From the vantage point of dry land, the tributaries of the Piako awa can appear as glassy, opaque bodies of water with minimal signs of movement. The surface current gently pulls the face of the water in various directions; the reflected sky distorted by soft ripples disappearing into riverbank grasses. Close to this bank a lightproof case is partially suspended underwater; its oscillating movements belie the force of the currents below where freshwater microorganisms drift through organic detritus, algae and farm run-off. Within this case lives a 4x5” negative film sheet, protected from the light but exposed to the pollutants and life of the site–a small object capable of making visible the Hauraki Plains’ vulnerable freshwater ecology.
After two to four weeks of comingling with cyanobacteria, agricultural waste products, salt- and freshwater currents, each field recording is transported in its sediment-covered container back to the darkroom. Here the intangible and the toxic is translated by Kate van der Drift’s hand from negative film to contact print, exposed to light, enlarged and transformed into a dazzling chromatic image. Notice the colour gradients; translucent folds and diaphanous layers against areas of deep, vivid blue or purple, imbued with a sense of three-dimensional depth as if the water has left a phantom imprint of its life-force. The bright hues of these large-format prints are determined primarily by exposure times–they help us to “listen” to the awa as van der Drift suggests, our usual tendency to overlook what is out of sight countered with the auratic presence of these larger-than-life images.
Early photographic technology arrived in Aotearoa shortly after colonisation. ‘Promotional landscapes’ by photographers were used to demonstrate how industrious tracts of land could be if converted to settlements. In places like the Hauraki Plains–the setting for these river exposures–this illusion has caused ongoing strife as the land attempts to return to its former wetland state. Local farmers expend large amounts of capital to prevent flooding or exceeding run-off limits in wet seasons, despite Joseph Banks' early claims that “Swamps might doubtless easily be drained” to establish a colony in the region. In contrast to this colonial legacy of photography in areas like the Plains, van der Drift’s cameraless approach enables chance, indeterminacy and co-authorship with the non-human at each site; a restorative method which resists a more possessive gaze over the landscape.
For the larger part of its history photography was thought to be, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “distinguished by its immediacy, its authenticity, and the remarkable fact that its eye sees more than the human eye. The camera shows everything.” The potentially distorting effects of photographic media has now been known for decades, its claim to mechanical accuracy replaced by a belief that, as much as painting or literature, the medium is also subject to the artist and viewer’s personal biases, omissions and projections. Contemporary artists like van der Drift acknowledge this room for creative license in their practice while retaining photography’s unique evidentiary qualities, testing the medium’s inherent tensions.
While van der Drift’s practice extends to moving image and field interviews, the medium at the centre of her practice is the contact print, a method of cameraless analogue photography. Experiments with contact prints appealed to 19th and early 20th century scientists for their ability to capture previously invisible phenomena at a distinct time and place. The titles of each print here nods to this slippage between art and science: Waxing Gibbous to Waxing Crescent, November 2022 II, 37°25'47.4"S 175°30'39.2"E, for example, acts as an index of the time and location where negative film was placed in the awa to listen to the non-human matter below. Through direct physical contact with the resulting photographic positive, the impressions embedded in each surface act as a physical record of a subject’s existence in time.
Text by Nina Dyer
‘I would like to acknowledge and extend gratitude toward tāngata whenua of the Hauraki Plains, Ngāti Hako, the land and waters where this research is situated, and which I have visited as manuhiri while making work. With a deep respect for Te Ao Māori and its inherent interconnected understanding of the more-than-human world, this research seeks to understand some of Hauraki’s social and ecological system stories, their connections and interdependencies.’ - Kate van der Drift
BORN: 1985, Hamilton
