Spiral Collectives
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Spiral Collectives

Remembering Spiral, 2015-2022

by Marian Evans

Some beautiful things happened for Spiral in 2021. Poet and academic Emer Lyons offered to select and introduce a major collection of Spiral founder Heather McPherson’s poems: some already published and others that Heather left ready for publication when she died in 2017. Emer calls the collection Dirty Laundry and Spiral will publish it. Before then, we’ll publish i do not cede, its eBook taster, with Heather’s title, Emer’s elegant introduction and Biz Hayman’s also elegant cover. (I’ve been learning about eBooks, practising with a Spiral handbook, Women’s Film Festivals & #WomenInFilm Databases.)

And there were some surprising and affirming moments from ‘outside’. In her review of Patricia Grace’s From the Centre: A Writer’s Life, Emma Espiner wrote, ‘If you consider the history of New Zealand writing, it is both frightening and inspiring how influential the Spiral collective has been’. Out here, under the radar, that was so special to read. And then @chocmilk, after making J C Sturm’s Wikipedia page a most glorious thing, created another glorious page, for Spiral. It documents Spiral’s history as one that includes Kidsarus 2 (children’s picture books), many iterations of Spiral collectives — in Auckland, Christchurch, Colville, Dunedin and Wellington — and The Women’s Gallery, in Wellington from 1979–1984.

There were some great questions, too. The most intriguing one came from a distinguished older writer. She asked me ‘How does Spiral work?’ I liked the question but couldn’t immediately answer her. After discussion with others, I asked what lay behind her question and attempted to articulate an adequate response. Coming to the end of this report-writing marathon, in progress for a couple of years, and after more discussion with others, I’ve added some thoughts about how I think Spiral has worked, from within and outside the collectives I’m most familiar with.

Between 2015 and now, we also lost women who gave generously to Spiral’s work. So I’ve included brief tributes to those who’ve died recently, with links to any more substantial obituaries and with hope that the next generation will write fuller biographies. Warm thanks for their contributions to Allie Eagle, Bridie Lonie, Fiona Lovatt, Gaylene Preston, Tiffany Thornley and to all the photographers, especially A.A.M Bos, Adrienne Martyn, Arekahānara, Jane Zusters and Pearl Sidwell. These tributes continue the 2018 list of our cultural mothers, grandmothers, aunties and sisters who are no longer with us, chalked on a wall in This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata-Tangi-ā-Tahu, a multi-media exhibition about Heather McPherson and her peers at Mokopōpaki, 454 Karangahape Road, Auckland; and reproduced in its eponymous publication, in 2019.

This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu (2018). Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

As I (almost) finished writing this, in late December 2021, Keri Hulme died. Cushla Parekowhai (Cushla-Kararaina Parekowhai AKA Dr P, Cush etc) and I wrote an obituary for the Guardian; and learned a lot. More is coming, from others associated with Keri and with Spiral. And the Booker Prizes site has a new Keri Hulme section.

This story begins in 2015, when embargoes expired on some Spiral and Women’s Gallery archives held in the National Library’s research library, the Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL). It derives mostly from my own lived experience as a regular collective member in Wellington and Dunedin who’s familiar with the archives, and there are of course many gaps. It comes with deep gratitude for assistance from those ‘others’.

It seems a little strange to remember now, but when Spiral began in the 70s, we wanted to connect to and learn from our cultural grandmothers, mothers, aunties and sisters here and around the globe. Because, as the Women’s Gallery 1980 manifesto, written by a group that included Heather McPherson, stated: ‘We lack a positive tradition to encourage and confirm us in what we see.’

Heather in the circle that created the Women’s Gallery manifesto, 1980. Screenshot from raw footage by Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson, Auckland Women’s Community Video. Courtesy ATL.

We needed to know who these women were and to make well-informed connections to their lives and work. But they were often very very difficult to find. Some of us committed ourselves to reading only writing by women. And various Spiral collectives and individuals committed our/themselves to retaining our own archives and to depositing them — unexpurgated — in a public collection, so those who followed us would have a little less of the painful gap that we’d experienced.

But our domestic and Spiral lives were often intertwined and some of the many letters in the archives — often written when phones were attached to the wall, there was no email and a distance call was rare and expensive — had the capacity to hurt living people or their families. Others, documenting episodes where we’d hurt others or felt hurt, were too tender to expose. Some could be exploited by an unscrupulous researcher: any ATL researcher is allowed to photograph documents ‘for research purposes’ and if one of them then reproduced a document or image without permission, online or on a t-shirt, the legal and emotional costs of challenging that would be beyond what any of us — or our families — could afford. These risks can be mitigated but not eliminated by requiring a researcher to seek permission to view material from whomever deposited it. But that isn’t always enough. So we embargoed some folders for decades.

When the embargo ended in 2015, Bridie Lonie and I had to review the relevant folders. It was a while since we’d had anything to do with Spiral and the Women’s Gallery; we’d been off living very full lives elsewhere. How would we best approach this? How could we make the most material freely available, without permissions required? Was some of it still too sensitive to be listed in the public catalogue and available to researchers? Some of those who wanted an embargo had died. Others were absent from our lives. How could we plan future care for any archives that we want to embargo until after our deaths? (In early 2022, we’re still finalising the project.)

Also in 2015, my writing buddy Michele Amas and I made pompoms for a hat I’d knitted; and I visited Auckland to deliver it to my new grandchild. I stayed in Jane Zusters’ peaceful bach on Waiheke (thanks again, Jane!) and commuted to Mountain View Road in Western Springs, where the grandchild and his parents lived. Just up the road, very conveniently, Heather McPherson lived in one of Aorewa McLeod’s garden flats.

Heather was her usual warm and welcoming self, much as she was a year later when Allie Eagle photographed her, speaking with her beloved friend June.

Heather McPherson, November 2016. Photo: Allie Eagle. Just right of Heather’s head the Anna Keir drawing of the Women’s Gallery collective (1980) now held at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

The visit wasn’t all sociability. Heath and I gave Cush our peer review of her draft MLIS thesis, a brilliant great beast of a vibrant thing that was/is more of a PhD really. It was Heather’s last sustained evaluation.

Then Cush gave us her parcel for the new baby — pūkeko gumboots, super small sized pukeko plumage inspired royal blue and red long sleeved t, and pre-loaded North Shore Libraries pukeko junior membership card on the end of a handy, hard-to-loose-down-the-back-of-the-stroller ‘I’m Union’ lanyard — and stayed at Heather’s to absorb the more challenging aspects of our assessments. And Khadisha Harvey joined Allie Eagle, Heather and me for a visit to the baby. We had a happy time around the kitchen table, where Khady performed some magic from her days as a Karitane nurse.

Not long after, Heather’s lung cancer returned. In January 2016 I started this Spiral site for her.

Tiffany Thornley was also in touch with Heather in 2015, ‘because I wanted to write about the early days of the women’s art movement…She was very open to writing and sharing information. I read about the first exhibition held in the CSA Gallery in Christchurch at the time of the third Women’s Convention 1977. I was at university and very involved with the political workshops and though I was at art school and had made contact with the women around Trafalgar Street I was more involved with the radical feminists from Dunedin, so I missed out being part of that exhibition. No Facebook in those days.’

‘It’s all a bit of a blur and that was another reason to contact Heather. I read what she had written about that exhibition and I loved the phrase From the scraps of the patriarchy I made myself anew. When I asked her about it she felt sure it wasn’t just from her, it must have come from someone else.’

Tiffany also remembers that Heather didn’t hold grudges. When she described a poetry evening of mostly men reading their poems she ‘didn’t seem bitter or angry as so many us could be about the imbalance. She just got on with it and organised things for women…Heather had such acceptance and didn’t push herself forward, she was supportive and loving.’

Jane Zusters, Heather McPherson, Christchurch (1975). Giclée print, edition of five, 23.5 x 20 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mokopōpaki, Auckland.

‘Anyway I had been using patchwork and embroidery around that time and I had these lovely scraps of old fashioned material that a friend had given me.’

Tiffany used those scraps to make this quilt.

Tiffany Thornley, From the scraps of the patriarchy I made myself anew (2016). Embroidery, stitching on textile, 99 x 110 cm. Courtesy the artist.

‘I really enjoy doing needlework [but] I’m not an expert. I mostly do simple stitches such as chain or blanket stitch.’

Tiffany Thornley, From the scraps of the patriarchy I made myself anew (2016) (detail).

‘I treasure older pieces of embroidered household stuff, table clothes and aprons particularly. I sew for pleasure and I collect fabric and small embroidered items like tray cloths and combine them in to patchwork hangings. Even in the early days I made soft patchwork doors as part of an installation for the first Christchurch Women’s Arts Festival in 1978. I’d forgotten that, so it’s good to write about this.’

When Heather left Mountain View Road in late 2016, en route to a rest home in Hamilton, I packed up her archives for deposit at ATL. Cush kindly organised disposal of the non-archival residue and drove the big boxes of files and manuscripts (and me) to Wellington, with a farewell visit to Heather en route. Back home, I set to work listing the contents of the boxes on a spreadsheet, as instructed by ATL.

Michele Amas 1961–2016

Just after Christmas in 2016 Michele Amas died. Our writing buddy relationship was fluid, laughter-filled and informed by our lived experience as single mothers. When she became ill it encompassed gardening as well as making those pompoms.

Michele was never directly involved with Spiral. But her vibrant example as an remarkable actor and poet and playwright inspired me and many other women. Her plays, Mother Goose and The Pink Hammer, are available to license here. Her poetry collections, After the Dance and Walking Home are available here.

Heather McPherson 1942–2017

And then Heather died. Cush represented Spiral at Heather’s funeral.

A little later, at the Māori dealer gallery Mokopōpaki, Cush as its licensed Tea-Lady, Dr P, and Jacob Tere, Keeper of the House, began to develop This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu.

Mokopōpaki, open from March 2017-March 2021— ‘the smallest but warmest and brownest dealer gallery in Auckland city’ according to Dr P — had two main rooms. You stepped into a light grey showroom and then moved into the Brown Room.

This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu (2018). Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

Jacob defines the ‘brownest’ colour as the gallery’s point of difference compared with the traditional sterile, white-walled exhibition space.

‘The brown walls represent the earth and speak of a world with a Māori centre. So many of us come from other places and other locations, but all of us have a story to tell. Here is where they can share and talk about them, and where they have come from. Whanaungatanga is the connection that holds everything together,’ he said.

Jacob finds artists who have been marginalised, or worse, forgotten, and Heather and her peers fitted right into this category.

And of course I was happy to help with This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu. As Bridie and I reviewed those restricted folders at ATL — sometimes with help from Tilly Lloyd (our co-author on A Women’s Picture Book: 25 Women Artists from Aotearoa New Zealand, 1988) and others— I collected copies of almost-forgotten images and documents that Jacob and Dr P might like to see and consider for inclusion in the exhibition. The multi-media Creative New Zealand-funded exhibition opened 1 March 2018 and closed 14 April.

In a celebratory follow-up show, Domestic #3 Ahimaru, 17 October-30 November 2019, the space was once more opened up to a group of women artists. As customary, tea was served, accompanied by green herb and onion muffins, soft curd cheese and pickles.

