In a particular Māori tradition, objects and bodies would be prepared to travel through a folding of space and time. Rather than considering movement as a passage from a point of departure to a point of arrival, the destination is brought to the traveler. For Māori, the relationship between past, present, and future is neither teleological nor linear—the present is molded by the past being before us, and the future is a present continuous. Transition and nonlinear time, as well as the conflation of departure, destination, and arrival, are the temporal and spatial markers of Nathan Pohio’s traveling objects: the photographic installations Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun! presented in Athens and Kassel.
Pohio, who was born in 1970 into the Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe, and Ngāi Tahu tribes of the South Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand, appropriates two found photographs from 1905 that commemorate the visit of the British Governor General and his wife, Lord and Lady Plunket, to Tuahiwi. In the first, the Ngāi Tahu leaders are represented in full ceremonial dress on horseback—a reference to the traditional Ngāi Tūāhuriri pōwhiri (formal welcome ceremony)—while the representatives of the British Crown are seated in their motorcar. Shot seconds before this is the second, lesser-known photograph, which captures the assembly moving toward the marae (meeting grounds) where the pōwhiri ceremony begins—the act of getting ready for the camera, an image of transition and becoming.
These photographs were taken at a time when Ngāi Tūāhuriri were in legal dispute with the British Empire over land ownership. The image resonates with New Zealand’s colonial history and the reclaiming of land prior to and following the Treaty of Waitangi, which continues to determine Māori politics today. Pohio’s installation revolves around images signifying the hospitality and rituals of welcoming that are inherent to Māori culture. Foreigners who wish to enter Māori territory are inaugurated to the land through the pōwhiri ceremony designed to offer a clear path to mutual respect.
By displacing these images to Athens and Kassel—cities foreign to the land and the people depicted—Pohio proposes a movement from one place to another, from one time to another. As much as his installations are an entryway, welcoming people through a gesture of hospitality, the work pulls different spaces and aligned temporalities toward it.