By Christine McFetridge
It’s taken me a few days to start writing. My reactions are slow at the moment. I find it difficult to focus. I’m distracted; often glancing between my work, the Guardian live blog and commentary on Twitter. I think often of home – Aotearoa – and trust I won’t find myself in a position where I need to return on compassionate grounds. I think often of my whiteness, and of how this pandemic has emphasised the violent structural class and racial inequities within our communities. I think often of doubt. And hope.
This time has been triggering for me. As the city-wide and university closures took place in March, I was reminded of my experience of the Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes (2010 and 2011 respectively). I was undertaking my undergraduate study during this time at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts, and after each event, or strong aftershock, the university closed for a period to check the structural integrity of its buildings.
The familiar anxiety returns; more gently this time.
Today, the city-wide restrictions returned in Melbourne. This follows the disturbing decision to imprison people in their homes in nine of the public housing tower blocks in Flemington and North Melbourne. Termed ‘hard lockdown’, these residents were given no warning and, evidenced by social media reports, have been left without essential supplies promised by the government. It is an uncomfortable feeling knowing that this is happening while I am considering the impacts of the pandemic on my study, which is a privilege.
Prior to COVID-19, I’d been working from a studio off-campus (to which I hope to return soon). It provides me with a rich and rigorous environment in which to conduct my research from, with a community made up of artists, not-for-profit organisations and students. However, having begun my research off-campus, I’d missed opportunities to make connections with other HDR students at RMIT.
As restrictions were imposed, there were successful efforts to develop online catch-ups. Through these, I’ve felt much closer to the School of Art community. I also learnt about resources, such as a writing group, that I hadn’t known about previously. Additionally, I’ve initiated an online reading group. Though these things don’t replace physical interactions, they make the time spent in isolation more manageable. Further, the shift towards organisations offering online events has made talks and workshops held overseas more accessible. I’ve participated in talks and workshops I would not have been able to otherwise.
My creative practice-led research explores the intersection of photography and writing. My project is about the Birrarung; its local communities, both human and non-human; and my unlearning of the river as a resource. Isolation and social distancing requirements have meant that fieldwork is a challenge, so I’ve been taking long walks to the river in activewear. Indeed, in a recent post shared on the Women in Photography Instagram NZ & AU account.
Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka asked: “How can you connect with nature if you don’t give your time to it?”
With this in mind, I’ll continue to put on my shabby running shoes with the pink laces and walk either east or south, taking care to acknowledge the country I am always on, to greet the Birrarung.
Christine McFetridge is a photographer and writer represented by M.33, Melbourne. She is currently an MFA by Research candidate at RMIT University and a founding member of Women in Photography NZ & AU.