Papers and presentations

1)    15 minutes of fame - Warhol, Facebook and the work of Luke Willis Thompson.
Paper presentation at SPE National Conference, Cleveland, Ohio. Mar 6-10th
2)         The work of the artist I am going to talk about is all about skin, and for many viewers of his practice it is precisely this fixation; what Rene Matić has described as “his obsession” with racial violence, that occasions tension and criticism around his motives and artistic output. 
I am a photo-filmic practitioner and educator based in Aotearoa-New Zealand, which is where Luke Willis Thompson was born and began his art career. My own ongoing practice circulates around ideas of indigeneity, co-authorship and the voice of subject and I hope in this presentation to offer, if not anything like a definitive judgement, then a more holistic and layered perspective on Thompson’s more recent work. 
3)    Luke Willis Thompson first came to more mainstream international attention when his film autoportrait was nominated for and subsequently won the prestigious Deutsche Börse photography prize early in 2018. The film’s subject is Diamond Reynolds, partner of Philando Castile.
4)     As is well-known, Reynolds livestreamed to Facebook the immediate aftermath of Castile’s fatal shooting by a police officer in their car while she and her young daughter were passengers. This video was logged at around 6 million plays on Facebook before it was removed by that platform, and since then its circulation online is not measureable. Thompson describes Reynolds in her video as having a “performative brilliance that works on a jurisprudence level”. 
5)    Reynolds, Thompson maintains, used her live video platform to “make a legal and activist cry for help”, giving physical coordinates of her location in order that she might be assisted. Friends, activists and legal representatives responded to this call, and thus, Thompson reasoned, so could an artist. The project was a long painstaking process, hinging on the building of trust and a relationship with Diamond and her lawyer. Both had been flooded with requests for media appearances, all of which asked Reynolds to re-live that day and her subsequent grief. Thompson instead offered a “radically open” opportunity for her to “make the film she wanted to make”. 
6)    Thompson felt that the film should be silent, and this also acted as an assurance to Reynold’s lawyer that participation in the project would not jeopardise the ongoing legal proceedings. For Thompson, the next question was “How can we “weaponise” that silence?” 
7)      “In the context of art, when the content is politics, mourning, or protest, I’m really interested in what silence can do. I think there is a lot of potential in the act of refusing: to speak, or to produce information, or to translate content into data. My practice has for a while involved stripping any direct verbal communications from the work, and redacting the language from the experience of the art. “
8)    According to the artist, the “plot” of the film is the “becoming real” of that figure previously only known in the Facebook clip; her silent singing and speaking is an opportunity for Reynolds to have a suspended moment of freedom, and to also create a moment of potential interpolation of meaning for the audience. Reynold’s withheld voice however is an ethically complicated, and mediated act of reclamation.
autoportrait is a 35mm analogue film shot on Kodak Double-X and imperceptibly slowed down, mimicking the conditions of Andy Warhol’s screen tests. Shot in two takes, each 4 and a half minutes long, over a period of 5 days in Minnesota, autoportrait in Thompson’s words is an attempt to make Reynolds real again for those who sit in the gallery space with the celluloid for those 9 minutes of screening. Thompson speaks of the film as a “sister piece” that adds back the missing ethical balance to the viewing of Reynolds’ viral Facebook video; that the work allows for the possibility of a witnessing that does not re-inscribe the perpetrated trauma back onto black lives. 
9)    However, autoportrait continues to be a polarising work, as further evidenced in critical reviews and by the protests following its nomination for the esteemed Turner prize in the UK later in the same year. 
10) Online critique and staged onsite protests by black activists and artists have centred on Willis Thompson as a non-black or “white-passing” male artist of privilege; 
11) the assertion being that Thompson profits from black pain in both monetary gain and acclaim for his oeuvre. 
12) The project of decolonisation in the Pacific is ongoing and complex. However, there is increasing understanding that the claiming of geneaology (or whakapapa), not as reduced to percentages of DNA but in broader cultural terms of lineage, can be a tool with which to reconnect with a pre-colonised cultural background. It is from this position, one of an Afro-Oceanic solidarity, that Thompson claims to operate. Paul Andrew Wood, art commentator in Aotearoa, speaks convincingly to the issue of a “white-passing” person of colour from the perspective of the Pacific in the following:
13) “Putting aside the quite natural variations in complexion among Polynesian and Melanesian peoples, Thompson’s indigeneity is inalienable from his genealogy/whakapapa and his being raised as iTaukei.(Fijian). It has been very popular with neocolonialists seeking to alienate indigenous people from their identity, and more disconcertingly, turns up in internal Māori and Pasifika politics. That sort of internalised racism is a product of colonised thinking, planted by colonisers to undermine the resistance of the colonised.”
Thompson himself, when questioned about his right to make this work, has said 
14) “Indigeneity/blackness has been a question that has been hovering around the work; who are you to make this work? I didn’t think of myself as an indigenous person in my life before university, however my response has been yes of course I am, just not from the African diaspora. On the one hand I claim it, (racial identification) on the other hand it can’t be ignored.”
15) It is not my intention to ‘rescue” Thompson, or the work, from these critiques, but a closer scrutiny of Thompson’s references and influences may help to illuminate what is at stake in this complex debate. Andy Warhol looms large in any discussion of identity politics, image reproduction and consumption, particularly within an American context, and his work is a clear and acknowledged influence on autoportrait.  Some have seen Thompson’s appropriation of Warhol’s original screen test format as a positive act of re-balancing of that “white-washed” original set of films; from 472 screen test subjects only around 4 were people of colour. 
16) However, Thompson himself disavows any easy comparison between Warhol’s screen tests and autoportait, either positive or negative.  Instead he states that it would be an absurd assumption to imagine that Warhol was not aware of his own image-production as a component of a lineage that runs parallel to the problematic history of photography itself, through criminal and racial physiognomy, police wanted posters, archives and the mugshot. Thompson asserts that 
17) “Photographic history condenses; in every picture lies almost every other picture. Thus, the mugshot or screen test does apply this type of apparatus of black image production onto predominantly white subjects and that’s where some of the drama occurs.” 
18) This positioning of Warhol as someone both operating within and subverting the apparatuses of taxonomy and surveillance offers a nuanced reading of his work, and one that aligns with a re-thinking of Warhol as an artist whose strategy was in fact not ironic but inclusive, an artist who celebrated both similarity and singularity. Nonetheless, the use of such a Warholian ‘readymade” sets up associations for an audience that only a close reading of Thompson’s contextual discussions contradicts.
19) Thompson himself has allowed that these associations are problematic. Indeed, he infers that with autoportait he is beginning to move away from this model or referrent, claiming that the Warhol trademarks of multiplicity, implied seriality and contemporaneity are exhausted as artistic strategies. He says of this that he himself is “desperate to step outside of that flow” of image production, which he sees as an inherent aspect of this new “genre” of internet videos of police violence and racial trauma. 
20) His use of 35mm film, an anachronistic material that cannot be viewed without consent and has no digital equivalent, along with the extended production period for what is ostensibly a simple piece of film-making, are direct counterpoints to this online flow. Tavia Nyong’o describes these material qualities as creating a “counter-viral image”, one that can only exist in the “indexical present”. While this may be true, the use of 35mm film, the ponderous projection apparatus and the Hollywood lighting all operate to create something of a didactic binary; the “poor” jpeg and the “trashy” online videos requiring the skill of the auteur to resuscitate Reynold’ tarnished digital image. This purported ability of the film to rehabilitate Reynolds in the public realm is a reading that has been championed by some reviewers.  
