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Issue 18, 2018

Issue 18, Vol 81: Under the Surface



  • Newsthub: No need to kill cats Mittens, owners should be responsible – Wellington Mayor Justin Lester

  • Where Does Your Student Services Levy Go?

  • Simran Rughani Resigns from VUWSA

  • VUWSA Launches Student Mental Health Campaign

  • Score Steamed Hams with Seymour for Society Soirée

  • Queer Coverage: Local, National, and International LGBTQIA+ News

  • It’s a Bad Year to be a Plastic Bag in New Zealand

  • Waikato Protests over Proposal to Cut Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies

  • Vic Books: The Plot Thickens on Vegetarian Yoghurt

  • On Campus Food Personality Types

  • Walking Bus Gains Popularity over Metlink Disaster

  • Quit Yo Shit Quinovic

  • Plastic Diet Under Membership Stress

  • Auckland Students Have Yet Another Reason Not to Vote

  • Features

  • New Zealand and Whales: A Deep Dive

    In June, a lone southern right whale visited Wellington Harbour. We named him Matariki, and scores of people flocked to the waterfront, and later the South Wellington coast, to catch a glimpse. We even postponed the fireworks because we didn’t want to frighten him. But we haven’t always been so protective of whales. We used […]


  • Tsunamis: Riding the Wave of Disaster

    When I was little, I had a big fear of natural disasters. I wouldn’t go to the school bathroom alone, in case an earthquake struck. Visiting my Auckland aunt meant stepping into volcano territory. And in the scene outside a window, my mind would conjure a giant ship, riding a giant wave, coming nearer and nearer […]


  • New Zealand and Whales: A Deep Dive

    In June, a lone southern right whale visited Wellington Harbour. We named him Matariki, and scores of people flocked to the waterfront, and later the South Wellington coast, to catch a glimpse. We even postponed the fireworks because we didn’t want to frighten him. But we haven’t always been so protective of whales. We used […]


  • Tsunamis: Riding the Wave of Disaster

    When I was little, I had a big fear of natural disasters. I wouldn’t go to the school bathroom alone, in case an earthquake struck. Visiting my Auckland aunt meant stepping into volcano territory. And in the scene outside a window, my mind would conjure a giant ship, riding a giant wave, coming nearer and nearer […]


  • Arts and Science

  • Tragicomic Webseries

    Tragicomic is a re-envisioning of Hamlet and the latest project from local production team, The Candle Wasters. In a similar vein to their previous projects Nothing Much To Do, Bright Summer Night and Happy Playland, Tragicomic is a web series that tackles Shakespeare in a true-to-life modern context. The series follows Hannah Moore, a fifteen year old cartoonist who struggles to cope with her missing father and her mother’s new beau, all while navigating the fucked up waters of teenage adolescence.
    Tragicomic blazes a trail by telling its story through cross-media means. The series incorporates Hannah’s thoughts and feelings throughout the series in the form of her webcomics depicted in the show. The artwork is beautifully drawn by co-creator and cartoonist Sally Bollinger and provides a further layer of meaning and description to the narrative. The show’s poetic animated sequences tell the story of Hannah the knight, haunted by a skeleton ghost, and her battle against the villainous Onion King. Prolific cartoonist Dylan Horrocks even cameos his art in the webcomics, and plays himself as Hannah’s hero on the show. The series is a showcase of passion. For Hannah’s it’s her passion for cartooning. For The Candle Wasters team, there’s a passion for telling emotional, meaningful stories that accurately represent perspectives of mental health, queerness and the teenage female experience. If there’s one thing that shines in Tragicomic, it’s the creative team’s awareness of its young feminist audience and its sense of purpose in accurately portraying an experience that is relatable, affecting and entertaining.
    The series’ approach to Hannah’s sexuality is refreshingly multi-faceted and unique. The creators go beyond the coming out story or a fixation on the panic and confusion surrounding young romance. Hannah has a crush on her friend’s older sister — the Ophelia to her Hamlet. However, the series doesn’t exhaust its narrative focussing solely on the exploration of Hannah’s sexuality. It distinguishes itself as a story of a character who is queer, but is defined also by her aspirations to be a cartoonist and her longing to find her father, and have her pre-adolescent life back.
    Tragicomic succeeds in its moments of fragility. Nova Moala Knox (Hannah) gives an honest portrayal of Bipolar Affective Disorder. From Hannah’s bouts of depression through to her moments of mania, the audience doesn’t always support Hannah’s actions but we do understand and empathise with her. While Tragicomic succeeds with Hannah’s characterisation, it struggles with its supporting cast. The cast itself is charming and diverse, delivering overall strong performances. However, there are moments of tailored awkwardness and stilted dialogue that don’t quite stick the desired landing, instead contributing to what seems like throwaway moments.
    Tragicomic’s dedication to its Shakespearean source material, though admirable, disadvantages the series. Certain storylines and scenes are uneven or appear undeveloped and disjointed at times. It’s questionable whether these plot lines and issues are left to the audience to resolve or complete by scouring through their knowledge of Hamlet. Furthermore, certain character relationships are set up only to be quickly discarded and never given the opportunity to be explored.
    In spite of my reservations, Tragicomic is a captivating watch. Its presentation, music, and moments of raw and poetic storytelling leave a lasting impression. Small, personal stories dealing with affectations like Hannah’s need to be told more frequently, and Tragicomic does so in an inspired and inventive way.
    The Candle Wasters have crafted another important and charming web series which, but for a few blemishes, is a wonderful meditation on the difficulties of high school and maintaining relationships with family, friends, and self.