‘It’s out with the old and in with the new as across generations’, Mokopōpaki wrote. ‘The conceptual advantages of an exuberant spring clean are vigorously embraced. Re-energised and freshly aired, Mokopōpaki again acknowledges the ongoing influence of Heather McPherson.’

Heather’s symbolic return to Mokopōpaki included the long awaited blessing and launch of This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu, the richly illustrated catalogue that documents the earlier exhibition.

L-R: Aunty Eva and Whaea Lilla in front of PĀNiA!’s The True Artist Helps the World by Asking for Trust (After Bruce Nauman) (2019). Photo: Mokopōpaki (November 2019)

Ample trays of warm ‘Post colonial sweet and savoury’ muffins with signature low-sugar fruit platter were then served.

In the catalogue, Dr P wrote about the intense critique she received during the Mountain View Road session in 2015, describing herself as Heather’s last little chick pea.

Dianne Rereina Potaka-Wade, This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu (2018). Front cover and cartoon for tāniko and screenprint. Courtesy the artist, Mokopōpaki & Spiral.

And during Ahimaru, Dr P’s Natura Abhorret Vacuum: Nature Abhors a Vacuum filled the Shop Window, accompanied by Knowing me, Knowing you, a sound and mixtape compilation by Diana Byrami.

Dr P, Natura Abhorret Vacuum: Nature Abhors a Vacuum (2019). Mixed media installation with Pear Pyrus communis, Williams’ Bon Chrétien; Grape Vitis vinifera, Albany Surprise; Apple Malus domestica, Lady in Red; Cherry Prunus avium, Lapins; Lemon Citrus limon, Meyer; Lime Citrus aurantiifolia, Bearss; Orange Citrus sinensis, Washington Navel; Fig Ficus carica, Mrs Williams; Fig Ficus carica, Black Mission; Rose Rosa, Dublin Bay; Rose Rosa, White Romance; Lavender Lavandula stoechas; Parsley Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum, Italian Flat Leaf; Sage Salvia officinalis; Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis; Thyme Thymus vulgaris, Goldair vacuum cleaner, plastic pots and trays, wooden trellis, fixings. Overall dimensions variable. Diana Byrami, Knowing me, Knowing you (2019). Sound, mixtape compilation. Courtesy the artists and Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

Staying with the chick pea theme, Dr P also wrote out this recipe.

And later made these objects, using a photo from our road trip to Wellington with Heather’s files.

Cushla Parekowhai, Dr P’s Organic Chickpeas (2020). Photo: A.A.M. Bos

To complement the This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu exhibition, a Spiral collective — Janet Charman, Lynne Ciochetto and I — published Heather’s This Joyous, Chaotic Place: Garden Poems, with a cover illustration by Heather’s old friend Joanna Margaret Paul (1945–2003). It was a great combo.

Janet, Marina Bachmann and Sue Fitchett had used the Spiral umbrella to publish their Drawing Together poetry collection in 1985. Janet’s Cold Snack won the New Zealand Poetry Award in 2008 and her latest, ninth, collection is The Pistils (Otago University Press 2022).

Janet’s partner died during the Covid-19 restrictions and the poems explore loss, gender, environment, and politics and her experience with transition — to the digital age, to single life, to carbon neutral.

Janet was a dear friend of Heather’s and her visits and regular delivery of an overseas literary journal brightened Heather’s days during her final illness.

Lynne was part of the very early Christchurch Spiral collectives. She introduced me to Heather in the late 1970s in Christchurch and was also part of The House of the Talking Cat and the bone people collectives, leading Anna Keir and me through the design and pasteup: we physically cut-and-pasted it all (and recently I saw the marked-up the bone people copy, now in the McMillan Brown Library at Canterbury University, o gosh, with all the familiar handwritings). This time, Lynne learned InDesign and consulted with her mate Hamish. In 2021, she advised on the cover of Spiral’s first eBook.

Here she is taking refreshment after we delivered the proofs to the printers. (I had a cuppa and some lemon slice.)

Lynne was once the editor of Canta, Canterbury University’s student paper; and is about to publish What Are US, World Bank, IMF and China doing in SubSaharan Africa? (World Scientific).

Putting together This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu was a challenge for everyone: selecting which of Heather’s peer relationships and activities to focus on; finding and not-finding various art works; and seeking permission to exhibit some of those we found. It brought joy into the sometimes tedious, sometimes amusing and sometimes painful survey of those embargoed files in ATL.

A highlight was finding and then copying Heather’s journal for A Season’s Diaries (1977, instigated by Joanna Margaret Paul), listed in the Turnbull Library catalogue under a title that obscured its history. It joined the other surviving contributions, by Anna Keir and Saj Gurney. (Joanna’s, Bridie’s and mine had long disappeared and there was some uncertainty around Allie Eagle’s contribution, discussed in the Facebook conversation shown below and transcribed here.)

A Season’s Diaries (1977) (detail) at This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu (2018), with original poster by Joanna Paul, a Facebook conversation between Allie Eagle and Marian Evans and excerpts from Heather McPherson’s journal. Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

We loved making connections. For example, one of Heather’s journal entries referred to one of Allie’s watercolour series. Juliet Raven (see obituary below) had owned one of the watercolours then gifted it to a friend, and it too was exhibited, above the mauve arrow in the image above.

Allie Eagle, [Cup OCT ’77] (1977). Watercolour on paper, 51 x 55 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

Other highlights were the conceptual frameworks Dr P and Jacob developed and the meticulous loving care that Jacob and A.A.M. Bos took with the works and of the space they were shown in.

The opening was wonderful. Bridie and Tilly came, Tilly spoke —an amazing speech like those she’s regularly given at Unity Books book launches — and Bridie posed with a poster (there were other colours, too).

Bridie Lonie with a screenprint of This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu (2018), a tāniko cartoon by Dianne Rereina Potaka-Wade.

Mokopōpaki’s Tea-Lady did her usual excellent thing. Women crowded into the shop-front cinema to see related movies and some wild footage, some of it ‘tidied up’ by Annie Mein.

Dr P, Alas there is no karanga, only me. Doorway and Shop Window Cinema, Mokopōpaki, 454 Karangahape Road, Auckland, April 2018. Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Adrienne Martyn

A whole lot of us posed in the Brown Room.

This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–a–Tahu (2018). Exhibition opening, Mokopopaki, Auckland. Back, L — R: Jane Zusters, Dr P, Jacob Tere, Dianne Rereina Potaka-Wade, Marian Evans; middle, L — R: Allie Eagle, Adrienne Martyn, Tilly Lloyd; front, L — R: Annie Mein, Bridie Lonie. Photo: Sriwhana Spong, courtesy Jane Zusters

Then Dr P and I, pretty knackered, went off for dinner.

Our sense of having done the best we could for Heather was reinforced when we read Francis McWhannell’s comments in Pantograph Punch:

This Joyous, Chaotic Place blasts the archive open, countering the silence of the library and the standoffishness of the vitrine. As the title suggests, the exhibition is raucous, celebratory, even as it acknowledges marginalisation, oppression, and violence. It serves to remind us of the roots of contemporary feminist movements like #metoo. We stand on the shoulders of Artemisias — and of Heathers.’

We were also very warmed by Jenny Rankine’s support in the Tamaki Makaurau Lesbian Newsletters for March and April and by generous, indefatigable Paula Green’s Poetry Shelf posts: her own lovely review; Emer Lyons with ‘Have You Heard of Artemesia?’; and an announcement about the catalogue as a ‘magnificent book and catalogue…[a] meticulously referenced legacy document and a most luscious record of a period of cutting edge aesthetic ferment’.

We appreciated Jaimee Stockman-Young’s Art New Zealand review, too:

‘[The exhibition] presents the actions and outcomes of lives lived whilst upholding a dedication to social change…through the power of community and the growth of self…holds little respect for the hierarchies of the art or literary worlds. It speaks more to the value of people than to the arbitrary ways in which we privilege varied forms of creative expression, or privilege certain practitioners over others. This body of work and the women it represents present a radically simple thesis: a life well lived is a work of art…[it] is a valuing of the passing over of generational wisdom, and respect for the labour invested in making change.’¹

I had reproduced my 1981 greeting to Kohine Ponika and ‘all women poets, all women, who have flown up against a patriarchal wall and been bruised or broken’ on the gallery wall, in chalk. And I was intrigued to hear that my ‘mihi mai, mihi mai, mihi mai’ greeting to them all, long ago learned from Wiremu Kaa, was read as instructing the viewer to mihi to the work! (Maybe the previous sentence was poorly constructed??)

Later again, it was beautiful to read Don Abbott’s assessment of the catalogue as ‘…a significant addition to this country’s literary and artistic landscape’ in Art New Zealand.² And Emer Lyons’ perspicacious Landfall review of Heather’s new book.

Image of women painting the Matariki mural, Women’s Gallery 1981. L-R from top: Anna Keir, Marian Evans, Marg Leniston, Fiona Lovatt, Susie Jungerson, Bridie Lonie.

The Saturday after This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu opened, a group of Heather’s poet peers read at the Ellen Melville Hall in central Auckland. Organised and introduced by Janet Charman, each reader had five minutes to read a poem by Heather, followed by an additional poem that the reader felt related to the occasion; and then afternoon tea (multiple tea-ladies, led by Dr P).

The readers: front L-R: Tatai Rangi, Cushla Parekowhai, Aorewa McLeod, Nicky Taylor, Mary Paul, Sue Fitchett. Back L-R: Miriam Saphira, Janet Charman, Michele Leggott, Riemke Ensing, Ila Selwyn.

We heard these poems from This Joyous, Chaotic Place: Garden Poems —

  1. ‘What can I dream up for your birthday’ Aorewa McLeod
  2. ‘There is a mirror on my wall’ Sue Fitchett
  3. ‘A birthday re/arrangement [Tryptych for Fran]’ Michele Leggott
  4. A Frosty Morning’ and Arapera Blank’s ‘bone song’ Cushla Parekowhai representing Miriama Evans
Dr P at the podium.

5. ‘April is the Loveliest Month’ Mary Paul

6.The sixth month’ Nicky Taylor representing Saj Gurney

7. ‘Difficult Times’ Riemke Ensing

8. ‘Aging and the Family Story’ Miriam Saphira

9.The snowmen’ Ila Selwyn

10. ‘Friends, you give me a window through green foliage in a green yard’ Tātai Hinekura Rangi, representing the late Kohine Ponika’s whānau

Kohine’s whānau presented us with a beautiful kete.

Later, an invitation went out for an Allie Eagle event.

Allie Eagle in full flight at her workshop. Photo: Facebook

Finally, we were blessed that Jacob’s entrepreneurial and business skills match — and are intertwined with — his housekeeping excellence. He brought two younger women, Te Maari and PĀNiA! into our world and now we enjoy their burgeoning success.

This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu (2018). Work by Jane Zusters, Te Maari (second from left at top), Keri Hulme; archival material. Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara
PĀNiA!, Kiss Me, Hardy! (but not like that) (2021). Courtesy the artist, The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson and Mokopōpaki, Auckland.

