“I shall stop reading my compass,
Twisting it this way and that,
Watching the metallic blue needle
Make the decisions. Instead,
I shall lay a finger on my pulse”
- Grace Blindell (Sam Hamilton’s grandmother)
0˚ longitude is a fixed and arbitrary starting point that separates Earth’s eastern and western hemispheres. In 1884 during the International Meridian Conference, a convening took place to establish a prime meridian, the longitude of opaque power, locating it at Greenwich, England. Twenty-seven countries, represented by 41 delegates, participated in the conference to determine many of the concepts that govern our present circumstances. Over the last half decade, constructs such as enforced universal time standard, which established an economy of time, space, and a pattern of control, are currently undergoing revision and have received critical questioning. As a scholar of decoloniality and a migrant Pākehā New Zealander born in former Yugoslavia, I am interested in artistic endeavours that raise questions, explore, and critique the dominance of Western European history and knowledge-making on our shared society.
Te Moana Meridian is an anti-white-supremacist project and a radical proposal to reset the prime meridian into the vast Pacific Ocean, Te-moana-nui-o-Kiwa, while reflecting on the historical and contemporary impact of colonialism.
Regulated global time zones were ultimately fabricated in the late nineteenth century to accommodate the logistics of imperial, colonial, and commercial expansion. Intimately imbedding the cruelties of such endeavours into how time and space have come to be reckoned today. History-making of the prime meridian was a site-specific exclusionary exercise.
Te Moana Meridian offers a different world based on resistance to the linear chronologies of chronos and kairos, or quantitative and qualitative time. By representing the past, exploring the present, and imagining the future, it acknowledges our current world of many contradictions and a need for deliberation and journeying towards several destinations, different from its point of departure. A meridian that is transcending our differences, prioritising fluid indeterminacy while living in our imaginations is necessary in contemplating the common future of humanity.
This deep research into the histories of colonisation, is as much about exploring the messy, unfinished, and contested applications of chronology as it is about a reminder that linear time is a construct of imperialism. The questions: Do we even need a prime meridian, the master’s clock, and other widely “naturalised” mechanisms of temporality? are a reminder that a tear in the Western knowledge system has become visible. By unfolding and looking back at the past, we have the power to understand how it is intertwined into our present and the role it plays in our non-linear, pluralistic explorations of the future. The artistic initiatives like Te Moana Meridian and leadership endeavours of the Global South are crucial to ensure a successful re-imagining and re-defining the possibilities of time, beyond the borders of our current imaginations.
By disregarding the “Western Hour” and its linear chronologies, Te Moana Meridian is a proposal offering different perspectives and fragments of the future yet to be written, spanning Pacific geographies, generations, while nurturing the speculative versions of the present in the world of blue economy and oceanic entanglements.
Through this process of proposing alternatives for future decolonial timekeeping in the form of hypothetical ‘what-ifs’, we are questioning the entrenched nature of dominant knowledge systems to understand what we have become accustomed and why: If the prime meridian can be imagined into existence, and the Western world can make us blind to its imperial motives, can we question its purpose and daydream it out of our reality?
As Linda Tuhiwai Smith and co-authors point out, “There is a seascape, landscape and mindscape that has informed and constituted the legacies of language, the storying of peoples and the understandings of human endeavour and survival that is written into the veins of what we now know as mātauranga [Māori knowledge and ways of knowing]”
What if we let the seascape of the ocean that takes up over a third of the globe become our new timekeeper, with over 20,000 island landscapes and close to 1,800 different cultures and languages, all of whom share common ancestry to define our future mindscape?
This capacity to step beyond the horizon and employ art as a means of accessing story and knowledge, recognises the modern construction of what we understand as history and the histories that have been erased through its imposition. Questioning who writes history entails not only questioning the nature of voice and representation within narratives, but equally reveals our need to self-identify based on history. Similarly, our understanding of who and what validates knowing and knowledge brings about further sensitivities and concerns, as history is bound by colonial past. Given the nature of these polemics, it is through genuine, structural, and long-term dedicated redress of these erasures and making invisible histories visible that we can view coloniality as far from over, but all over. Te Moana Meridian is the start of this dialogue and an example of art not as an object, but a public statement of our own convictions where we propose to practice decolonial design.