  • YUNOREVIEW: Salient Edition

    Followers of Anthony Fantano’s YouTube channel, The Needle Drop, will be familiar with his YUNOREVIEW section, in which Fantano reviews various albums he didn’t manage to get to in a full review context. As we approach the mid trimester break, I thought I’d make my own version of Fantano’s segment.
    The Internet – Hive Mind

    Hive Mind is the fourth and latest album from LA neo-soul group, and former Odd Future aficionados, The Internet. Capitalising on the success of 2015’s Ego Death and various successful solo projects from the group’s members over the last few years, Hive Mind is an on-brand continuation of a winning formula for the band. The album is a little front-loaded, in that the two tracks I enjoyed the most happened to be the first two – the groovy “Come Together” and promo single “Roll (Burbank Funk)” – prior to a run of fairly similar sounding songs that kind of mush into one after a while. Still, fans of The Internet and neo-soul in general should find plenty to like here.
    Ha the Unclear – Invisible Lines
    The latest from Kiwi rockers Ha the Unclear is stupidly good. I’ll admit to have not been as familiar with the band’s earlier material as I would have liked prior to listening to Invisible Lines, and I kinda regret that now. Opener “Where Were You When I Was All You Needed?” is equally angular and poppy – I love how the edgy melody in the verse gives way to a stellar major melody and chord progression, as well as the anthemic chorus that follows. “Wallace Line” is surely a contender for song of the year, again showcasing a strong grip on indie-pop songwriting, vocal harmonies, sharp lyricism and earworm melodies. Fans of The Mint Chicks and earlier indie-pop out of New Zealand should love this.

    Tierra Whack – Whack World
    Whack World is the blistering debut from 22-year old Philly rapper Tierra Whack, and it flies by. Whack’s debut consists of 15 tracks, each only a minute in duration, and engages with everything from country to trap. In a year where the concise record has been in vogue – looking at you, Kanye – this 15 minute album seemingly re-writes the conventions of the “album”. Many of the songs settle into a groove, only to sharply transition into the next track. This is often jarring, and disrupts any sense of sonic continuity throughout the album. Still, Whack is an exciting and eclectic rapper who is pushing the boundaries of hip-hop and popular music in general. Looking forward to what she does next.
    The G.O.O.D. Music Friday releases
    It would be remiss of me, in 2018, to not voice an opinion on the weekly releases driven by Kanye West throughout June. To my ears, only two of the five albums were particularly good – Pusha T’s Daytona and the self-titled debut from Kids See Ghosts. Beyond that, I found the projects by Kanye, Nas, and Teyana Taylor to all lack a semblance of artistic identity – there was something missing on all of them. In contrast, Daytona in particular showcased an artist at the top of his game, flexing gritty bars over hard Kanye beats, showcasing a perfect take on the concise 7-track album. I wish the others had embraced the concise album style in the way Pusha T and Kids See Ghosts did, instead of producing albums that were just okay.


  • Good Taste

    In her book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag writes that a “novel insistence on good taste in a culture saturated with commercial incentives to lower standards of taste may be puzzling”. Sontag was writing in the context of depicting atrocity, but somehow, the dictate of “good taste” tends to prevail in our society: a video of a kidnapped journalist being executed is removed from a Boston news website, an Urban Outfitters Kent State University sweater is pulled from production.
    Good taste is a strange criteria. In many ways, it feels like a performative thing. The notion of good taste shows us as proving our own moral capacity, and also attempts to establish some sort of concrete line of acceptability, where none can ever actually be found.