Jacob also added to our public archive, through placing Anna Keir’s work from A Season’s Diaries and her drawing of the original Women’s Gallery collective in the Auckland Art Gallery; and helping to place Saj’s work in ATL.

Anna Keir, A Season’s Diaries (September) (1977). Coloured pencil on paper, cotton cloth, string, shells, 65 x 125 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara
Saj (Gladys) Gurney, A Season’s Diaries (1977). 12 mixed media entries on paper, 51 x 63.5 cm each piece. Courtesy the artist and Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photos: Arekahānara
Anna Keir Women’s Gallery Collective (1980). Graphite drawing on paper 24.1 x 29.5 cm Based on a January 1980 photograph by Fiona Clark for The Women’s Gallery. Back L-R: Marian Evans, Allie Eagle, Nancy Peterson, Juliet Batten, Anna Keir, Heather McPherson, Bridie Lonie, Keri Hulme. Front L-R: Brigid Eyley, Claudia Pond Eyley. Not pictured: Fiona Clark, Joanna Paul and Kanya Stewart. Courtesy the artist and Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

Adding more archives to the ATL collection, I include copies of the Spiral pages from a huge publication associated with an exhibition called WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007, MIT Press, op). It published illustrations of Spiral covers (issues 2–5), describes Spiral as ‘the lesbian-oriented feminist journal…produced annually between 1976 and 1979’ and quoted Heather from the first issue: ‘We have become separatist to become ourselves: to grow past conditioning, to test assumptions of roles and capabilities, to resurrect rights neglected or suppressed through centuries of male hegemony’.³

But whoever wrote the entry wasn’t aware of Heather’s statement in A Women’s Picture Book, where Heather said in conversation with Tilly Lloyd, ‘I worked with the material we received — that it didn’t reflect our own reality didn’t bother me too much, it was the idea of women working together for women’s voices to be heard, positively, that was the aim, and the amalgam of the arts…Not so much the content as the fact of presence and capability, in my head at least’.⁴

At ATL I also find Heather’s description of me, in a never-published review of A Women’s Picture Book. Some of it’s harder to read than this bit: ‘Often my heart has ached for Marian as I’ve seen the vein in her forehead throbbing and her skin with that stretched papery look of women functioning over the edge of tiredness and overload’. She adds her habitual ellipsis ‘…hanging on in by nervous rather than physical stamina. And Marian’s slender, slightly hunched figure, wild mop of hair and eccentric clothes hastening down Courtenay Place with an absent-minded handful of mail, off to front up to the Arts Council or the Labour Dept or the Lit Fund yet again for another project grant.’ There’s embarrassingly more.

But I briefly focus on the earlier part. It reminds me of a Joanna Paul letter from 1979, deposited in ATL in 2005 and not yet catalogued.

© Joanna Margaret Paul Reproduced by kind permission of Joanna’s literary executor.

‘Tired and strained’ in late 2021, as I seem to have been ever since that visit to Mountain View Road six years ago, I’m nourished daily by Joanna’s kitchen and kitchen window in my kitchen.

In the kitchen: part of Joanna’s painting of/from her kitchen in Beta Street Dunedin and the book that accompanies the major exhibition of her work at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (joanna margaret paul: Imagined in the context of a room 7 August–14 November 2021) Thanks to Bridie for the book!

When I see Joanna’s letter, I remember another letter from her in 1979, in response to our invitation to join the Women’s Gallery’s Opening Show in 1980. Things had changed for her since she and Heather worked together in the early days of the Christchurch women artists group and since she organised A Season’s Diaries in 1977. We sent a questionnaire to participants, with a covering letter.

Among her suggestions of more women to include, her clarity of purpose, her request to bring 20 copies of Unwrapping the Body and her request for a cot in the gallery, for baby Felix, Joanna explained that her activism, as expressed within the Christchurch Women Artists Group, was over. (NB, from memory Joanna’s dating was always a little unreliable as is mine.)

© Joanna Margaret Paul: reproduced by kind permission of Joanna’s literary executor. (& with thanks to the woman who ordered all the Women’s Gallery files in a Labour Department placing in the early 1980s. Hope I will remember and add her name soon. What a great job she did!)
© Joanna Margaret Paul: reproduced by kind permission.
© Joanna Margaret Paul: reproduced by kind permission.
© Joanna Margaret Paul: reproduced by kind permission.
Joanna in our Women’s Gallery office, at our only typewriter, Opening Show, 1980. Keri Hulme completed her ‘He Hōhā’ poem at the same typewriter in the same week. Screenshot from raw footage by Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson, Auckland Women’s Community Video. Courtesy ATL.

And then I remember Keri Hulme’s response to the invitation.

© Keri Hulme: reproduced by kind permission.
© Keri Hulme: reproduced by kind permission.

And I remember the Auckland Community Women’s Video recording of Keri at the Women’s Gallery then, reading and talking about a story, ‘King Bait’, and a poem. We included the recording in the films in the shop front (error!)/shop window (yes!) cinema at This Joyous, Chaotic Place.

The poem was ‘Paua Shell Gods’. (In 2021 I revisit the footage, with intense interest. Did the child in that poem inform the dreams of the bone people’s Simon? Perhaps, perhaps not).

Keri Hulme at Opening Show Women’s Gallery 1980. Clip by Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson, Auckland Women’s Community Video. Courtesy ATL. (‘Paua Shell Gods’ starts at approximately 10m 50sec.)

Miriama Evans, Ngāti Mutungā, Ngāi Tahu, 1944-2018

Miriama’s karanga at the Booker Prize ceremony 1985. L-R Miriama, Marian Evans, Irihapeti Ramsden

In London’s Guildhall in late 1985, when Irihapeti Ramsden, Miriama (no relation) and I walked hand in hand to accept the Booker Prize for the bone people, on Keri’s behalf, Miriama’s voice rang out with a powerful karanga, immediately extended and sustained by Irihapeti’s karanga. It was an extraordinary moment, typical of both these extraordinary women. We’d planned that, if the bone people won and we were handed the prize, we’d speak about how the power of love brought the book into the world. But when we reached the podium we were forbidden to speak. In retrospect, probably that didn’t matter at all, because those karanga, followed by a live phone interview with Keri, were all that was needed.

The interviews Miriama and Irihapeti gave then and earlier add more, like this one.

The Guardian 2 November 1985

As Miriama told the Guardian, ‘We’re privileged because we’ve been educated…So we must turn our hands to all kinds of things’, and Spiral was blessed by her extraordinary generosity of spirit when she turned her hands to publishing the bone people and J. C. Sturm’s The House of the Talking Cat. Her commitment was formidable, whatever she undertook, and Miriama was committed to the bone people as soon as she read the manuscript. ‘It was Māori and it was good,’ she said. ‘I had found something that I would read and my relatives would read — and nobody would publish it’ (New Zealand Herald interview 1984). I haven’t found a similar statement for The House of the Talking Cat, but I believe that her response was similar.

About thirty years after the Booker ceremony, already ill, Miriama delivered her Spiral archives to my place, for deposit at ATL. As well as sharing the decision-making and proofing a chapter, she had taken responsibility for our essential documents: contracts, accounts, shopping lists for the bone people launch, and her archives were of course immaculate, the accounts audited by an appropriate professional.

‘Miriama is one of the most meticulous and hard-working people I know’, I wrote back then. ‘Her laughter always warms my heart,’ I continued, ‘and she’s my go-to person for advice whenever I’m truly stuck, because her advice is always considered, clear, simple, pragmatic, kind’.

In May 1986, Miriama, who like Irihapeti had been completing her university studies while working with Spiral, was appointed as head of Te Ohu Whakatupu, the Māori secretariat of the newly formed Ministry of Women’s Affairs and began her distinguished career in the public service. In her Mana Wāhine: A History of Te Ohu Whakatupu (2021), Kate Geange wrote:

‘Miriama Evans was the backbone and driving force of Te Ohu Whakatupu in its early years; the sustained existence of Ohu Whakatupu was due to her incredible dedication and hard work. She ensured the unit bore a lasting legacy through its work for wāhine Māori, well after it was eventually dissolved.’

The first Te Ohu Whakatupu team with David Lange and Māori Women’s Welfare League leaders. Miriama is in the middle of the front row, in white. Photo: Mana Wāhine: A History of Te Ohu Whakatupu

After she became the ‘backbone and driving force’ of Te Ohu Whakatupu, inevitably Miriama had little contact with Spiral and was unable, for instance, to join us at the 2d International Feminist Book Fair in Oslo in 1986. But she was always a writer and artist and editor. She and her sister Ranui Ngarimu had each written a waiata for the launch of the bone people, in 1984. In 1985 she had written ‘Politics and Māori Literature’ for Landfall (republished here) and was a member of the Haeata Collective that produced the 1985 Herstory Diary. She also wrote an essay, ‘Māori Women’s Writing’, for Spiral’s Wahine Kaituhi: Women Writers of Aotearoa (1986).

Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara. Cover image: Irihapeti Ramsden.

Later, as well as writing many other reports and reviews, Miriama wrote Maori women in the economy : a preliminary review of the economic position of Maori women in New Zealand(1988) with Ann Horsfield; selected and introduced the Māori section of The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry Nga Kupu Tītohu o Aotearoa (1989); and with Ranui wrote The Eternal Thread Te Aho Mutunga Kore: The Art of Māori Weaving (2005), a finalist in the national book awards. Miriama wove as well; and hoped to weave more.

In the morning of 15 August 2018, a few months after Dr P, representing Miriama (who had selected the poems) read Heather’s A Frosty Morning’ and Arapera Blank’s ‘bone song’, an ATL representative picked up Miriama’s Spiral archive boxes. That afternoon, we heard that she had died.

At Miriama’s tangi, sharing her whānau’s deep grief and her communities’ celebration of her life I learned more about her and further appreciated how blessed I’d been to have access to her wisdom. Beyond what I knew of her literary and artistic legacy and her work at Te Ohu Whakatupu, Miriama had been a trusted advisor to four Prime Ministers; was a member of the Waitangi Tribunal; held governance roles for her iwi; and was an Officer of the Order of St John.

In 2016, Miriama was awarded a prestigious Hunter Fellowship for her contribution to Māori development at Victoria as a student, a lecturer on Māori and government at Te Kawa a Māui — the School of Māori Studies, a member of the University Council, a voluntary external member of the Council’s Te Aka Matua Committee; and late in 2018, was posthumously awarded one of five inaugural Public Service Medals, as someone who had earned the title of ‘Wahine Toa’ for her work in promoting Maori interests.

When faced with a knotty problem, I still ask myself ‘What would Miriama do?’ I have of course no real idea of what that might be and will never ever reach her skill level. But just asking helps me access more grace and clarity.

Miriama’s Wikipedia page; Kōmako page; death notice; obituary.

