How can artists respond to a "post-truth era" of humanitarian and ecological crisis?
Truth or Consequences is a programme of five new works for cinema by artists Andrew de Freitas, Jeremy Leatinu’u, Vea Mafile`o, Janine Randerson, and Bridget Reweti.
Curated by UK-based academic Dr. Erika Balsom and commissioned by CIRCUIT Artist Film and Video Aotearoa New Zealand with the support of Creative New Zealand, Truth or Consequences began with Balsom sending the artists a statement reportedly made by US presidential aide Karl Rove. Speaking to a New York Times reporter he suggested that the concept of reality was hopelessly behind the times: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore… We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
Discussing the various responses the artists have made to the brief, Ccurator Erika Balsom says, “the five works that comprise Truth or Consequences are very different, reflecting the artists’ individual commitments and interests, but certain preoccupations recur across them, including landscape, migration, indigenous histories, oceanic environments, and portraiture.”
Vea Mafile`o’s Toa`ipuapuagā (Strength in Suffering) was filmed in the Samoan village of Siufaga in 2016, where a young woman named Toa began to display wounds and cuts on her body on Good Friday. On Easter Saturday, she lost consciousness and was pronounced dead, only to reawaken two hours later. Was she displaying the stigmata, manifesting the bodily violence inflicted upon Christ at his crucifixion? Or are these marks the product of earthly self-harm?
Andrew de Freitas’ Weight is a portrait of trans musician Lees Brenson, who performs under the name Dregqueen. What appears first as an individual portrait gradually metamorphoses into something much larger: an effort to puncture the monopolisation of reality by the forces of normativity.
Several of the works in Truth or Consequences address the theme of water.
Bridget Reweti’s Ziarah takes to the open sea in search of the remains of Tupaia, a nobleman from Raiatea in the Society Islands who was indispensable in liaising between Māori and the crew of James Cook’s ship the Endeavour on its first visit to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1769. Meanwhile, in Mai i te kei o te waka ki te ihu o te waka, Jeremy Leatinu'u turns his attention to the journey of the waka Tainui and its people to Aotearoa.
Janine Randerson’s Interceptor speaks to one of the great problems of ecological crisis: it may not manifest itself visibly until it is too late. Addressing the contamination of Manukau Harbour she documents the activities of those who seek to protect and rehabilitate the harbour, juxtaposing the urgent advocacy of the soundtrack with images in which injustice and emergency remain largely invisible.
The five artists selected for the 2018 CIRCUIT artists’ film commissions all use the moving image to confront the complexity and fragility of reality. Their formal techniques and topical concerns are diverse, but they all share an interest in exploring how a documentary impulse can facilitate an encounter with our shared world—which Balsom says is “an urgent project in our time of political and ecological emergency.”