Showcasing the power of collaborative contribution to art making, Te Moana Meridian is a creation celebrating co-production across geopolitical boundaries. This is a call to a paradigm shift. It is a global reclamation through oceanic channels in a present tense vision towards a new and intensified relationship with water, and an opportunity to reconsider our relationships to individuality, borders, sense of time, economies, and ourselves.
This proposal coincides with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) and is a micro action of monumental speculative fictional proportions. It is an artwork presented as an experience and an experiment within a very real context and intention. By rejecting the universal Western knowledge system, we instantaneously refuse its institution and the power it holds over our lives. These ideas are not novel, but a reflection of the current shift in culture.
Orchestrated by Sam Tam Ham (Sam Hamilton)(Pākehā/Aotearoa), whose effort lies in probing the issues of his own Pākehā identity, the proposal examines the intertwined nature of power and white-supremacy to revisit historical and theoretical assumptions. Taking the steps to dismantle the ‘master's house’ and the master’s clock (“For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” - Audre Lorde) the artist is also investigating their own implied narrative over the need to impose a new one. Instead, by examining how we come to understand things within and through co-creation, the work redefines the porous approach to making art by fostering co-production in partnership with other artists and practitioners: Mere Tokorahi Boynton (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāi Tūhoe), Holland Andrews (NYC, USA), Dr. Tru Paraha (Ngāti Hineāmaru, Ngāti Kahu o Torongare), Crystal Atkins Meneses & The Lincoln City Children’s Choir (Oregon, US), Clara Chon (Aotearoa), Vaimaila Urale (Sāmoan/Aoteearoa), Rhonda Tibble (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu), Alexa Stark (US) and others; while engaging the public in an active debate. Presented as a multichannel video, the work centres the nature of resonance and dissonance of cross-contaminated time periods to evoke the emotional texture of narrative tenderness. There are moments of exchange and of visual musicality that reinterpret the patterns of the seacoast resonating throughout the chorus. In this choreography of voices oscillating between uniformity and simplicity of the oceanic splendour, differences and commonality are amplified, revealing the power of the individual and in the collective. We are witnessing the way works are articulated from one to the other, transmitting information, where only we can decide if this experience is pleasantly harmonious or unsettling and dissonant.
Combining social participation and embodied justice, Te Moana Meridian is situated within the lineage of contemporary ecological and political projects with a collective agency. If we are truly inviting the scholarship on colonial legacies, imperialism, and unequal exchange, true decoloniality must involve action beyond the academic and further than a thought experiment. It must also involve the economic considerations, the materialist understanding of capitalism and the contemporary challenges of delinking and gradual transition to a pluriverse.
This proposal goes beyond the domain of collaborative co-creation to make us all invested by highlighting our duty to be engaged with our world as well as our place within it. It’s an attempt to overcome the political and colonial paralysis imposed by the colonial dynamics that continue to define cultural narratives today, but also the dominant ideas that have emerged from that initial paralysis. Te Moana Meridian is not a rehearsal but an invitation to reimagine the new rogue meridian worthy of our collective expressions, one that contains multitudes.
With experiments we are guided towards knowledge. As we learn, we need to allow for the awareness take place, that will lead us to making considerate steps. Delinking is figuring out how this new information fits, by breaking old habits and building new ones. The pressure to figure it all out at once is what keeps us from getting started. This is a proposal towards the many initial steps of the unpredictable, messy world we are part of. We are not the same as we were when the prime meridian was established, just as we are not who we were by the time we began to contemplate an alternative. These are moments to savour and be present for, while we allow them to wash over us.
Here's to the extended talks on unfinished journeys and collisions.
Let our imaginations migrate.
Listen to the rising tide.
We’re almost there, flowing like time,
In the genealogical relationship in conversation with the Ocean
Beyond the “Western Hour”.
It is a gift.
Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110- 114. 2007.
Smith, L. T., Maxwell, T. K., Puke, H., & Temara, P. (2016). Indigenous knowledge, methodology and mayhem: What is the role of methodology in producing Indigenous insights? A discussion from mātauranga Māori.