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Transcript of the Artist in Residence 2015 - Conor Clarke video

[video: Birdsong. Title of the video displays - Artist in Residence 2016. Auckland Regional Parks. Picture-making at Waitawa. Waitawa Regional Park. 2015 Artist in Residence - Conor Clarke. Auckland Council logo (pōhutukawa flower over water). Soft piano music . Auckland Council logo displays throughout the video, top right corner – text, Auckland Council, next to a pōhutukawa bloom with three waves underneath. The ocean, Pākihi, Kāramuramu and Ponui islands and the cloudy blue sky. The sound of footsteps in the grass. Conor Clarke, the artist, walks past carrying a camera on a tripod on her shoulder. Tall grass swaying in the wind. Text appears – Picture-making at Waitawa. Conor walking toward us along a small path. Views from a hilltop of the sea, beach, trees, bushes and greenery, and residency sitting among the hills. Conor comes out of the residency with her camera on a tripod and closes the door behind her.]

Conor: So my name is Conor Clarke and I'm a photographic artist originally from New Zealand, and I've been living in Berlin for the last just over six years.

[video: Conor walking past the front of the residency, toward and past a picnic table. Beyond that is a view across the sea to islands in the distance. Conor walking through a fence gate and closes it behind her and walking away. Lambs on her left hand side running away past a big tree trunk. Conor walking through tall grass, down the hill away from the residence and past a fence, heading towards the beach. Calm sea in the background.]

Conor: I wanted to come back to New Zealand and I noticed that there was this residency advertised in South Auckland which is where my parents live. And I started looking at the park itself and I was very interested in it because, because of its state, that it was a new park.

[video: Conor sitting on a bench, talking. Behind her is Waitawa bay, blue sky and Waitawa hills in the horizon. Text appears - Conor Clarke, 2015 Artist in residence and the Auckland Council logo.]

Conor: My interests were pretty much the evidence of human use of the land and this park had layers of this human use, so it had the Māori occupation you could see in the pā sites.

[video: A hilltop covered in green grass and trees swaying in the wind with terracing of the slope visible. Text - Pāwhetau Pā.]

Conor: So, visible use of the land the way it's been sculpted and used but also loads of evidence of industrial use.

[video: Conor climbing up man-made stairs on a gorse covered hillside, with her camera and tripod on her shoulder. Conor sitting on the bench talking.]

Conor: On my walks, the first thing that struck me was actually the gorse which is probably not the right thing to say. It was in full bloom at the time and it was just, the air was filled with this coconut scent and I’d, I’d never even noticed that gorse had a scent.

[video: Conor, cutting stems of a gorse with gardener’s shears and arranging them in her hand.]

Conor: So now I’ve been sort of focusing on its life cycle and I’ve been using it in my work in different ways.

[video: Two black and white photos, each of a hand holding a short gorse stem. Conor sitting among tall grass, talking. Black and white photos of the gorse in different stages of its life cycle.]

Conor: So I've printed two photographs of a hand holding some gorse. And, well they’re my hands, and their selfies so it was actually quite, quite tricky because my cable isn't very long. So yeah there's two hands holding gorse and in different stages of the gorse life cycle, so I've got the gorse in bloom and the gorse gone to seed and then the third one will be the regrowth period which I have to collect some on the way back.

[video: Conor walking among the tall gorse stems, holding her camera and tripod in her left hand and gorse tall stems in her right hand. Conor sitting on the bench talking.]

Conor: It's become less about looking for pictures and rather engaging with the landscape in a different way. I've sort of been collecting things that I find and bringing them back to the house and photographing them there. And this is something I haven't really done before. Before I've had a very, very clear picture about what I was looking for and how I was going to photograph it and this has been a lot more experimental.

[video: Black and white photo of a hand holding a gorse plant, including bare roots, by the top of the stem. Conor siting on the bench talking.]

Conor: I guess over the last few years I've been focusing on a perhaps post-industrial subject you could say. Using a lot of landscape painting conventions from, well, the 17th to 19th centuries, predominantly the picturesque or sublime genres.

[video: Black and white photo of two hills crossing over and a grey, cloudy sky in the background. Conor siting on the bench talking.]

