Talking to my father via Skype - mixed media - Emma Louise Pratt


Talking to my father via Skype - mixed media - Emma Louise Pratt

Talking to my father via Skype – mixed media – Emma Louise Pratt

1pm. My phone. I’m fumbling through the bags I have with me. Keys, sunglasses, black tape, Barbie, teaspoons, nappies, spare computer monitor…no phone. I’ve left it plugged in at the studio. Javier comments that perhaps that’s a good thing. Night and day, my phone glows with Facebook notifications and Whatsapp messages. A recent rush of activity has centred on a photo that a friend Aroha put up on Facebook of the College St School A Netball Team sitting shoeless with our coach Mrs Collis proudly holding the cup we won. We had famously beaten our rivals, St Mary’s -my mother later informed me of this later because I had completely forgotten and apparently it was a big thing. Aroha is now busy organising a netball team reunion via the comments under the photo.

To feed my social media addiction, I could either go into the office and fire up the computer or go back to the studio and get the phone. I choose neither. Instead, I choose to dry out a bit.

There was a moment while I was painting this morning in the studio when, as I ran my hands over the surface of the painting I was working on,  I asked myself:  Why do I paint? Why is manual mark making still, despite technological advances and social change, my first chosen media for visual communication?

I once asked Huhana Smith the same thing when we were in her studio down in Kuku near Otaki a couple years back. Her purpose built studio sits surrounded by cows and olive trees, a stones throw from her beloved Te Haakari wetland. There, every tree, every ridge, every stream, native grass and shell sings to her the stories of who she is and guides her in what she needs to do. This place is naturally reflected in her visual work, right down to the freight train that passes through on its regular trip to Auckland.

But why does she paint her world? Smith’s work is built up in painstaking detail, often in small daubs of paint. I’ve seen her breaking her back on the floor building up layers of colour and depth, little by little.

Her answer was that it relaxed her to make it all with her hands. I understand that. There is something satisfying that every brush stroke, mark or wash is made with your own hand. Your hands have rubbed away and scratched in and scribbled, you have cried and laughed over each piece. Then you take away the memory of each piece in those hands, etched into the muscles and stuck under your finger nails.

3am. I am trying to get Blanca to go back to sleep. My autopilot brain, fresh from dreaming is going through how I am going to “post” this scenario on Facebook, while another part of my brain is telling me to snap put of it.  Never look at Facebook before going to sleep. My dry out had lasted 24 hours.

I could ask myself in what negative ways is this virtual world, so removed from the tactile and immediate world affecting me. I could reflect on the fact that the people I “reach” with my posts or whose comments or images I “like” or even go so far as to comment on if I have five extra seconds, or the blogs I read or the news I flick through is more information in a day than my Great Grandmother dealt with in a year.

11am. I’m watching a man approach me – probably in his early sixties. He waves at someone behind me. I can tell by the pleasure spreading over his face that he is waving to someone he loves. A couple passes by. The man leans to throw something in the bin and the women reaches over in a familiar gesture, to pull the edge of his jumper back into place. They continue on. I pull my phone out and check for updates while I wait for Javier.

There is a firmament of twinkling lights that I can feel all around me. I know that Slavko in Christchurch is working on his doco, Anna just went to a New Zealand Literature evening at the embassy in Berlin and thought of me. She sends me a link to the “Brown Brother” speech which I had not seen and I send it via Whatsapp to Monique. Natalie is getting water for the blessing of the Triennial in Auckland which makes me think of our Taranaki water back at the apartment. Leanne has just had her baby and Sarah “likes” the painting I’m working on. Maggie has left a comment under the netball photo. I see an image of Huhana at the wetland uploaded to her timeline yesterday and another further down of her laughing. I can hear her laugh, it comes deep from her belly and I chuckle at the knowledge of it. I put the phone away, ponder the beginning of a new painting and watch people a while.

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