A recipe for resistance: Help Yourself at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space

Co-authored by Turumeke Harrington and Grace Ryder, Help Yourself (a group show on display at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space in Pōneke/Wellington) is an invocation of protection against the daily grind.

Date 15 June 2021 Words Maya Love Photography Cheska Brown

Turumeke Harrington and Grace Ryder, with friends Sarah Hudson, Saskia Leek and Kristin Leek, and Greta Menzies, Help Yourself. Installation view, Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, June 2021. 

Co-authored by long-term friends, Turumeke (“Tui”) Harrington (Ngāi Tahu) and Grace Ryder (Pākehā; Polish, British), Help Yourself was developed out of an exercise in care. In her introductory essay, Ryder notes that under the conditions of the modern world it is easy to “to find yourself organizing your life around practices you find ridiculous and possibly indefensible.”(1)  This reference is uplifted from Jia Tolentino’s essay Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman, an interrogation of the multitudinous roles that women perform— the affective labour, and the pressure of doing it all, all the time. Inspired (and presumably exhausted) by this astute diagnosis of experience within the neoliberal service economy, Ryder responds with a tincture of resistance. Especially potent as we return to old routines in the wake of the pandemic and hyperaware of our mundane compliance, Help Yourself suggests we resist returning to what is ‘normal’. Instead, “take a protective stance toward ourselves, each other…our spaces and our time for non-instrumental, non-commercial activity and thought, for maintenance, for care, for conviviality.”(2) Help Yourself is exactly this—an exhibition made for the artists involved, wherein we consider other ways of being. 

Harrington and Ryder live and work together. They share resources and, in doing so, optimise their time. Within the context of this exhibition, the artists use this time to guide one another toward a more enjoyable way of working – one that is more sustainable, isn’t linked to unattainable perfectionism, and ultimately, uncommon to our modern world. Known for her immense creative output, Harrington was able to make (and make and make) without the need to apply theoretical depth. For example, the walls of the Gallery are painted a pastel blue, an alpine sky on a cloudless day. They are painted this colour because it is Ryder’s favourite. Meanwhile, Ryder indulged in extensive reading, making space for rumination and experimentation, resulting in a reading list hosted on Enjoy’s blog and in their library onsite. 

Upon entering the space, clusters of mouths, stars and genitals arrange into forms that hang from opalescent banners. These threaded beings preside over the space, watchful, and herald what lies beyond. They cast a circle of salt marking the boundary to all who enter—this is an unfamiliar place. Beyond is a pastel blue room. It hosts a series of objects made by invited artists, friends of Harrington and Ryder, who were each asked to create something for someone else. An ochre cloth, stained by Ngāti Pūkeko whenua, provides the altar for Ngāti Maru ki Hauraki whenua, cradling the tūpuna of the maker, Sarah Hudson (Ngātai Awa, Ngāi Tuhoe). Next, an abstract tapestry made by artist Saskia Leek’s mother, Kristin. Autumnal fibres hang in solemn acknowledgment of her recent death, as well as a daughter’s grief. Then an ash-grey wool amulet and a ceramic vessel with many handles—two charms made by Greta Menzies, talismans casting protection and healing over their intended recipients. Last, a warm light emanates from a set of cobalt sconces, decorated with Harrington’s motifs referencing bodies and sex, or as the artist describes their recurrence: “rants about motherness and the patriarchy and dicks.”(3)  In the centre of the room are Hers & Hers, a pair of matching reading chairs that offer a place to pause. 

On these chairs, one can rest (and Harrington strongly encourages this). Consider the objects, their materials, the makers and their labours. Help yourself to the exchange of energy—the layering of people, practices, relationships, memories, textures and places that coalesce in this liminal blue room. Take from it what you need.


Footnotes
(1) Grace Ryder, “Help Yourself introduction and reading list,” Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, 2 June 2021. enjoy.org.nz/blog/2021/06/help-yourself-introduction-and-reading-list (accessed 8 June 2021). 
(2) Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (U.S.A.: Melville House Publishing, 2019).
(3) Turumeke Harrington, “Bits (Window Slits) I–IV 2021,” Instagram, 19 March 2021. instagram.com/p/CMkuqmjMHHw/ (accessed 2 June 2021). 

Turumeke Harrington, You [I] Can’t Be (All Things To All Men) Chillout Sessions Vol. I – XIII, 2021, polyester fabric and cotton thread, steel.

Sarah Hudson, Reunion, 2021, Ngāti Pūkeko stained cotton and Ngāti Maru ki Hauraki whenua.

Turumeke Harrington in collaboration with Abraham Hollingsworth, Hers & Hers, 2021, American ash, polyester, steel and foam.

Turumeke Harrington, Te Tauwhirowhiro Maruwehi (Can’t hold this sunny disposition back) VII, 2021, steel, acrylic perspex, LED light bulb and electrical wiring.

Turumeke Harrington, Te Tauwhirowhiro Maruwehi (Can’t hold this sunny disposition back) II, III, XII and VI, 2021, steel, acrylic perspex, LED light bulbs and electrical wiring.

Kristin Leek, Wall hanging, c.1975, mixed media.

Kristin Leek, Wall hanging (detail), c.1975, mixed media.

Saskia Leek, My mother was a maker, 2021, text, A4 paper.

Sarah Hudson, Reunion (detail), 2021, Ngāti Pūkeko stained cotton and Ngāti Maru ki Hauraki whenua.

Greta Menzies, Happy Talisman, 2021, sterling silver, wool, glass, cotton, crystals.

Greta Menzies, Happy Talisman (detail), 2021, sterling silver, wool, glass, cotton, crystals.

Greta Menzies, Lucky Janus, 2021, black anthracite clay.

Turumeke Harrington, You [I] Can’t Be (All Things To All Men) Chillout Sessions Vol. I – XIII, 2021, polyester fabric and cotton thread, steel.

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