21) Peter Shand, head of Elam Art School in Auckland, where Thompson was an undergraduate, states that the film, through its “materiality and experiential uniqueness” “ennoble” Reynolds and “afford her a different type of dignity than that she assumed the year prior”. Other writers describe the “auratic quality of the 35mm film’ utilized by Thompson as ‘granting Reynolds a direct and almost physical presence”. These inadvertently patronizing terms may not fairly describe the intentions of the artist, but they do alert us to ways in which the work may be failing its subject. 
22)  Erica Balsom, in her review of the Turner finalists for Frieze, calls Thomson’s artistic strategy facile, noting both the dispossession occasioned by the loss of sound and the use of what she decries as mimicry of the Warholian screen test format. She rejects the idea that Reynolds requires any such “rescuing”, critiquing the screen test as “no template for filmic empathy”, and labelling Warhol a commodity-fetishist. 
It is worth noting that Thompson has been quite opaque about his practice and intentions, throughout his career. Supplementary contextual information about individual works and exhibitions is often withheld in the gallery, while often this “back story’ is essential in the attempt of a greater understanding of the work.  This type of work relies in no small part for its effect on an insider knowledge of art history. Thompson is acutely aware of and responsive to the narratives and methodologies of other conceptual artists in the canon. 
23) He admires Duchamp and Warhol, and seeks to place his own work in direct dialogue with these artists, amongst others. An impulse to re-inscribe this canon appears to be at play at times, and earlier works operate very directly in relation to seminal 
24)  artworks by Duchamp, Acconci as well as Warhol.  
A possibly unintended outcome of this conceptual sampling is the creation of a contextual framework that is imbued with the rarefied aesthetic and tone of the art academy; a reading that would reinforce the critique of privilege and elitism levelled at Thompson, and one that may be borne out in part by his trajectory through top art schools in New Zealand and Germany. Thompson also relies heavily on eminent art institutions to support his work. However, this is not a straightforward relationship; while Thompson utilizes connections and access that galleries and curators can provide, his work is often very demanding of those people & spaces; his series of Acconci-inspired street performances in New York for example played out away from the security of the white cube. 
We might also question Thompson’s insertion of autobiography into works that purport to be at the service of the subject. Although Thompson prevaricates a little about the title, he does acknowledge that the use of the termautoportrait is a strategic attempt to insert himself into the film, stating that:
25) “I asked myself what would it mean to interpolate myself into her life and vice versa. In the actual filmmaking it becomes somewhat a portrait of me as much as of her. All of my decision-makings are designations that circulate around who I am.”
Statements like this from Thompson seem to me to echo some of Warhol’s obsessive desire to attach himself to the aura of his subjects through his lens. I am not suggesting that there is a moral imperative for an artist to avoid the auto-ethnographic, but in Thompson’s case, the attachment of his own persona to that of Reynolds has fueled claims of exploitation of her story. One does have to wonder why, if the work is the result of the careful collaboration claimed, Reynolds is not named as co-author. 
26) autoportrait should be considered one work in a loose trilogy. The first, Cemeteries of Uniforms and Liveries (2016) was shot in 16mm film, slowed down for projection and silent; the content being durational filmic portraits that offer up to our gaze two young men directly impacted by racially motivated police violence in the U.K. The title references Duchamp, and formally the work is the most direct descendant of the Warholian model previously mentioned. 
27) The most recent, How long.. (2018) appears to be in some senses an artistic response to some of the issues raised in this presentation. Here, Thompson directs a colour film recorded in Fiji, a place to which he can make direct genealogical claim of connection. In this film, he creates a cinematic timeline of births, all connected directly with Fijian armed services in international conflicts. While still utilising the strategy of durational performativity, he appears to relinquish the fetishized lighting and loaded visual references of B&W 35 mm film, and instead shoots in available light, revealing some environmental detail, and allowing his subjects to shift and morph their performances for the camera in various and less formally aestheticized ways. In this work his own presence as director and intermediary seems less contentious. When viewed as a trilogy, it seems possible to track a shifting position in relation to content and context; perhaps the artist rethinking in each project his own relationship to these complex issues of representation. A strong case must be made for viewing a single work in the context of the continuing evolution of an art practice, especially one that is being driven by such an intensely focused, articulate and ambitious young artist. Thompson says this about his intentions for the work: 
28) “That is the historical power in artwork. It is not what the rest of the world is doing. That is the task; To come out with the thing that doesn’t exist, and then share it.”
Ultimately then, autoportrait may reveal more of Luke Willis Thompson’s ambitions for his art than they achieve on behalf of its subject. However, it also indubitably operates, as he has stated, in the same way as a Rorschach test, a framework within which we are each called upon to negotiate and delineate our own ethical limits. 
29) The challenges inherent in viewing Thompson’s work therefore brings us back to the ever-problematic relationship between photography and surface. For artist, subject and audience alike, these works operate in that most complicated and sensitive zone, “the threshold where the skin meets the world.”
 Link to illustrated presentation:Luke Willis Thompson Powerpoint

Visual Citizenship. Visual politics and documentary practice.

Paper presentation at AAANZ Conference 2019, Auckland University Dec 5-10th
Slide 1:

In the following presentation I briefly consider some of the issues at stake within socially engaged photo-filmic practice in relation to visual politics. I then describe the potential for a developing framework of pedagogy and practice operating through relational, socially-engaged projects that rely upon collaboration, not consensus as their central methodology, using several examples of recent pedagogy and art practice that I have found inspiring and motivating.
I am a lens-based artist and educator, thinking about and making documentary work that has a social engagement with the world. In both of these roles I have been asking myself questions about the kinds of photographic practices that might be “useful” in the extraordinary times in which we live. As part of this recent research I have been closely looking at art practices that utilise an expanded understanding of the documentary form, and questioning  the ways in which they may or may not be considered useful, to those upon whom they draw as subjects and to those who view the resulting work.
Two recent high-profile artworks are useful to briefly consider here in relation to this wider question.
Slide 2/3:
Fijian-New Zealand artist Luke Willis Thompson first came to international attention when his film autoportrait was nominated for and subsequently won the prestigious Deutsche Börse photography prize early in 2018. The film’s subject is Diamond Reynolds, partner of Philando Castile. As is well-known, Reynolds livestreamed to Facebook the immediate aftermath of Castile’s fatal shooting by a police officer in their car while she and her young daughter were passengers. Reynolds, Thompson maintains, used her live video platform to “make a legal and activist cry for help”. Friends, activists and legal representatives responded to this call, and thus, Thompson reasoned, so could an artist. The project was a long painstaking process, hinging on the building of trust and a relationship with Diamond and her lawyer. Both had been flooded with requests for media appearances, all of which asked Reynolds to re-live that day and her subsequent grief. Thompson instead offered what he described as a “radically open” opportunity for her to “make the film she wanted to make”. According to the artist, the “plot” of the film is the “becoming real” of that figure previously only known in the Facebook clip; her silent singing and speaking is an opportunity for Reynolds to have a suspended moment of freedom, and to also create a moment of potential interpolation of meaning for the audience. Reynold’s withheld voice however is an ethically complicated, and mediated act of reclamation. There are other decisions made by Willis Thompson that also require scrutiny. His use of 35mm film, an anachronistic material that cannot be viewed without consent and has no digital equivalent, along with the extended production period for what is ostensibly a simple piece of film-making, are claimed as direct counterpoints to the online flow of the original livestreamed video. Tavia Nyong’o describes these material qualities as creating a “counter-viral image”, one that can only exist in the “indexical present”. While this may be true, the use of 35mm film, the ponderous projection apparatus and the Hollywood-style cinematography all operate to create something of a didactic binary; the “poor” jpeg and the “trashy” online videos seeming to require the skill of the auteur to resuscitate Reynold’ tarnished digital image. This purported ability of the film to rehabilitate Reynolds in the public realm is a reading that has been championed by some reviewers.  In utilising inadvertently patronizing terms such as “auratic”, “ennobling” and the “granting of dignity”, they may not fairly describe the intentions of the artist, but they do alert us to significant ways in which the work may be failing its subject. 
