Kōtiro in the video for 'Force Field'

Kōtiro: The force field next door

A new release by Ana Chaya Scotney (Kōtiro) on Kuini Qontrol, the new artist support platform created by musician/writer/artist Coco Solid, tells a story of grief and transformation. Coco Solid and Scotney discuss place, growth and unlearning.  

FORCE FIELD from Kōtiro on Vimeo.

Coco Solid: Nō hea koe – where are you from? What is your whakapapa and the stomping grounds you claim? 

Ana Chaya Scotney: Ko Tarapounamu te maunga. Ko Te Manawa-A-Hiwi te awa. Ko Ngāti Tawhaki ki Ngaputahi te hapū. Ko Mataatua te waka. Ko Ngāi Tūhoe te iwi.

I was born and raised in the city of Wellington, mainly with my mum in Karori West. I’m Rire’s only child, and Joe’s middle child of five. My extended whānau are scattered all around, I would go back to the bush to stay with Dad in the hols growing up. I still head back to the hills whenever I can to see whanaunga in Rotorua, Ngaputahi, Ruatāhuna, Tuai and Napier.

On Mum’s side we have extended whānau who live in Israel. I have been to that part of the ao a fair few times. It is complex, politically asymmetric and fierce. The people I have met on the day to day have been frank, loving and open. I love my whanaunga in the Middle East so much and have learned a great deal from them about art. But Wellington is the original and most tūturu of stomping grounds. It’s the place I always come back to to recalibrate, centre up and restore.

I see Kōtiro as a “been here before” kind of storyteller and I clocked the “old soul” hair clips in Force Field – is there a truth/gag to that idea?

The styling on this vid is really a homage to the dollar stores of Avondale, the absolute MVPs! A lot of the visual style is Frankie Berge and Sam Small, my homegirls and collaborative forces for this work.

The “old soul” clips were just us thinking on fun ways to incorporate a little storytelling element with a cartoonish buzz, to point to some of our earnest spiritual influences: like Hine Titama and Hine Nui Te Pō (the legend that underpins the video). So it’s 50/50 gag and serious.

Tell us about making the Force Field music video independently and how it ties into the song itself? 

Force Field as a waiata was made as an improvisation one afternoon at my flat in Point Chevalier. The video is about death, then getting up and carrying on. The song is like a karakia asking to have the courage to do that. I felt like Hine Titama’s transition into Hine Nui Te Pō is such an epic allegory for that shift. So that’s how it ties together.

How did Kōtiro become your ingoa?

The general-ness of “Te Kōtiro” or “The Girl” was a personal reclamation of identity. A new ground zero given this slightly miscellaneous composition of a personal title. Also, I wanted my personal work to have a different identity to the mahi I do as an actor. I like Kōtiro, cause my dad would call me that, and so would my friend Carrie, a former judge in the Māori Land Court. They were one of the only people who I felt safe to talk kaupapa and reo Māori with. Especially in Wellington as a teenager, I was in a super Pākehā imperialist space. Carrie used to call me Kōtiro, and we had a yarn once about how it was kinda a cute, bossy yet cheeky kupu, in its feel and the combo of syllables. “Te Kōtiro” is now just “Kōtiro”.

Ana Te Kōtiro was an avatar for your zine life initially. Zines are a big part of your creative life too.

I love zines because they are so fun and freeing, yet simultaneously fragile. I love their hand-craftedness, especially as more of my life and comms take residence online. I love how at zinefests you just have your little trestle table of ideas and offerings, their own currency, to receive and exchange about anything and everything. Niche topics like sunscreens that don’t aggravate skin, double chins, poetry, anarchism and whatever else is needing an outlet. Zine-making, for me, represents and is total creative freedom and non-self conscious output, for you and whomever it resonates with. The scale is small, local and immediate; this smallness and analogue-ness keeps me focused on the things I value most, unlike the pressure that can come with putting out work in the field of TV, film or live performance.

Ana Scotney in Contours of Heaven (Photo: Owen McCarthy)

A lot of people were introduced to you through your experimental theatre work. For me it was *cough* critically acclaimed, went to New York *cough* “Contours of Heaven”, where you play multiple young people from Te Matau-a-Māui in the Hawke’s Bay. What was that journey like for you?

That journey was massive. Fun, hard, dicey, windy, cold, warm, fab. It was mega. I was speaking first hand to rangatahi in Hawke’s Bay, performing the show in all kinds of places. From my whānau’s lounge in Tua to a boardroom at the Ministry of Social Development, at Basement in Auckland, Bats in Wellington, right through to New York. It was a trip.

