Experimental Images of Labour, Aotearoa New Zealand, 1974-2023
This research critically analyses representations of labour in the experimental films of Aotearoa New Zealand from the 1970s, when such filmmaking gained prominence, to the present time of writing, 2023. Specifically, I explore representations of agricultural and industrial work, feminist and Indigenous aesthetics, and images of immaterial labour that have emerged in response to social, cultural, technological and political transformations. To the detriment of cinema culture, experimental film has received limited and intermittent recognition, funding, and screening opportunities. A comprehensive history of Aotearoa’s experimental film history does not yet exist, and academic scholarship on the topic is scarce. This research aims to address this historical neglect by foregrounding experimental cinema as a distinct and vital category within the broader cinematic landscape. This thesis deploys a combination of Marxist and post-Marxist theories to analyse the many paradoxes of global capitalism. Marxism enables a critique of capitalism, provides a lens for analysing capital’s effects on labour and cinema, and proves useful when analysing the aesthetic dimensions of the experimental image. In addition to the theoretical exploration, this research incorporates two original experimental films that contribute to the ongoing discussions as well as advance new aesthetic means of representing labour. This research underscores the complexity and evolving nature of labour and its critical representation within experimental cinema. It shows that New Zealand experimental film has explicated labour’s role in shaping subjectivity, made visible labour’s role in perpetuating settler colonial ideologies, and emphasised the vitality of minority voices. As an art practice that exists outside of, and sometimes even in opposition to, dominant ideologies, experimental cinema’s representation of labour is crucial to understanding fundamental intersections between art, politics, and culture in Aotearoa New Zealand.