Slide 4-7:
Another high-profile long-form documentary project has recently been launched by British photo-filmic art star Steve McQueen. McQueen’s year-long project of representation, Year 3, has in some quarters been hailed as “unassailable in its emotional immediacy and grandeur”[1]. According to Harry Thorne of Frieze, McQueen has spent a year coordinating Tate Britain photographers to photograph more than 75,000 children from London’s primary schools: a process that involved McQueen and his team visiting approximately 80 schools per week for an entire year. The resulting images will hang in Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries until 3 May 2020 and will adorn 600 billboards throughout the capital until 18 November. Every day for 20 weeks, 600 schoolchildren will be brought to Tate Britain to view the project, while the institution estimates that, in total, around 17 million people will encounter the billboards before they are eventually pasted over.
However Thorne calls the work and its glowing reviews out as “large-scale participatory spectacle’ which, while undeniably celebrating diversity and universality, also packages the sitters and the audience into a static binary without offering any real possibilities for participation, problematisation or politicisation of either group via the process or viewing of the work. Thorne points out in his critique of the project that
“The risk is that we will end up with projects that do not help communities, but use communities for acclaim, only to discard them once more. Involvement does not equate to engagement. Participation is not praxis.”[2]
These critiques of photography and of those who employ it are not new. The complex and problematic history of the apparatus of photography and film-making has been widely discussed. Cameras have been and are tools used for ethnographic “othering”, surveillance and the conveyance of the hierarchical, patriarchal and colonizing gaze. Key theorists of the late 20th century have interrogated photography for its role in the desensitising of audience to suffering, the other-ing of marginal communities, the problematic and patriarchal nature of the “gaze” of the lens, as well as the creation of potentially dangerous typologies, the re-inscription of stereotypes and of course the ever-increasing potential of Orwellian levels of surveillance on the citizenry.
Slide 8:
The critiques laid out by Sontag et al are well-known, and have been interrogated themselves over time; however lens-based practices remain rightly subject to intense scrutiny in relation to the complex arena of the ethics and politics of representation. 
Photographic projects which utilise social engagement with the world as methodology have at their heart issues around authorship and agency. An examination of the complexities of intention and outcome that they are enmeshed in serves to highlight the uneasy relationship of individual practitioners to their subjects and to notions of social justice and representation. This problematic “myth of the auteur” persists, and has played a part in the colonising of the terrain of the social document by contemporary fine art in the so-called Documentary Turn. On a structural level the institutions that produce, foster and promote these models of auteurship and spectacle require interrogation and re-imagining. Within these structures a troubling and troubled exchange occurs between subject and author, between market and art institution, between the creative industries and the art school. Gert Biesta is Professor of Public Education at Maynooth University Ireland and currently Professorial Fellow in Educational Theory and Pedagogy University of Edinburgh. Biesta states that “ while it might seem that contemporary education (and I would add also the world of commerceare genuinely interested in the arts, the problem is that it is not the arts themselves which provide the focus of interest, but what the arts bring about, or more precisely, what the arts produce.[3]
The apparatus and methodologies employed by practitioners are distrusted and misused both as contemporary cultural tools of production of propagandist spectacle, as stated previously, and implicated in the demeaning of our relationship to the real and the subsequent propagation of “fake news”. [4]This ethical minefield surrounding the production and reception of lens-based documentary has been identified as a potentially disabling barrier to meaningful practice. 
The camera, however, despite its problematic and slippery history, is still an imperfectly-perfect tool for this field of operations. No other apparatus can so directly speak to representation, and in a post-analogue world the camera contains within its digital DNA the means for nearly infinite reproduction and dissemination of its outputs. Given all we know of its context and history, care must be extended to the methodologies and contexts within which the camera is operated. We can observe practices of care being operated to move beyond earlier, perhaps overlyparanoic, critiques through the work of many contemporary lens-based artists.
Slide 9: 
An example of thinking into this caring position is expressed by Puerta-Rican filmmaker and video artist Beatrice Santiago Muñoz, who speaks of her apparatus as “an object with social implications and as an instrument mediating aesthetic thought”[5]. Munoz speaks of the need to utilise the camera in a way that consciously agitates against the military-industrial complex within which much lens-based technology has been developed. She says: “I’m interested in the 60 years of military presence, (in Puerto Rico) but there must be a way to think and look at it not from the military spectrum. Undo thinking like a drone, undo thinking like a machine, undo thinking like a person that builds a military dock.”[6]
Ariella Azoulay in her “civil contract of photography”[7] suggests that the photographic apparatus can be re-habilitated when it is used to create an essential point of visual connection between actor/s and witness. Photography can function as social practice in this civic sense by behaving as a responsible listener. Here it is useful to refer to Barry Barclays’ concept of Fourth, or Indigenous Cinema. Fourth Cinema is informed at a conceptual level by the guiding principles of Indigenous cultures and where these indigenous ways of knowing are the cornerstones of the film structure in terms of politics and methodologies. An example of such a methodology would be Barclay’s “listening” camera, which sits at the feet of its subjects, quietly and empathetically gathering the complex and polyphonic relationships between subject and lens, speaker and witness. Another would be the sense that the terrain of the film is that of a hui or gathering on the marae; where over a long period of sharing each person present has an opportunity to speak. As an example of these principles in action I reference the ‘listening camera” of Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves. 
Slide 10/11:
Alves investigates the histories and circumstances of particular localities to give witness to silenced histories. Her projects begin in response to local needs and proceed through a process of dialogue that is often facilitated between material and environmental realities and social circumstances. Her work create spaces of agency and visibility for oppressed cultures through relational practices of collaboration that require constant movement across all of these boundaries. An example of one of these spaces of agency can be seen in her 2004 film Diothio Dhep.