L-R: Keri Hulme, Miriama Evans, Riki Pitama (2005) at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the bone people winning the Booker Prize, organised by Lydia Wevers for the Stout Centre, Victoria University of Wellington. Photo: Bruce Harding

A little side story: in early 2018 I’d started a #directedbywomen #aotearoa pop- up series, as part of the annual global #DirectedByWomen celebrations, a Spiral-inspired initiative funded by two former Spiral members and also kindly supported by many others, including MPs Grant Robertson (then Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and now Deputy Prime Minster) and Green MP Jan Logie, a brilliant supporter of women. The first Parliamentary screening was of Auckland Women’s Community Video’s Even Dogs Are Given Bones (1982) directed by Kanya Stewart. It documents a group of women workers during their 11-week occupation of the Rixen clothing factory in Levin, after its owner made them redundant and closed the factory without giving them redundancy payments and it screened alongside Kathleen Winter’s Minimum (2018) a web series about women who are minimum wage workers.

And after that, I helped bring Wanuri Kahiu to Aotearoa for a series of screenings of her joyful feature film Rafiki. Rafiki had debuted at Cannes and because of its queer content was banned in Wanuri’s home country, Kenya, and we organised screenings at Parliament, Māoriland and Te Auaha in Wellington; and at Rialto Cinemas in Auckland, the day before Wanuri gave the keynote at the annual Big Screen Symposium.

Mokopōpaki’s Keeper of the House kindly designed a logo for #DirectedBy Women #Aotearoa, featuring the kete Kohine Ponika’s whānau had given us.

Kura Walker née Rua, Ringa Werawera (2018). Harakeke, dye, 35 x 41 x 16 cm. Photo: Arekahānara. Design: Mokopōpaki. Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou katoa!

And, the day before the Rafiki screening and close to my heart, another Rialto Cinemas event. Women & Webseries, with help from filmmaker Louise Hutt, who designed a poster and chaired the Q&A that followed: a screening of episodes from local webseries which had collectively revolutionised representation on our screens. Deep respect to them all.

#DirectedByWomen #Aotearoa (2018). Design: Louise Hutt

I flew to Auckland to take part, fell down a steep flight of steps in Ayr Reserve in Parnell and broke my leg. Got through the webseries screening and then Annie Mein drove me along Karangahape Road to eat and then to hospital.

Mokopōpaki to the rescue! The Keeper of the House brought in some mint dental floss (etc). And, with the Tea-Lady and Annie Mein, took care of Wanuri and her husband. Dr P and Dr Ella Henry ran the Q&A after Rafiki was screened.

Jane Paul 1958–2018

On 13 November Jane Paul died. She wasn’t part of Spiral, but intersected with some of us, as Joanna Margaret Paul’s younger sister and a good friend.

Jane Paul (nd) Photo: Allie Eagle

Allie Eagle and Joanna Paul wrote about Jane in their ‘Letters from Room to Room’ in A Women’s Picture Book (1988). Allie began:

‘And Jane…so exciting to see what she’s producing. She may even eclipse your talent Joanna! An amazing inventor/researcher of new forms. A regenerator. Work books full of connections, findings, patterns, workings, letters, invented shapes, daring & confident & definitely from the Pauline school! Vigour plus! Like apples taken from the family bowl — Janet [Joanna and Jane’s mother, artist, publisher and archivist Dame Janet Paul] peels, slices and hands them around — Joanna’s red/green apple on a white plate, edge of hand thinking — Jane — I see her eating hers as she leaves the table!’

Joanna responded:

Some of Jane Paul’s work (nd) Photo: Allie Eagle

‘I like what you say about Jane. I acknowledge that — feel happy — proud — Am not competitive. Am continually refreshed, surprised by her work (that freshness, inventiveness & I otherwise get only w Killeen — Pattern/meta pattern; in flight from the frame/onto cloth toys, furniture, papier mache.’

But Jane went to Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, where her gifts as an inventor, researcher and regenerator were used in other ways, to benefit the institution, the wider community and individuals. At Ngā Taonga she had kept track of the Women’s Gallery tapes that the Auckland Women’s Centre deposited and was the go-to person when we were tracking down clips for This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu’s Shop Window Cinema. She organised Ngā Taonga’s search for Auckland Women’s Community Video’s archives, too.

Jane also cared for Joanna’s film archive and did a lot of work on her stepfather Michael Nicholson’s book, Visual Language Games. And according to her family, she also continued her art practice, but ‘doing more drawings than screenprints, and the screenprints she did do used different techniques’. She was always a joy to be with.

Ngā Taonga obituary

By Christmas-time 2018, I’d grown tired of waiting for ATL to pick up Heather’s boxes and sent them up north to her son Rick, who had stayed near here with Heather when she was working at the Women’s Gallery.

Rick in Oriental Terrace Wellington (?1980–81?).

At the beginning of 2022, the boxes still wait at Rick’s. I love the workers at ATL. I love researching there. But the library appears to be significantly under-resourced. I hope we don’t lose Heather’s herstory because ATL is permanently beyond capacity.

Most of 2019 is now a blur. It took longer than I expected to recover from that broken leg, though Bridie and Tilly and I had a session with the archives at ATL. Filled with surprises and laughter, as before.

Bridie Lonie & Tilly Lloyd ATL 2019.

But Bridie’s fragile, never-fired clay sculpture, exhibited in This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu, and to be photographed for ATL now exists only in fragments. It shattered in transit to the photography session. And that was very sad.

This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi–ā–Tahu (2018). Work by Annie Mein, Adrienne Martyn, Bridie Lonie (clay sculpture) Man with hands around woman’s neck (1981). Courtesy the artists and Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Arekahānara

Juliet Raven 1946–2019

On 21 July 2019 Juliet Walker/Krautschun/Raven died. Her obituary notice described her as ‘beloved mother, grandmother, sister, aunty, cousin, friend and heroine’.

I was often in awe of Juliet’s intellect and wild energy, when we worked together on the Kidsarus 2 project, developing and publishing books like Patricia Grace’s The Kuia & The Spider /Te Kuia Me Te Pūngāwerere (1983, illus. Robyn Kahukiwa, trans. Hirini Melbourne & Keri Kaa) and Miriam Smith’s Kimi and the Watermelon /Ko Kimi Me Tana Mereni (illus. David Armitage, trans. Sonny Waru). Other Spiral workers who contributed to the project included Anna Keir and Lynne Ciochetto.

When the project grew beyond our kitchen tables we needed a little office to finish the work and found a warren of spaces at 26 Harris Street. The space we didn’t need became The Women’s Gallery.

Juliet and Allie Eagle at Women’s Gallery January 1980. Screenshot from raw footage by Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson, Auckland Women’s Community Video. Courtesy ATL.

Juliet was one of the first two people I gave the bone people manuscript to read, immediately after I read it. She, like the ‘literary’ man I shared it with, thought it needed editing. But when Spiral decided to publish it without editing, she helped. And in 1987 she and her friend Jane Bowron edited and introduced Hilary Baxter’s collection of poems, The Other Side of Dawn, also for Spiral.

Building on Kidsarus’ commitment to provide resources with high content and production values for local children, Juliet went on to found Totika Tara Publications with Piripi Walker, where they produced books in te reo and some beautiful educational resources. One of their picture books — Katerina Mataira’s Ka Haere A Mereana Ki Te Kura — was illustrated by Allie Eagle.

According to Allie: ‘When I was at art school [in Christchurch], I used to see Juliet at the Gresham Hotel quite a bit, a vibrant person, full on: short skirts, black tights, thigh-high boots and fluffy jackets. She was good friends with the Canta crowd, a bright inflamed generation, a strong activist group. I was in an adjoining bar, with the camp women: transsexuals, lesbians and other gay persons like Sharon Alston.

In 2001 Juliet invited me to illustrate Katerina Mataira’s book and we had a lovely time talking through the images before I went hunting and gathering in kura in Te Tairawhiti and in Wellington city, to ensure I made authentic portrayals. She had a huge amount of commitment and passion for her work at Totika, doing the very best she could, with associated awkwardnesses that I related to very well.

Just remembering a few short interludes where Juliet and I met in Ōtaki, too. We connected both in her home and Mum’s at Kapiti Lane. She gave me her editor’s copy of My Little Māori Home by Wally Carkeek. ’

As Huriana Raven, Juliet also edited Te Tū a Te Toka: He Ieretanga nō Ngā Tai e Whā (2006) with Piripi Walker, a collection of work in te reo by senior writers which won the Māori Language Prize at the Montana Book Awards in 2008.

Like Allie, Gaylene Preston knew and appreciated Juliet and her work, all her adult life:

‘Once seen, never forgotten. I met her at a party on the hill in Napier. The place was pumping. All the windows were open and the Beatles maintained a hard days night to disturb the neighbours. Juliet was in the white main bathroom sitting on the vanity, long legs elegantly crossed, her shoes hanging off her feet like flags flapping, a glass in hand, waving her cigarette about, telling stories. She had a way of holding a smoke as if it was in a cigarette holder.

I was on my way down to art school in Christchurch. In this crowd of seasoned students home for the holidays, I was a wide-eyed newby. Whenever I mentioned Canterbury University, her name came up and here she was, the legend herself. Glorious Juliet, holding court in the only place in the house where the spoken word ruled. She was mid-tale, her voice already raspy with a sly laugh always threatening to erupt.

Five minutes in her company and that razor sharp wit could challenge and
invigorate even the dullest conversation. This was Juliet Walker, the brightest
star in any room. She committed. To English literature, to life in all its
complexity. Her fearlessness left me gasping. I had my defences up, I was
watchful, Juliet seemed to be in boots and all. She was ahead of the crowd.

Later we lived in the same flat, me with my first husband, she with a very clever political scientist who was her equal in an argument. When you are that clever, you need the debate to let your brain have a brisk run around the field every day. Juliet was writing a thesis on Shakespeare’s women — trailblazing but under-appreciated by her largely male compatriots. Life can be lonely when you are so outstanding and haven’t found your gang. Many years later the world caught up with her and she found one among the women of Spiral Collective and through her great love of Te Reo Māori.

We were travelling parallel paths living in the same little city on different ridges bringing up our children. Fate dealt Juliet hard blows and when she lost her daughter to SIDS it seemed like the last straw.

She was brave. Courageous. Never surrendered. She left a remarkable legacy. I’ll never forget her.’

Here’s Juliet with two of her beloved friends.

L-R: Rose Beauchamp, Juliet Raven, Jackie Wotherspoon (& thermette). Photo: Di McMillan

Through 2019 Dr P, Jacob and I work hard to finish the catalogue, launched at Mokopōpaki’s Ahimaru opening.

Some of my writing for the catalogue just didn’t cut it. To my regret, I couldn’t focus properly. But deep generosity and goodwill prevailed: Jacob and Dr P did their bits brilliantly and a benefactor very kindly paid for the printing. The catalogue sold out.

There’s a photo of Jacob preparing a mailout of the catalogue. Too personal to share but OK to write about, he says. He’s in profile, shadowed, backlit by PĀNiA!’s neon work, The True Artist Helps the World by Asking for Trust (After Bruce Nauman) (2019), leaning over a card table covered with a beautiful cloth. On the table are a framed photograph of Heather, copies of This Joyous Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu, some sturdy manilla envelopes, a stamp pad and a stamp. (I know that the stamp is the old Women’s Gallery stamp.)

