Starkwhite will present Gavin Hipkins' experimental screen narrative, This Fine Island, at the inaugural edition of Armory Film, 8-11 March 2012. Curated by Moving Image, the screenings will take place during The Armory Show in a dedicated Media Lounge on Pier 94.
Hipkins' film revisits Charles Darwin's journey to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand in1835, but in his adaption, Darwin's nineteenth-century travel writing in The Voyage of the Beagle becomes a vehicle for present day tourisms, travel romance, and racial othering, against the backdrop of New Zealand's lush landscape.
Hipkins' background is in contemporary art photography and experimental video art. In 2010, he started making short films that call on nineteenth-century literary references and adapt these writings to contemporary settings. He is compelled by film as cinematic art, and aims to make films that play with easily definable genres, instead looking to blur genre boundaries between drama, documentary, art films, and experimental narrative structures.
This Fine Island builds on this methodology by revisiting Charles Darwin's passages from The Voyage of the Beagle (originally published as Journal and Remarks in1839). Spending his fourth Christmas away from England at the age of 26, a sense of homesickness pervades Darwin's writings from Northland. After the tropical lushness of Tahiti on this infamous voyage, the brutal pioneering backdrop of Northland proved all too raw for Darwin's taste, resulting in a frank account of his time in Aotearoa New Zealand. In selected passages the artist has attempted to portray both the legacy of an assured colonial account, with gentler poetics of Darwin's reflections. He likes to think of the film as 'a postcolonial ballad,' and his selection of commissioned folk songs Sweet Joan and I Saw Three Ships (performed by Jenny Lange and Dean Roberts) are contemporaneous with Darwin's voyage circa 1830s.
The film calls on nineteenth-century travel writing to engage issues of contemporary tourisms, global wanderings, and affiliated travel fatigue. Hipkins' allegorical reading of Darwin's poetic (and brutal) journal plays against a 'scientific' account while betraying a colonial appraisal of New Zealand's native landscape and peoples. The structure of the film mimics Darwin's walks in the Bay of Islands with a Maori guide: of Ngapuhi and Dutch descent, Joe Dekker-Reihana's character introduces Florence Noble's English tourist-protagonist Charlotte to Northland's tourist spots.
Shot in 16mm colour negative film, the aesthetic of This Fine Island calls on the look of key postwar nation-building New Zealand films including John O'Shea's landmark bicultural romance Broken Barrier(1952) that engaged pictorial traditions of New Zealand's native landscape representation. The editing of nineteenth-century natural history animal plates in the film montaged against the contemporary naturalistic backdrop aims to reflect on traditions of observational accounts and the building of taxonomies of the world through travel and the British Empire, as well as citing Darwinian theories.
This Fine Island has received funding support from Creative New Zealand's Independent Filmmaker's Fund, and The University of Auckland.
Gavin Hipkins is one of New Zealand's leading contemporary artists. Born in Auckland in 1969, he completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1992 and his Master of Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada in 2002. He represented New Zealand in 11th Biennale of Sydney (1998) and the 25th Sao Paulo Biennial (2002), and his works have been included in major curated exhibitions in the USA, Brazil and Italy. He has undertaken residencies in Sydney and New York and his work is represented in major public and private collections, including: Auckland Art Gallery, Chartwell Collection, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. He lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand.
Press release courtesy Starkwhite.