    This idea of good taste teeters on the edge in the newly-opened Iconography of Revolt at City Gallery. Curator Robert Leonard prefaces this with a sort of disclaimer in an interview with Olivia Lacey for the gallery’s website:
    “Iconography” means both the visual language used in art works and the study and interpretation of that language. I called the show Iconography of Revolt to emphasise that it isn’t simply about revolt. It’s about the way it’s pictured, about the way images work. I could have called it Picturing Revolt or Rhetoric of Revolt.”
    In claiming that the iconography of revolt can be isolated from the contexts and conflicts that inform it, Leonard attempts to neutralise the imagery included in the exhibition. The Pussy Riot protest at the Sochi Winter Olympics, where all members wear balaclavas, set alongside a glass case with a series of balaclavas, is inescapably in dialogue with the Terrorist Teapot sitting in the gift store. The aesthetics employed in each of these scenarios are built of the same iconography. Yet, reducing something that is so recently part of our social conscience into aesthetics means that we are encouraged to feel nothing towards representations of injustice.
    We already get it. It is not that the depoliticisation of this material is shocking, but that it is not. We got the joke a long time ago. Leonard is obviously aware of this; a clip from a Maharishi fashion show that appropriated jihadi aesthetics is another empty provocation. It is such a trendy thing to be socially aware, or to capitalise on the political/feminist movements. Fast fashion companies smear “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE” across a t-shirt made by exploited women in a faraway country. It is in this zeitgeist that Iconography of Revolt was surely conceived.
    The flattening effect of following an international drift is felt in the gallery space. There is an uneasy absence of revolt or resistance in the context of Aotearoa in the show. There is a scattering of New Zealand artists, but none that address content from New Zealand, and not for lack of it. In 2000, City Gallery mounted a show titled Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance, in collaboration with the Parihaka Pā Trustees. There could have been an opportunity for Iconography of Revolt to remember this show, to understand the absolute necessity of resistance in this colonised land. Instead, Arwa Alneami, whose Never Never Land occupies an upstairs gallery, and SODA_JERK’s TERROR NULLIUS, playing in the auditorium space, are left to counteract the deadpan stance that Iconography of Revolt cannot shake.
    Correction: Death and Desire in Salient Issue 16, was written by Nina Dyer, not myself as it was wrongly attributed to.


  • The Ties That Bind

    Little Woods 


    As one among many in my two week binge of NZIFF films, I wondered what would make Little Woods stand out from the bizarre, intriguing, charming stories I had already consumed. The answer comes in the form of a sisterly bond that withstands the financially arid landscape of middle-class America.
    Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is close to the end of her probation period, after getting caught at the Canadian border with medication for her dying mother. Putting her life as a peddler behind her, she serves coffee and food to oil rig workers, until her mother’s house is threatened with foreclosure and her sister Debbie (Lily James) is pregnant with her second child. Ollie has to come up with money for the house and to support her sister by resorting to dealing OxyContin to the residents of Little Woods.
    Tessa Thompson and Lily James, especially, are the standout of this film as they create a strong relationship of unconditional love, layered with a profound, aching undertone as they tread water in their impoverished hometown where “being pregnant costs $8000”. While the story of Little Woods is far from unusual, showing the protagonist going back to their illicit past and leading up to “one last job”, the narrative is presented with artistic care by Nia DeCosta, and lacks the usual stylish loudness of most Hollywood Westerns. This is exemplified in moments of tension which are devoid of scoring, which elevate the two leads even more.
    Overall, Little Woods is an expertly shot, dire representation of the turmoil that middle class citizens face on a daily basis. It’s carried along by two stellar performances, despite the heavy subject matter it deals with.


  • The Ties That Bind

    Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again


    This movie felt to me like the musical version of Eat, Pray, Love. A woman goes on a journey to find herself, eating good food, and getting the D in exotic places — all underpinned by wonderful ABBA music, and comedy gold. Special shout-out to the zingers from Christine Baranski’s Tanya every moment she was on screen.
    Every scene had ended on elements of delight. Even when there was conflict, it never felt tense. The plot was a bit confusing from time to time, but that just added to the fun, I mean what else was Cher’s purpose in the film otherwise? The film always let us know things would work out; with flashbacks to the past, and a continuation of the future in one film, we are in a position where we know exactly what happens. The film wants us to know this is a film about happy endings. It is a celebration of love, life, and the magic of letting go. (And yes, being the crowd pleaser that it is, Meryl Streep is in the film).
    The film was heartfelt, gleeful, and uplifting. It truly brought comforting good vibes, conflict resolution in each scene, often doing it so through the power of song. Straight from the get go, the healing power of song and its capability for expression was set out in the opening number of “Thank You For The Music”.
    Not only is the film a feel good film about love, life, and self- expression, but it is an open love letter to music and song itself. That is the magic driving this film.


