What is the boundary between the personal and the political in artists moving image work? Where does art begin in the diaristic? How can an artist’s personal experiences address collective problems?
From Me To You was the 2019 AURA Symposium. Presented in the Newtown Community Centre, Wellington on Saturday 5 October from 9.45-4pm, From Me To You addressed the role of personal voices in artist moving image production.
9.45–10.00: Welcome from AURA/CIRCUIT Director Mark Williams
10.00–10.30: Opening Address: Nina Tonga, Curator Contemporary Art, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Te Papa
10.50–11.20: Dr Thierry Jutel—"First-person documentary narratives of illness: mode of address, subjectivity, and embodiment"
First-person documentaries, where the subject of the film is also the filmmaker, have become a common staple of contemporary media culture. As Michael Renov writes in relation to the emergence of subjective voices in documentary since the 1970s, “subjectivity is no longer construed as ‘something shameful’; it is the filter through which the ‘real’ enters discourse, as well as a kind of experiential compass guiding the work towards its goal as embodied knowledge.” This presentation looks at the specific instances of first-person documentaries where the filmmaker is ill, faces major life changes, a contested diagnosis and often, an uncertain prognosis. This is often in the context of conflicts and/or tensions with medicine, the medical establishment and the social alienation arising out of being ill. Such examples include Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993) a film about the filmmaker’s experience with AIDS, and Jennifer Brea’s Unrest (2017) in which the filmmaker chronicles her experience of M.E (myalgic encephalopathy) sometimes called chronic fatigue. In both of these films, the voice of the filmmaker and the voice of the documentary insist on the capacity of documentary strategies to represent the experience of the illness while pointing out their limits, the existential and emotional conundrum brought about by the illness and its expression in the inscription of voice and body in the representational regime of the film. The purpose of the presentation is to explore the capacity of first-person documentary to contribute to the forms of illness narrative and its engagement with illness and medicine.
Dr Thierry Jutel is Associate Professor in Film at Victoria University of Wellington. His research focuses on cinema’s industrial discourses and the representation of illness, uncertainty and diagnosis in film and television.
11.20–11.40: Milly Mitchell-Anyon—"Summer Holiday 1962"
This paper will consider how one of Patrick Pound’s early moving image works, Summer Holiday 1962, addresses the HIV/AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s. The work was made in 1986, at the same time Aotearoa was passing the Homosexual Law Reform Act in parliament. Pound uses found film slides, given to the artist by his brother, John, who gifted them with the intention that he used them to make a work. When Pound was gifted the slides, his brother had just been diagnosed with AIDS; so this work functions as both a memorial and biographical record of his life. The work is titled after Summer Holiday (1963) starring Cliff Richards. Pound’s video montage of the slides sets up a narrative about a group embarking on their holiday, the jaunty jingle from the film playing in the background. On the surface, the work appears to be comical, erotic and fun—as cropped shots of men in their underwear flash across the screen. But ultimately, given the context, the work delivers a moment of reflection about queer histories that were hidden within private collections of slides; that at one point in time seemed too dangerous to publicise. This paper will discuss Pound’s mimicry of Cliff Richards’ movie to make an overt political statement during a time of darkness for Aotearoa’s queer community. This paper will also discuss the role of Pound, a Pākehā cisgender heterosexual man, creating visibly queer work to stand-in for queer bodies. Pound’s practice frequently relies on found photographs, but it is interesting to note that the film slides used to make Summer Holiday 1962 were not anonymous but had a close personal connection to the artist. Comparatively, his practice today uses anonymous photographs purchased from eBay to create his works. I would like to discuss this shift in the use of personal to anonymous photographs.
Milly Mitchell-Anyon is an art historian and curator from Whanganui, Aotearoa. She is currently the Creative New Zealand Curatorial Intern at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. She holds a Master of Arts in Art History (Distinction) from Victoria University of Wellington and a Postgraduate Diploma in Museum Studies from Massey University. She has previously worked at Puke Ariki Museum, Whanganui Regional Museum and Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History.
1.00–1.30: Gavin Hipkins—"Road Trips at the Peripheries: Excursion Films by Andrew de Freitas and Ben Rivers"
This presentation analyses two short films by Andrew de Freitas (NZ/Can) and Ben Rivers (UK) that are slow-paced ambient representations of transient places away from the tourist trail. Both realised in 2009, de Freitas' Standing Wave and Rivers’ I Know Where I’m Going share a cinematic spirit that pictures wildernesses as lived places for alternative lifestyles while questioning our relationship to an exoticised use, and imaging, of specific landscapes. The two films construct and document alternative lifestyles by studying fictive and real individuals living outside of the centres. Set in Canada’s Northwest Territories, de Freitas’s empathetic portrait of a young man enacting visionary freedom plays with the ambiguities of a hybrid documentary and staged road movie. In Rivers’ film, we follow the artist’s escape into Britain’s mountains: in apocalyptic tone, fossilised cities are discussed across material vignettes of the rural—the shaky camera follows a lone figure through the snow to a makeshift home in the woods, far away from a city.
While the films purport to portray the men that feature in these films by placing the subject within the picture frame, I question the relation between the artists’ motivations for nostalgic escape and chance encounter along these rural roads. Encapsulating a definition of the excursion film through incomplete journeys and fragmentary travelogues, I call on Timothy Corrigan’s arguments for the essay film as conceptual undertaking sitting “between the longitudinal position of home movies and lateral activities of documentaries.” In a digital age with new media ascendency, these artists use seemingly anachronistic methods (including 8mm film stock and sampled archival music) as a means to re-materialise and re-encounter fragile ecologies that present alternative ways of living and worldmaking.
Gavin Hipkins is an Artist and Associate Professor, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland.
2.00–3.30: Taking the weight: Three films examining inter-generational expectations and cultural inheritance in Aotearoa, followed by a discussion with the artists moderated by Shannon Te Ao
Dilohana Lekamge – One Job (2016) 5 min
Returning home from a late night shift at work, the artist muses firstly on her surroundings and then on the migration of her parent’s generation from Sri Lanka to Aotearoa. It also touches on the pressures and inevitable failure when this high expectation to succeed in desired occupational fields is not met. Dilohana Lekamge is an Artist based in Wellington.
Deme Scott-McGregor – The Face of God (2019) 3 min 30 sec
On a train trip from Palmerston North to Wellington, the artist reflects on family, memory and the role of physical photographs to preserve links to loved ones. Deme Scott-McGregor (Ngati Awa) is an Artist based in Wellington.
Selina Ershadi - Hollywood Ave (2017) 23 min
The artist's embodied camera quietly and reticently observes everyday rituals performed within her mother’s home, over which a disembodied voice reads fragments of a letter.
These dimly lit domestic scenes are interrupted by the construction and demolition of an archway.
Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is an Artist and Lecturer at Whiti o Rehua School of Art, Toi Rauwharangi College of Creative Arts, Massey University Wellington.
3.30–4:00pm Audience Discussion
With thanks to:
Whiti o Rehua School of Art
Toi Rauwharangi College of Creative Arts
Massey University Wellington