 During a residency in Senegal Alves noticed a small island just offshore from a busy causeway. Moussa Gueye, a local high school student, whom Alves met in the countryside, explained that ‘Diothio Dhep’ means in the Serere language, ‘the small cemetery’, where respected animals such as cows, horses, donkeys and dogs are placed. But, Moussa explained it had fallen into disuse. When Alves asked him why, he said that his generation had forgotten the tradition. One of the results was that these dead animals were being dumped in the sea thereby contaminating the water used for washing clothes. For several days, Moussa and Alves visited Diothio Dhep and filmed there. From the road, people walking to fields or to town could see them. Speaking about what could they be doing re-introduced the word ‘the small cemetery’ into daily conversation and the possibility of its purpose could return. By the end of the week, a dead donkey had been placed on Diothio Dhep. “[8]
As I invigorate my own making and teaching practices through attention to these reparative practices it has been helpful to measure the previously described neo-liberal model of art education, as producer of “measurable outcomes in the service of economic competitiveness,”[9] in relation to Gert Biesta’s position; which he describes as world-centred, one that “places the question of human existence – the question of what it means to live our lives, and live them well, at the heart of education.”[10] It is from this position that I now wish to briefly consider photography in the context of pedagogy.
Slide 12:
A pedagogue can be thought of as valuing philosophy and humanism; one who practices teaching, rather than one who employs processes or techniques. This humanistic perspective values education, and in this case art education, as being emancipatory. An emancipatory teaching practice creates a situation where the student can be taught, countering any immunity to learning through a world-centred approach based on encounter.
So what does this mean for lens-based artists, and for many of us who are also educators? We can begin by first asking ourselves and our students to articulate a response to the question “how am I a citizen”. 
Citizenship can operate locally, individually, communally, nationally and/or globally. According to Rancière, “politics […] is that activity which turns on equality as its principle.”[11] In this light politics can also be seen as a struggle for visibility, and there is thus, of necessity, a visual aspect to citizenship.  Civic participation can be defined as requiring listening, responsibility, participation and finally action. This action, Rancière suggests, is an intervention of some kind in response to perceived injustice. We require new teaching methodologies that create situations within which students can address these perceived injustices. Many key theorists, artists and educators in this territory are now asking what this active “doing” of visual politics might look like. In his 2017 book Let Art Teach, Gert Biesta argues for art as an encounter between subjects, culminating in a turn towards the world; this approach deprioritises self-expression and instead foregrounds the ongoing practice of creation of self in relation to the world. This, he says, is “the existential account of education, not the acquisition of knowledge and skills to conquer the world, but ..the challenge of trying to be at home in the world at its centre”. In such a world- centred approach “both education and art can themselves be “at home”, not driven out, instrumentalized or trivialised by concerns external to them.”
Slide 13/14/15:
A powerful example of this turning to the world through photographic education can be seen operating in the ongoing Photo-Futures/Collingwood Project, led by RMIT lecturer Kelly Hussey-Smith. Hussey-Smith, in collaboration with colleagues from RMIT, has conceived of a “co-creation” between community groups, students, alumni and faculty, existing outside the boundaries of the institution. The project, now titled “The Photo Lab: Collingwood Studio”, was originally run as year-long pilot, and has been given the green light to continue beyond that time-frame. A key aspect of the project has been a physical space in which to house the research Lab in partnership with Melbourne Polytechnic, in the suburb of Collingwood. This space houses a vertically integrated group of BA Photography students, along with an alumni residency and community partnerships and projects. The existence of the site has meant that students are directly connected to community, and also that they set up work habits that do not completely rely on institutional frameworks and hierarchies. Community partners are viewed as co-teachers, and much time and care is taken to develop these working relationships, supported by faculty through readings, discussions and lectures which focus on collaboration, ethics and representation. In this way the curriculum can be viewed as the incorporation of photography and pedagogy in relation to community-led social change.
Hussey-Smith speaks of the challenges of a program that by its nature “de-centres” the students. In particular, the step of working with the cohort to think through and refine a set of assessment criteria that held meaning within the parameters of the project was one that the students initially resisted, as they felt underqualified to identify aspects of their own learning. In Hussey-Smith’s words the process of rethinking the pedagogy around assessment unfolded as follows:
“This isn’t a new idea; many alternative pedagogies employ these sorts of reflective practices. We did this through a series of workshops asking them initially to reflect on and describe how their education had been designed to date. They were initially confused – they had never reflected on the design of their education. They became engaged when we started to critically analyse the education systems that they had come through, & to unpack some of their inherited assumptions about dominant knowledge or value systems in their education. . I also explained to them different types of pedagogy such as were being modelled in the local school at which they were teaching, and how I designed my teaching practice for them. We made these structures explicit, including the game of ‘grading’. We had to help them understand why they were writing the criteria; that it could empower them personally and professionally, and perhaps enable them to more easily identify other power structures.”
Eventually the criteria were evolved through the students’ articulation of what they felt they were learning. These reflections were captured during discussion, drafted and given back to the cohort to tweak and ultimately be accepted into use by the students themselves as tools of self-assessment. Central to these reflections was the realisation that 
“the course wasn’t about photography, but the politics, processes and contexts around photography which they had found invaluable content to broadening their understanding of photography as a form of civic engagement and as a deeply critical and potentially problematic practice.”
As an additional positive outcome, these discussions led to the students taking up greater agency and responsibility for their own learning, without negating the role of teacher as is advocated in the advancement of neo-liberal educational models of administration and facilitation. Co-created outputs to date include modules developed for delivery into the local school, the use of lens-based imaging to highlight the misrepresentation of the African Australian community, local social histories and the visual support of work created by the new migrant and refugee communities. These are rich and complex social relationships being co-created in the laboratory of the citizenry of photography. 
Slide 16:
Politics, Rancière claims, has at its heart a sense of equality, even if proven by its absence. Visual politics is therefore, through all aspects of its production and consumption, constructed from, hardwired into these signifiers of social relations; equal and (more often than not) unequal. World-centred pedagogic and artistic practices offer opportunities to co-design collaborative methodologies for active engagement with these visual politics in ways that do not deny the ethical minefield, but are not disabled by it. These methodologies offer a framework within which to test and explore limits, constraints and problems within the critical contexts of the communities for whom they are centrally important.
 Link to illustrated Powerpoint: Visual Politics Powerpoint

[3] Biesta, Gert. Trying to be at home in the world: New parameters for art education [online]. Artlink, Vol. 39, No. 3, Sep 2019: 10-[11].
[4] Steyerl, In Defense of the Poor Image - Journal #10 November 2009 - e-flux
[5] Beatrice Santiago Muñoz, artist statement,
[7] Azoulay, Ariella, Rela Mazali, and Ruvik Danieli. 2008. The civil contract of photography.
[9] Biesta, Gert. Trying to be at home in the world: New parameters for art education [online]. Artlink, Vol. 39, No. 3, Sep 2019: 10-[10].
[10] Biesta, Gert. Trying to be at home in the world: New parameters for art education [online]. Artlink, Vol. 39, No. 3, Sep 2019: 10-[10].
[11] Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), ix.
Co-opting the Apparatus.
The lens as feminist tool for social engaged art practice in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Paper presentation at Aesthetics, Politics and Histories, the Social Context of Art. AAANZ Conferences, RMIT Melbourne Dec 5-10th
My initial proposition was for the recognition of what I am describing as a vanguard of female lens-based practitioners, situated in the Moana Pacific and specifically within Aotearoa-New Zealand. These practitioners are all deeply engaged with the specifics of our current geo-political moment, and their work, though ranging widely across methodologies and platforms of dissemination, has an agency that I believe signals a broad alliance of intent. It is this informal alliance, this collective “oppositional consciousness” (Sandoval) with relation to issues of art & activism that I feel demands our attention, and further I see that this vanguard could be collectivised through a curatorial approach that operates a more conscious and nuanced form of feminist standpoint theory.