Conor: So for me composition is very important. They're asymmetrical. They're characterised by age and decay. Overlapping planes in the distance. Hazy distances, shadowed foregrounds, and you’re sort of led into the compositions with serpentine paths or rivers or figures or boats and there’ll always be a leading subject somewhere in the middle distance.

[video: Black and white photo of a tree trunk, black bushes and a light grey wavy road cutting through the Waitawa hill. Conor walking up to a clifftop, setting up her tripod camera. Pākihi, Kāramuramu and Chemberlins island scattered in the sea in the distance.]

Conor: So, and a lot of these pictures have been making it Waitawa, my leading subject has been. For example, this red island that we see in all of my vistas.

[video: Soft piano music. View across the sea. Text - Kāramuramu Island. Conor setting up her camera and the lenses to take photos of the island. A series of black and white photos - the island, a crater on the island, a road between the bare, rocky hills, clifftop which Conor was taking photos from. Conor picks up her camera and turns to leave the clifftop.]

Conor: There are also other, loads of other wonderful things about the park. That it's been planted in native forests and that soon, in 20 years, my pictures are going to look really quite different and that's quite exciting, actually.

[video: Fern leaves in the forest. Conor walking along a forest path and then a pebbly beach in the Waitawa Bay, with her camera and tripod on her shoulder. Birds take flight ahead of her. A series of black and white photos - sea foam; ladder-like looking pole; a maintenance worker holding a serrated pruning saw.]

Conor: I decided that having two months would be a good opportunity to begin this dark room process again because it's been over 10 years since I last printed my own pictures. They let me know that there was actually a sort of sleep out area which was unrenovated and that I could use that.

[video: Conor exits the residency and entering the sleep out building, approaching a desk covered in photo cut-outs. Conor in a room converted to a photographic darkroom with windows blacked out and photo developing tubs on tables. Conor holds a hose and turns the tap on.]

Conor: It's kind of perfect. So there two rooms, so one room this side is the darkroom side, which took some work to get it light safe, but I got there in the end. I went through four rolls of gaffer in the process.

[video: Gaffer tape holds black material to the wall of the darkroom. Conor develops a photo in the dark room, by putting it into a chemical bath under a red light.]

Conor: And, well, there was no water coming in, we had to solve that problem. So the ranger - Stan, the ranger - he plumbed that in for me, and a builder came and set up this old stainless steel shower base in here. So that's perfect.

[video: Conor standing in the darkroom, talking about setting up the room.]

Conor: So there was that one thing and then borrowing all the stuff I needed from various institutions and friends.

[video: In the other room, Conor’s work desk with her Apple laptop, phone, speakers, pencils, a “Pump” water bottle and coffee mug. Conor walks into the room carrying a large developed photo.]

Conor: And in the other side as a sort of a workroom. So I view the prints and I work out what I'm doing and that sort of thing, yeah. Play music, so that I can hear it really loudly through the wall.

[video: Conor taping the developed photo onto a sheet of glass. The glass is sitting on the ground, leaning against a wall. The wall is covered with black and white photos.]

Conor: This is fibre-based paper and it's very sensitive. When it's wet, it's the true size and when it dries it shrinks quite a lot and that causes the paper to curl up. You can press the paper back but this is sort of a cheats way of making it flat.

[video: Close up of the latest developed photo. Conor sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the photo and describes what is in it.]

Conor: So this is the pasture, it’s a mixture of rye and clover and it's, it's pretty pristine. And then you see the fence weaving into the background and all these new plantings. You still see a lot of the old stumps they would have been, they’re all gum trees, Australian gum trees, that they cleared from that back area. There's a little bit of gorse in the corner, naturally, and tussock. So it's a diptych, so there's another side. There’s a test print up there but there's just a really flat light print on cheap paper.

[video: Conor points up towards the two test prints. The two text prints side by side. Conor opens a cupboard, inside hang strips of photo negatives. Conor stands at the cupboard door, talking.]