Women’s Gallery seal, now at ATL.

What light there is falls on Jacob’s left hand, holding open an envelope while his right hand slides a catalogue into it. He’s already stamped the title pages of each catalogue and closed the stamp pad so it doesn’t dry out. It’s a fine portrait of an artist paying close and tender attention to the task of helping other artists’ work out into the world. And a reminder of what a beautiful thing it is when an artist responds from the heart and with integrity to other artists who ask for trust. I wish Heather could see the image too.

(And down in Welly, #directedbywomen #aotearoa continued, with some of Dr P’s chick pea works offered as koha to filmmakers and the kind people who helped.)

On 15 March 2020, just before the first Covid lockdown, to mark the anniversary of the Christchurch massacre. Jan Logie hosted a #DirectedByWomen #Aotearoa screening of Rouzie Hassanova’s Radiogram. Mokopōpaki’s Dr P and photographer Adrienne Martyn were there in support. Lorna Kanavatoa welcomed us in the voice of the mana whenua and Annie Collins led the Q & A.

Jan Logie speaks from the heart. Photo: Adrienne Martyn
L-R: Cushla P, Annie Collins, Rouzie Hassanova, Lorna Kanavatoa… Photos: Adrienne Martyn

On 13 July another screening at Parliament, of Ava DuVernay’s 13th and a discussion of mass incarceration in Aotearoa New Zealand, again with support from Jan Logie, Lorna and Adrienne. The film was introduced by Nicole Inskeep, a New Zealand-based African American racial justice advocate and Jan chaired a discussion with activists Awatea Mita and Julia Whaipooti. The Parliamentary screenings are now always booked out and because they’re free are accessible to all. It’s so satisfying. But Covid makes it difficult to plan.

Keri Kaa 1942–2020

L-R: Patricia Grace, unknown, Keri Kaa. Photo: Pearl Sidwell

On August 31, during a Covid lockdown, Keri Kaa, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, died. As Gaylene Preston wrote in our ‘Remembering Keri Kaa 1942–2020’: ‘Keri was educated to lead and lead she did.’ And, as Fiona Lovatt wrote there: ‘She was gentle as she blew on embers within us…She knew the power of broadcasting seeds of hope… It was her gleeful gift to be majestic, incandescent and ephemeral, as light and as strong as the pūngāwerewere’s thread’.

Keri was also a writer of poetry and prose, including Taka Ki Ro Wai, the award-winning children’s picture book, ‘a Maori language edition only. It is written in the manner in which we speak in our valley. It’s our dialect. It’s idiomatic.’

In a 2012 interview Keri explained why she created a publishing house to produce the book, because this ‘allows me to have control of my work, and what happens to it. A lot of our material is used by others for commercial gain without our consent or knowledge. For example the works of composer Tuini Ngawai have been treated with disrespect, in many cases rearranged musically’.

Keri was particularly influential at key moments in Spiral’s history: as the joint translator with Hirini Melbourne of Patricia Grace’s The Kuia & The Spider (1982), our first children’s picture book with a separate Māori edition, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa; as brilliant organiser of several significant events and of the people who assisted her there, including the bone people’s launch; and as a connector, first to Miriama Evans and then to her own elder sister, writer Arapera Blank, who joined the Spiral group that travelled to the 1986 Commonwealth Literature Conference in Laufen and on to the 2d International Feminist Book Fair in Oslo.

Like all the other women lost during this period Keri was an inspiration and a beloved friend and many of us miss her.

L-R: Keri Hulme & Keri Kaa, Victoria University of Wellington 2005, for a Stout Centre seminar organised by Lydia Wevers, marking 20 years since the bone people won the Booker Prize. Photographer unknown.

Keri on Wikipedia.

Most of Spiral’s 2021 was spent working quietly. With a very sad moment when Marilynn Webb died on 16 August. Bridie had often written about Marilynn and her work, for instance in Marilynn Webb: Prints & Pastels (Otago University Press 2003); and she wrote a full obituary with details of Marilynn’s many honours in Art New Zealand (Summer 2021). She sent this Spiral tribute.

Marilynn Webb 1937–2021

Marilynn Webb contributed to A Women’s Picture Book, and her beautiful Maniototo images wrapped the cover. Marilynn’s understanding of the place-name Maniototo was ‘the plains of slippery blood’ and the images were apt for the book’s editorial histories around Māori understandings of menstrual blood’s place in the public domain.

By the mid 1980s, when we interviewed her, Marilynn was living in Ōtepoti Dunedin, after moving there in 1974 for the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship. She took her conservation activism to concerns around the possible flooding of Lake Manapouri, and argued against the development of the Clyde Dam and then turned to the conservation of the upland tussock landscapes. She joined forces with the Invercargill and Eastern Southland Art galleries and museums and developed close relations with the southern Māori communities, mapping the trajectories of rivers and estuarine habitats. She saw her artworks as protective forces, barriers against destruction.

Marilynn made the personhood of the land her life-time’s work, drawing together the histories of her mother Elizabeth Vaivin (Lilla) Webb, née Turner, a descendent of Moengaherehere, a signatory of Te Tiriti, and of her grandmother Mary Ann Webb with her Welsh and Celtic understanding of the spirituality of place.

Marilynn was honoured in her life as much for her services to education as for art. She was one of the first to work in the Arts Advisory and Northern Māori education schemes, in Tamaki Makaurau, in Northland and in the Pacific, and continued until she gained the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship. She advocated for the significance of printmaking, a process she regarded as more democratic than painting and therefore under-valued.

From 1988–2008 she taught in the printmaking department at the Dunedin School of Art where she mentored her students, taking affirmative action with and for her women, Māori and Pasifika students. Her years in the Arts Advisory scheme meant that she focused on her students’ self-development, applying a spiritual and Jungian approach to her understanding of their needs. She never missed an opportunity to point out exclusivities and pretensions in the artworld at large and her colleagues in particular. At the same time, she argued that the tenets of the Arts Advisory scheme, with its intrinsic interdisciplinarity and its concern for the spiritual and cognitive well-being of all learners was consistent with the aspirations of post-structuralism. In 2017 she was awarded the supreme award for excellence in ngā toi Māori, Te Tohu Aroha mō Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

Marilynn’s hospitality was legendary: she loved to produce Edwardian meals in her collection of ceramics and glassware. That quality made her Taste Before Eating pastiches of recipes from Aunt Daisy’s cookbook all the more horrifying. The modified recipes included such items as brasso and ground bird bones, crushed quartz, copper and antinomy.

At the end of her life, Marilynn lived in Durham Street, Dunedin.

Adrienne Martyn, from the durham street — as she left series (2021).

Marilynn discusses her work in Dunedin Public Art Gallery.⁵

Marilynn on wikipedia.

How Does Spiral Work? Why Has it Lasted?

Jane Zusters, Heather McPherson and her son Carrick, Christchurch (1975). Giclée print, edition of five, 31 x 50.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Mokopōpaki, Auckland.

Spiral as a good neighbour: ‘How can I help?’; ‘Would it help if?’; ‘What if?’

I’ve concluded that Spiral works, and has lasted, because it’s neighbourly. Good neighbours help if they can. As a series of women artist- and writer-led collectives it sometimes initiates neighbourly projects and sometimes responds to — often unexpected and sometimes surprising — requests for help from artist and writer neighbours.⁶

Say a neighbour’s car is stuck in a ditch (a manuscript stuck under her bed, an artwork significant to women stuck in her back room because no agent, publisher or dealer gallery is interested). It’s a functional vehicle but needs to reach the road and start its journey, maybe after a minor repair or two.

Spiral members may have little in common with the car owner except their own arts practitioner life experiences, including their own unmet needs they may need help with. We *and* our neighbours almost universally have significant lived experience as members of groups that are mis-represented and under-represented in the arts, and as individuals discriminated against, under-resourced and vulnerable for multiple reasons. Heather, for example, founded Spiral as a lesbian single mother and abuse survivor, an educated woman from a working class family, as a feminist and a poet inspired by a stage filled with poets who were all men.⁷

But whatever our position, we ask ‘How can I help?’ or ‘Would it help if…?’ Or engage with a phrase often associated with a new initiative: ‘What if?’. Or we might say ‘Gotta rush now, but I can help later…’ (to find you a spare wing mirror in my garage, put you in touch with a great mechanic, help touch up that paintwork). Or, ‘Can’t help this time, but ask me another time’. And though she may be constrained by other commitments: ‘I have to get these kids to bed’; ‘I have to get to work’ (etc), a good neighbour is usually reliable. It may be necessary to knock on other neighbouring doors to ask for help; and there may be unexpected passers-by, offering necessary resources, temporary ‘neighbours’ who may become mates. Somehow, the artist’s problem is addressed and the job gets done.

How Does Good Neighbouring Work in Practice?

I wasn’t there. But I think the first issue of the Spiral journal established Spiral’s ethos by working in a neighbourly way — and that influenced the six issues that followed, each with a different collective. Heather noticed that women artists’ creative vehicles — including her own — were usually excluded from the road. In effect she asked, ‘What if a group of us made a modest pathway for them/ourselves, so they/we could ‘grow past conditioning…test assumptions of roles and capabilities’? As noted above, ‘it was the idea of women working together for women’s voices to be heard, positively’ and working ‘with the material we received — that it didn’t reflect our own reality didn’t bother me too much. It was not so much the content as the fact of presence and capability, in my head at least’. And her lesbian separatist community were good neighbours to Heather and the artists and writers who sent their material. They helped with fundraising and other tasks, even though many of them — as I understand it — weren’t much into literature or the arts, nor into material that didn’t reflect or illluminate their realities.

A not-very-good research pic of a poster for a fundraising event for Spiral 1 (possibly made by Anna Keir). Courtesy ATL.

From that quiet beginning the Spiral logo itself became a neighborhood resource, a kind of shared ladder, available to women writers or artists who like the idea of ‘women working together for women’s voices to be heard’, want to make something together and ask ‘What if?’ So the Auckland, Dunedin and Colville publications happened and the Spiral 5 collective (Anna Keir, Daphne Brasell, Marian Evans and Vicki McDonald) decided to become ‘publishers of last resort’ for monographs. (These days, the logo may be most useful for self-publishing by individual writers whose work still falls outside what publishers are looking for and who want to feel part of something larger, less isolated.)

Some underlying ideas persist in conjunction with the neighbourliness, too: a version of Doris Lessing’s ‘any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so’; an emphasis on questioning everything and trying everything and welcoming the unexpected even when it appears to be unhelpful; and an acknowledgment that the very worthwhile often attracts the very difficult (via Irihapeti Ramsden). Plus patience, patience, patience.

Whatever the current conditions, Spiral’s good neighbouring is often a separatist practice, as in the fund-raising event for Spiral 1, illustrated above and as later explained in that manifesto created by a group including Heather at the Women’s Gallery’s Opening Show

‘Men have defined the human experience through their art and women have often felt excluded. Men have also defined the female experience — we have seen ourselves through men’s eyes…

When we undertake the task of breaking out of the images men have presented to us and exploring our exclusively female experience, then we become vulnerable. We uncover private and previously unexpressed areas of ourselves. We lack a positive tradition to encourage and confirm us in what we see. …The only tradition we have to draw on is one where women have been suppressed by a predominantly male culture.

