The Occasional Journal

Local Knowledge

July 2016


Emma Ng

‘The Knowledge’ is a notoriously difficult testing regime prospective London cabbies must pass through, memorising not only the city’s streets and optimum routes between any given Point A and Point B, but also the restaurants, minor landmarks, florists and churches that populate them. Passing the required series of tests usually takes several years, and it’s a feat capable of changing the adult brain—neuroscientists have found that an area important to memory becomes enlarged as the cabbies amass this detailed working knowledge of London’s nonsensically webbed geography.1

This edition of the Enjoy Occasional Journal, Local Knowledge, gives credence to the idea that our relationships to place underpin every aspect of our lives, and like ‘the Knowledge’ the contributions featured draw on the potent human link between memory and place. Here in the Wellington region, Local Knowledge shares its title with a 2011 exhibition at the Dowse Art Museum, which explored the gaining currency of localism ‘at a time when we are experiencing the greatest mobility and interconnectedness that humans have ever known’.2 This journal puts forward a multitude of ways of knowing and understanding the local; its contents navigate modes of relating to place that are both familiar and unconventional, such as childhood memory, homesickness, and empathy for animals. Some of the contributions to this journal relate to projects presented in Enjoy’s 2016 exhibition programme, and several feature Wellington artists whose work closely examines facets of this place, Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. Like Marco Polo’s descriptions of Venice in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, they invite us to delight in the overlapping ways a single city can be experienced, never exhausting the potential to see the familiar anew.

Searching for the words to describe the central theme of this journal early in its conception, I found myself using ‘psychogeography without the Situationist baggage’3 (which on reflection seems a little flippant). In the words of Guy Debord:

Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.4

Certainly, psychogeography presents a lineage for exploring the special impact of place on our psyche within contemporary art practice. Debord’s definition is also vague enough to capture the pendulum swing of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual effects of knowing (and not knowing) a place that are explored here. My distancing then, of Situationist psychogeography and this journal, stemmed from a desire to avoid diluting the potency of such effects, recognising that the relations between environment and affect that this group of essays and artist works spin seem too direct to deliver by way of avant-garde theory—especially when we acknowledge that not all trace their roots through Western epistemology.

Another practice that presents a framework for thinking through space is mapping. Conventionally maps plot space, seeking to establish a certainty of relations between things—an ambition equally laden with history and connotation. But when we move from map to mapping, the practice expands beyond its objects to encompass a huge variety of ways of apprehending the world. Artists have long advanced and shaped how we comprehend and relate to the places we occupy and move through. In Local Knowledge we see mapping conceived of as a living process, formed subjectively and experientially. Through the range of practices included here it becomes clear our relationships to place act as both conduits and anchors for approaching an enormously diverse array of ideas significant to us—our understanding always finds its foundations in our tūrangawaewae.5

The Knowledge is remarkable because it requires London cabbies to remember places that are otherwise of no special significance to them. The places that matter to us are stubborn, long-term residents of our memories. The Memory Palace is a recall technique that takes advantage of this, asking us to imagine moving through a space familiar to us and suspended in time; mentally turning over objects and feeling our fingers into nooks to find crumpled bits of information we have stored for later retrieval. Also known as the Mind Palace technique or the Method of Loci, this works best when we use spatial memorisations of our childhood homes, high school classrooms, and similarly warm and well-worn locations.

The first time I read Laila O’Brien’s contribution to this journal, I felt as though I was entering someone else’s memory palace; a warm glow accompanies its evocation of the selective (though sophisticated) memory of childhood. Some of these memories took place a stone’s throw from where Enjoy Gallery is located today (as referenced in the choice of cover image for this publication). Elsewhere in this journal works by Janet Lilo and Ngahuia Harrison relay experiences of being far from home that are at turns frustrating, funny, fortifying and wistful. Balamohan Shingade writes of journeys of another kind, considering place through pilgrimage. Sian van Dyk, responding to Jay Hutchinson’s embroidery works, explores Wellington’s Newtown, the visual language of its streets, and the ways in which places become dear to us. Gradon Diprose and Kelly Dombroski respond to the work of Heather Hayward, writing on the diverse (often hidden) economies that are accessible to us, even in the city. Others—Angela Kilford and Aliyah Winter, and Elisabeth Pointon—highlight the interconnectedness of us, our environments, and those we share them with.

Thank you for tuning in to this fifth edition of the Enjoy Occasional Journal, the third since we launched the online platform in 2014. The move to the online format is certainly making it possible to deliver new editions to you a little less occasionally. We hope you’ll find this one as rich and surprising as each before it.

  • 1.

    Rosen, Jody. The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS.” New York Times, T Magazine, November 10, 2014.

  • 2.

    The Dowse Art Museum. “Local Knowledge.”

  • 3.

    The Situationist International were a group of avant-garde artists and intellectuals formed in Italy and active primarily in Europe between 1957 and 1972. Mixing Marxism and surrealism, their work was founded on the belief that art, politics and everyday life were inseparable. Psychogeography and the study of the urban environment were key concerns, and the group often employed 'disruption' strategies such as using maps for other cities as navigation instructions and 'dérive' (drifting).

  • 4.

    Debord, Guy. "Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography." Les Lèvres Nues #6 (September 1955).

  • 5.

    "Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home."

    Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal. 'Papatūānuku – the land - Tūrangawaewae – a place to stand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 22-Sep-12.