encountering everyday resourcefulness: a drifting assemblage

Peter’s kitchen, Auckland, New Zealand, 2006. Photo by Xin Cheng

It was in Peter’s kitchen that my eyes opened.

A spring day in 2006, I visited Peter in the Auckland suburbs to brew a plan of making Captain Cook’s Manuka Beer (the story was that they improvised with local ingredients after surviving a long journey from England). In his rented flat, beside the cooking stove, I saw vistas of alpine prairies and galloping horses. ‘They are old calendar pages–to stop the oil splatters on the wall’, he said with a shrug. Practical, but also beautiful, to my eyes.

At the time I had been struggling with the accumulating stuff–a.k.a. future art materials in my flat. After one year of attending art-school, I had started to appreciate the material potential of ‘junk’. Thus, rusty bits from the side of the road became ‘wabi-sabi’ objects. Accumulation comes with the burden of chaos. How do I take care of them? I sought help from the professionals: books on ‘storage’, ‘living with collections’ and ‘interior design’. Flicking through glossy photos of New York lofts and Parisian apartments, I wondered: How come none of the solutions related to me? When could I have a consultation with a designer to work out the best solution for my possessions?

From Peter’s kitchen, another world of making – outside the glossy books and professional studios – opened out to me. Walking out the door, I immediately noticed a letterbox growing out of a bucket filled with concrete. From there, my gaze shifted to the physical environments I was passing through. I started rambling around searching for these things, drifting and getting lost, hitch-hiking and couchsurfing… chance encounters in friends’ and future-friends’ homes, mountain huts, alley ways, backyards, community gardens, workshops, sheds, parking lots…

Wandering became more like treasure-hunting, an adventure where I never knew what I might find, like the Situationists’ dérive and the walks of Architectural Detective Agency and ROJO society. Unlike going through a book, gallery or shop, where things have been displayed for attention, I had to look for them. With that, comes a certain pleasure – the delights of discovering things which bring a smile for myself. Over time, I’ve learnt to tune my awareness, to spot things in the corners of my eyes, or follow a feeling down a small alley.