LIVES AND WORKS: Auckland and Waikato
2022 Master of Fine Arts (First Class Honours). Elam School of Fine Art, Auckland
2015 Post-Graduate Diploma of Fine Arts (with Distinction) Elam School of Fine Art, Auckland
2010 Bachelor of Fine Arts (Electronic Art) Otago Polytechnic School of Art, Dunedin
2023 Water Slows As It Rounds The Bend, Auckland Festival of Photography, (solo)
2023 Soundings, Sanderson, Auckland (solo)
2023 Susurrations, Women in Photography NZ & AU, Twenty-Six Constable Street, Wellington (group)
2023 Aotearoa Art Fair, Auckland (group)
2022 Listening to a Wet Land, Pah Homestead, Auckland (solo)
2021 From Things Flow, RM Project Space, Auckland (group)
2021 Sweet and Sour, Sanderson, Auckland (solo)
2020 Uxbridge Estuary Art and Ecology Prize Exhibition, Malcolm Smith Gallery (group)
2020 Wallace Art Awards finalist in touring show, Auckland, Porirua and Morrinsville (group)
2020 Summer Solstice, Sanderson, Auckland (group)
2019 Directional Listening: Fluvial Field Notes, Sanderson, Auckland (solo)
2019 Everywhere We Look PhotoForum, Online exhibition (group)
2019 Water Surrounds Us Auckland Art Fair, (group)
2018 Presentation for the Melbourne Art Fair as the Stoneleigh NZ Art Award recipient, Melbourne (solo)
2018 Water Slows As It Rounds The Bend, Auckland Festival of Photography, Sanderson, Auckland (solo)
2017 Sea of Echoes, Sanderson, Auckland (solo)
2017 Wallace Award Finalist in touring exhibition, Auckland, Morrinsville, Wellington (group)
2016 Eventual Efflorescence, Sanderson, Auckland Festival of Photography, Auckland (solo)
2016 And (&) per se and, 5 Wairiki Rd, Mount Eden, Auckland (group)
2015 The Oasis and The Mirage, Graduate Exhibition. Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland (group)
2015 Changing Shores of Shadow, Auckland Festival of Photography, Auckland (solo)
2015 A Place Between, Casbah Artist Run Space, Hamilton (group)
2015 By Then, George Fraser Gallery, Auckland (group)
2023 Kavka, Alena ‘To See Obliquely: Kate van der Drift’s Listening to a Wet Land’. CIRCUIT Artist Moving Image Aotearoa, 2023. https://www.circuit.org.nz/writing-and-podcast/listening-to-a-wet-land
2023 Dyer, Nina ‘Translating the Intangible’ Exhibition text. Sanderson Contemporary Art https://www.sanderson.co.nz/ExhibitionDetails/665/Kate-van-der-Drift/Soundings.aspx
2023 Clark, Andrew ‘Listening to a wet land - review’ Photoforum, 2022. https://www.photoforum-nz.org/blog/listeningtoawetland-kate-van-der-drift
2022 Wood, Matthew ‘To Locate’ Exhibition text, 2022.
2022 Huddleston, Charlotte ???????? From Things Flow, 2022
2022 Dyer, Nina ‘Unstable Witnesses: Kate van der Drift’s cameraless photographs’, The Art Paper, Issue 02 Light, April-June.
2020 McAvoy, Emil ‘As Above So Below Recent Photographs by Anne Noble and Kate van der Drift’, Art New Zealand Magazine, Autumn edition.
2018 Walls, Maria ‘Drains, Canals, Pump-Houses and Stop Banks’. Parallel exhibition text
2018 Seja, Nina ‘Kate van der Drift reviewed - July 2018’, PhotoForum and D-Photo Magazine Spring edition.
2017 Walls, Maria 'Kate van der Drift ’ 20 Artists and 20 Writers. New Zealand
2016 Jansen, Charlotte ‘More Real Than The Real Thing’ Elephant Magazine, Autumn Issue 28, UK
2016 Vegas, Mareea 'A Place in Time' D-Photo Magazine September Spring Issue, New Zealand
2016 M Eventual Efflorescence - Kate van der Drift Raven About Art,. Blogpost, ravenaboutart.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/eventual-efflorescence-kate-van-der-drift/
2016 Hanton, Jamie 'Kate van der Drift ‘ 20/20, 20 Artists and 20 Writers. Book, New Zealand
2015 Aoake, Hana ‘van der Drift Photos’ EyeContact 25th of June, 2015
2020 Winner of the Uxbridge Malcolm Smith Gallery Art and Ecology Award.
2020 Wallace Award and Wallace Travelling Show finalist
2019 University of Auckland Research Masters Scholarship
2018 Stoneleigh New Zealand Artist Grant to make new work for the 2018 Melbourne Art Fair
2017 Wallace Award and Wallace Travelling Show finalist
2010 OUSA Best Installation prize for the OUSA Art Week
2009 Otago Polytechnic prize for Project Drawing
TALKS AND INTERVIEWS:
2023 Gallery talk. Susurrations, Women in Photography NZ & AU, Twenty-Six Constable Street, Wellington
2021 Online Interview with My Art https://myart.co.nz/story/artist-kate-van-der-drift/
2021 Online Interview and Instagram Take over with Women in Photography NZ & AU March 16th 2021 - March 19th. Conversation with Virginia Woods-Jack https://www.instagram.com/tv/CMjMUkwjq0n/
2020 Artist talk, Ten x Ten, Wallace Art Awards Artist Talks
2018 Artist talk, Melbourne Art Fair as the Stoneleigh New Zealand Artist Grant recipient