Each year entrants to the Michèle Whitecliffe Art Writing Prize respond to a theme and in 2022 the theme was ‘Freedom’. New constraints experienced during the height of the global Covid-19 pandemic curtailed our ability to travel, socialise, connect with whānau and in some cases make a living. This coincided with increased political and economic uncertainty globally, resulting in an intensification of the already fraught debates about freedom of speech, control of information and the meaning and practical working of democracy. Writers were asked to consider where freedom is to be found and comment its representation in art.
This year’s judge was award-winning writer and critic Chris Kraus. Now based in Los Angeles after many years in New York City, Kraus spent some of her early life in Aotearoa New Zealand, attending Victoria University of Wellington and working as a journalist at the Evening Post. She is perhaps best known for her 1997 genre-breaking novel I Love Dick, described by the Guardian as a ‘cult feminist classic’, which in 2016 was adapted for television.
Kraus made the following comments on Lachlan Taylor’s winning essay, ‘Building a Weight/Jumping a Breakwater’:
‘Taylor’s inventive essay places two parallel texts alongside each other: first, an account of Tim Wagg’s 2016 film 1991, that recalls the neoliberalisation of Aotearoa New Zealand achieved in part by Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of all Budgets”. As Taylor writes, Richardson’s work “was a continuation and extension of a transformation already underway when Jim Bolger’s National Party took power – an economic revolution of deregulation and the retreat of state support . . .” Alongside this essential exegesis of the economic philosophy that would become known as “Ruthanasia”, Taylor recounts another tragedy of 1990s: the attempted liberation of Keiko the captive whale who starred in the Disney film Free Willy. In Taylor’s hands, Keiko’s death becomes a poignant indictment of neoliberal freedom.”
To read Taylor’s essay please open the below PDF.