#aWaterStory: The Artist in Residence Project Begins

…but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.


For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel like I was on my own striving to make something happen. I’d become pretty down – probably lacking energy and faith, which periodically happens.

A group of teachers had met with me to be informed about the Artist in Residence and multi media/lingual project I will be spearheading at the school next week. We ran the meeting in Spanish which was fun because a number fo the teachers had never heard me speak their language (we usually ran our classes in English as that’s the langauge we’re working on). They were impressed with my level, which was nice, but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.

I found myself watching as the idea I had proposed was being taken on. I was looking for the first time at companions and co-makers. What made it easier was tht I was presenting a story and a project of investigation about themselves – a great flood that had covered most of the city and ruined part of it in 1961.

I watched as the group began to discuss their recollections and knowledge, one whatsapped her mother to see what she knew and was feeding us with information. We discovered that an elderly nun of the college was here at the time and the school itself was flooded with a metre of water. The history teacher was getting enthused at the prospect of oral history collecting and the cultural value of the exercise.

I insisted too that the project is about the process – I will be documenting as much as I can, so that teachers can reflect on how it goes, where learning happened, where it didn’t, how they teach, how langauge is dealt with, how learners are supported, or not. As an artist I’ll be reflecting on how we communicate, how we connect with community, the content itself adn our responses in video and in my own visual work.

Document: North Island new Zealand Road Works "Go Men"


Often in my story-telling/art-making, I’ve documented road trips. More often than not, the footage doesn’t get anywhere, but the process helps me move somewhere mentally and emotionally, as I associate so much with landscapes and activity in it. Some years back, I photographed all the roadworks we passed on a trip from my hometown in New Zealand (Palmerston North) to Auckland and some of these images made their way to be paintings. The Go men (and women) always took time to acknowledge us and the trucks. I love trucks.

Resurfacing State Highway One Oil on canvas, Emma Louise Pratt

Resurfacing State Highway One

I’ve begun to focus more on the video work I do to collect information for paintings and realised it’s place not only in process, but as a finished work itself. I’m currently working on a video and painting project based on a village and it’s water sources. A multi-media work on canvas is developing as another way of telling the story within the video story. Confused? I’ll get it finished and uploaded soon and I’ll leave it to do the talking!

What I really want to talk about in this post is documenting. 

I got this post today – being shared around Facebook. It’s a call for video footage about a week of protests in my homeland New Zealand. This call for footage isn’t new. Since videos have been in the hands of more and more people via their phones, we’ve become used to seeing our own, albeit shaky, footage used in news reports. We’ve become reporters of our own histories. BBC is constantly making use of people on the ground tweeting what they’re witnessing, posting images and video. Image and footage work their way effectively around social platforms, moved by us, the people on the ground, to the envy of any news platform.

In recent floods in New Zealand, in which our own family farm was submerged, I went to news sites to get a handle on things, but quickly found the collaborative efforts of facebook pages and twitter hashtags set up by locals on the fly far closer to what was happening to my community. I got disaster relief info, flood updates and shared images and footage from people’s own windows, front gates, or while out walking the dog.

When I was a kid, we all typed with two fingers and through use became more adept at typing. Now we are becoming more adept at filming and visual aspects of storytelling through the possibilities given us of participating socially. people are even becoming adept at giving soundbites and short statements. We adapt. We learn.

What’s interesting about this latest call for footage and imagery is that it isn’t reactive. To get good footage at a later date, journalist Bryan Bruce would, as he explained, be restricted to the archived footage taken by news crews, and would have to pay for it.

A call for footage after the act would give him some good footage, but this documentarian is asking in advance for people to get out on the streets and carefully, MINDFULLY document the protests from their vantage point. He isn’t looking for that “quick, get the phone out and film that” reactive documenting. He’s given a list of things he’s looking for. Bruce wants good footage.

From the Facebook post:

“Try to get good images of protest signs, groups marching (from the front and the side) and show the diversity of age groups and ethnicities protesting  and catch some speakers in various centres…

If you interview people, which I hope you will, please remember to ask first “Do you mind if I ask why you are protesting today?”

(Don’t forget the odd shot of police of GCSB filming the demos 🙂

Our team of volunteers film makers will then edit the footage together to make what will not only be a historical piece but an ongoing social media protest. We will make teh footage available on social media adb it will eventually be stored in the New Zealand Film Archive under a creative commons licence.”

If you send me a personal message I will give you information about how to send the footage to me.

This is learning with a facilitator/catalyst. Bruce is encouraging people to consider what they cover, to effectively cover all aspects of the events and consciously consider what those aspects might be. This is an environment for reflection on their overall performance as participators and collaborators in recording history and telling a story. The project continues improving their filming skills through being asked to considering a variety of shots, and become interviewers and journalists. All on the fly.
Bryan Bruce’s Post here:

Wood Water Rock

Original title page of Walden featuring a pict...

