Janae Van Panahon 2 Rebirth of the Natural World : Performative Void and Darkness

Student Spatial 2021 Credits
  • Lecturer
    Dorita Hannah
  • School
    The University of Auckland

With increasing urbanisation of Tāmaki Makaurau, layers of the built fabric have led to the suffocation of the natural world. This is seen in the expansion of a colonial city that continues to disregard the cultural spirituality of Māori in relation to landscapes and seascapes. This project aims to give rebirth to the natural world - expressed in the creation myth of Ranginui and Papatuanuku. The design intends to trace whakapapa from the beginning of time - through Te Kore (the great void) and Te Pō (the night). It offers the people of the city and the university a journey into the whenua (land or placenta) and provides a progressive experience of the six sequences of Te Pō according to the Lunar Cycle. Due to negative impacts of colonisation, the design aims to decolonise Albert Park and expose hidden layers of culture, spirituality and history. Albert Park is an ideal site for this project because of its existing underground tunnels (built in 1942) and its position as a focal point between the city and the university.

The journey starts with a descent into whenua from Alfred Street, which then leads to varying underground spaces, including the existing Albert Park tunnels. Varying conditions of darkness are used to tell the story of the Te Pō sequences. Through their passage into whenua, people encounter a series of liminal spaces leading to the performative void and dark realms, which can be activated to cater for different performances. This includes powhiri, haka, waiata, karetao, taonga pūoro, installations, exhibitions and inter-cultural events. With the idea of giving back to what was lost, the design consists of volcanic cave-like structures, native greenery, and water features. As a decolonising gesture, the proposed design with tunnel integration, essentially establishes zones for people to experience the natural world and to trace whakapapa - described by Dr Amanda Yates as "an encompassing genealogy of the non-human and human, the biologic, geologic, hydrospheric, and atmospheric" - within the urbanised city and university.

Furthermore, this project gives meaning to to the power in darkness, which gives existence to intangibilities - cultural spirituality, memories, imaginations, emotions and senses. Dark spaces are experienced differently due to varying individual responses and experiences. The design also acknowledges that void spaces are never empty and that space itself is a constantly changing phenomenon. Here we inhabit darkness and nothingness. Through this journey, we exist in the realms of reality and imagination: the physical and the intangible.