  • Spotlight of Chris Kraus: I Love Dick (1997) and After Kathy Acker (2017)

    The obvious place to start when talking about I Love Dick is with the title, which is why the book is infamous for being hard to read in public. It alludes both to how its protagonist literally falls in love with a guy called Dick, who she writes (but doesn’t send) letters to throughout the course of the novel.
    I Love Dick has achieved feminist cult classic status. In it, Kraus reflects on various women’s issues, and provides insight into her experiences with being a woman in NYC’s art scene, and the treatment that women artists receive in comparison to their male colleagues. But she particularly focuses on the idea of women’s sexuality – one of the main ideas of the book being about how our society “[presumes] that there’s something inherently grotesque, unspeakable, about femaleness, desire”. With I Love Dick, Kraus upends the expectation for women to be quiet and/or ashamed about their sexuality.
    However, there’s an unfortunate issue, in that this book isn’t a total work of fiction but rather is based on Chris Kraus’ own real-life experiences with real people (including Dick), making a lot of it pretty inappropriate. It’s fascinating to read, and there’s a lot to learn through Kraus’ in-depth research about various subjects – from women artists/humanitarians to schizophrenia to critical art theory. But there’s probably feminist literature which is less morally questionable out there.
    It’s also worth noting that the author went to Victoria University. Thus, there are often references made to our streets and other familiar things, and how these things influenced her work as a writer and filmmaker, something a lot of students here might relate to and/or find interesting.
    With Kraus’ interest in issues concerning women’s sexuality and the experiences of women in the art world well established, it makes perfect sense that twenty years after I Love Dick she would publish a biography about fellow NYC writer/artist Kathy Acker.
    After Kathy Acker describes the life of the artist, from childhood up until her death from cancer in 1997, with the focus being on her contributions to the NYC underground art scene, particularly in the 70s – 90s.

    The book incorporates numerous excerpts of Acker’s writings, including from her personal letters and from her novels, while also making sure to clarify that Acker was a writer not because she was known for being particularly good at writing (Kraus quotes multiple scathing reviews of Acker’s works throughout the book), but because she wanted to be one.
    The book argues that the important thing about Acker’s writings, and how she lived her life in general, is her contributions to postmodernism and feminist theory, particularly regarding sex-positivity and the use of language.
    Again, there’s controversy surrounding this book, considering that since I Love Dick Kraus isn’t exactly known for making clear distinctions between fact and fiction. The book opens with her claim that it “may or may not be a biography of Kathy Acker”, with the uncertainty being due to the fact that Acker apparently “lied all the time”. So, basically, almost everything in it must be taken with a grain of salt.
    Like I Love Dick, After Kathy Acker is often somewhat morally questionable, but the content is extremely interesting, especially for anyone fascinated in women artists from the underground art scene and/or interested in feminist writings, as both of Kraus’ books include detailed representation of and knowledge regarding both these subjects.


  • Mating in Captivity

    I will always be happy to see queer stories on stage. No matter what shape they take, they are defying the norms of heterosexuality or cisnormativity, and that continues to make me lean in for more. Mating in Captivity had the potential for a beautiful queer story, inside the captivity of Annie and Rob’s heterosexual relationship and their one-bedroom apartment. Page, writer and director, presents a somewhat time old awkward interaction, over one very long night.

