19 October 2017
Kasia is a performance artist and designer based in New Zealand, where she works with theatre, dance, and film companies to create installations and performances here and overseas. With Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and Anna Marbrook, Project Designer Kasia is one third of the Creative Team behind A Waka Odyssey.
A Waka Odyssey is presented through a unique partnership between A Waka Odyssey Creative Team, New Zealand Festival and Te Āti Awa / Taranaki Whānui Iwi.
I remember approaching Wellington for the first time after an unbelievably long flight in October 2003 and seeing through the window massive landscapes covered in white fog. I couldn’t believe it; the scale of the mountains and the harbour made the city look like scattered breadcrumbs.
I’m not an outdoors type of person; I grew up in Lublin in Poland, and later moved to Bratislava, then Prague. I travelled and worked in other parts of Europe, always land-locked cities filled with history and grand masculine architecture, old and new. On the 12-hour train ride from Warsaw to Prague, I would always open the train window to better sense the changing landscapes – despite large portions of the landscape being affected by pollution from the urban chimneys. This was the only way to experience “space” in a physical way.
Over the 14 years that I’ve been in New Zealand, I have experienced a strong connection with the extremes of the elements, the vastness of the sky and the openness of the landscape, the surrounding ocean and the magnificent light wherever you are. When I lived in Wellington I felt that the relentless wind was there to keep us alert, and those horizontal rainfalls demanding us to feel our existence.
"Over the 14 years that I’ve been in New Zealand, I have experienced a strong connection with the extremes of the elements, the vastness of the sky and the openness of the landscape, the surrounding ocean and the magnificent light wherever you are"
These first physical sensations and experiences of the landscape in Aotearoa flipped everything upside down for me. Coming from a Eurocentric theatre culture I always felt somehow disconnected from the inward-looking nature of human relations and thinking around space. I wanted to find a new way of making space. I started to consciously search for how to create and construct space that is charged with tension, both quiet and ready to be negotiated.
Over many years of working in New Zealand and collaborating with Pacifika, Māori and Pākehā artists, I have had the privilege of experiencing their unique outlook and deep connection to the land, the ocean and the wider universe. I realised that to understand the “space” I had to change my way of experiencing the world, that spaces become alive because of the relationships created within them. This has influenced me as an artist and shifted my practice. Through the work I have made in collaboration in New Zealand I believe I have been able to achieve a stronger relation to the space, by incorporating the larger environment and the people within it.
"I realised that to understand the “space” I had to change my way of experiencing the world, that spaces become alive because of the relationships created within them"
My involvement in a number of large-scale opera and dance performance projects in recent years in New Zealand and overseas has allowed me to experiment in various disciplines and within the thresholds of both formal theatre stages and less obvious found spaces. As a performance designer I am constantly reacting and responding to the text and the performers in the space. I like to create environments that seem temporary, suspended between meaning and reality
With each project I throw myself fully into creative and critical dialogues with other artists, scientists and academics. These encounters allow for different values and worldviews to come together, to collide and provoke new ideas to form, making theatre the place of cultural and social change.
One of those unexpected encounters has brought about this visionary project AWaka Odyssey. I always dreamed of making a project where Wellington’s harbour became the stage and the city its spectator. I did two projects on the Wellington waterfront as part of pop up theatre project Performance Arcade. Cargo was a project where I floated a shipping container in the middle of the harbour. I used shipping containers again for a sound and performance installation Freight outside Te Papa. I like working on a large scale, with monumental staging and large groups of performers. AWaka Odyssey which is part of the New Zealand Festival from 23 February 2018, is my biggest project yet.
I met Anna Marbrook more than ten years ago and Hoturoa (Hotu) Barclay-Kerr about two years ago, and we three comprise A Waka Odyssey Creative Team. I immediately felt inspired by their vision, openness, determination and leadership. I have admired Anna for her bravery in creating and realising the large-scale film projects with Hotu and waka hourua (traditional double-hulled sailing canoes). After that first meeting I just knew I had to be a part of this event.
Te Mana o te Moana: The arrival of the waka fleet to the Festival of Pacific Arts, Solomon Islands: Rawhitiroa Photography
I found myself accompanying Anna on coastal tours, which take waka hourua to marae in New Zealand's coastal towns such as Whitianga and Kennedy Bay, introducing waka to school kids. It was during these coastal tours that I quickly learnt about sailing, ancestral voyages, and how for many of the sailors participating in the journeys their existence is defined by their ancestral navigations. To survive in the middle of the mighty ocean is no easy feat and all were extremely aware, alert, generous, open and connected to each other and the environment.
Our work together as a creative team for this project has been a journey in itself. Our partnership shows that despite where we come from we can navigate our way towards a shared existence. It is a great example of how we can work together using traditional knowledge, art, culture and science and know that it has a powerful living presence in this world now.
We are living in a world that is in a state of chaos and emergency, facing dynamic climatic catastrophes and humanitarian crises. I believe that artists and their work must not exist in a vacuum but in the greater context of life. This is what I have been aspiring to achieve in my work.
"I believe that artists and their work must not exist in a vacuum but in the greater context of life. This is what I have been aspiring to achieve in my work".