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Transcript of the 2020 Artist in Residence's video – Chris McDowall

Chris: I arrived on the island and there was actually really only one person that I knew here, and aside from that I knew that I wanted to talk to lots of people and incorporate their knowledge and their experiences into what I was doing and what I was creating, but I didn’t really know how that was going to happen. And it’s been incredible, I’ve just met so many people and there have been so many people who have been so generous with their time.

Chris: My name is Chris McDowall and I’m a geographer and cartographer and I guess I come here bringing a geographic eye and trying to communicate the things that I see in a visual way for other people. A cartographer is really a person who creates maps. One of the ways that I’ve talked about things I want to do in Glenfern is in terms of narrative mapping. Narrative mapping I think is a type of mapping where you’re actually actively trying to collect stories and then somehow represent those stories in the map itself. Last year myself and Tim Denee a Wellington-based graphic designer published an Atlas of Aotearoa called We Are Here, and in that atlas we tried to find as many different views of different aspects of these islands. And so we were looking at Aotearoa New Zealand through its physical form, and through the things that live here, and through people and settlements and through history and through economy. What I’m trying to do here is almost like something like that in miniature – it’s different but something like that in miniature, where it’s coming to a place and trying to look at it from different angles…What if we look at it in terms of its ecology, what if we look at it in terms of its history, what if we look at it in terms of its physical form, what if we look at it in terms of its geology, what if we look at it in terms of its hydrology, what if we look at it in terms of its stars and its astronomical context, what if we look at it in terms of the people who were here before and all the different ways that this land has been used. And so it’s trying to map this place from these many different vantages and these many different angles.

Chris: What I really am trying to do is just to create these small spaces for contemplation in the form of maps. I work a lot with data and ultimately data is - they are observations and records and measurements. One of the things you can do with data is you can work with it in a statistical fashion. But there is something else you can do with data and that’s you can visualise it. So you can take these numbers and categories and sequences and links between things and you can try and come up with visual ways of expressing them. So you can use colour or size or shape or orientation or these other visual variables and map rows in a spreadsheet or entries in a database to a physical page, or to a screen on a computer. And I guess that’s what data visualisation is, it’s a visual expression of a set of measurements or observations.

Chris: Over the hill from Fitzroy is Okiwi, and it’s got one of the three primary schools on the island, and the school regularly comes out to Glenfern for different reasons. And so they did, a group of four older students came out and they were awesome. We spent the first part of the morning looking at maps and talking about maps. I asked them if they wanted to make a map together, like a map with me. I thought it might be a neat idea to take the students and go for a walk and ask them to not just name, but to identify things along the path that they thought should have a name, and then to decide on a name for them. And then at the moment I’m turning those names into a map.

Chris: These, yeah the girls called these the Mermaid Pools and they’re beneath these two Kahikatea which are the only ones in the park I think, really, really old, tall, beautiful trees. And then all through here there’s Kahikatea seedlings…if you look down into the bush and they look like tiny little ferns. Here’s one here, this beautiful little seedling…it’s so crazy that this could grow into just a massive, massive tree. And I think this is Kohekohe this tree. I can hear…I often hear grubs in here. I talked to John Ogden, one of the ecologists about this and he’s pretty sure that it’s Puriri Moth in this tree. And you can see emergence holes in the past where insects have come out, but yeah, up here at night you can often hear them, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, quite loud, just in this section I think that there’s something that’s going to hatch out…in here there’s been something. So yeah, I’ve spent quite a bit of time up here in the middle of the night, because things are out at night, the forest is so different at night.

Chris: Aotea has been designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary. It’s light that has taken years, or hundreds of years or thousands of years, or tens of thousands of years or even millions of years to reach the eye. And so I guess that’s what I think about when I’m under this dark sky is: "Oh my god, this light is so old, this light has travelled so far". And so what I’m making here is a map of the stars on a particular moment when I was here at Glenfern. I’ve never actually made a star map before, I’ve always wanted to, so it’s been a really cool opportunity. In order to do this I took this data which kind of looks like this, 120,000-odd rows, and each row is a different star starting with the sun. I took this big data set and I wrote some code that explored it …tentatively. I was interested in creating something that I could make a map of the sky where it’s coloured by how long the light has travelled in order to reach a person’s eyes. So the very closest stars, the light has only travelled …"only"…a year or two or three or four years, whereas some of the more distant stars the light’s been travelling for hundreds and hundreds of years. And so I wrote this script that kind of "prepared" the data to do that. Specifically I needed to get the distance in a nice clean form that I could work with.

Chris: This is a map of the Kotuku Peninsula which includes the Glenfern Sanctuary. And this map has been my world, or what’s represented on this map has been my world for nearly eight weeks. Glenfern Sanctuary, it has its predator fence and then inside of that fence there is a very dense network of traps, roughly every 50 metres or so, in pretty much any direction there’s a rat trap. I’ve done a few maps where I try to represent the trapping network which is so important to this place in terms of both the day to day life of the place, but also, as soon as you leave the trail there are just these traps everywhere, and that’s the reality of a sanctuary like this. And each one of those traps has been located with GPS and is stored somewhere.

Chris: So those are signposts really for the park managers and the trapping especially for the volunteers and they signify different lines. For me they’re like the latitude and longitude of this park and I can use those to both find my way literally when I’m in the bush, but also to locate observations. The participatory work…I feel like that has gone as I hoped it would, which is just to have lots of conversations with lots of conversations with lots of people, and to spend lots of time walking and talking with people in the bush, and also to gather around large maps and talk about places. And then to, in some cases, create a dedicated map with that person’s knowledge. And so there aren’t these very localised maps like I thought there would be, instead there are just all these different faces of Kotuku Peninsula. A special place and a special experience, and yeah I just love this island, I think it’s amazing. I love the people, I wonder…I should calculate what percentage of the population have helped me, ‘cause it’s quite large. Yeah, this place is just a real treasure.

Duration of video: 11 minutes 43 seconds.