…We need to withdraw and gain confirmation from each other before we are ready to announce our insights to the ‘outside world’, i.e. our culture, which, despite the changes that have taken place, is still undoubtedly male dominated…This separatism is not an end in itself, it is simply part of a process. The process is one of self-discovery, of building our traditions by going back to the roots of our experience.’ (1980)

The specific ‘vulnerability’ referred to was and is real. It takes tenderness and practice to encourage and confirm artists who feel vulnerable and perhaps isolated, which is true for most artists, I think, at some time. Heather was a champ: she’d ask ‘How’s your work going?’, confirm that she was referring to the artistic work, not the day-to-day money-making job; and listen attentively and without hurry to the response, with many ‘hmmmmm’s and an occasional clarifying question. And Keri Hulme’s interview with Kanya Stewart about her batik work, at the Women’s Gallery in 1980, demonstrates a similarly tender and superb quality of attention that may help support self-discovery and contribute to a positive tradition. (Kanya, later the director of Even Dogs Are Given Bones, already referred to, was also part of the Auckland Community Women’s Video team that filmed the Women’s Gallery Opening Show and there’s a lovely but not-yet-released interview of Keri by Kanya done at the same time.)

Neighbourliness and ‘Daily Living’

Heather’s initial ethos has also reinforced, or been reinforced by, practices that inspired Joanna Margaret Paul’s well-known manifesto. Joanna was probably one of the four women present at the first meeting of the Christchurch women artists group started by Heather in 1974, which became Spiral. This is what she wrote for the Allie Eagle-curated Six Women Artists at the McDougall Gallery in 1975. It was reprinted in Spiral 1:

For a woman painting is not a job, not even a vocation. It is a part of life, subject to the strains and joys of domestic existence. I cannot paint unless the house is in order; unless I paint I don’t function well in my domestic roles. Each thing is important. The idea that one sacrifices other values for art is alien to me, and I think to all women whose calling it is to do and be many things. To concentrate all meaning and energy into a work of art is to leave life dry and banal. I don’t wish to separate the significant and the everyday actions, but to bring them as close together as possible. It is natural for women to do this; their exercise and their training and their artistry is in daily living. Painting for me as a woman is an ordinary act — about the great meaning in ordinary things.

Anonymity pattern utility quietness relatedness.

In the best kind of neighbourliness, the ‘how can I help?’ practice is also ‘part of daily living’, bringing the ‘significant and everyday actions… as close together as possible’. It’s low-key. Reciprocal, sustainable and family-friendly, informally organised. Takes time. Is often joyous, associated with food and fun. In a wider context, it might respond to housing needs, to lack of food, to climate emergency, to COVID and to safety issues of various kinds including — at Spiral — protecting and sustaining individual women artists’ sovereignty. Projects were and are non-profit, although writers are paid royalties and artists are paid for works sold; specialists like printers and sometimes designers and photographers are also sometimes paid. And, like most helpful neighbours, collective members are unpaid except, occasionally, for specific specialised work or, at the Women’s Gallery, intermittently through a government employment programme.⁹ Because of this, they don’t waste a minute, though sustainability means that there may be delays. Since the Women’s Gallery closed in 1984 every Spiral project is a one-off, a pop-up, often after a gap of years, and each small group is autonomous and uses eclectic resources.

The ‘What if?’ Question

The ‘What if?’ question, the creative curiosity that characterised Heather’s initiative, has been especially productive. Distinct from ‘Would it help if…?’ in relation to an artist’s request for assistance or a collective’s essential basic tasks like a mail out, a design for an invitation, Tea-Lady responsibilities or a budget, a ‘What if?’ prompts a fresh, independent initiative that may or may not take a project a step further, and may make the questioner or questioners unavailable for essential basic tasks. A ‘What if?’ project may reconfigure the area round the ditch so fewer vehicles will get stuck in future. Change the driving conditions around it, or on the dodgy road itself. Sweep up gravel that might cause a skid. Fill potholes, plant the verges with wild flowers. Set up a lemonade stand. Make signs.

‘What if?’ at Spiral has also often involved what Virginia Woolf described as ‘trespass’ —

‘…let us bear in mind a piece of advice that an eminent Victorian who was also an eminent pedestrian once gave to walkers: ‘Whenever you see a board up with “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, trespass at once.

Let us trespass at once. Literature [or any art] is no one’s private ground; literature is common ground. It is not cut up into nations; there are no wars there. Let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves. It is thus that English literature will survive this war and cross the gulf — if commoners and outsiders like ourselves make that country our own country, if we teach ourselves how to read and to write, how to preserve, and how to create.’ (From Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘The Leaning Tower’, 1940.)

Around 1982 The Women’s Gallery’s first home at 26 Harris Street Wellington was demolished, to make way for a new police station. This was one of our murals.

Understanding and Resisting Responses to Trespassing

For me and some others, the trespassing and the creative elements of ‘What if?’ became informed and invigorated by the analysis in Joanna Russ’s How To Suppress Women’s Writing (1983). Her analytical framework justifies trespassing. It helps understand and deal with responses that attempt to undermine it. It encourages questions about whether and how conventional publishing, filmmaking and gallery practices adversely affect women artists who experience established systems as inequitable, often for multiple and complex reasons. It affirms the search for fresh approaches.

Joanna Russ identified eleven methods used to ignore, condemn or belittle women creators’ work: prohibitions; bad faith; denial of agency; pollution of agency; the double standard of content; false categorizing; isolation; anomalousness; lack of models; responses; aesthetics, each method, as fully described below.⁸ All are very familiar. ‘Prohibitions’, for instance, is right here and now: ‘preventing women from access to the basic tools for writing’ (and making art). Women artists struggle for time, space and equipment, including computers, and during the pandemic it became even worse, especially when libraries closed or limited the time visitors could spend there.

‘What If?’: Trespassing Examples

Sometimes that “What if?’ trespassing is quite a small thing that could make a big difference. For example, at one of the early Christchurch Women Artists group meetings, as recorded in the minute book, Joanna — then using her married name and in her activist phase — asked something like:‘What if we ask the Canterbury Film Society to show slides of women’s work before screenings?’ At that time it was often much more difficult for women to show their work than it is now. She offered to approach the film society and at ATL the other day I fell over the response to her initial inquiry.

(We don’t know what happened next.)

Joanna’s A Season’s Diaries (1977) was another of her ‘What ifs?’ with an element of trespass. What if, she thought, I invite a group of women to document their lives for a month and exhibit the results in the Victoria University of Wellington Library exhibition space, where ‘serious’ artists exhibit in a continuing programme? What if a couple of the women (Gladys Gurney/ Saj; Marian Evans) don’t even define themselves as artists? I don’t know how Joanna persuaded the library to accept this exhibition, way back then. But Anna and I helped Joanna hang the works one weekend. I think there was some electrical tape used that the library wasn’t happy with on aesthetic grounds; the exhibition didn’t last the full summer, as planned. But it did travel to Waikato University and to Christchurch.

A little later, Julie Grenfell, a teacher at a central city school asked ‘What if?’ we developed local picture books with high production values that reflected the experiences of her students instead of children on the other side of the world; and began the Kidsarus 2 project.

Numerous other examples of Spiral ‘What if?’ trespasses followed. What if children’s book illustrators were paid a royalty (with an advance) instead of by commission, the usual practice back then? What if we subsidised commercial publishers so they would risk co-publishing Māori editions of our picture books and perhaps learn that ‘Yes there’s a market for them!’ (something that Patricia Grace, Miriam Smith and the rest of us really really wanted)?

‘What if we have an exhibition of women’s work in the Beehive?’, asked Sharon Alston back in 1981, the forerunner of 2018’s ‘What if we screen women’s films there, with Q &As?’. (A remembering of Sharon is at the end of this post.) What if we offer our Mothers exhibition to public galleries?

Mothers catalogue (1981) Women’s Gallery. Cover image: Robyn F. Kahukiwa Hinetitama 1980 oil on board 1180x1180. Cover design: Sharon Alston

Other kinds of ‘What ifs?’ come from generous passersbys, like Roma Potiki and Patricia Grace’s ‘What if we organise a Maori Writers Read series to help fund J C Sturm’s The House of the Talking Cat and Keri Hulme’s the bone people?’; Keri’s other tahu-tuhituhi — as she called them — who contributed to the readings; individual writers like Joy Cowley and Janet Frame; and other women who offered specific support on principle, like Juliet Raven, Kathleen Johnson, Pauline Neale.

Our audio and video projects, grouped together under Getting Free, came from a substantial series of collective ‘What ifs?’ and explored resilience following violation of various kinds, including colonisation. By choice of those who told their stories, one project is incomplete, Something for My Grandchildren to Hold about Irihapeti Ramsden. Others are wild footage only, or not (yet) published, like Wai Turoa Morgan’s memoir of her early life as a matakite. But all the tapes (some of them copies only) and associated documentation are safely there at ATL for future reference, including Juanita Ketchel’s Getting Free oral history project and Sister Galvan, a documentary about the gay man who as James Mack supported our projects through the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, the forerunner of today’s Creative New Zealand.

Galvan, then James Mack, at The Women’s Gallery Opening Show 1980, in Bridie’s stocks, with a blurry Bridie at right. Screenshot from raw footage by Kanya Stewart and Nancy Peterson, Auckland Women’s Community Video. Courtesy ATL.

The courage to ‘trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves’ also demands that we accept the reality that not every ‘What if?’ will work out.

Bridie’s, Anna’s and my ‘What if we organise a Joanna/Allie exhibition to tour public galleries, (1978-9)?’ got quite a long way thanks to James Mack and a public gallery director, before Allie and Joanna decided it wasn’t for them. But, like many disappointments, it morphed into something else: The Women’s Gallery, which benefited many of our artist neighbours rather than just two; and then Mothers and its tour, building on the neighbourly relationships established, among ourselves and with others like James and that public gallery director!

The Matariki poets tour of 1981 was another unsuccessful attempt to ‘trespass freely and fearlessly’. Poets tours were then relatively common but excluded women poets: Jan Kemp was the only one we knew of who had been included, on a single tour. What if we toured poets and musicians Kohine Ponika, Mereana Pitman, Adrienne Dudley, Heather and Keri? They were all keen. Dynamic joint co-ordinator Roma Potiki and I did our very best. The venues were welcoming, too. From memory, Hone Tuwhare and Ian Wedde supported our funding applications and the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council offered funding, contingent on the Literary Fund also funding us (the Literary Fund was not part of the Arts Council). But, managed by a relatively new Literary Fund administrator, the advisory committee declined to fund the tour. One of the reasons given, shockingly, was that Kohine Ponika — whose full details were supplied — was ‘unknown to them’. The Matariki poetry mural responded to this, for Bridie’s Women & the Environment show. (The poster image above, for the poets reading Heather’s poetry in 2018, depicts a group painting part of the mural.) And Keri Hulme responded too, by sending me the bone people to read, an example of how working with the unexpected and moving on from disappointment can be surprisingly positive.

