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Amongst the 6500 of children who took part in the Children’s Tile Wall project in 1999 were two nine year old dudes, Thomas Teutenberg at Central School, and Jack Pullen at Mangapapa School.

The adult Thomas, now mostly known as Tom, speculates that he “probably stared at that tile for quite some time.”

He is rather perplexed by his self portrait, in which he appears as a Pokemon character by the name of Charizard, with red wings emerging from his head. “I probably had some Pokemon cards in my pocket at the time, and I do remember that I had acquired a whole set of the Charizard cards, which were pretty rare, and I was quite proud of.  So that’s probably where that all came from”.

An adult Jack, now known as Jack Marshall, recalls that he was probably living in a cow shed with his dad at the time of the Tile Wall project, which he remembers thinking was the best thing in the world, “We had a little potbelly fire we’d heat the jug on. It was very rustic – like camping, but all the time”.  Jack also recalls 1999 as the year in which the internet came on the scene; the year he touched a cell phone for the very first time. 

Jack’s tile is especially memorable for the bars that feature as the background to his self portrait. And while Jack’s face is in front of the bars as opposed to behind it, he ruminates that the bars were probably a reflection of the powerlessness he was experiencing as an individualistic nine year old still being told when to go to bed, and to do the dishes.

Pakiwaitara – If This Wall Could Talk – is the first project that has been announced for the 2020 Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival and it involves the creation of a digital retrospective of the Children’s Tile Wall.  

The intention of the organisers is to try and track down as many of the tiles’ creators as possible and for those creators to then create an updated digital portrait for a new digital wall; a work to express that generation as they are now.  

It’s an interesting proposition for those original artists as they attempt to conjure up memory of that time they painted a self portrait on a tile twenty years ago; as they come face to face with that artwork, which now also exists in the digital realm; and moreover start to consider how they might represent themselves as they are now, here in these interesting times of 2020.

The project organisers suggest some simple starting points to that challenge: “Me pēhea koe? How are you?” “Where are you? What have you been up to? What is your life now?” 

It is tempting to try and draw parallels between past and present selves; Tom admits to still collecting things, with cameras replacing the Pokemon cards “I’m trying to get rid of a few actually..not all in working condition” and Jack muses that he’s a different man to his nine year old self because of his different name, but still essentially still the same “just hairier, wealthier and more independent”.

I am looking forward to seeing what a wall of selfies looks like in 2020. I imagine it might not be the easiest process for a lot of people, but for those who manage to dig it in and produce something, it will provide a poignant window into more hazy memories of another time and self, once we’re another twenty years down the track.

Pakiwaitara will feature when the Festival runs from 2-11 October.

Words by Sarah Cleave, Images X Tom Teutenberg, Sarah Cleave.

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