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Transcript of the 2019 Artists in Residence — Jenny Gillam and Eugene Hansen

​Jenny: Well I think the application for the residency … I think there was four … And so we sort of checked out where those locations were and what they might offer, and did a little bit of superficial research about each one, and then discovered the Whatipū Ballroom cave, or Te Ana Ru cave … And so that was the deciding factor actually, that there was the cave here, and that this was the closest place to stay for the cave, and I think also if the kids could come with us, like if the house was big enough for the kids.

Jenny: I do multimedia installations, and I often work collaboratively, often with Eugene, and quite often based on site …not always site-specific work, probably more site-responsive than specific … responding to history sometimes of a place. I trained as a photographer, I do take photos still, but I’m more likely to use them in a publication I guess, than an exhibition.

Eugene: I trained as a sculptor. I primarily work with audio and video and live audio-visual performance, but often that’s in combination with sculptural elements.

Jenny: When you mention the cave lots of people know about it, but they only know a little bit, and it’s just through word of mouth. The dances that took place in the cave – well there’s two versions of it really … That the dances were taking place in the early 1900s, and then other people said it was really busy in the 1920s, that that’s when the kauri dancefloor was put into the cave. But there’s also some evidence that there was a dance floor put in there earlier. So possibly there’s been two dance floors at different times, we’re not really sure.

Jenny: And we have heard that – which is why we came out here in the first place – was that the dance floor is still in the cave under five metres of sand. But we’ve also heard that that could be really unlikely that it’s still there, because ultimately it’s more likely that it got recycled rather than left there. We have also read that the dance floor was hoisted up between dances, hoisted up to the ceiling to protect it from the sea, the tide coming into the cave –

Eugene: Because everything you can see behind you wasn’t there. There’s early photos which show the mouth of the cave and then just flat sand between the water and the mouth of the cave, and so the tide would have come right up at that stage.

Jenny: Because we’ve read that the dance floor was winched up between dances to protect it from the tide, we would like to propose a project where we make a dance floor for a gallery space that gets winched up. At this stage it’s hopefully going to be …automatically lifts in time with the tides. If that’s not possible for some reason, then it may be that it gets hoisted manually, with a group of people hoisting it up, and possibly just brought down only on Saturdays, ‘cause the dances were held on Saturdays.

Jenny: And we are still planning to head down, potentially five metres down under the sand to do a recording as well –

Eugene: - sub-sonic recording -

Jenny: Yeah, just because, you know, maybe there’s a dance floor still there. So that was what we initially had proposed and we’re still working towards doing that as well, to just see what it sounds … what we get from that recording.

Eugene: There’s the notion of the remoteness and the history of the cave, the fact that possibly – probably not – but possibly there’s a dance floor buried under metres of sand in the cave is this kind of unknown or

Jenny: ... imagined ...

Eugene: … yeah history, this kind of inaccessible history.

Jenny: We’re not anticipating being able to find it. And it’s not really the point of it. The point is what we can … what we can do with that idea, of a dance floor being here … there’s something in that, more than a need to find it.

Eugene: There are two sensors in the capsule. The sensor for the geophone, which is the seismographic sensor, which will pick up subsonic vibrations. And then into the top of the capsule I’ve glued a contact microphone, so that’s acting like a hydrophone, so how you would typically make a hydrophone for recording under water. Well we’ve been taking some ambisonic and some quadrophonic recordings in the cave, which has a really particular soundscape to it, because of the resonance and the echo, and that often it’s echoing the waves from the beach. And the idea at this stage is that there would be a kind of surround-sound audioscape in the gallery with the dance floor.

Eugene: Just the other day we were lucky enough to have Riki Bennett who’s a taonga pūoro player come and play for us in the cave, and we’ve recorded him in the cave. So we’re thinking that we would incorporate some of that into the soundtrack at this stage. While the dancefloor is intrinsically linked to the colonial history of the area, for me there’s a history which goes further back than that. So Te Kawerau a Maki are the Tangata Whenua for this area, so it was really important for us to meet with them and talk with them. There’s lots of indications of precolonial contact, there being occupation of the caves, I think it’s mainly believed they were seasonally used as places people would live in when they were fishing from this area.

Jenny: Eugene and I have worked together on numerous projects over the years, and our process has developed through discussion really, a lot of discursive development of a project, with each other but also bringing in people that are more knowledgeable about something, or a place than we are, to respond to the place that we end up in.

Eugene: But interestingly while we’ve been here we’ve kind of decided that we think a small print run artist book which sits within an installation would work really well in this context.

Jenny: We couldn’t develop this project about Whatipū without being here, or about the cave without being here and having those conversations, you definitely get a different sense of the place, which I think you don’t really understand that’s what you’re looking at until you’re here, being here.

Duration: 10 minutes 15 seconds.