Oct 10, 2023

Listen For Your Words

For the 2022 HBAF two researchers sat in a small writing room outside the Hastings City Art Gallery interviewing anyone who came along on the subject of Home. This year – for the duration of the HBAF - the stories collected will be posted up in a laneway at Toitoi for all to read. Over three days, 70+ people gave their stories. The youngest participant was 3, the oldest over 80.  Of those, 40 snippets appear in the Toitoi lane.


During the interviews, the researchers wrote comprehensive notes and quotes with 2B pencils on 80gsm A4 paper. Each account was pegged like washing on a line above their heads. Over the three days the ‘washing’ grew until the ceiling was invisible except for a white cloud of sheets.


From there the stories were read and an erasure technique was used to pull out the key thoughts while retaining the voice of the story teller.


“It was vital that the voice of the person was kept safe, so readers could hear them, but we wanted the seeds of what they thought of home to really stand out, so clutter was culled and tangents and red herrings removed,” says Jess Soutar Barron who coordinated both works.


“People who gave their stories should be able to hear themselves when they come along to the laneway and read the collection. Other people though should just hear the story, and imagine the voice and the person it might belong to. By doing that each viewer is co-creating the work,” Jess explains. “It’s not really about individual stories, it’s about us all together creating this sense of what home is for us, collectively.”


During the collecting process all but a few stories were spoken aloud to the researchers. One was written out, left unsigned and anonymous under the door mat at the front step of the writer’s room. In many ways, it is this piece that sums up the kaupapa of the works. Elements of it appear below.


The 2022 project was titled Put My Ear To The Ground. This year’s is called Listen For Your Words. Both lines come from a poem written by the late Puti Lancaster, whose verbatim-theatre practice inspired these two works.  Puti left a mark on many makers in Heretaunga. She insisted on a participative practice with anyone who came to work with her.


 “It was all-in, or nothing at all,” explains Jess Soutar Barron.

“I came into her orbit as an observer, wanting to capture objectively her practice, while staying firmly and comfortably in the shadows, but she pulled me in and insisted on anyone in the same space bringing our full and complete selves, background, wishes, stories, fragilities, strengths and all into whatever the work was and whatever it became. It was never enough to simply put my ear to the ground and listen for her words, I needed to actively collaborate. This is a big ask for a natural-born observer, how to keep ego in check and let story win out while still being present and responsible as the holder of those stories.”

"The process of making work has always meant more than the finished product. These stories have been invited, gathered, considered and shaped with respect for the original, but they are not the tellers’ stories any more, they belong to all of us, as a collection.”


Listen For Your Words is a collaborative work led by Jess Soutar Barron with support from Creative Communities Hastings.


Excerpt from anonymous Thank You note:

“Puti dearest, This is the closest I will get to having another conversation with you - albeit it is one-way at the moment. So if you were to ask me what “home” means to me - it’s not a place but a feeling in my heart - of being safe, of being secure, of being connected to others from whom I derive nourishment and in return, can nourish. Having lived and worked in different countries my gypsy shoes always have called me for my next adventure. This freedom has been given to me by my parents who provided me with a loving, safe and caring home and then kicked me out of the nest and told me to fly free of encumbrances. Home is now Heretaunga and it seems the perfect place to be. Thank you Puti for opening your heart and my eyes to the meaningful stories of others.”



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