Feminist standpoint theory as an epistemological proposition emerged in the 70s and 80s and was deeply informed by Marxist and psychoanalytic thinking. Three main subsequent critiques of this theory emerged: One was aimed at its inherent essentialism – the effects of patriarchal oppression only as experienced by white middle class females, 
The second was a tendency to exclude; an inability to recognise feminist men, those who embody differing forms of masculinity and those for whom gender is a more fluid state.
Finally, feminist standpoint theory opened itself to marginalisation through the articulation of a skewed sense of political correctness based on “womxns’ ways of knowing”. These failings, and other “fragmentations” of feminist thinking have only served to underline Donna Haraway’s assertion that “there is nothing about being “female” that naturally binds women.” (Haraway 16)
However, I would argue that a more nuanced and layered understanding of feminist standpoint theory has real relevance today, and can be utilised as the prism through which to see and understand this moment of dynamic, complex and ethically engaged art-making by women artists. Wylie states that a standpoint is a “critical consciousness about the nature of our social location and the difference it makes epistemically” (Wylie, 2003, 31)
This critical consciousness enables an awareness of socio-political injustice and prejudice. The empirical or embodied knowledge of these imbalances, when utilised in an art context, calls for a kind of activism, an “understanding and revising (of) our epistemic practices so as to identify, understand and ultimately abolish the ways in which systems of oppression limit knowledge production” (Intemann) I suggest that the artists I reference are engaged with a deep and ongoing process of this dismantling, through the operation of an “ethics of care” (E. Balsom) that is galvanised through Haraway’s “affinity, not identity”. Not, then, a sameness of experience, but an active listening and empathic making that is propelled by embodied knowledge of injustice, ecological crisis, capitalist and patriarchal greed and bias. 
Two aspects of this proposition require a little further examination. Both the scope of my survey, and its focus on lens-based or photo-filmic practitioners need to be contextualised further. I am concentrating my observations on those artists who utilise “the camera as an object with social implications and as an instrument mediating aesthetic thought”.
(Beatriz Santiago Muñoz) The apparatus of photography and film-making have a complex and problematic history. Lenses have been and are tools used for ethnographic “othering”, the creation of stigmatizing typologies, surveillance and the conveyance of the hierarchical, male, colonizing gaze. Cameras and their indexical relationship to the real are also distrusted both as contemporary cultural tools of production, for their ability to produce propagandist spectacle, and more recently for the rôle played by the “poor” image (Steyerl, In Defense of the Poor Image - Journal #10 November 2009 - e-flux)  in the demeaning of our relationship to the real and the subsequent propogation of “fake news”.
Erika Balsom writes of the conflation of these layers of critique as creating an almost airtight box of constricting orthodoxies within which we “breathe the stale recirculated air of doubt”. (Balsam – e-flux #83 ) As an antidote for this post-modern asphyxia, Balsom make a plea for a “reality-based community”, one that recognises that “allobjectivity is situated; all vision is partial”. This partial and embodied vision is that of the empirically informed feminist standpoint, enabling strategies of coalition, alliance with indigenous kaupapa or purpose, and undertaking to enact “a practice of ethical recognition that extends far beyond the image” (F Amundsen, interview)    
It is also important to state briefly that the artists whom I am referencing in more detail here are constellated amongst, and frequently co-conspirators with a wider “catalytic field” (Coco Solid via RA Hobbs) of artists and collectives. A partial list of this wider field must suffice here, and includes collectives such as Mata Aho, Local Time, Oceania Interrupted, FAFSWAG, the Documentary Research Group and the Suburban Floral Association. Other important artists of relevance to this discussion are Lisa Reihana, Ann Shelton, Fiona Jack, Edith Amituaanai, Janet Lilo, Nova Paul, and Shigeyuki Kihara. Simply listing these artists and collectives here lends weight to this idea of a vanguard, a “surge” to use Dieneke Jansen’s’ term, of womxn and those who identify as womxn who are actively engaged with ethical art that intends to enact change, to challenge and destabilize the neo-capitalist, patriarchal colonial “western project” through “oppositional consciousness” (Sandoval) that is “held in coalition – affinity, not identity”. (Haraway).
An artist with profound commitment to these aims is Rebecca Ann Hobbs; and much of my recent thinking has been informed by her research and practice. Hobbs is of European descent and was born in Australia. Acutely aware of the “historical implications within the settler-indigenous dynamic” (RAH thesis) Hobbs situates herself in the difficult space of “hyphen between colonizer and indigene” (Jones and Jenkins 473 via RAH) She describes her most recent long-form relational project as an intermedial artwork created in consultation with tangata whenua (people of the land, or first people). Hobbs worked alongside local iwi to challenge the proposed division and sale of their ancestral whenua, Ihumātao. The ‘art actions” created for this purpose included the construction and permanent occupation of a Kaitiaki (care-giving) Village at the site, which then served as a space for noho marae, korero and several whanau-friendly workshops in which flags, banners and performances were designed and created. Within this “creative coming together in the hyphen area between colonizer and indigene” (Jenkins and Jones RAH) Hobbs was assigned or identified tasks to undertake that gave her, she felt, a place to stand within the Ihumātao community and the activist group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape). These tasks variously were the convening of the workshops, the audio-visual recordings of actions, events and performances, the maintenance of a social media presence, the creation of choreographed performance, maps and posters. The flags, banners, costumes and choreography were utilized in a hikoi or march titled Te Karanga a Hape Hikoi, and it is this that Hobbs views as the actual art outcome of the project, rather than any artefacts that were collected into exhibitions in gallery spaces. Hobbs talks about the event in the following way: “It is my intention that the performative activation of the masks, flags, banners and costumes in the hikoi will be a test of the proposed transformative status (of the work) I anticipate that the multiple members who make up the vibrating, touching, overlapping and porous hikoi group will be best situated to comment on how transformative it ultimately is”. (RAH thesis)
For lens-based artist Dieneke Jansen also, the commitment to an ongoing physical presence in the communities and spaces of those that her practice represents is central. It is this willingness to be present, to listen, that Jansen identifies as the basis for an enactment of social justice. The potential for the camera to “listen” is something first referred to by Māori filmmaker Barry Barclay, who also spoke of the need for the camera “to act with dignity” in his advocacy for a Fourth Cinema of indigenous filmmaking. Hobbs actively works against the “god trick” (Haraway via Hobbs) of an elevated, all seeing singular eye; often utilising “multiple situated embodied viewpoints” of the lens. Frequently Jansen does employ a fixed camera position; however, this strategy facilitates the use of less intrusive technology and an unfolding of events over time, such as in extended korero with key protagonists in an embattled state housing neighbourhood, or the screening of New Zealand propagandist film that advocated affordable housing for all, re-projected onto the site of the proposed evictions.
Jansen’s work also operates as an active reclamation or co-opting of the apparatus, as she operates it in the service of a “politics of respect”, and in situations where its presence is overt, acknowledged, and welcomed. Jansen’s work engages with the inequalities innate within the western capitalist project through the prism of housing. Once viewed as a human right, and now increasingly a commodity and asset, attainable by the privileged few. Jansen particularly focusses on areas of Glen Innes and inner city Freemans Bay; both historical sites of social state housing and now increasingly areas of lucrative private development. Although various methodologies have been employed, including billboard-style hoardings, large-scale prints, videos and performance-based “happenings” at the sites, each is conceived from an approach of “long-term open-ended dialogue,” according to curator and writer Bruce E. Phillips, who refers to components of Jansen’s’ practice as a “constellation of interventions that seek to contribute opportunities of comparison, contemplation and conversation.”
