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Bonsiour old thing, cheerio chin-chin …

The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision) presents the final moving image exhibition from their 2014 Curator at-large, aptly titled Farewell.

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Gareth Watkins’ fourth curation will run from 29 August – 29 November 2014. The 100th anniversary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Great War inspired him to showcase moments surrounding the act of departure. The exhibition examines how we memorialise these departures – and what it might mean when they aren’t captured on film.

“My initial idea for this exhibition was to showcase a range of troop farewells as they departed from New Zealand,” says Watkins. “I wanted to show the humanity of the situation when loved ones depart to an uncertain future.”

Watkins expected to find a wealth of this material in the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collections; however, during his research for the exhibition he discovered that there weren’t as many of these moments recorded as he had imagined.

Though surprised, Watkins reframed his investigation. Why mightn’t these moments have been as frequently captured as he expected? Perhaps there was general discomfort in showing vulnerability. Social conventions of the times may have dictated that these moments should be intimate experiences for those present. Or perhaps would-be documentarians and historians respected the privacy of those about to separate.

Regardless of the reason, the situation gave Watkins pause for thought: will our history suffer if our current experiences aren’t documented? Or does absence tell its own story?

Watkins explains: “I liken the exhibition to a line in Kendrick Smithyman’s poem Communicating, where he beautifully evokes the act of communicating in the ‘resonant silences between my words’. These images [in the exhibition] highlight a small part of a larger, imagined goodbye.”

He expanded the exhibition to encompass a wider, more abstract concept of “farewell.” The content is drawn from a variety of sources, including newsreels, home movies, feature films, songs and waiata. The footage of past goodbyes allows us to remember and relive the potent experience of departure. However, in Watkins’ hands, Farewell is equally an homage to the moments lived but left unframed; experienced but lost to history.

Though sad to end his curatorial tenure at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, Watkins reflects that his experience has been overwhelmingly positive and instructive. “I think the biggest thing I will treasure is the simple, joyous act of discovery – the uncovering of images that affirm, challenge or offer up different ways of seeing.”

The launch of Farewell is at 6pm Thursday 28 August, at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, 84 Taranaki St, Wellington. The opening night event features a unique screening of troop and personal departures, accompanied by live music. This will be followed by drinks and nibbles, and the opening of the exhibition.

Farewell runs 29 August – 29 November 2014.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, 84 Taranaki St, Wellington.

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