Directional Listening: Fluvial Field Notes
Thigh deep in soft mud, stuck but not sinking further. I lay in rest and mused at the ridiculousness of this situation. If a farmer came past now they would assume I’m stranger than they already do. A desire emerged to put my ear to the riverbank. I remembered Barbara Hurd’s poetic essay about listening with her head in the dirt. Eavesdropping on the landscape. Attentive. “How often, after all, have our own deaf ears been a cause of hostility and longing?”
Kate van der Drift’s new exhibition Directional Listening: Fluvial Field Notes is a continuation of inquiry into the fragile ecology and transformation of the Hauraki Plains. Hauraki was once New Zealand’s largest wetland complex and has been almost entirely transformed since colonisation by land drainage and Kahikatea logging.
A series of new experimental camera-less works, Directional Listening: Fluvial Field Notes are river exposures attempting to picture the inside of water.
Large format sheet film was buried in lightproof holders in the sediment of the Piako River’s tributaries, in liminal and marginal areas between the flow of water and the riverbank or between the low and high tide lines. Farm run-off and saltwater combine with sediment and bacteria. Other negatives were placed in lightproof containers strung across the water, allowing a continual flow of surface river-water over the filmic surface. Algae have grown; bacteria have eaten away at the negative’s emulsion and fine layers of sticky sediment remain.
The films are then developed, enlarged and hand printed on colour paper in the darkroom. Human made marks on the negatives show where sediment was accidentally brushed by fingers or gloves in the dark as well as scratches made by moving film to or from their gritty mud-covered holders.
Kate van der Drift is currently studying toward a Master of Fine Arts at Elam in Auckland, where she is engaging in a project centred on walking and listening to the historic and potential future wetland of Hauraki.
 Hurd, Barbara. Listening to the Savage: River Notes and Half-Heard Melodies Athens, Georgia : The University of Georgia Press. 2016. Pp 34
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