Ulu utu


ULU: I come from Sikusiilak, now called Kinngait, Nunavat, from Sanna our sea mother and from Anirnialik the great spirit. I come from their sediments and silt and wrinkles of age, their breath and gleams of light. I come from the skinning-sewing-knowing of women. I am steel and caribou antler, slate and sunken wood. Like my grandmothers, my aunts and my cousins I have shapeshifted at times. Through my work I sing back to them. Listen. They are all around. We are Ulu.

UTU: I greet you, Ulu. I come from another sea, from Tauranga-moana, Aotearoa, from te ao mārama – and from elsewhere. I come from the unbroken line of memory, fluctuating but unbroken. From the ceaseless alchemical reinventions of our mother Papa-tū-ā-nuku. From her matters. Oxblood. Iron. Potassium... I come from patterning-remembering-knowings. From mattering-marking-knowings. Look, here are my ancestors now, mingling with yours, still wearing our marks of blue. I come from celestial accountings. Measure of all measures. We are Utu.

ULU: Greetings, blue Utu. …I have by now greeted so many, my encounters are numberless. Seal and walrus. Caribou and wolf. Though never together, for land and sea must remain separate. In life and in death I have known them. Passage is my legacy. Blubber and flesh, skins and hides. They shade me red. I have fed and clothed. I have paid my way. I have passed down with my cutting secrets, from the deft hands of elders to young and clumsy daughters. Now I pass again. From these familial hands to your handler, her hands. She will meet none sharper. To handle me well, she will need to learn my language. As I will learn hers. As we both have learned this strange tongue.

UTU: Ah but you live as paper now and she handles paper well! I too live on as ink-marked skin, as did my tupuna. And as paper-skin I carry still other ancestors forward with me. The measured matters that made me blue. The hands that mixed those matters. The thoughts that became this image you see upon me. The moment when your handler and her infant – they whom I go to now – stood still; the moment when my handler – who I am leaving now – caught their likeness. I don’t think always of all these ancestors. But they are with me and, while we are meeting now, our grandparents must meet too. Let us pause long enough that they can share whakapapa and laugh. No doubt they will discover we are cousins!

ULU: As grandparents love to do! And yet… Maybe we are equal, maybe not. I have chipped icy boulders into perfect bricks. Built homes. Stitched and sewn. I have killed. I am keen. I have the power to make straight. How will you measure this?

UTU: My name can also mean death. My measure is not made with numbers.

ULU: I have entered the wrong hands, been exchanged for the wrong currency, become idle on dustry shelves, gathering my potency.

UTU: I have entered the wrong hands and made of them the right hands. I have entered wronged hands and been made right. I bend time to my will. I have the power to make level. In accordance exactly with how I am met, and loved, and handled. And remembered… Only time will tell.

ULU: It is good. I feel your breath as I leave these hands and enter hers. Their touch is good and strong.

UTU: I feel your breath too. Let us carry our secrets on, and h­elp them know. We will meet again, and take our measure then.