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Artist Interview: Conversation with Vera Hong

Murray Art Museum Albury

Vera Hong is an Australian producer, director, and cinematographer based in the Blue Mountains on Gundungurra and Dharug lands. Vera is a visual storyteller, passionate about connecting people and ideas across cultures, environments and artistic disciplines.
This is email exchange between Vera Hong and Sophie Holvast, MAMA Engagement, took place across April - June 2023 and discusses Let Me Pass Onto You which features in the exhibition No Easy Answers.

Q: Let Me Pass Onto You is filmed in the Greater Blue Mountains, which is also your home. What was your experience of filming this beautiful, environmentally focussed work so close to the place you live?

(It was so hard!!) Although geographically located close to the place I live, walking into and filming in the Blue Gum Forest was a real test of stamina, courage, perseverance and discernment for myself and co-cinematographer, Craig Bender.
‘Let Me Pass Onto You’ was created by walking over 50,000 steps into the Grose Valley in Dharug Country, after the 2019-2020 Black Summer fires. The tough wilderness terrain down into the steep valley and the necessity to carry everything we needed on our backs created limitations around how, what, where and when we could film. (Tbh I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to physically do it.) But these limitations ended up being very liberating creatively. They created an edge.

Q: The film possesses a beautiful, powerful sense of duality! The macro close-ups of insects and tiny water droplets set against the expansive drone footage of the escarpment really sing when shown across the two screens. Can you elaborate on this filmmaking device in creating meaning?

I wanted to make a multichannel work to reflect the multitude of simultaneous macro and micro sensory experiences one can have being in nature, and also reflect the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. It’s a work that could be continued infinitely… (with more screens!)

Q: Can you speak about the process of working with James Peter Brown and Eric Avery in creating the sound composition?

It’s a huge privilege working with such great composers and musicians. The sound for the film was all created remotely. Eric Avery was given a rough edit and he improvised to it while watching it in the recording studio, composing and performing a whole range of incredible violin sounds and music. Then the wonderfully nuanced composer and sound designer James Brown responded to the film, interweaving Eric’s musical stems and atmospheric sound recordings that I recorded on location in the forest. James and I worked online together through various iterations until it felt like the right balance of sound, music, atmosphere, space and silence. For me the sound in the film speaks to the pain and loss from the bushfires, the resilience of life and regeneration, and the deep time memory, calling and knowing of the land, water and trees.

Q: Commissioned as part of the Powerhouse Museum for their major 2021 exhibition Eucalyptusdom, I’m interested to know if this is a work that you have wanted to make for a while? How does it feel to have completed this moving image portrait of this particular and very personal place?

The opportunity to make this work arose out of the outstanding curatorial team and support from the Powerhouse Museum. I was given a range of amazingly insightful research supporting materials around the curatorial concept and an open slate to respond to Eucalyptusdom. For that gift of freedom and agency I’ll always be grateful.

The research process gave me an opportunity to connect in conversation with local legends within my community - Traditional Custodians, historians, naturalists, local bushwalkers and National Parks personnel. These conversations, knowledges and knowledge gaps informed my personal experience of the valley and forest. The significance of the the Eucalypt and it’s importance in the World Heritage conservation of the place I live, having just gone through the 2019/20 Black Summer fires, along with the timely 90th anniversary of when the Blue Gum Forest was saved from logging by passionate bush walkers which kick started the modern day conservation movement in NSW, all helped to solidify my decision to make this work. The filmmaking became part of a healing process for me to stare down the barrel of the devastation we had endured and process some of what happened.

Q: What do you hope viewers will take away from viewing this work?

Let Me Pass Onto You is an enquiry into walking as an act of learning, intergenerational relationships, knowledge, custodianship and the conservation movement in the face of the climate crisis. To have this work which is made in Dharug Country, presented and held in Wiradjuri Country at MAMA in such a way is a special honour.

That the work translates and speaks to people in the context of the exhibition ‘No Easy Answers’, curated by former MAMA director Bree Pickering, and to be shown in the company of such esteemed fellow artists is a privilege to be a part of. (Wow!)

There is a lot I could hope viewers take away from the work. But perhaps the stand out feedback for me, has been when someone tells me that their kid never ever sits still, yet for some reason they sat and watched the whole film; or when someone tells me they cried and the work exploded their heart.

Underlying all this is creating a connection - whether it be with the natural world as a part of us; or our stories and identity in relation to a sense of place; or the light of realisation of what we have and what we have lost; or the understanding we need to do better to protect, revitalise, cultivate and create something of value to pass on to the next generation.

Let Me Pass Onto You was commissioned by Powerhouse Museum for the exhibition Eucalyptusdom, 2021.