Jack Gray (Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Kahungunu)

Jack Gray reflects on his family drop-in a year on

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Today Facebook lovingly reminded me that a year ago I had facilitated an activity at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki for one of their Saturday Family Drop-in sessions organised by Martin Langdon. The activity we instigated was a collective drawing that was a durational communally made work, with taped-to-the-floor butcher's paper panels and crayons in black, brown and maroon.

There was a crossover of other happenings in the Gallery, including the final weekend of Lisa Reihana’s epic (and since highly awarded) digitally reimagined wallpaper work, in Pursuit of Venus [Infected].

The sense of response both to the exhibition and to the drop-in event was part of a dialogue about how we as artists deal with continuums of place making, the revealing of nonlinear narratives, and a call for more interactive choice making for spectatorship and participation. The crux of these events related ambiguously to ways collective conscious making could be seen as cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary actions, both performance-based and ceremonial in nature.

The day unfolded as most durational space holding does, with a proposition of an open and inclusive space, the first floor area, caretakers – Martin, some Gallery Assistants and myself, and the raw materials – tangible and non-tangible.

I was eager to try out the idea of getting a mass group of people to voluntarily activate the space by drawing upon it, without too much need for a prescribed outcome (aside from drawing and collecting symbolic imagery) and with gentle encouragement and invitation to do so.

Initially we started in a formally choreographed way, with the crayons laid out equally on the sides of the rectangular paper area, and some instructions to move across the paper, to pass crayons from one person to the next and to collectively move around the event in a circulating manner. Once this was up and running and a sense that flow, movement, rhythm were established as foundational principles, the work itself had a mauri or life force of its own.

There were many things to explore, such as how did others get involved? Passing people crayons helped. Or how other types of connection could be established, such as conversations about what people were doing in both their drawing and life in general. How might different transformations might happen? Such as asking a participant to lie down to start drawing her outline – something that eventually got elaborated on as a past impression. 


I was innately curious about how Aucklanders might unveil a seismic vibrational relationship with Papatūānuku (Earth, Earth mother and wife of Ranginui, Sky father), and for the most part was taken with the way that people were content to make abstract shapes and patterns. It seemed to be tourists who were more likely to draw actual objects, draw themselves or write their names (as a frame for some type of Visitor’s Book).

We had all ages and all types of interactions. In one of those moments I asked a woman to dance with me on the paper responding to the space; at times people noticed the unfolding stories but at other times not so much. There was a blissful sense of contribution and manaakitanga (hospitality, kindness, generosity, support) that were catalysts and functions of the drawing. Throughout the process I was learning about people and how they made and imagined their landscapes and horizons. How long they liked to be involved for, how deeply engrossed they got, and also how private the act of contributing via art could be for some of them. 

Hands down without a doubt, the most access came from children, who were free in their minds, hearts and bodies. This project ended up as a giant canvas that I wanted to keep because in many ways I valued what had been transcribed that day. I used it as a backdrop to an artist talk I gave a few days later in the Gallery’s Auditorium about ‘Mitimiti’ – a show and research project I embarked on with Atamira Dance Company.

Incidentally, I developed a ceremonial theatre activation using chalk and based a lot of the facilitation on what I had learnt at the Gallery. It is now a year later, I have travelled the world as an artist in residence and visiting scholar at Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University, where I have developed other versions of collective map making, theatre protocols and city walks.

Returning to Aotearoa briefly I was invited by Carol Brown to share some of my interdisciplinary practices with the dance students at The University of Auckland. My presentation included playing with the original drawing artefact, that I had cut into manageable smaller sections to become transportable.

The students were able to interact with it in a jigsaw-like fashion, rework the pieces together, and make danced responses towards the idea of reconstructing time/space and notions of continuum. We utilised the drawings as inspirational movement opportunity.