Essays & Articles

Parade across Dunes

Established in 1998, the Elam International Artist in Residence programme has often chimed in with exhibitions and events around Auckland. The first Triennial, Bright Paradise, curated by Allan Smith, brought Justine Kurland to the city in 2001, and she made this art work during her stay.

Part of a group of so-called “girl photographers” who create staged images that seem to address adolescent female identity, Kurland is also conscious of romantic landscape painting The University she chose was The University of Auckland, where she is now studying for her PhD in the English Department.

Kirby-Jane was one of two students chosen to address postgraduate students at the cocktail party for Postgraduate Week. This is an annual event that comprises faculty sessions, displays, and lectures, and provides an opportunity for postgraduate students to showcase their work and for undergraduates and professionals to see what The University of Auckland has to offer at postgraduate level.

The other student chosen to speak at the cocktail function was Asif Rahman, a masters student in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering.

Kirby-Jane, originally from Wanaka, has a BA(Hons) and MA from the University of Otago. Her doctoral thesis entitled “Women as aesthetic commodities in popular Victorian fiction” examines how popular mid-to-late nineteenth-century novelists represented women as aesthetic commodities in matrimonial contexts. Having recently been awarded a Universitas 21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship, Kirby-Jane will be taking a research trip to Birmingham to consult with staff and postgraduate students from that university’s notable research cluster in lateVictorian culture, aestheticism, decadence and modernism. Asif Rahman, after finishing intermediate school in Palmerston North, moved with his family to Singapore, where he completed high school. He then studied for his bachelors degree in the United States before returning to New Zealand, where he is now continuing his postgraduate education at The University of Auckland.

Asif acknowledges that his expectations were high, and he is now proud to say that the University has met and exceeded them. “This university is truly a world-class institution,” he told the guests at the cocktail party. “Graduates have a great reputation, and go on to top-level jobs in academia, politics, and industry… I am extremely proud of all the things that I have accomplished here at the University and the doors that have been opened to me in New Zealand and abroad.”

Asif Rahman with his sister Noreen (left) and Ashley Young, a PhD student in Chemical and Materials Engineering. As a kind of image-gardener, she cultivates fresh fields by selecting her locations from amongst those places important to locals or suggested by the models themselves. In this instance the setting is the north end of Karekare beach on Auckland’s West Coast where Kurland let loose a group of girls from a local private school, dressed in the same school uniform. Beforehand, she had asked them to imagine certain scenarios – running away together, escaping parental authority, finding paradise – ideas which she wanted the girls to respond to and interpret for the camera. In this way, her models are sent out into a framed view just as an army or an expedition is dispatched to some new rough territory in order to claim and map it.

Kurland explains: “I stage photographs of teenage girls, imagining they have run away from home, gathered together, forming packs in the woods where they live like wildlife. I imagine a world devoid of men, where girls are independent and free, where perfect moments follow one after another. At the same time I create this narrative, I allow it to unravel, so that the pictures have only a trace of my directorial hand. Ultimately these photos are about how the girls interpret my request for paradise.” Kurland’s girls are never passive or seductive. Put into nature and assigned active roles, they climb trees, paddle in swimming holes, and parade. She describes this series as “a Huckleberry Finn narrative, given to girls” since hers is a predominantly American view of adolescence, founded upon restlessness and the myth of the frontier. Others have been reminded of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Will these girls turn savage or create a new utopia?

The “in between” aspect of teenage years is paralleled by her location of the narratives in untamed areas that border urban conurbation. Isolated, yet threatened with the encroachment of urbanisation, Karekare is a symbolic locale. Like a band of nomads moving across the desert, the line of girls marches over the dunes, framed by the setting sun. Dwarfed by the majestic headland, these girls are on a heroic quest, their journey made epic by the scenery.

Linda Tyler



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