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Micro-cities, Biospheres And Ballistic Missiles

Human Hand: Fiona Amundsen & Tim Corballis opens at The Dowse, 6 June 2020

An experimental micro-city, a biosphere to replicate life in outer space, and the largest intercontinental ballistic missile deployed by the US Air Force – three mesmerising places feature in Human Hand by Fiona Amundsen and Tim Corballis, opening at The Dowse on 6 June 2020.

As part of Amundsen’s Fulbright Scholar Award, she and Corballis investigated three historically-laden sites in Arizona, USA: Arcosanti, an alternative 1970s micro-city; Biosphere 2, a closed structure built to demonstrate the viability of supporting human life in outer space; and the Titan Missile Museum, home of a Titan II Missile.

The resulting exhibition, Human Hand, combines film and photography from the sites, interviews with people who experienced them first-hand, including the woman who was in charge of turning the key to detonate the missile during the Cold War, historical footage, and readings by ecologist Joanna Macy.

Amundsen says that while the sites seem very different, they were all attempting to develop alternative ways of living together in a sprawling, urbanised and militarised world.

“They were all ultimately based on human relationships,” she says “Arcosanti is built by hand, and that sense of community is strong. Biosphere 2 is about humans working in partnership with technology to survive.”

“Even the Titan II Missile, which is a piece of extremely sophisticated weaponry, relied on humans co-sharing responsibility – it could only ever be detonated by two people at once.”

At the three sites, people have coped differently with the consequences of military capitalism—hoping either to build alternatives, to escape, or to live right at the heart of it.

Corballis, writer and lecturer at Victoria University, says the work underlines the influence of the military on our lives today.

“So much of life was created out of a desire to shelter from or to escape an impending nuclear bomb,” he says. “All three sites speak to a certain time, from the seventies to early nineties - they all reach out to the way people want to control the world or escape from the world.”

“Each site is trying to be a little world in itself. We were really surprised how the sites echoed each other aesthetically, despite being so different.”

Corballis says he hopes the work encourages people to listen to and witness the stories of the sites and their people, and see the caring attitude amid the more frightening aspects of the world.

“I hope it stays with people and infects their vision a little bit.”

Amundsen adds: “All you can do is be present to what’s unfolding in front of you on the screen, but also what’s unfolding inside of you.”

Amundsen, who has recently been selected for the Tokyo Biennale in June 2020, says the Fulbright scholarship “helped open doors” for this project.

“The recognition for a visual artist to receive the scholarship feels really important. I’m so grateful to have received it,” she says.

Human Hand: Fiona Amundsen & Tim Corballis opens 6 June. Featuring Ingrid Horrocks, Sue Kirsch, Joanna Macy, and Yvonne Morris.


COVID-19: This exhibition was originally scheduled to open in April, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dowse reopened on 18 May 2020 at Alert Level 2, with extra hygiene precautions in place. Find out more here.

Two other exhibitions also open at The Dowse on 6 June: Ā Mua: New Lineages of Making, an exhibition exploring craft in Aotearoa, and The Group: Flying No Standard, which showcases the iconic legacy of The Group, 1927-1977, with works from The Dowse Collection.


High res images can be downloaded via the Dropbox link here.


  • Fiona Amundsen and Tim Corballis, production stills from Human Hand, 2019-2020.

The Dowse Art Museum is a free public gallery for people to enjoy contemporary art and culture. Open 10am-5pm daily, The Dowse is located at 45 Laings Road in Lower Hutt, just a 15 minute drive from Wellington City.

Artist biographies

Fiona Amundsen

Fiona Amundsen’s practice explores how documentary photographic and filmic images can enable a connected, active and caring relationship to the ramifications of painful historical experiences that live on in the present.

She is interested in establishing relationships between specific historical events, the social responsibility of witnessing, and the ethics of documentary photographic and filmic practices. She edits declassified military and government produced archival imagery with her own present-day photography and filming to investigate the potential for imagery to perform a kind of visual listening and documentary witnessing of acts of colonial imperial violence, be it historical or not. Her images enable an ethical caring based in relationships of imagining over reified visibility, and listening over cognitive knowing.

Her current project, Coming Back to Life (2019 -), explores relationships between military nuclear technologies, military-capitalism, nuclear environmental destruction and spirituality. Prior to this new series, for the last five years Fiona explored alternative modalities for memorialising stories and experiences associated with the Asia-Pacific War (WWII). Her recent projects have focused on the 82-day Battle of Okinawa (It Was a Cave Like This/Violent Wind of Steel, 2014-18) 1944 ‘Cowra Breakout’ in Australia, where just over 1,000 Japanese POWs attempted to escape, resulting in 235 deaths (A Body that Lives, 2017); the March 1945 American aerial fire-bombing of Tokyo (To Each Other/A Body that Lives, 2015-16); the plight of Ben Kuroki, the only American of Japanese descent permitted to fight in aerial combat in the Asia Pacific Theatre of WWII (Way of Life, 2016).

Tim Corballis

Tim Corballis’s writing deals with how political experience can be reflected in the composition of literary text. He is based in Wellington, where he works as a lecturer at the Centre for Science in Society at Victoria University of Wellington. He has published five novels as well as a substantial corpus of essays and art writing. He has received major awards and prizes for his writing, with his essay ‘Winter’ winning the Landfall Essay Competition in 2013. Corballis has been the recipient for a variety of residencies, including the 2003 Randell Cottage Writers Trust Residency, the 2005 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency and the 2015 Victoria University of Wellington Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence. He has turned to speculative fiction with his latest novel Our Future is in the Air (Victoria University Press, 2017).

Corballis and Amundsen have been collaborating since 2004, most recently on Machine Wind (2015) based on a visit by Amundsen to the remnants of Syonan Jinja, a Japanese Shinto shrine built during WWII by Australian and British POWs in Singapore.

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