Tamsen Hopkinson
Performing the Archive: the act of listening

"The Archive is a tapu space. The recordings are tapu. They’re alive. They are embedded with knowledge of self, voiced by our ancestors themselves. But they need people to activate them and the knowledge they hold. Without people they remain cryogenically frozen in time. We can keep our ancestors warm by bringing them out from the vaults and into the present."
- Excerpt from Huni Mancini’s We Carry Their Voices, 2020

What does it mean to listen? How do we critically engage with the extensive archive of information available to us? In a world of oversaturation, how might we learn from the past in order to position ourselves in the present? For Māori the past, present and future are intertwined. Time is continuous - there are no restrictions. It is both the past and the present. The strength and knowledge of the past shapes the present, and provides a blueprint into the future.

Offsite Issue 4: ‘An act of listening’ considers the role of memory, time, cultural responsibility and collective care in the creation and maintenance of sonic archives and the recording of sound. It examines our shared oral histories and questions the protocol or kaupapa around activating archival sound. Through acts of listening we can link past archives to current conversations and create new ways of engaging with our histories and each other.


Phil Dadson’s work for this edition is in two parts; Between Worlds, a video work made in 2011, and a selection of 10 Sound Stories from a series dating from the mid 1970s to the present.

Dadson fuses the temporal elements of sound and image in Between Worlds to create a specific physicality and pulse unique to his prolific video practice. The triadic (canoe-prow) reference implicit to many of his works inverses the image and creates a 360 dimension, inviting the viewer into an alternate world to experience the rhythm of the work. Between Worlds suggests we are conduits for a world of sounds and images at once real and illusory, and that instead of taking a breath ourselves, we are breathed by nature.

The archive of 10 Sound Stories are personal insights into Dadson’s sonic experience that speak to a wider experience of sound and place. For Dadson, Sound Stories are the “experience of sound over and above any other experience. This focus on sound may occur in terms of either natural or magical occurrences ranging from the breath or voice of the unseen, to awesome sounds experienced in life; or, as stories that feature sound in relation to people, animals or objects endowed with supernatural or seductive powers or simply stories that obtain significance from the world of sound.”

These stories are activated once again by the act of re-telling, acting like an echo that creates and draws from a collective universal experience of sound, highlighting the significance listening has on our lives.


Huni Mancini’s video We Carry Their Voices documents the Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound where she currently works in Aotearoa. The AMPS archive is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year but celebrations were postponed due to COVID-19. Filmed on an iPhone Mancini documents the final days of working with the archive before it moves, speaking to her experience of transcribing the Tongan Collection alongside her mother and layers music from the archive to express the multiplicity of voices held in the archive. Her work considers how we access and activate knowledge voiced by our ancestors and the importance of respecting the archive as a tapu (sacred) space.


Lucreccia Quintanilla’s sound work Call combines various recordings of bird noises from segments in house music, dancehall, ocarinas, flutes in jazz and her own field recordings. She considers how flutes in the mesoamerica were often made and tuned to sound like birds and uses this sound collage to think through our position and responsibility to the land. Quintanilla refers to the act of careful listening and uses sound to question our relationship to place.


David Chesworth’s Indexing the Cylinder recounts his experience of viewing and listening to a one hundred year old wax cylinder recording of an Indigenous elder while visiting the storeroom at Melbourne Museum twenty years ago. As Chesworth contemplates relocating the cylinder, his halting recollections explore memory, the recording’s cultural status and its agency as an archive.

The artwork itself becomes a document that archives dubious certainties of human memory and questions our ability to categorically define and locate experience.

Tamsen Hopkinson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Pahauwera, Irish Pākehā)is a Māori artist, curator, producer and teacher from Aotearoa, based on Wurundjeri country. Her practice is an expression of Indigenous Sovereignty and considers ideas around language, access, materiality and sound. Tamsen has extensive experience within the contemporary arts sector, and over the last ten years has worked across key organisations including West Space, Monash University of Art Design and Architecture (MADA), TCB Art Inc. and UN Projects. She currently works as a Senior Producer at Footscray Community Arts Centre and The Substation.