Wai-rua, Wairua

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‘Waterways precede and sustain our existence in the present.’


Walks and a screening around Waiwhetu to explore how water can be valued in different ways. Connecting 
two different bodies of water (the stream and aquifer), water aging and whakapapa, the project involves Te Atiawa o Waiwhetu, local community and GNS Science. Voiceover and script: teri Puketapu.

Dates:   Sat 25 Feb / Sun 26 Feb / Sat 4 Mar
Where:   Te Maori Maori Treasures, 58 Guthrie Street, Waterloo, Lower Hutt

Plus:    Harakeke and photogram workshop with Johanna Mechen, Angela Kilford and Aliyah Winter andwWeaving and clay workshops with Christine Fagan
Date:      Wed 1 Mar, 11:00 am and 1:00 pm
Where:   Common Ground Hub, Centre City Plaza, 49 Queens Drive, Lower Hutt

The Waiwhetu stream (and its now culverted tributaries) and the aquifer bore at Te Maori are this project’s focal point for a conversation between Te Atiawa, the environment and the greater community.Wai-rua, wairua explores how we can combine different approaches to water – connecting two different bodies of water and connecting the communities in and around Waiwhetu.

The project includes: exploratory walks with locals and visitors to map the waterways (seen and hidden), community photographic workshops (working with water from the aquifer), and the development and projection of a film.

The concepts of scientifically dating water and the exploration of water through whakapapa involve multiple knowledge systems.

“Wairua is a Maori concept of spirit, or the spiritual element pertaining to all things living and non-living” write the artists. “Wairua can be taken to mean either ‘two waters”, or “that which is contained within”.

“Waterways can be cited in pepeha (the way in which you introduce yourself), as part of the whakapapa of a particular iwi, hapu or individual. This puts us in dialogue with our environment. Waterways precede and sustain our existence in the present”’

The suburb of Waiwhetu holds a special place in the Hutt Valley. Home to one of the largest urban marae in the country, Arohanui ki te Tangata, Waiwhetu is also where you can find the Te Maori cultural centre. Te Maori houses a gym, radio station,  health and childcare centres.

Arohanui ki te Tangata means “good will to all men”, a name chosen to symbolise relations between Maori and European since the area’s settlement in the 1800s.

Local Pakeha and Te Atiawa alike cherish their relationship with Waiwhetu Stream: not so long ago known as the most polluted stream in New Zealand and now the subject of much community restoration. Waiwhetu means ‘star reflecting water’ named after the original pa site. Te Atiawa have a private bore to the aquifer here which promises to provide clean water for the health of the local community for the future. This is due to open shortly, with a pipeline to providing full access to the wider public.

The artists are working with Te Atiawa members to voice Iwi views and histories of water, and GNS Science to visualise the issues of water aging in the aquifer. A visual whakapapa of the waterways in the 100-acre area – once set aside for Iwi living near the Waiwhetu Stream – will be created. There is also research with scientists at the GNS Science Groundwater aging lab in Lower Hutt. The aging of aquifer water determines the health of our drinking water. Several decades of recent agricultural and industrial history have left pollution of this water source, which is still untapped.

“It is our intention to produce a project which explores and highlights these varying dynamics and understandings of the importance of water, and offer this back to the greater community. Different components of our project will intertwine or echo each other as we share research and continue conversations about the concerns over the quality of the water that lies beneath and the politics of bringing it to the surface.”


Johanna Mechen is a Waiwhetu local and in 2014 completed a major video essay on the Waiwhetu Stream Stepping into Social Waters, first shown at The Dowse Art Museum. She is interested in exploring how photography and film can engage with a site and its community in order to tell ecological, historical and cultural stories, while extending the ways these media can communicate.

Angela Kilford (Te Whanau A Kai, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu) is a fellow Massey Masters of Fine Art graduate. She is interested in how performance can explore contested memories and elevate oral histories as a way of recording the past.

Aliyah Winter has recently collaborated with Angela for No Stone Unturned with Te Roopu Raranga O Manaia in 2016, and they worked as performance artists side by side as part of The Levelling of Puke Ahu at the Old Dominion Museum with Enjoy Gallery in 2015. Aliyah has recently had an exhibition at new artist-run space Meanwhile in Wellington.

Date: November 15, 2016