Both Hobbs and Jansen forge connections via their practices between local communities and wider audiences, and this conduit is in part contingent on the role played by the contemporary gallery and museum. For Hobbs, the gallery operates more as a physical archive or vault; a container that collects, stores and displays the traces of the live events. She indeed questions what that relationship will look like in the future projects, acknowledging that there might be something of an embalmed quality to those artefacts once contained in an institutional archive. Jansen sees her position as one that implicitly contains colonial privilege, and that her leverage of this privilege empowers her to enact something of a “two-way doorway” for under-represented community into a space where “these things can be raised for in depth-listening” (DJ interview) Jansen feels that in occupying the gallery space, the work (and by default the marginalised or under-represented with whom it is made) come to claim that space. 
The current iteration of a five-year project undertaken by lens-based artist Fiona Amundsen is “A Body That Lives.” Multiple narratives, viewpoints and visual fragments are gathered together utilising projections, audio and printed photographs in the gallery space of St Paul’s St gallery, central Tāmaki. In this body of work Amundsen brings together four testimonies that speak of their experiences in the theatre of the Asia-Pacific War of WWII. A Body That Lives occupies the gallery space visually and aurally. large-scale projections show archival footage, shot by the U.S military with overt propagandist intent. Amundsen asks us to “listen” closely to the silent images; through her editing decisions she removes the spectacle of “real death on film” (Gaylene Preston) leaving the balletic and Hollywood-esque scenes of firepower to connect across into the present. The partial presentation of aural histories, archival and propagandist visual elements and smaller memorialising photographs all seek to disrupt any easy building of a collective historical narrative or recollection; as Amundsen states, “looking does not necessarily lead to knowing”. However, this opacity does not circle back around to the reality-collapsing “derealisation” of post-modern cinema or the digital “de-bunking” of photographic truth via tools of post-production. Instead, this work, and the broader field of Amundsen’s practice, actively engages with aspects of visibility, in “strong deliberate assertions of structure that assert a bond to reality while also marking limits that are at once visual and epistemological” (E.B The reality based community)
The people with whom Amundsen has built careful relationships recount profound and sometimes traumatic memories. Three are interviewed using a translator, and these testimonies are screened with accompanying sub-titles. At times Amundsen’s’ questions are audible, allowing us to also register the varying layers of translation, when gaps and hesitations contribute to the creation of a protective barrier to an easy knowing – an “opacity of care”. This opacity in the service of ethical representation has been identified by Edouard Glissant and employed by Erika Balsom and Cassandra Barnett as a central tenet for the creation of reality-based artworks. This opacity is both an acknowledgement of the inability of the representation to reveal every aspect of its subject, and a force that seeks to “enact verbs” of “listening, watching, seeing or looking, imagining, being with, caring” in its audience. (F Amundsen, interview). Amundsen here emphasises a reciprocal “ethics of visual listening” in the viewer. Building on Barclays’ listening camera, she demands of her practice, and by extension of the audience a set of “intersubjective relationships of care, trust and love”. These are values and principles that reassert themselves, in a time of post-modern crisis of cynicism and disenchantment, as urgent and necessary for artists and audiences alike.
For photo-filmic practitioner and educator Natalie Robertson, who is Ngāti Porou and Clann Dhònnchaidh) the concept of an ethics of care is also central. For Robertson, her rôie is also contingent on an appeal to the atua (gods). In her position as artist within her iwi, Robertson sees herself as simply the most recent gatherer of stories, a conduit in a much longer–term strategy for the survival and propagation of Māori culture and history. She acknowledges the kaumatua or elders of her iwi who in early interactions with documentary filmmakers and photographers understood the importance of an archive of sound and image for future generations, and who exhorted their people to “use the tools of the pākeha”. Robertson’s practice is centred in Te Tai Rawhiti, on the Eastern coast of Te Ika A Maui. Over an extended period, Robertson has recorded in still and moving image the extensive impacts of extraction as part of the settler frontier economies on the ancestral Waiapu River. In this work, she is guided and instructed by kaumatua and kuia of the iwi, who determine the ways in which her skills as an artist can assist the needs of the community.
In her practice, as in many others, the individual determinism commonly supposed to be at the well-spring of creative endeavour is in fact in a state of constant reciprocity and symbiosis, as the methodologies and aesthetics of the artist act and are acted upon by the kaupapa of the communities, individuals and environments that they serve. These “responses through coalition” (Haraway) allow a “partial but real connection” for each artist, in meaningful exchange with community and audience. These reciprocal exchanges form the ‘catalytic field” of agency through which this vanguard of Wahine Toa, pacific sisters, tāuiwi allies and co-conspirators are conjuring an alchemical “oppositional consciousness” from the base material of the “Western project” in the crucible of the Moana Pacific.
Agency and co-authorship in a photographic practice.
“All we see before us passing, Sign and symbol is alone”
Chorus Mysticus from Goethe’s Faust

Presented at symposium:  Agency and Aesthetics: A symposium on the expanded field of photography. Auckland Art Gallery April 1 2017.

Agency in photography; this term infers a sense of artwork as verb; experiential work, where the work and the viewer in some way act upon each other. I would like to suggest that this agency could further be triangulated between the subject, the artist and the viewer through mindful aspects of the making and presenting of the work. The sense of a collaborative process, a co-authoring with the site and substance of subject has real currency for me in relation to aspects of my own process. Ideas of agency and connection in an art practice are surely pivotal in these extraordinary times.
My proposition is this: That we are in the midst of a paradigm shift; that we have been gradually spiritually disenfranchised by the ruthless objectification of empirical modernity, and that the 21st century mind is in a state of fragmented crisis, mirrored by the ecological crisis that we now face. Perhaps some strategies for moving beyond this state of spiritual and intellectual disenchantment lie on the fringes of our Western thinking. To support this suggestion, I will touch on the esoteric as it relates to art making and photography. I will highlight indigenous cultural practice as offering a rich pantheistic way of being, and I will refer to the broadening field of psychogeography; in particular to its key strategy of the derive, or purposeless wander as impetus for revelation. In a similarly meandering fashion I then move into the political landscape, and in particular the ways in which an artist may be both catalyst and receptor in the creation of a work.
Before I talk about a specificity of place or approach in relation to my work however I want to touch briefly on some bigger ideas. The relationship between the post-modern mind and art-making is central to my investigation. Philosopher and psychologist Richard Tarnas writes that the 21st century Western mind is in a stage of “advanced deconstruction”.[1]
It is acknowledged that the critical reflexivity and questioning at the core of post-modern thinking is responsible for our intellectual emancipation from established belief systems and subjective desires.
The refining of this criticality runs in parallel with a long period of breathtaking scientific, democratic and individuated evolution in the West. 
