Down Renton Road in Māngere, on Ihumātao whenua, pōhutakawa trees cling to the edges of the land that meets the sea. Half way between up and down, these weathered beings endure, roots exposed, horizontally resilient. Their gnarly reaching branches grow low to the ground, as if to confuse and cradle passers-by. Or me, at least.
The rugged beach down Renton Road has been a place of escape, solitude and reflection for almost 20 years. I’ve marvelled at these rule-breaking trees, sat in them and listened to kōtare, walked face-first into branches and become disoriented by their upside-down-sideways perspective-bending finesse.
During Auckland’s longest lockdown that started in mid-August 2021, I made regular trips down to Renton Road, daughter and dog in tow. These visits, our only outings, were and continue to be opportunities to recharge, and for the three of us in our bubble, time to look outwards and not at each other for a change.
I often take a heavy heart down Renton Road. The impetus to drive there, a 30 kilometre round trip, often comes from a point of mental messiness, reduced clarity. Whatever is happening with the tide, the wind, the other activities that often happen down Renton Road, or the state of the beach or carpark, just being there soothes the wairua. I used to watch planes taking off and landing at Auckland Airport from Renton Road beach and think the peace of this space for me was maybe the feeling of being close to the exit at all times.
On my last trip down Renton Road, I was trying to work out how to articulate where Vunilagi Vou is at. How to share more decisions made out of necessity and principles, stretching further, digging deeper to survive in a climate of chronic crisis. How would I be able to articulate resilience, and offer confidence, whilst watching a pre-pandemic business model crack and creak, bend and breach…
I sat in a pōhutakawa tree and listened to the kōtare. I was reminded that Vunilagi Vou was born on the walls of my parents’ downstairs room in 2018 when I initially left South Auckland to reverse migrate to my hometown of Suva, Fiji. I was on a high that year, producing talks, exhibitions and projects in Casablanca, London, Berlin and Melbourne. I ended up reverse reverse migrating back to South Auckland in 2019 determined that Southside was where Vunilagi Vou needed to be.
I do a lot of #ThrowbackThursday across social media channels to this period and Vunilagi Vou’s first nine months of operation, which included more inspiring opportunities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kinshasa and Adelaide. It wasn’t until the middle of 2020 that the prospect of having no international travel within the scope of Vunilagi Vou, hit home, and in reality, I’ve been mourning this loss deeply ever since.
The pōhutakawa trees down Renton Road feel like a pretty good visual for where Vunilagi Vou is at right now. The roots have always been strong, even as the ground that initially facilitated her growth has been eroded. Vunilagi Vou has now been in operation for longer during the pandemic than before it. The pandemic projects and pivots, collaborations and commissions, the shapeshifting… everything has added to Vunilagi Vou’s growth, but it’s just growing… a bit weird now.
Apparently it takes 90 days to break a habit. By this time, its daily control over our lives has diminished or disappeared, or become manageable. We adapt and recalibrate with new habits whilst our relationship with the old habit is repeatedly analysed and deconstructed, opening up the potential for quiet existential dread, on a daily basis. I quit smoking and drinking alcohol 97 days ago.
Next week it’ll be 90 days since Vunilagi Vou operated full-time onsite at The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara. Like last year’s long lockdown, this period has been time for transformation and re-shaping born from frustration, endless domestic labour and deep reflection on the precarious sustainability, ethics and financial insecurity inherent within Aotearoa’s creative and cultural sector.
It feels like no two days of Vunilagi Vou’s existence since late 2018 have been the same. Massive upheavals, tremendous highs and lows, and the constant, non-stop hustle required to craft an independent creative work plan fuelled on mad ideas and confidence, calculated hype, and the trade and exchange of pictures and stories.
It has taken 90 days, most of this time with no childcare and no family support, to think about where Vunilagi Vou is today, and to come face-to-face with a niggling disappointment, a sadness, and commit again to re-thinking and re-strategising where things can go from here.
In the interest of survival:
- Vunilagi Vou will no longer be in the business of producing events.
- Vunilagi Vou is moving out of the custom-designed mezzanine office space at The Alexander Cafe as of this month. Celebrate Aotearoa will remain in the space and is super excited to open up to customers as soon as The Alexander Cafe is able to open for in-house service.
- Vunilagi Vou 2.0 no longer has the capacity to offer Yoga & Meditation class due to heavy construction and disruption on the housing development site next door.
- Commissioned writing, consultancy and the VV Online Shop will be the key focus areas until further notice.
- I’m moving to Wellington.