Original title page of Walden featuring a picture drawn by Thoreau’s sister Sophia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

14th November, 2010

It is in vain to dream of a wilderness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigour of Nature in us, that inspires that dream.” Henry David Thoreau, Journal, August 30th 1856.

We had no less than eight vultures circling above us this afternoon. They left their perch on the craggy mountain top to come and survey our general state of health. We surveyed them back, from our rocky seats under an old oak. As no weak stragglers or young sitting vulnerably alone were to be seen, they left us for better pickings. Further down the valley, some dogs guarding chickens and detritus of the local villagers barked in chorus. They were two, but they sounded like five because the rocky mountain range of Grazalema bounced their petitions back and forth. We pressed on up the mountain side, clambering over rocks and rubble, the track well worn by centuries of shepherds and donkeys.

There is nothing like a little outdoor excursion to justify a good feed. In fact the Spanish “Rural House” weekend is pretty much about the food, with the odd excursion to see some “Nature” to split up the near constant eating and drinking. The excursions take place in pastoral scenes of small stone walled paddocks, Oaks and Encinas, chickens, pigs and donkeys, kittens, sheep, goats and flee-bitten hounds. And for the adventurous, a detour up the mountainside as far as your legs will carry your children.

And when that is enough, a stop in the village for a beer or red wine and a pre-dinner tapa (to sample local fare), before heading back to the house to stoke the fire, and get the main meal on the way. And of course the after lunch siesta…and so on.

I escape later in the evening, waxing scholarly with my notebook, claiming I’ve missed a deadline and need to get some writing done. I leave the house occupants focused on an evening football match and sit outside in the gathering dusk, pulling my woolly jumper in tighter (Taihape made) and contemplate the beauty of the wild from this village perched on the rocks. Clouds are gathering deep and purple. Tomorrow it is going to rain.

“The wilderness after all does not locate itself. It does not name itself…Nor [can] the wilderness venerate itself.” Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, 1996.

The wilderness, so named by us, needs a visitor, a memory, because, like any monument (and it is), it can not remember itself. So that’s me, I am providing the memory, returning as I constantly do in my art making to frame landscapes of the wilderness/garden of my infancy, the Eden from which we were cast.

As I contemplate the purple darkness, my art contemplates it too. We live together, my art and me, in the same body and mind. Yet somehow my art has recently separated itself, and now I find myself like a rural weekend visitor, trying to remember on behalf of my art.

An epitaph: “Here stands the sacred mountain, the primeval forest and the river of life, where once there was an art maker who showed promise, but then she left.”

I am in a moment where it is hard to dedicate a lot of time to arts practice. There are spuds to peel, spills to mop up, nappies to change, midnight disturbances, classes to teach to pay the bills, websites that need fixing, clothes that need washing, arguments and laughing, growing and loving, giving and tears and life!

Somehow, in all of this, there is an arts practice I know. But now and then, when I hear that “x” artist, having just finished “y” residency” and won “z” arts award, is making fantastic work, I get anxious, and wonder where my own work is heading, or where it has gone, my lost garden, my lost wilderness. To counteract this gnawing, I have embarked on a deep reflection of my art making, in order to re-envelope it in my life and find it’s new place. It’s something I can do as I sit on the bus or push the pram. It’s something I can wonder about as I make my pilgrimage to behold the “Natural” world.

Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning. Mist has come down over the small mountain village. Clouds envelop us with the smell of promised rain. The view out the window has blurred and all but disappeared. It is late morning and I am hiding upstairs, trying to write.

The ancient Hebrews made no linguistic distinction between the natural and supernatural world, nor had they ideas of “nature” versus man per say. The whole cosmos was a single working temple. So when was it that we started to separate ourselves in thought and deed from the world around us? Many scholars argue that is was at the invention of the plough. Thoreau believed that humans were not apart from the natural world at all, it was in in our heads. He held that there was never a separation, that nature was us, in us, part of the very places we lived. To add to the quote which I have opened with, he went on to say: “I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord , i.e. than I import into it”. Just as art is imbued with our lives, our lives entwined with it, in an eternal coil like the branches of some ancient tree. If it was never separate or lost, it begs the question, what am I looking for?

Emma! Someone is calling me from downstairs. Come down! We’re opening the Lambrusco! Magic words. I put on my slippers and head downstairs, hmmm, time to eat. Faces look up at me from around the table. The kids are scattered everywhere. The discussion about the King, Fernando Alonso and Formula One turn to me. You’re going to read this thing to us aren’t you? They chorus. Are we in it? Then later I’m sure, we’ll venture out for coffee and a glass of Anis to finish our very tiring day and head back to the city overfed and content.


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