Speakers: International Environmental Arts Research Network Symposium I

Learn more about the speakers at the symposium


Laura Hopes

Speedwell is a large-scale site-specific installation on Plymouth’s Mount Batten Breakwater 

4 September – 29 November 2020 

‘Speedwell’ uses the simple language of illuminated signage to ask complex questions. By using three words ('NO', 'NEW', 'WORLDS') it asks us to think about our world, this damaged planet, and how we arrived at this pivotal moment in its history. It offers multiple readings, constantly shifting between different illuminated phrases, questioning the historic conceit that there ever was a ‘New World’ and asking us to imagine new worlds of living, caring and dying well together.

In 1620, the people on board the Mayflower went to settle in what they called the New World, which was in fact a world where indigenous people already lived. The Speedwell, a ship intended to sail alongside the Mayflower, was unable to make the journey across the Atlantic. Some of those who returned to England on board the Speedwell had to find ways to make peace with the land they sought to escape.

Speedwell, Laura Hopes
Image credit: Still / Moving

Laura Hopes’ AHRC-funded PhD, entitled Being Vulnerable: Distances of the Sublime Anthropocene, developed from a methodology built around the idea of the ‘vulnerable practitioner’, open to failure, seeking collaboration and acceptant of unknowns. Her practice has become, through extensive collaboration within the collective Still/Moving and with academics and experts in diverse fields, a process where assumptions are constantly challenged – obstacles to be unpicked. Her expanded practice encompasses writing, conversations, film, performance, installation and multi-disciplinary exchange.


Johanna Mechen

Johanna's research involves working with and drawing knowledge from the participation of her community, family and immediate landscape of Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt, Aotearoa, to make art works that convey environmental, ecological and social concerns. She makes moving image works whose narratives are generally non-linear and explore the relationship between her internal and external landscapes. They are simultaneously social and personal documentaries, micro-histories and partial tellings. The contextual focus of her practice-based research is maternal subjectivity and the ethics of care that intersect the spheres of mothering and the making of environmentally-concerned, site-based art works.

Johanna's current project, ‘Sealing Ground’, considers the laying of synthetic grass in a new council housing complex adjacent to her house and the spiritual and physical implications of not having direct access to the land to plant anything. Impacts such as inhibiting of rainwater absorption and microplastic waste are juxtaposed with the privilege of land ownership, food gardens and real grass which her children play on. Here she has employed re-enactment of observed phenomena and constructed imagery as a primary form of making in the translation of lived experience.

A primary focus here is a contribution to the articulation of methodologies employed in the making of narrative structures that sit within the expanded fields of both experimental documentary film and photographic practices.

Johanna Mechen, video still from Sealing Ground (2020)
Image credit: Johanna Mechen

Johanna Mechen's work explores performativity and participation in lens-based practice in order to tell social, environmental, ecological stories. Alongside her moving image and photography practice, she teaches and writes poetry. She is currently a PhD candidate at CoCA Massey School of Fine Arts, Wellington, Aotearoa.


Kevin Miles

This is a photographic study of ‘the sail’ as a tactile relic of maritime experience, conducted in Wellington harbour where Kevin lives and practices aboard a sailing boat. Expanding on his PhD research enquiry and using cameraless techniques, photo-sensitive materials are brought in direct contact with the fabric of a storm-torn sail, seawater and marine ecosystems around the boat. The images respond to this natural event as a way of accessing experiential knowledge of sailing as a lived phenomenon.

In this encapsulated example of Kevin’s practice, silver gelatine photographic paper is immersed in the semi-urban marine-sphere with the ambient light of the port at night. The cameraless images allow for a deeper reflective study of the maritime/marine encounter while extending the potential of a cameraless photographic practice in a dynamic contextual background.

In the interests of an environmental arts practice and engaging a wider audience, this body of work uses visual tactility to develop a deeper relationship with the environment, to perhaps create a greater capacity for responsibility on the level of the ecological conscious and unconscious for the viewer. In order to do this, the haptic or proximal processes of cameraless photography are a way of evoking or interpreting complex sensuous qualities of being-at-sea, and so may provide phenomenological access to this haptic knowledge.

Kevin Miles, Genoa #2, 2020, unique silver gelatine photogram, 45 x 60cm
Image credit: Kevin Miles

Originally from Preston, Lancashire, Kevin Miles studied for a Film degree at Farnham (University of Creative Arts). After moving to New Zealand in 2010, he was a photography and film tutor at the Southern Institute of Technology on the South Island, and completed an MFA in Photography at Otago Polytechnic in 2016. He moved to Wellington in 2018 to begin his PhD at Massey University and to live on his sailing boat in the harbour.