Collaborative performance remembers vanished communities

Still from 'Elegies (for the faded)' video work
Still from 'Elegies (for the faded)' video work
Womasong choir at Futuna Chapel 2013
A new collaborative work Elegies (for the faded) will be presented as part of the Old Hall Gigs performance series at 8pm on 24 May at the Tararua Tramping Club, Mt Victoria. The performance is a coll

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A new collaborative work Elegies (for the faded) will be presented as part of the Old Hall Gigs performance series at 8pm on 24 May at the Tararua Tramping Club, Mt Victoria. The performance is a collaboration between Wellington-based visual artist Caroline McQuarrie and women’s choir Womansong directed by Carol Shortis. Exploring sites on the West Coast of the South Island, which are either abandoned, or much-reduced towns, Elegies (for the faded) utilises video of the sites as they now are alongside live vocal music, celebrating the communities that have been lost.

Wellington artist Caroline McQuarrie grew up on the West Coast and has long been interested in the history of the region. Over the last two and a half years she has been researching and visiting sites where communities sprung up due to gold or coal, and vanished when the resources ran out. A lecturer in photography at Toi Rauwharangi College of Creative Arts Massey University, McQuarrie has videoed the sites highlighting the stillness of the places where busy communities once resided. “This collaborative performance explores the memory of communities which dissipated when natural resources run out, and what happens to the sites after the people have gone” says Caroline. The collaboration with the choir echoes musical evenings that these small communities often engaged in, many of which were popular annual events such as Waiuta’s Bachelor’s and Spinster’s Balls.

Formed in 2009, Womansong is a group of about 20 women who sing music from Aotearoa and round the world in two and three part harmony. Led by composer and arranger Carol Shortis, this performance will incorporate four songs, from Aotearoa (two incorporating te reo M?ori) and the wider pakeha diaspora. All songs relate to the video work in some way, whether through links to mining, the domestic lives of the settlements, or the environment the towns sit within. The songs evoke the communities now absent from the sites recorded in the video.

Old Hall Gigs is the ideal setting for the inaugural performance of this work. Created by Sarah Smythe and Thomasin Sleigh as a roving series of events taking place in halls around Wellington which includes readings from local writers, work by visual artists, contemporary dance, performances by solo musicians and bands from unexpected genres. ‘The Old Hall Gigs series is the ideal venue for our collaborative work’ says Caroline, ‘their evenings endeavour to capture the same community spirit that was offered in miner’s halls and the front rooms of boarding houses in many of the towns featured in the work.’

This performance explores historic town sites, and the building up and breaking down of communities due to the availability of resources. While these sites are now historical, in 2014 the West Coast is a region still in the media for its battle with how the use of its resources can support its communities.

Elegies (for the faded) will take place at 8pm on 24 May at the Tararua Tramping Club, Moncrieff Street, Mt Victoria.

Contact details: 
Caroline McQuarrie, phone: 021 136 0550, email: c.l.mcquarrie@massey.ac.nz or Carol Shortis, email: info@carolshortis.com

Written by

Caroline McQuarrie

9 May 2014