Essay

The Single Object At Home Edition: To Set a Table

It's the little things that really matter croon Trinity Roots. Thinking about single objects of meaning during our lockdown, it is in the everyday little things where I have found comfort. Mealtimes have taken on much bigger emphasis; more forward planning is required now I can no longer pop over to the grocery store. I take more time to pore over old cookbooks or google new recipes for those same five pantry ingredients. To avoid queues, staples from the deep freezer are enhanced with foraged fungi, harvested micro-greens (my pre-lockdown panic buy) and roadside produce stalls (coin in a jar).

I am celebrating meals by using dependable and robust stoneware from Temuka Potteries, South Canterbury, New Zealand. My matching set of 1970s brown tableware is a delight to behold and handle. It is not a family heirloom (though most families I know have owned these) nor have I collected it piece by piece. I satisfied my desire in two easy trade-me purchases and then coaxed Wellington friends to store banana boxes for me until I could cross Cook Strait and collect. Pre-Christmas last year pieces were finally unpacked, washed and placed on new shelves. Now I am enjoying living with a decent set that includes ovenware and trying these pieces out. 

In past projects, I have applied the Māori term whakapaipai meaning to make beautiful and ornament but this concept of course extends beyond personal adornment. The root word whakapai means to prepare and improve, but it also means to make good, bless and to set a table. 

Over the last four scattered weeks the table setting has been a constant. Not just one single object as an item but the definite purpose - to set, to put, to ready. For a short time setting a table in brown riverstone crockery does make it better. Albeit convention, discipline or ritual - setting the table gives reassuring structure to the day, and makes mealtime an occasion, pause to reflect, even be grateful.

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Dr Areta Wilkinson (Kāi Tahu) is an artist based in Oxford, New Zealand. Wilkinson’s practice engages with Māori philosophies and knowledge unique to Aotearoa New Zealand. Recent exhibitions include; The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, AU (2018); and Kōrero Mai Kōrero Atu at Auckland Museum, Auckland (2016).  Wilkinson is well represented in New Zealand public collections.

Temuka crockery on Areta Wilkinson's table. Image: Studio La Gonda

Temuka crockery. Image: Studio La Gonda