I collaborated with Puti Lancaster, who conceptualised and directed the show. It revealed my immaturity and knowledge blindspots regarding the correlation between class, the shortsightedness of our educational and judicial systems and the colonial architecture of “New Zealand”. All these things maintaining a stronghold over our ability to make choices and delineate where we start and end, where a politic starts and ends, thus systematically interrupting our processes.

It’s about the choices we have to lift our own spirit and realise potential. Very cathartic, healing, beautiful. I love that show, and I love Puti. I am infinitely grateful to have been able to co-create that show and being (as you would say) the “thespian avatar” for Puti. To be able to cultivate her ideas and stories alongside [her].

And then there is this surreal twist that some people will have arrived at your work through your short stint on Shortland Street. How does that experience scaffold into your body of work (if at all)?

OMG this seminal gig, eh. I was stoked and honoured to have been in the Ferndale fold for a hot (cranky, disillusioning, yikes, beautiful, fun-filled, hedonistic, teary, existential, romantic) minute. Remember that kuia at the Avondale markets who yelled out at us “you pretty cow, you play that bitch so well!”? RIP. I’m happy Angel won’t be my legacy though, well hopefully not. But she is def a part of my DNA now, and I’m proud to have been her whare tangata to convey her story in all its glory!

I knew from the onset that mahi was going to be a bit of an endurance piece. It was necessary to gain better understanding of the craft of performance, and to get better at acting for screen. Angel had some of those aforementioned qualities of Kōtiro and I cherish that. Coming to the end of my lil stint there, it took some recalibrating to put it behind me. But I can honestly say now that I have nothing but gratitude for it as an experience. And the team who work there are incredible, tenacious, smart and ultra. Working at that pace was groundbreaking for me. It helped to level up in work ethic. I’m coming back to the more soft-flowing, organic freelancer-esque buzz. Covid iso 2020 style.

Your loop pedal and stacked vocals are a cool device/signature for your upcoming record HD Multinational. What’s your relationship with producing vs live music?

I feel like everyone knows that loop pedals are what non-musicians play to make music. I thrash mine pretty hard!

I love hooning the loop, zine-style, cause it’s immediate, you can execute something quick and free, without having to tutu with a computer. Keeping it analogue, and the voice is a cool way of employing my thespian back-bone; trying out transforming vocally, as you would a character. Producing has been a graduation process. Working with Thomas Lambert (Sonorous Circle) to try and grow the limited cycle of a loop into actual songs with structure, making them more dynamic and introducing other elements besides voice.

Ana Scotney as Sepa (centre left) in The Breaker Upperers (Image: The Breaker Upperers)

I’ve always loved how you go out and you ask to learn from people, no ego. You’re transparent about taking on knowledge through your collaborations with others. Me, Rose Matafeo, Madeleine Sami – I mean, you and I met cold on the street when I got out of the nail salon and I was sold! So is the tuakana/teina dynamic important to you?

Jackie Van Beek, Puti Lancaster, Jo Randerson, Eleanor Bishop too. I feel like this dynamic has been really vital these past couple of years. Just to un-learn some of what I learned (to be tika and pono) from my formal education. Unlearning certain trainings to assimilate, to fit in to international models of “success”, or follow examples of artists and film makers from Europe and America, as the pinnacle.

Maybe there has been a shift in artist models and performance styles, but when I trained in screen class, in voice class, we’d constantly be looking at American and British films and being asked to mimic them as indicators of our ability. What about finding work with people speaking in our vernacular?

I had a person in my class who once said, “I never realised how Māori you sound, you sound fresh off the pā”. And another friend who once said: “Ana, you’ll have a really good career in playing people’s best friend.” On some of these grounds, I thought I would be in a dank basement making for an audience of five for my whole career – which would be all good too! But I still sometimes feel this weird outsider complex or I’m in actual awe whenever anyone gives me a job on their piece.

Looking to tuakana, my dad was also the mightiest of tuakana for me. We’d talk about culture, what constitutes being authentic as a person, the creative oratory forms that can be inhaled in the modern time (movies, music, comics) and where we come from. It was about being peaceful and gentle with who and what you are. Being a part of a wider whānau and social fabric.

He died when I was 19, four days into my starting at university. So, without him to bounce off as a pou, I felt that absence of like-mindedness, hard. Mum is a rad teacher too, but I think that has asked heaps of her at times.

I think, in asking tuakana what they think and feel about the world, and their vantage points which are distinct, beautiful and smart as all hika, I am looking for the likeness that I held with Dad. For that viewpoint that resonated in new but similar ways to what I could share with him. At the very least, I’m looking for people to affirm there are heaps of different ways to be. All the different ways to engage with juggernauts like politics, media, film, TV, music, and just be yourself. Might sound shallow, but I deem movies and stuff as pop-cultural oratory forms of storytelling. Ways we can approach with what’s been laid down by our tīpuna.

This article was first published on Kuini Qontrol.

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