Key Points:

Jim Vivieaere is nervous, either about being interviewed or about heading off to Wellington to pick up an Arts Pasifika senior Pacific artists' award from Creative New Zealand.

He breaks four eggs into a bowl, adds a splash of water, gives them a quick whisk and pours the mix into a frypan. The familiar routine of cooking gives his hands something to do.

It is also one of the ways he's made a living over the years, feeding people on film sets, restaurant cooking.

Vivieaere has been around the Auckland art landscape for 30 or so years as an artist, curator, dealer, teacher, mentor and caterer.

His is not an art of personal revelation. It is, rather, a way of looking at the world, rearranging elements in line with his aesthetic sensibility.

But it seems natural he has been called on to act as a guide and interpreter for those wanting to understand the emerging art of migrant and New Zealand-born Pacific Island artists.

In a country where identity has become a national obsession, Vivieaere had to develop a Pacific Island identity as an adult.

He has been able to navigate and translate for others, while at the same time attempting to deter Palagi institutions and curators from imposing their own notions of Polynesia on an emerging group of artists.

"I came in before Fatu Feu'u and the real Polynesians, so I was not expected to behave in any way," Vivieaere says.

That changed with the emergence of Pasifika artists.

"My work had to look like what I look like," he says.

Not that Vivieaere has any intention of conforming to assumptions.

His biography says Cook Islander, born Waipawa 1947, but personal histories are never what they seem. Vivieaere was bounced around foster homes until high marks pushed him to Dunedin in the late 1960s to start medical training.

It was a town where skin colour was noticed, and Vivieaere found it hard to fit into the white upper middle class confines of med school.

He dropped out, ended up at Ilam art school in Christchurch in 1972 and 1973, and started a family.

Vivieaere says art was always a place he could go inside himself growing up, wherever he was living.

Art-making took a back seat to living in the 70s, but a sojourn in Australia brought him into contact with some Tahitians living in Noosa Heads, and awakened his interest in what it means to be a Pacific Islander.

Friends said it was important for an artist to go back to their roots, so in 1981 Vivieaere went to Rarotonga.

Much of his earlier work was collage, manipulating elements until they reached the desired state. They displayed a lightness of touch and calming sense of balance.

It should come as no surprise that for many years Vivieaere was an instructor in Tai Chi, the oriental martial art based on awareness of balance, breathing and the slow unfolding of natural forms.

In 1993 Vivieaere's then partner was living in Bremen, Germany, where the Uberseemuseum had a large collection of Oceanic artefacts.

"I wrote to directors proposing an installation based on my response to the collection, and they ran with it. They said they couldn't give me any money but they would give me space, so I got some money from the Arts Council and the Moet & Chandon Residency, and I was able to do it."

Southern Response to Northern Possession was Vivieaere's first overseas venture, and he has continued to pursue opportunities to put Oceania on the world art map.

His first curatorial effort was Bottled Ocean, a survey of contemporary New Zealand Polynesian art first shown at the City Art Galley in Wellington, and then at Auckland, Waikato, Christchurch and Manawatu.

Vivieaere treated it as a collective installation. He set out to parody the colonising gaze which afflicts responses to art by Polynesians.

The audience was distanced from the work by display cases, and by Perspex walls and mirrored floors. He also attempted to do away with the normal signs curators use to condition audience responses.

"What I like about being an installation artist is you have to work on your feet and respond to conditions," he says. "What I like now is working with other artists."

For now he is juggling a range of projects and commitments.

There's a visiting lectureship at the University of British Colombia Okamagan, where he offers his take on curatorial practice and the issues around contemporary art.

He has also been asked to contribute to the research for an Oceania exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London next year.

And he harbours a dream of living in the Cook Islands.

Who: Jim Vivieaere, recipient of the $7000 Senior Pacific Artists' Award, Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards 2006

Other winners: Dance group Tau Fuata Niue, the $5000 Pacific Heritage Arts Award; film-maker Sima Urale, the $5000 Pacific Innovation and Excellence Award; artist, curator and artistic director Loretta Young, the $3000 Salamander Gallery Award for Emerging Pacific Visual Artists; singer Aivale Cole, the $3000 Iosefa Enari Memorial Award, Pacific Opera; poet, performer and children's book writer Tusiata Avia, the $3000 Emerging Pacific Artists' Award.