    What happens when your current partner meets your ex? What’s the protocol? What’s off limits? Should you do MDMA together? All vital questions that plague Rob, Annie, and Jacob throughout the play. Even though the play is set in a one-bedroom apartment, it contains a high level of comic physicality, such as Annie chasing Jacob around the room saying “Look at my tits! What do you think of them?” I was impressed with the actor’s commitment to this element of the storytelling and wish them luck for the nights that go on, it just wouldn’t be the same without it. The play largely touched on themes around sexuality and attraction, but at its heart it has some very soft and emotional themes around intimacy, love, and what happens to them over time. Page’s actors presented these complexities perfectly, every one of them giving their all on stage.
    Page has written some great jokes — mostly about sex — into this play. All the characters jest with one another about sexual conduct throughout the play. Some will say these kinds of jokes are easy to get laughs off, but sometimes that’s just what you need to contrast with raw emotional depths being presented on stage, even the subtextual ones, in this case. Shout out the stage designer for making the flat number “69”.
    If you’re putting on a gay play, I want you to go all the way. I want my identity to be affirmed to hell and back. Mating in Captivity sits on the edges of this but left me wanting for much more. The Bats websites says about the play: “The year’s wildest, wittiest whirlwind of a love battle… Outrageously racy… Sparkling… Gay!” (His Girl Friday, 1940) Well, a bit gay. It’s complicated.” And it was a bit gay. But it felt like the heterosexual’s version of a gay play. Rob’s queer experience was something hidden away in his past, that his partner didn’t know about. The fact one of his exes was a man, rather than all being women, like Annie assumed, caused tension between the two of them. My kind of queer theatre is where we get to live out our queerest dreams on stage. Forget the reality of where we are in society and be free for an evening.
    I feel that Mating in Captivity reflected a common and almost banal experience many queer people go through. This is okay though! It stills gets people thinking, laughing together, and all in all addressing their own internal bias. Which, in my opinion, is the best thing you can want from an audience. Plus, the story being presented is a very real one for many people, and I think that’s important to note.
    If you drink, I imagine this play would go along nicely with your chosen alcoholic beverage and few a friends — definitely not ideal for a first date. Page knows how to make his jokes hit, and his actors know how to serve them. I would have liked to feel more satisfied at the end, not left with more questions about who wants who, but I think it’s easiest if I put them to bed for myself, and just imagine the romantic queer ending I was after.


  • Lorde: Behind the Melodrama

    “‘These are the games of the weekend, we pretend that we just don’t care — but we care.’ And I feel like that is the essence of Melodrama: we pretend that we just don’t care — but we care, we fucking care! and I’m going to show you. This record is a document about that care.”
    What is Melodrama? It’s “the vivid nature of all the emotions that connect all of these songs.”

    It’s the intense, singular, fucked-up emotions, the brief lightning flashes that had to be captured and crystallised, the element of humour, the Greek piece of theatre, the making big out of small, the royal court out of the domestic house.
    The thing is, Melodrama is more than that, and that’s what the Spinoff’s Music Editor Henry Oliver sought to discover when he sat down with Lorde over two afternoons mid last year — the stories, processes, and influences behind the record; the inspirations and the emotions. The series takes the form of a track-by-track exposition in the vein of Song Exploder, each episode devoted to one of the eleven tracks from Lorde’s sophomore album. We are brought along for the noho, and over the course of the conversations also seek to chart the DNA of her process in making a powerful and meaningful record. Of course, we are all aware of Lorde’s undeniable talent; by the end of the series we are left with a rediscovered appreciation of Lorde’s musical thoughtfulness, her voice, we discover, an instrument not only of music but of storytelling too.

    An evocative kaikōrero, Lorde is the perfect interviewee, diverting her interviewer’s sometimes uninspiring pātai to tell interesting stories peppered with mellifluous phrases describing the “fog of grief” or “melodic language”, throughout combining words like an experimental chef ingredients. “I am a writer,” Lorde, whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor and whose mother is the poet Sonja Yelich, affirms to her host at one point. “I am a singer and I am a performer and I am an artist, but for the most part I’m a writer.” “You’re your mother’s child,” said Oliver. “I’m my mother’s child.” And at this she laughs.
    She’s laughing throughout ngā kōrero; you can see her smile behind the microphone as she’s given the chance to tell some of the stories behind her record. The album is so full of break-up angsty sadness, yet when Oliver says “the bit that I found the saddest,” he’s drowned out by Lorde’s giggles. The record has become her “suit of armour” — as Lorde relates, “I wrote it when I was sad and I’m happy now”.
    The editing and technical side to the podcast is decent enough: some quibbles here and there. My major qualm with the show is actually in the use of the songs themselves. The song of the episode will appear intermittently throughout, but arbitrarily: sometimes to demonstrate a point just made, at other times boldly for a wholly inordinate length of time, at others timidly entering before fading away apologetically. Perhaps I’m trained in the school of Song Exploder, but it seems a gaffe that the song isn’t included in its entirety at the bottom of each show: it will surface at the end, but only to be trampled on by the credits, when it could have been allowed instead to stand proud and free on a new pedestal of discovered background and stories each time.
    That aside, Lorde herself is a magnetic personality to listen to, and a terrific subject for the patapatai. Evident in her voice are both the joys of the creative process of working with her favourite collaborators, and the anguish when she describes “the big sun soaked dumbness of just falling in love, your whole head like glue”. Provided with entry passes into the conversation, we get to whakarongo to both processes. It’s worth the listen.


  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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