By 2013, Danny had moved to Australia and the question of how to participate in these lands hovered. When the Old Folks Association, a community organisation and venue in Auckland on whose board Alex and Danny sit, proposed a visit to the exhibition and conference Spectres of Evaluation at Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) in Melbourne, it seemed to provide an opportunity to test Local Time’s methods in a new land. Over time, Local Time have extended camping from a metaphor to a method in our practice, trusting that in over a decade of camping together we have developed a way of considering local resource issues. Without much history of navigating the Australian environment, and mindful of our unintended transgressions of institutional protocol in Auckland, we relied on the art institution as the authorising body for the protocols of our camping trip. Our confidence in our method turned out to be well founded practically but less so conceptually. In some ways, our practical history and capability blinded us to differences in protocol that must be attended to in a new land. The disruption caused by this meeting between confidence and difference has provided a prompt for further theoretical and conceptual pressure on our language for practice.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, if we were to travel to a new place our first task would be to contact those who hold mana whenua, or customary authority over the land, to seek permission to stay and to find out what protocols we should observe there, while sharing our own take (ta-ke), or purpose. In this case, our project was simple but the passages to approval not so – we were introduced via Tania Cañas to FCAC’s Indigenous Producer Lydia Fairhall, who coordinated the Elders in Residence programme. Such a programme is a rarity in the Australian context, so we were hopeful of receiving good guidance, which we did. We noted that we were ‘hoping to engage those with knowledge and custodianship of the area about the natural water sources in the region (springs, rivers, etc.) and discuss the appropriate protocols for accessing the water (or not accessing it if that was better!)’.[18] Fairhall suggested that a conversation with local elders, artists, and art workers could help us learn more about the land we were visiting, while also providing an opportunity for an open discussion on issues that we are concerned with, such as sovereignty, protocol, and community maintenance at the ‘cultural interface’ between customary practices and colonial institutions.

We sent out this invitation to a lunch for our day of arrival and, largely thanks to Local Time member Natalie Robertson’s pre-existing relationships with artists Vicki Couzens (from the Kirrae Wurrong and Gunditjmara clans of western Victoria) and Julie Tipene O’Toole (from Ngati Awa, Tainui, Te Rarawa in Aotearoa New Zealand), a small group attended. Discussion at the lunch was a little stilted, as the locals wondered what exactly we were doing there. After all, even though we had noted we were seeking permission and guidance in the how to be there (to return to Butler/Kant’s language, in what way should we be there?), the proposal to camp at FCAC had already been approved by the institution (FCAC and the curators). Considering the question of by what right we inhabited the space, perhaps we had already assumed a role that was authorised by the institution, but in a certain way trampled on sovereignty, as we had not waited patiently at the border to be invited in in the customary fashion. Again, our extension of hospitality required a suppression of an undergirding economy; yet, it was only through the act of extension that this economy became visible.

With enough food to keep everyone around long enough for conversations to ensue, it transpired that Couzens’s grandchild was related to Robertson’s family on the east coast of New Zealand (where Local Time gather each summer), solidifying the trans-Tasman indigenous links, and reminding that whakawhanaungatanga, or the Māori process of making family, is a well-tested methodology for approaching and navigating cultural difference. Eventually, Uncle Larry Walsh showed us where the customary camping ground was (just up the river a little from where we were staying at FCAC) and offered to look after us on our first night, as by arriving without protection we had put ourselves at some risk. The forces that would disrupt our stay turned out to be more banal – FCAC’s request to have the grounds’ sprinkler system turned off for our stay had not been registered at the local council, and at three a.m. high-powered hoses rose in the middle of the tents, saturating us and our belongings until Uncle Larry was able to command them to stop.

The musician Robert C. Bundle presented us with an Australian Aboriginal Flag that hung at our marquee for the duration of our stay, the dates of which coincided with Waitangi Day in Aotearoa. The site became a hub for conversation on traditional camping and transit sites, historical flora and fauna, struggles for self-determination, and indigenous history and colonial institutions. It was an open-form conversation, attended not just by indigenous artists but also by a number of people who were part of the Spectres of Evaluation event and some from the broader community. (One memorable drop-in told us at great length of his plans to finally ‘fix the situation of Aboriginal people in Victoria’, but that he would need to go directly to the most senior indigenous people to discuss it, not recognising the senior Aboriginal figures working in the corner nearby). Especially remarkable was one extended dialogue between Robbie and Larry discussing figures in the late 1970s and early 1980s from indigenous activism and the Canberra Aboriginal Tent Embassy who they felt had been overlooked in popular accounts of the movement.

Different notions of the camp collided in this project: a European genre of camping as temporary and provisional contrasted with how for many maintainers of land (and to a lesser degree for ourselves when out on the coast), camping is a permanent practice of kaitiakitanga or habitat maintenance. These conflicted with one another both within our own group and in the relationships with the broader community over the course of the project. Methodologically, the project showed us that a more rigorous conceptual analysis of camping would have supplemented our more practical methods in a way that may have alleviated some of these conflicts.

Next: V. Delhi: curatorial and artistic responsibility

[18] Personal communication, 14 January 2014.