Another of my own ‘What ifs?’, about the lesbians photographed in a classic Herstory Press (Wellington) poster from 1977, is the only Spiral audio project not archived. I saw the poster in a Te Papa exhibition, was disappointed that those in the photograph weren’t even named and got funding from the Armstrong and Arthur Trust to interview the women depicted in the photograph. Later, I published an interview with the photographer Mary Bailey, but others didn’t want their amazing stories passed on.

Focus on Presence and Capability

The good neighbour concept fits well with Heather’s lack of concern about whether her reality was shared by the writers who submitted to the first Spiral journal and her focus on ‘presence and capability’. Spiral’s support of artists and writers echoes other kinds of unconditional neighbourly support by placing editorial responsibility on the car’s owner, whose presence, capability and wishes are central. Helpful neighbours don’t debate the origins, engine capacity, fuel consumption or upholstery of that beloved and uninsured vehicle in the ditch. Or check whether they share its owner’s political beliefs.

Mostly because of this history, commonality of lived experience as under-resourced arts practitioners required ‘to be and do many things’ has usually but not always loved and transcended difference. For example, some artists liked the idea of experimenting in the Women’s Gallery space with work that didn’t interest their dealers. But they didn’t want to share the space with women who didn’t identify as artists, but had stories they wanted to tell. And those women who didn’t identify as artists in turn didn’t engage with a definition like ‘using the methods of art as an interrogative tool’, as Bridie once described the gallery’s function. But in the end, both groups exhibited together. Some artists and visitors who were ambivalent didn’t become engaged neighbours: Tilly Lloyd wrote in A Women’s Picture Book, ‘I remember controversies at the Women’s Gallery, in particular that we [lesbians] felt the gallery was very heterosexual, and that the heterosexual women found it very lesbian’. I remember wanting to establish a Tampax artist-in-residence programme at The Women’s Gallery. The question generated a debate where differences could not be accommodated or transcended; and was resolved by abandoning the idea. The Māori editor and most of the Māori contributors to A Women’s Picture Book withdrew from the project because of a lesbian image of menstrual blood that offended them and is a memorable example of a painful difference with consequences that endured.

But there’s been minimal debate about and no policing of, for example, participants’ ‘feminism’ — many participants haven’t defined themselves as ‘feminists’, though most find some feminist analysis useful. If Spiral had had a feminist-only agenda, it’s possible that (for instance) it might not have published the bone people: New Zealand’s New Women’s Press and the British feminist Women’s Press both rejected it, at least one, I understand, because it wasn’t feminist enough. When Allie Eagle exchanged radical lesbian feminism for ‘celibacy & church going’ in 1980 she no longer worked in Spiral collectives but, like Joanna who had also moved on, continued as a Spiral neighbour. Both were included in A Women’s Picture Book and at the turn of the century Spiral recorded Allie and her mother at length about her mother’s experiences within the mental health system, as part of the Getting Free project. And of course she appears in this Spiral 2015–2022 story. In a current and parallel issue, in today’s pandemic some artists associated with Spiral who are anti-vax and anti-mandate and some aren’t, but that doesn’t affect any support given, just adds a bit of grit to day-to-day relationships at times.

As another simple and day-to-day example of holding space for difference, at the Women’s Gallery, within a physical space described in an early leaflet as ‘educational’, ‘supportive’ and ‘exploratory’, the offerings to visitors depended on the perspective of the co-ordinator(s) making the arrangements and on the resources currently available, not a set organisational position. We always offered tea and conversation to visitors passing through. But at openings and other events one co-ordinator might offer tea, juice and food. Another would offer wine (or better wine) and juice and generic snacks. One party lover used to organise a range of alcoholic drinks (and tea). From memory, there was no alcohol at the launches of The House of the Talking Cat in a little central Wellington theatre and of the bone people at Te Ako Pai, the Wellington Teachers College marae.

Organisational Simplicity & Its Consequences

Historically the legal system and its associated corporate and institutional frameworks have often damaged women. These structures are also largely irrelevant to neighbourliness. And artist actions, in particular, from their hearts and gut feelings, as expressed as neighbourhood ‘charity’ (in its earliest meaning as an act of love), don’t go well with regulation. As a result, like many other artist collectives, Spiral has always minimised its bureaucracy and resisted becoming institutionalised within corporate structures and behaviours. This is consistent with Keri Hulme’s attitude to charitable actions, expressed in a letter in the 1980s: ‘[How]…can you have institutional charity? At best you have one human being capable of helping another, and doing so — and no looking into motives, politics, or prejudices. A kind of charity by osmosis’.

But, in a bare bones operation, the Women’s Gallery/Spiral was an incorporated society ‘to support and promote women artists’ and registered as a charity for about 25 years from 1980. This broad purpose, without any modifier, affirmed Heather’s original aim of ‘women working together for women’s voices to be heard, positively’ and, implicitly, her focus on ‘the amalgam of the arts’. The structure was a necessary resource, with the sole function of making sure that funds raised were meticulously disbursed only for the purpose of supporting and promoting women artists and if available for a specific project only, to that project only; and that the associated records were meticulously kept and reported.

Anarchocraftivist (The Revolution Will Be Ceramicised) Carrie Reichardt’s plate.

Spiral’s purposes and organisational simplicity continue to affect collective practices and the language (not) used. Within the overarching ‘support and promote’ idea, any statements in the archives aren’t described as ‘vision’ or ‘mission’. They are formulated only occasionally, at the beginning of projects and are not again referred to. Here’s the first known statement, from the Christchurch Women Artists Group’s log book:

and The Women’s Gallery’s manifesto and that early leaflet which referred to its ‘educational’, ‘supportive’ and ‘exploratory’ aims. In another example of ‘what if?’, every now and then some of us also respond to a particular problem by formulating a ‘best practice’ for a specific project or kind of project, e.g. ‘Spiral’s interview protocols’.

There are no five-year or even annual plans, let alone a ‘strategic plan’, just a flexible plan for each project as it arrives, with its built-in self-determination and sustainability, and plenty of space for ‘What if?’s that offer positive change. Unless absolutely necessary for legal reasons, no use of corporate terms like ‘board’, ‘brand’, ‘affiliate’, ‘governance’, ‘chair’, ‘stakeholder’ and their associated practices, all alien to the spirit of egalitarian neighbourliness and its quiet practices.⁹

There’s never a CEO or CFO or UFO, or even a manager, just ‘collective member’ or ‘co-ordinator’ (this is probably why I and others from Spiral felt and feel so at home with Mokopōpaki’s ‘Keeper of the House’ and ‘Tea-Lady’). The neutral ‘collective member’ or ‘co-ordinator’ terminology makes it easy to share responsibilities; to move from offering and giving help to another artist to receiving help with a personal artistic project; from leading to following; to be unfazed and flexible when other commitments or interests require a neighbour to withdraw for a while or permanently; and to experiment with ‘roles and capability’ as Heather wanted. Artist and writer neighbours focus on the task at hand and on supporting one another to make and distribute their best work; and further flex their generous and creative selves by playing with ‘What if?’ when they can.

Spiral and ‘Career’

Another question I got asked this year was why my Spiral experience didn’t appear in a cv someone had seen. Unsurprisingly, Spiral collective members’ neighbourly practices aren’t career oriented. I do include Spiral projects in my cv sometimes, to explain some of its gaps, or if I’m part of a Spiral application for funding. But not often. And I’d bet that most of those involved with Spiral, even Heather, who intermittently made her living as an editor and proof reader, didn’t and don’t have Spiral projects in their cvs. There was once a Women’s Gallery co-ordinator who sometimes described herself as a ‘gallery director’ but that was rare. Yes, being a good neighbour does provide useful experience and develop useful skills. But it’s done for love, not as a career booster. This doesn’t mean that it has no benefits beyond the feel-good factor.

How Everyone Benefits

Again and again I’ve heard that Spiral benefits both artist-writer neighbours who help *and* those who are helped. As examples, from a period I studied in early 2022 while co-writing Keri’s obituary, Irihapeti and Miriama told an interviewer, before the bone people won the Booker Prize, that as its publishers they didn’t measure its success in dollars; they had received new skills, a new outlook on literature and an abundance of aroha.¹⁰ Later, in her PhD thesis, Irihapeti wrote ‘I learned very valuable lessons from the experience about pushing out parameters, staying true to beliefs, and hard nosed international literary contract negotiation’¹¹. In an earlier letter, as an artist and writer who Spiral supported, Keri Hulme wrote ‘Is it a coincidence that since the Women’s Gallery opened I have been read more, indeed have written more openly? What would have come about, without Spiral, the Gallery?’ ([?1982], around the time Spiral 5 came out, with Keri’s review of The Kuia & the Spider/ Te Kuia me te Pūngāwerere; her long poemTrying to Appease Mother Earth’; and an excerpt from Bait, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa).

But, even for those of us who’ve participated in many projects, our Spiral contributions are intermittent. As good neighbours to Spiral, collective members also happily stay in or move on or back to larger scale institutions and to organisations that default to different ‘Rules’. Often they remain good neighbours from wherever they are. Daphne Brasell is an outstanding example. She worked at Government Print from 1979–1984 and was a member of the Spiral 5 collective. Later, within Government Print, she worked hard to support the bone people’s first edition (all binding beautifully sewn) and A Women’s Picture Book. Neither would have happened without her and the embargoed archives show that — unsurprisingly — it seemed sometimes a challenge for Daphne to sustain both systems, neighbourly collectivity and commercial imperatives. Bridie and Lynne Ciochetto remained good neighbours from within their academic worlds right up to the present; Tilly from her bookselling, too. As practitioners, individuals move on in other ways, often to experiment and trespass further with ideas and skills learned with Spiral.

The Kitchen Table Element

Opening course in one of Dr P’s series of dinners for writers.

As just ‘a part of life, subject to the strains and joys of domestic existence’, Spiral’s neighbourliness also comfortably aligns with the careful, domestic, kitchen table practices of many women artists and writers. With ‘Ladies a Plate’, too. Dr P, apron on and going for it on our single gas burner and elsewhere, again and again. Irihapeti through the door with a huge pot of chilli con carne. Tiffany and a delicious deep dish something. Miriama’s menu and shopping list (now in ATL) for the bone people launch. Bridie and I with our modest sandwiches for many guests, with French bread, cheese and tomatoes, with Vogel’s bread and sundry fillings, like mushrooms and aioli. Joanna with a home-made sweet loaf in a rectangular tin, wrapped in a threadbare tea-towel. Heather with macaroni cheese and weed salad on the day Lynne took me to meet her for the first time; and her legendary boiled chicken.


Beyond sharing with one another, being good neighours to artists and writers, and making available the floating imprint, Spiral makes neighbourly loans and gifts outward to projects where we otherwise have no direct involvement. Like passing on the Spiral’s first digital movie camera and accessories. Like connecting people to other people and providing information of various kinds, including responses to academic researchers. These activities are often treats.

