yesterday that I am part of an exhibition dedicated to mapmaking
being held at an art gallery on Auckland's fashionable Karangahape Road. I could have tried to impress my truculent students by telling them that curators Rachel Watson and James Wylie had taken an interest in the psychogeographic film I've been making about the Great South Road with Paul Janman, and had decided to show maps and footage from the half-finished project in the RM gallery.
Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to check my e mail yesterday, and so didn't get Paul's report about the exhibition Wylie and Wilson have called Exanded Map. I'm chuffed, nevertheless, that I've managed to get my name, however briefly, onto the wall of a gallery, despite never being able to the master the art of the stick person portrait at Drury Primary School art class.
My students are no strangers to map-making. A month or so ago I decided to enliven my Creative Writing paper by summouning a taxivan to the 'Atenisi campus and piling them into it. As the driver steered randomly through the mid-morning Nuku'alofa streets, scattering packs of pigs with his horn and cursing at a fat noble in an SUV, I gave an improvised lecture on Iain Sinclair, JG Ballard, and the practice of psychogeography, which I summed up in the maxin 'Get lost'. I got the bewildered taxi driver to leave us beside Nuku'alofa's quarry, a place where strapping young palm trees rise through the smashed windscreens of classic American and British cars. "This is the end of the line" I told my charges. "This is the graveyard of modernity. Forget about those war films you see, where tanks and jeeps and the bodies of marines lie ruined on a tropical beach: these are today's casualties of war." "It's not the end" Tevita Manu'atu, 2012 dux at 'Atenisi, replied, in an indulgent voice. "It's a new beginning". Perhaps he was right: recyclers were busy amidst the ruins, pulling healthy organs - unrusted carburretors, intact radiators - from the diseased bodies of Valiants and Fords.
After we had found our way through the ruins of modernity to the Nuku'alofa waterfront, where we drank Fanta and hailed another taxi, I asked my Creative Writing students to create 'psychogeographic maps' of our journey, and of Nuku'alofa in general. Forget spurious notions of accuracy and objectivity, I told them, as I handed out the felt pens and crayons. Draw with your subconscious and your pineal glands. Think about Sinclair's epic walk along the M 25, that ring road that isolates London more surely than any wall, think about the semi-secret military installations he spotted through air that made his eyes water, the lungfuls of truck exhaust that almost saw him resort, like a climber in the Himalayas, to bottled oxygen.
Tevita was the first to finish his map. He had drawn, with a firm, unfailingly accurate hand, the allotments, plantations, churches, and roads of his home village on the weathercoast of Tongatapu.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]