Tarnas suggest that this brilliant trajectory has a fatal flaw however, which he describes as the “shadow of the Enlightenment”[2]. He describes this shadow in the following way:
“In its primordial condition, humankind had possessed an instinctive knowledge of the profound sacred unity and interconnectedness of the world, but under the influence of the Western mind, especially its modern expression, the course of history brought about a deep schism between humankind and nature, and a de-sacralization of the world….in this perspective, both humanity and nature are seen as having suffered grievously under a long, exploitative, dualistic vision of the world, with the worst consequences being produced by the oppressive hegemony of modern industrial societies empowered by Western science and technology.”[3]
This picture shows a haul of bear paws intercepted on the border between Russia and China. Two Siberians who were caught smuggling them in the hubcaps of their vehicles are now facing the death penalty. While the image clearly encapsulates all the grief and horror in the quote that I have just read, it also does something more. It is carried beyond its immediate context by the objects themselves. These forms could be pebbles, or Halloween masks, or Yeti feet. They haunt the frame. They offer themselves up. Photographs such as this operate on both the physical, indexical level and the poetic or metaphorical level. 
In the making and displaying of a photograph there is a triangulated authorship at work, one that reverberates between photographer, subject and viewer. This reverberation invests the image with a degree of agency; a sense of purpose and impact that does not only eventuate from the photographer’s individual set of concerns and aesthetics. As a photographer, to work in this way involves what Tarnas describes as “a disciplined alertness to significant pattern in the outer world as well as the inner.”[4] This is a process that resonates strongly with Goethian principles of empathic observation, where a complex and dynamic exchange occurs between observer and observed. This exchange of circuit is further energised when the image is viewed.
The historical trajectory of photography has many connections to the esoteric and occult; perhaps seen as the alternative history of the camera. 
Dark boxes, light, silver and chemicals have close alliances with alchemy and the arcane. Edwardian and Victorian photographers felt keenly that this new way of seeing could offer perspectives into the esoteric realm, and the images they made in this search offer a counterbalance to the disenchantment of the burgeoning Age of Reason. These artists harnessed the twin abilities of photography to create apparently indisputable evidence of the real, and to simultaneously “fix’ what could not be seen by the eye.
In 1894 August Strindberg, a playwright and poet, was collaborating with the cosmos to create his Celestographs; Hubble-like images created by leaving photo-sensitive paper overnight in a chemical bath beneath the stars. Chris Webster describes this collaboration as a “chemical wedding of photography and the esoteric.”[5] The outcomes are a mesmeric merging of earth and sky, a presentiment of what we now know; that all matter is derived from the stars.
On the margins of the new sciences of psychology and metaphysics came another early 20th century school of thought; that of ‘Pataphysics. Amongst other theories the Pataphysicists felt that Voodoo, trance, séances, somnambulism, hallucinogenic drugs, all allowed artists to draw on the spiritual energy of the occult and re-invest that energy in their art. Central to this discussion, Pataphysicists also allow that objects have a psychic life, an animus, and can speak to the artist. 
Author and Voodoo practitioner Michael Bertiaux states that 
“One of the characteristics (of the school) would be their drawing of inspiration from dream states and a kind of somnambulistic meditation. Another would be that everything has a psychic history. This is related to the “cult of the found object” in modern art, the discovery of “the given.” We know that many artists go around looking for what they call a “found object”- actually they wouldn’t have to look very hard. According to the theory the object would “speak” to them and indicate to them that this was what was needed for the artwork of the artist”[6]
While these ideas remain at the margins of western thought, they are central to art making and indeed to every area of cultural experience in many indigenous cultures. Maori have a pantheistic and animistic understanding of the universe. Central to this understanding are the states of tapu and noa, the sacred and the earthly, and the dynamic fluidity that runs between them. Maori indigenous art and cultural practice places extreme importance on the reading of psychic messages when working with place and material. The role of the Matakite, or seer is key in the flow of communication between the material and spiritual planes, and again it is this sense of the importance of seeing and being seen, the reciprocal roles inhabited by the message and the receptor that I focus on here.
In 2007 I worked with local iwi to photograph an ancient totem of immeasurable spiritual value. This ancient carved sculpture is regarded by Maori as an embodied atua, or god, Uenuku. For hundreds of years Uenuku was lost to his people, in a swamp. When the time was right, he resurfaced, and was reunited with his people. On the day that I arrived at Te Awamutu Museum to photograph him, the kuia and kaumatua present told me that he had rotated several inches on his pedestal to better face the camera. 
Just as the found object can trigger potent connections with the subconscious, so can terrain and site. Guy Debord and the Situationists of the mid 50’s introduced the idea of a psycho-geographic landscape, to be accessed via the derive, or an aimless wander, guided by instinct. Since the time of the Situationists the concept of psychogeography has greatly expanded and resonates in the work of many contemporary artists and writers.
German Author W. G Sebald traverses the present and past landscapes of Europe in his novel Austerlitz; the eponymous character moves towards an inexorable self-knowledge triggered by the retracing of his journey as a child, away from the Nazi invasion of Poland and into the valleys of Wales, where he lived for many years with no memory of his past or his real name. Sebald uses a strange, somnambulist/stream of consciousness style of writing, collaged together with enigmatic smudgy black and white photographs as fragmentary pieces of evidence. At the heart of his enigma lies the Holocaust.  Sebald lays bare the landscape as both protagonist and catalyst for the trauma of collective experience.
Sebald is not alone in utilizing walking as the tool to set up the conditions for such discoveries. These two-way transmissions and shifts into states of active collaboration with object and place can be accessed via portals encountered during a derive. 
Writer and walker Robert McFarlane walks the ancient chalk paths of England, and writes of the ways in which the path presses back upon the walker. He says that
“One need not be a mystic to accept that certain old paths are linear only in a simple sense…they are rifts within which time might exist as pure surface, prone to recapitulation and rhyme, weird morphologies, uncanny doublings”[7]
This sense of time collapsing upon itself in certain places has its visual echo in the long samples drawn up out of the Arctic and Antarctic ice fields. These long “straws” of compressed time offer a visual encapsulation, a crystallising of linear time into a shining cylinder. 
Rebecca Solnit also writes about the meditative and connective powers of walking. For Solnit walking is also a political act. In her book Wanderlust Solnit flags the myriad threats and barriers to walking in 21st century life, counting the architectures of fear and commerce and the dictatorship of the automobile as among the worst. 
My photographic investigations have taken me on foot through the centre of the city, and while it seems as if traversing the city as a pedestrian should be the easiest and most extensive of modes of transport, our city planning has methodically been removing access for walkers to many areas over the years simply by building roads with no pavements, and fencing off any scrub or wasteland areas. These barriers to access heighten awareness of potential political and ecological aspects to civic planning: This planning, overtly or not, emphasises the use of the car and creates an inexorable impetus to move people on and through. When writing of these problems Solnit states that 
“In some places it is no longer possible to be out in public, a crisis both for the private epiphanies of the solitary stroller and for public spaces’ democratic functions” [8]
A desire to linger, to wander and to walk in these places thus is imbued with a sense of transgression and of resistance, somehow pushing the urban walker to the margins. 