There are neighbourly gifts inward, too, often when least expected. Warm thanks always to those generous neighbours and helpful passers-by for these and, often, the associated gift of relationships that last decades. As regular neighbours-in-need Spiral members always remember these people with special gratitude and can only reciprocate through a public acknowledgement and sharing the gifts in the very best way we can. This morning I think of three who offered us spiritual or material resources and who died not long ago: Huirangi Waikerepuru (1929–2020), Lydia Wevers (1950–2021) and Manuka Henare (1942–2021). I also think of Ross Wilson, who as a young lawyer at Bell Gully helped us form an incorporated society in 1980 and reappeared to Spiral this year, in another helpful hat. And reflect with gratitude on all the other generous lawyers, from Ross’s colleague the late Ruth Charters onwards.

I think too of Alison Laurie, who didn’t know us but offered Getting Free a useful space at Gender & Women’s Studies at Victoria University in the late 1990s including space on the university’s website for various projects including Lesbian Landscapes, Getting Free and our Mahi Ata: Mahi Ahua film festival and for beloved people, like Irihapeti Ramsden and Shirley Grace; and this week continues to invite people to join the Spiral Facebook page (also focused on getting women’s words and images out into the world!).

From Small Scale to Larger?

Spiral’s contributions have been small-scale, usually reflecting Joanna’s ‘anonymity…utility quietness relatedness’. Today, I’m intrigued to explore how would it be possible for artists to to hang on to the knowledge that ‘to concentrate all meaning and energy into a work of art is to leave life dry and banal’ and retain and amplify neighbourly practices, in particular their essential elements of sustainability and family friendliness, within a larger project. Without having to adopt corporate structures, language and behaviours. I know for instance, that at the Women’s Gallery the artists who worked there full-time, seizing every opportunity available to support other artists and writers, found it a challenge to sustain their own arts practices. Mostly we resolved this by creating our own works for theme exhibitions or by designing and printing publicity materials, at the Media Collective’s studio. Our personal financial situations were problematic, too: even when we were paid a basic wage through a government employment programme our incomes were low and often shared. Cumulatively, the demands of our neighbourly commitments sometimes upset the balance of ‘daily living’: sometimes our domestic lives became difficult to sustain and that particularly affected our children.

But to consider scaling up seems especially urgent when women artist income continues to be much less than men’s — our gendered pay gaps are significantly greater than it is for women in many other occupations — and when our wellbeing is often at-risk in arts environments. And especially urgent when the effect of Covid on women’s wellbeing is now also pervasive. Experts Clare Dale and Susan St John reported recently:

‘…the economic burdens of Covid-19 fall disproportionately on women, making the gender pension gap worse.

“Women’s employment in hospitality, childcare, cleaning of places like universities and schools that were all closed, work that can’t be done remotely — it’s primarily done by women,” Dale says.

“At the same time, closure of childcare facilities made a lot of women unable to work. And then the thing that was particularly irritating was that the [150 government-funded] shovel-ready projects were geared entirely to male employment.”

Spiral is usually shovel-ready and one of these projects would encourage scaled-up development of our neighbourly practices.

The Future

Doris Lessing’s emphasis on providing opportunity to blossom, already referred to, still holds true and remains how part of how Spiral works in 2022, as well as many other groups — thinking particularly today of Home Ground, ‘a collaborative creativity and wellbeing initiative for women who have experienced incarceration or are engaged in the justice system’. And the Te Korowai Trust’s Māra Kai project, with its unstructured processes that provide productive outcomes for the women involved. But as already noted, Spiral as publisher is perhaps now redundant.

The books we’ve published, overwhelmingly by Māori and/or queer women or by mixed groups that included some heterosexual Pākehā women, would probably appear today via inspiring and innovative publishers like Huia, Mākaro, Seraph, Taraheke|BushLawyer, or many other long-established publishers. For evidence, just look at this list!

Lots of self-publishing writers and entrepreneurial artists, too. Even in the most expensive art form, screen storytelling, there’s a flowering for women of all kinds.

But I don’t think a conventional publisher would have taken on Women’s Film Festivals & #womeninfilm Databases; and I’ve had a lovely time with Emer and Biz, working on Heather’s i do not cede eBook+audiobook that probably wouldn’t interest another publisher. Emer and Biz were instinctively and immediately ‘good neighbours’ to Heather, to each other, to me from ‘old’ Spiral; and to Spiral. The system still works well and brings joy, even when the primary communication takes place on Zoom.

I visited ATL with Biz in late December 2021, to look at Heather’s handwriting.

I loved hearing her responses to it from a font designer perspective.

She went home to work on the cover of i do not cede.

And in the meantime, the recipient of that 2015 beanie has learned to write and did so in response to a parcel of new beanies in mid-2021, for him and for his younger brother.

The world moves on.


¹ Art New Zealand 166 Winter 2018 80–83, 81 & 83.
² Art New Zealand Autumn 2020: 110–111.
³ The first institutional exhibition to examine comprehensively the international foundations and legacy of art made under the influence of feminism. This groundbreaking and long-awaited historical survey focused on the crucial period of 1965 to 1980, when the majority of feminist activism and art making took place around the world. WACK! describes the Woman’s [sic] Gallery as ‘the first feminist art cooperative in New Zealand’, which isn’t true. As noted, ‘feminist’ was a problematic descriptor. And depending on how ‘cooperative’ is defined and how they defined themselves, the first feminist co-operative was Wellington’s Ngā Tuahine Marama (uncertain dates), or the group that ran the CSA exhibition in 1977. Or even the women artists group Heather founded in 1974. Or another group that’s dropped out of sight.
A Women’s Picture Book: 25 Women Artists of Aotearoa New Zealand (1988) eds Marian Evans, Bridie Lonie, Tilly Lloyd, 40.
⁵ Marilynn’s references to ‘Jim’ are to James Mack, later Galvan Macnamara, celebrated in Spiral’s Sister Galvan.
⁶ ‘Ugh, neighbours, I hate that word,’ said an early reader, who’s had unhappy experiences with those who live nearby. ‘Why not manaakitanga, since we live in Aotearoa?’ I thought about that. In my experience, Māori associated with Spiral, in collectives and as neighbourly contributors, have always brought their manaakitanga with them and set a high bar for the neighbourly practices of the rest of us, whose neighbourly heritage may come from practices based on the Biblical golden rule of loving your neighbour as yourself and/or the practices of rural communities and/or ‘sisterhood’ experiences. But, in my view, like kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga is Māori, just as karanga, mana wāhine and moko kauae are for Māori women only. Spiral women who aren’t Maori can have only limited understanding of manaakitanga and be inspired by its inclusiveness, generosity and effectiveness; and can only aspire to responding appropriately to its expression by individual Māori within Spiral projects. They can also aspire to responding appropriately to expressions of manaakitanga at associated events and projects within Māori contexts. Like the bone people’s launch at Te Ako Pai, the Wellington Teachers College marae, where we followed Keri Kaa’s direction and worked in the kitchen. Like This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu where we also collaborated, under direction. But the primary challenge for those of us in Spiral, who are inspired by manaakitanga and aren’t Māori, is to identify, build on and consistently improve on our own neighbourly practices, some of them inherited, including offerings like prayers, songs, and hospitality, and safe spaces where precious things are cared for, aiming for a vital ‘in-our-own-lane’ integrity of action and expression. Contemporary models for some of this are the Common Unity Project and Everybody Eats. This view also resists appropriation of any Māori language as a kind of garnish, while supporting and working towards the vision of a world where we all can converse in Māori every day. Imagine if we lived in a country like others with more than one language, where people switch to and fro with ease and if a conversation started with ‘kia ora’ it continued in Māori!
⁷ It’s not surprising, given the hard-lived experience of most Spiral members, that so many of us had or have chronic illnesses and so many of us have died too young.

⁸ 1. Prohibitions Prevent women from access to the basic tools for writing.
2. Bad Faith Unconsciously create social systems that ignore or devalue women’s writing.
3. Denial of Agency Deny that a woman wrote it.
4. Pollution of Agency Show that their art is immodest, not actually art, or on subjects that shouldn’t have been written about.
5. The Double Standard of Content Claim that one set of experiences is considered more valuable than another.
6. False Categorising Incorrectly categorize women artists as the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists.
7. Isolation Create a myth of isolated achievement that claims that only one work or short series of poems is considered great.
8. Anomalousness Assert that the woman in question is eccentric or atypical.
9. Lack of Models Reinforce a male author dominance in literary canons in order to cut off women writers’ inspiration and role models.
10. Responses Force women to deny their female identity in order to be taken seriously.
11. Aesthetics Popularize aesthetic works that contain demeaning roles and characterizations of women.

⁹ This mostly happened in relation to the incorporated society and most regularly at the Women’s Gallery, the closest Spiral and associates came to ‘building our own house’, which I wrote about here. But even at the Women’s Gallery the ‘Chair’ role at our brief ‘official’ meetings circulated; and plans were almost always quite short term because of our precarious resources (some co-ordinators were paid a basic wage for a few months via the Temporary/Project Employment Programmes; some of that money was often shared with another full-time co-ordinator with a smaller income). Mostly those plans were made in response to someone’s ‘What if?’ question about a particular issue that affected women, like Women & Violence (1981) initiated by Heather and completed by Sharon Alston, Anna Keir’s Self Image (1982), or Bridie Lonie’s Women & the Environment (1981). For these and many other theme exhibitions and their associated programmes, co-ordinators aimed to be the kind of neighbour who went from door to door, to offer a warm welcome and space to contribute to a diversity of artists, to others who didn’t define themselves primarily as artists and for women with an informed and interesting opinion to share within associated programmes, almost always with child care available on-site or nearby. For instance, for Art By Maori Women (1980) we invited individual artists like Keri Hulme, Robyn Kahukiwa, Shona Rapira-Davies and Susie Roiri and a group from Hongoeka Marae; and borrowed historical kete from the National Museum. Women & Violence (1981) had an especially strong associated programme with contributions from lots of individuals and community groups. For Mothers (1981), I remember an ongoing relationship with the New Mothers Support Group and how each of the public galleries the exhibition toured to developed unique associated programmes. Often artists used their participation as an opportunity to experiment, to make and show work/content that did not interest their dealers. Sometimes they did this anonymously or pseudonymously.

¹⁰ New Zealand Herald 11 September 1984.

¹¹ Irihapeti Ramsden Cultural Safety and Nursing Education in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu, 44.

Poster for A Figurehead: A Face (1982), designed by Anna Keir and Marian Evans. Heather’s first, sell-out, collection, also the first in Aotearoa by an out lesbian; and Spiral’s first monograph. The printing quality was shocking and we didn’t think to ask the printer to put it right. And there Spiral is described as ‘ a feminist literary and arts magazine’ which must have been how we felt at the time…
The first poem in A Figurehead: A Face.
M, And I’m done with the chalk. Threshold inscription, Mokopōpaki, Auckland, 2018. Courtesy Mokopōpaki, Auckland. Photo: Adrienne Martyn



Open research project on Spiral Collectives of Aotearoa New Zealand, their founder Heather McPherson, & associated women & activities. Welcome! Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/1304706129559197/

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Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.