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CIRCUIT: The Thickness of Cinema

Fiona Amundsen, A Body That Lives
Gonda Ursula Mayer
Who spends the time
CIRCUIT presents their annual symposium and artist week in Christchurch this year with a sensory feast of film that will leave you considering some of the bigger social questions.


CIRCUIT is an arts agency which supports New Zealand artists working in moving image through the commissioning of works, distribution, critical review and professional practice initiatives. CIRCUIT presents an annual Symposium and Artist Week featuring screenings, workshops and events. This year (this week in fact), for its debut in the South Island, CIRCUIT will be presenting The Thickness of Film in Ōtautahi Christchurch engaging with the city's historical traditions of using art to provoke conversation and encourage social engagement.

A month out from the general election, the films, installations and artist talks explore themes of political inclusion and exclusion. They delve into the layers that lie beneath our concepts of labour and the self challenging the audience to consider how they participate in democracy and the economy. Director, Mark Williams, explains that this year’s theme revolves around “making visible the invisible.”

Each year, CIRCUIT commissions five artists to make a cinema work, moving them out of the realm of the gallery space and into moving image. The final works are presented at an annual Symposium that moves around the country.  Curated this year by London-based art curator and writer Mercedes Vicente, the symposium will celebrate new work by Fiona Amundsen, John Di Stefano, Sam Hamilton, Kim Pieters, Joyce Campbell taking place on Saturday 26 August at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Thickness portrays the visceral undertones of this year’s theme where the artists have been tasked with exploring the sensory. “We asked the artists to engage bodily rather than academically with image,” says Mark. They have been taken out of their artistic comfort zones and asked to engage with ideas outside of the academically driven framework to develop a more emotional, fluid and experimental lead practice. “We wanted the artists to engage with the sensation of being in the world, not just to be asking questions of the world.”

The result is a series of films that challenge both the artists and the audience to ask: “What might be the role of the body and sensorial experience in cinematic intelligibility and meaning? In what ways might we be able to analyse and get beyond sensation and emotion to explore cultural, gender or ideological implications?”

These questions are built on and supported by the Artist Week that runs from Tuesday 22nd August to Sunday 27th August. Here you’ll find a selection of film screenings, installations and workshops that delve deep into questions around the legitimacy and accessibility of genuine democratic participation, emancipation and the radical reinvention of self, and the disconnect between labour and consumption. With the election approaching, this event is unashamedly political.

Much of what will be showcased, says Mark, throws into question the path to becoming engaged in the political process. The events scheduled throughout artist week all in their own way lead the audience to consider the questions we should be asking in the lead up to any election: “Do people feel they can participate in a useful way? Are we making it possible for people to do that? Do they feel excluded?”

Mark was particularly excited about the new collaboration with the Canterbury Workers Education Association (CWEA), one of the venues for this year's Artist Week. Set up in 1915 to provide university-style education training, it’s original intention was to radicalize the working class through education. The CWEA has been providing peer-led adult education for over 100 years. Go there and you will find anything from Israeli Folk dancing classes to Treaty Studies or the philosophy of Liberty, Equality, Efficiency and Democracy. The CWEA was chosen as a venue due to its radical and politicised history. Mark says that they are “harking back to that unashamedly” through this year’s programme.

Kevin Jerome Everson’s film Tonsler Park will be screened at CWEA on Wednesday 23 August. This film focusses on black staff members working the polling stations at Tonsler Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. The race and hate-based violence that has since erupted in Charlottesville only makes this film more relevant and pertinent. Incorporating the rarely used practice of extended takes, this film shines a powerful light on work and labour, and brings into question the often damaging forces that underpin and uphold democracy and capitalism that remain invisible to most of us in the Western world.

Peter Wareing’s installation, ‘Who spends the time? Some practical question concerning the democratic and personal responsibility’, will also be on display at the CWEA. This piece of work juxtaposes fictional scenes shot in the London Borough of Dagenham against interviews with volunteers from the recent political campaigns of Bernie Sanders (USA) and Jeremy Corbyn (UK). It throws starkly into question the accessibility of these campaigns for supporters to be able to participate in any meaningful way.

The film Gonda, by Austrian Artist, Ursula Mayer, brings a more radicalised critical response to the realities of Western democracies and the global economy. This film is a response to free-market advocate Ayn Rand’s 1937 play, Ideal. The artist has taken lines from the play and presented them in a way that shifts the principles of individualism so tightly woven into Rand’s play and instead provokes ideas of emancipation and the radical reinvention of the self. This screening will be held at Wunderbar in Lyttelton.

Also on display will be an installation of Canadian artist. Alexandre Larose’s work shot in the former gold mining town of St Bathans. This work has never been shown in the South Island. It will be accompanied by a live soundtrack from local musician, Motte on Wednesday 23 August at the Christchurch Art Centre.

By offering these events across a range of venues from traditional galleries, to bars and the CWEA, Mark hopes that Artist Week will provide an opportunities for audiences to engage with Christchurch’s traditions of provoking bigger conversations through art, as well as just get together with friends to enjoy the culture around them.

For the artists, the purpose of the annual Symposium is to encourage the growth of an exploration of art through the medium of film, something that Mark says is much more common internationally. CIRCUIT aims to develop wider reaching networks for New Zealand artists and open opportunities internationally. “We’re trying to weave New Zealand artists into the conversation internationally, so we’re not just considered as a South Pacific novelty.”

On the final day (Sun 27 Aug), there will be an art writing workshop with writer and critic Megan Dunn. This will be a practical workshop that offers tips on how to bring art reviews to life. Following the workshop a lucky few will be selected to contribute to an e-book that will comment on the Symposium and/or Artist Week providing a continuation of the conversation inspired by these works. Spaces are limited, contact to register.

Important Dates:

Artist Week: Tuesday 22 - Sunday 27 August
Symposium: Saturday 26 August

For the full list of installations, screenings and workshops, visit the programme here.

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

22 Aug 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.