Conor: So this is my cupboard where I dry my negatives and I try to keep the dust out. I have moved on from gorse to wilding pine and macrocarpa, which are a huge problem in the park of course because they come up and, you know, they cast shade and then the native trees can't get through. So they have to, people have to control them so there are contractors coming in all the time controlling all of these wilding species. And that's, I hung out with them for two hours, and that is a really hard job what they do. I was exhausted after two hours and they do it every day. Hardcore [laughs]. It's really hard work.

[video: Developed test prints taped onto the wall. Conor lifts each one showing the numbers at the back of each and points at them The black and white photo of the maintenance worker holding the pruning saw.]

Conor: So there's the numbers underneath of each negative role. And these ones… This is kauri, so they would have planted a lot of natives and then they have to maintain the area for, I think they said, three years, for example. So on this day they were controlling for things like nightshade, macrocarpa and pine that had come up wild there. So I kept a couple and took them home and took some photographs of them.

[video: Side to side, two black and white photos, each of a hand holding a small tree, complete with bare roots, by the top of the stem. Conor rearranging another set of negatives roles on the wall, pointing and describing what’s in them.]

Conor: This is the island, I'm gonna print this next. It's a silhouette of the island. I'm gonna print it quite dark so you see it as a silhouette and you can see all the little diggers and bits of machinery just in the skyline there.

[video: Two photos, side by side, of an island. Soft piano music. The outside of Waitawa residence. Inside the residency, a stem of a dry gorse inside the empty apple ale bottle sitting on the window seal.]

Conor: I don't really have a, sort of, defined rhythm. I mean, some days I just walk. Some days I just read.

[video: Black and white printouts scattered around the dining table. A book shelf on the right hand side. Conor doing the washing up in the kitchen. Three vases of gorse flowers and greenery sit on a bench in the kitchen.]

Conor: Some days I stay in the dark room all day, but other times I do all of those things in one day, it really just depends. But in terms of what I'm looking for in the park, I did have a list of things before I arrived that I knew would be here, that I knew that I wanted to make pictures about, but I also discover a lot of new things along the way.

[video: Conor comes into the lounge and sits down on a sofa in front of a coffee table. She picks up a pen and writes in a notebook. View out the residency window. Birdsong.]

Conor: I guess if I think of picturing here, after I leave and go back to Germany, strangely it would be a view from inside the house, looking out because I sit there often, looking out at the sea.

[video: Conor sitting in the tall grass, talking.]

Conor: And I guess the thing I miss the most will be that horizon, because I don't have a horizon. You very rarely see a horizon in Berlin because it's, there are so many high-rise buildings.

[video: A series scenes of Conor walking along a ridge above the sea, in the tall grass, carrying her camera and tripod on her right shoulder, with the sea and tree trunks in the background.]

Conor: So to be away from the city and away from friends I find actually quite, quite good. Yeah. I love isolation and I've made a lot of pictures. I don't normally make this many pictures. Since it's my last week of my residency it's nice to revisit this pā site because this, well I used to come up here all the time, during my residency, and I mean sometimes, I wouldn't bring my camera, I’d just come up and sit here and have a look out at the sea.

[video: Black and white photo of the sea and tree trunks. Conor, sitting in the tall grass, talking.]

Conor: And it was also one of my first exciting experiences here because after my first visit up here I went down to the beach and met some really nice people fishing and it was their first time on the beach.

[video: Conor on the ridge, looking through the lens of her camera, using a light meter and taking photos.]

Conor: And then I walked up home and then shortly after I looked out the people had gone, but these three orcas were there. So I always have this kind of magical connection with the pā, because I feel like, keep feeling like they had something to do with the visit. But yeah, I guess I'll miss this the most. And the isolation. And some of these wonderful people that have spent time with like Stan, the ranger, he is really wonderful. And just having time to think and spend some time on a project.

[video: Piano music. Black and white photo of a tree on clifftop, the calm sea and the horizon. Conor sitting on the top of a clifftop, in the tall grass, looking out at the blue sea.]

Conor: But I think I'll be very homesick for this place when I leave actually. I feel homesick even thinking about leaving.

[video: Conor’s camera on the ground, in the grass with Conor sitting in the background. Auckland Council logo. Text: find out more at:]