Indeed all of our visible environment has been politicized; and carries the marks of its repeated modifications and translations. Emily Apter describes work made in this territory as the radical pastoral, as “ecologically engaged conceptualism”[9] that can operate as a “margin of critique inserted in the space where this translation process occurs”[10]. Apter defines this critical habitat as exploring “the links between territorial habitat and intellectual habitus; between physical place and ideological force field, between economy and ecology.”[11]
Apter identifies William Kentridge and his Colonial Landscapes series from 1995-6 as operating in this margin of critique. Kentridge’s charcoal drawings of 19th Century travel illustrations are punctuated by red surveyors’ marks and circles, shifting awareness to the violence done to the land and people of South Africa, to ecological violations, illegal dumping and pollution. In his writing about these drawings Dan Cameron states that they make “inherent connections between ecology and civil rights.”[12] Here the ground literally holds the evidence of injustice and damage done. 
This offering up of evidence from the ground is at the heart of much of the work of UK photographer Stephen Gill. Gill’s practice was born out of a fascination with his father’s experiments with chemistry and the darkroom. Gill works in this marginal space of alchemy and chemistry in his own work, making repeated and obsessive projects focused on his own boroughs of Hackney and Hackney Wick in London. A sense of co-authoring is very strong in Gill’s projects. His Buried series sees a series of printed images buried in various areas around the site, where the earth can act upon them “like ink”. A recent project, Talking to Ants, involves the placing of organic & inorganic material and even insects inside the camera itself, creating instant photograms where the introduced material literally inserts itself into the images. Gill’s work also vibrates with the traces of acts of resistance: A simple series of still life photographs made after the Hackney riots are titled Off Ground, pictures of rocks thrown during the riots.  These images are quiet, sculptural and formal works, and yet they contain a loaded texture and weight; the imagined heft of a piece of brick picked up and thrown.
Returning again to the ways in which camera, subject and viewer can connect a circuit of agency operating in an artwork, I am inspired by the deceptively simple and direct works of Maria Theresa Alvez. During a residency in Senegal Alves noticed a small island just offshore from a busy causeway, and asked about its name. One villager told her that the island used to be a special place where honoured animals were buried, but that in recent times the villagers had forgotten the name of the island and stopped using it. Alves decided to try and reintroduce the name of the island into the conversation, so she set up her video camera on the causeway and pointed it at the island. As villagers passed back and forth in front of the camera they stopped and asked what she was doing, and thus within a single week not only was the island’s purpose remembered but an animal had been taken there to be buried. This dual action - of pointing a lens at a site, and the site being present in the act of being seen- was the catalyst for remembering and re-consecrating.
We now exist in a dysfunctional relationship to the elements of our planet. Post-modern thinking has seemingly left no territory but the kitsch or the ironic for artists to inhabit. As a counter to this Tarnas suggests the following:
“To encounter the depths and rich complexity of the cosmos we require ways of knowing that fully integrate the imagination, the aesthetic sensibility, moral and spiritual intuition, revelatory experience, symbolic perception, somatic and sensuous ways of understanding, empathic knowing”[13]
This empathic observation, Steiner’s “objective spiritual perception”[14] is central to my own photographic practice. Through the acts of walking, listening and seeing my intention is to be receptive to the synchronicities offered up by place and object. These Jungian synchronicities invest the work with its potential for agency: an agency that exists at the level of the personal, the ecological and the geographical. 
Slide 29: Bellona
My photographic practice operates in the complicated areas of land use, transgression and redemption. The concept of tapu is one that can easily be relegated to historical or religious spheres of interest, as if a sacred state cannot co-exist with our modern daily life.
Slide 30: Ceres
Tapu and noa are not side-notes to our lives however. Knowingly or unknowingly we can breach the fragile covenants that exist in human relations and between humans and the natural and spiritual world. These breaches might occur at a personal level, or on a more global and ecological one. Indeed tapu and noa are not fixed states, but fluid and non-lineal, and human action and ritual are essential in achieving a balance between them.
Slide 31 Grafton aerial
In a recent extended project the subject that both provokes and supports these investigations is the bounded area that divides the South from the North of the city, and is itself cut through with roads and infrastructure. This area is Grafton Gully, a transitional landscape that has registered our varying preoccupations with nature, death and the movement of people and things. As I have walked and thought my way through this Grafton Gully site, objects and observances have offered themselves up. Here, place reveals our various preoccupations and shifting values. 
The Gully site is divided by Symonds St, and dominated by the Symonds St Cemetery. Pre-contact, this area was verdant bush, with a significant waterway and tall native trees. In 1925 Grafton Bridge was built; a feat of engineering in its day, though the huge buttresses are fakes, with much smaller steel girders hiding inside their facades. The bridge became a notorious jumping point for the city’s suicides in the 90’s. The area beneath the bridge is home to street kids and vagrants.
In the 1960’s the Ministry of Works disinterred around 4000 of the Anglican and Catholic graves to make room for the new motorway system. The remains were cremated at Waikumete and re-interred in two mass graves at either side of Symonds St. This is the Catholic mass site.
The motorway construction was hugely invasive, involving the demolition of several thousand buildings. All vegetation was removed and the soil excavated was used to fill the Waiparuru streambed.
Despite all this, in the 1990’s a snail-hunter, Jim Gouldstone, on sieving the leaf-litter in the cemetery, discovered a rare native snail, long thought to be extinct.
On reading about this most unlikely of finds, in an environment modified beyond recognition, I decided how to proceed. If I was to find the agency of the project I had to let the subjects come to me. For me there is the sense that rock and soil are at the heart of this work, and that if I look and listen closely and represent them acutely, that these fragments of matter can stand for the whole.
I will close with a final quote from Michael Bertiaux, or Docteur Bacalou Baca, as he is known in esoteric circles:
“..and again it goes back to what I said at the beginning. It is the found object that has communicated with the artist, not the object being communicated by the artist’s mind. So it is with opportunities. They open doorways and energies come to us.”[15]

[1] Richard Tarnas Cosmos and Psyche, intimations of a new world view. Plume 2007
p 13
[2] Richard Tarnas Cosmos and Psyche, intimations of a new world view. Plume 2007
p 13
[3] Richard Tarnas Cosmos and Psyche, intimations of a new world view. Plume 2007
p 20
[4] Richard Tarnas Cosmos and Psyche, intimations of a new world view. Plume 2007
p 15
[5] Chris Webster Dark Materials - The chemical wedding of photography and the esoteric. Recovered from Academia.Edu
[6] Bjarne Salling Pedersen Arts and the Occult: An Interview with Michael Bertiaux
[7] Robert McFarlane. The old ways, a journey on foot Penguin Group 2012
[8] Rebecca Solnit. Wanderlust-a history of walking. Verso 2001
[9] Emily Apter Critical Habitats  October 99, Winter 2002. Pp21-44. © October Magazine Ltd
[10] Emily Apter Critical Habitats  October 99, Winter 2002. Pp21-44. © October Magazine Ltd
[11] Emily Apter Critical Habitats  October 99, Winter 2002. Pp21-44. © October Magazine Ltd
[12] Dan Cameron William Kentridge Contemporary Artists Phaidon Press; 1st edition (September 16, 1999)
[13] Richard Tarnas Cosmos and Psyche, intimations of a new world view. Plume 2007
p 41
[14] Rudolf Steiner The Spiritual-Scientific Basis of Goethe's Work
The German text is published under the title Die okkulte Grundlage in Goethes Schaffen, Bibl. No. 35 by the Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland
[15] Bjarne Salling Pedersen Arts and the Occult: An Interview with Michael Bertiaux