6 Nov 2015

Awhi Creatures

From New Zealand Society, 2:30 pm on 6 November 2015
An Awhi Creature hovers over a stack of potato onions.

Photo: Supplied.

Maggie Buxton is a proud Papakura girl and for some time now has been creating art works celebrating the South Auckland suburb. In her latest project she has hidden “inter-dimensional” critters in local landmarks and is inviting art lovers and locals to find them.

I think Papakura has an amazing spirit.

An Awhi Creature peeks at a patron in the Papakura Art Gallery.

Photo: Supplied.

Awhi Creatures, as they are called, are actually an augmented reality exhibition using designs by artist Kim Newall and began as an exhibition produced by Maggie in the Papakura Art Gallery. Users download a special app onto their digital device and then watch on their screens as the creatures joyfully come to crawling, flapping, squawking life. The creatures have moved out beyond the walls of the gallery and are waiting to be found in a series of locations around the town centre. To find their nests, users have to solve a series of clues related to the buildings and history of Papakura.

Awhi Creatures is the latest in a series of works operating under the umbrella title of AwhiWorld; a concept that speaks to Maggie's sense of the spirit of a place. Key to this is the Te Reo Māori word embedded in the title; Awhi.

It means embrace, it means enfold, it means support…and so everything I do is about how do we bring different kinds of worlds together, different disciplines, different cultures, to support and celebrate what we all understand to be the spirit of place.

A green Awhi Creature rests on a wall feature.

Photo: Supplied.

The creatures were initially designed by Kim and then printed out on pieces of card. In a series of workshops with local children, Maggie and Kim encouraged them to colour-in the creatures and make them their own. They were then re-digitised and animated, with their "voices" also being made by the children using sampling technology. While the conceit is that the Creatures come from another dimension, they have been well and truly "colonised" by the kids.

They belong to Papakura now because the kids have helped them have  Papakura textures.

Maggie argues that a sense of a place involves multiple layers of histories and cultures as well as intersections of time and increasingly, multiple layers of digitality. Our world is now an encoded one, she says, and the spirit of a place must include the digital or it will, quite simply, cease to exist.

Hence the use of portals. These swirling, black and white images work as both digital nests for the creatures and as a metaphor for the hidden histories and identities contained within a place or location. The idea is to encourage the user to look beyond what is front of them.

A yellow Awhi Creature hovering over a sample of designs for the creatures created by Papakura schoolchildren.

A sample of designs for the creatures created by Papakura schoolchildren. Photo: Supplied.

There are hidden worlds. We are living in a world that's encoded and has multiple digital media  embedded in it. If we keep saying that the spirit of something  doesn't involve  the digital or the technological, we'll have no spirit left.

By taking users on a treasure hunt around the town centre, Maggie and Kim hope to open up a new appreciation for what Papakura has to offer and also for what it has lost. In collaboration with the local business association, they have placed some of the portals in buildings that are empty, run down or have changed from their original usage.

Some of the nests occupy shops that are still open for business and Maggie checks in with their owners every few days to get a sense of the public response. She says most people are delighted with the idea of developing a different idea of place around Papakura, a town that has not always had a good reputation and that has experienced a lot of change in recent years.

'I think there was quite a shock for Papakura when it got subsumed into the Auckland City landscape and became almost a suburb when before it had been its own service town. I think it is starting to reform its identity again...it's nice to be part of that process.'

The Awhi Creatures installation will continue to operate until the end of November but Maggie and Kim have already moved on. They’ve begun a new project at Papakura Marae, adding ideas around geotechnology into the augmented reality mix. Visitors to the marae use an app to find audio triggers that then tell stories about the buildings, carvings and people. It's one more way to let the people of Papakura discover the hidden histories of the place they call home.

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