Chris Bentley

Vacancies and Attenuated Presences

A counter-memorial swimming pool for Waitara

Memorials are witnesses to histories, places and people long past. Their utterances can be felt, and heard, if one is in a place to listen. As progenitors of these voices, they function as curious and controversial locative markers. This 2021 thesis project from Chris Bentley was a practice-led inquiry into the memorial swimming pool. It presented these strange and disjunctive spaces as counter-memorials, media for alternative methods of remembrance, and unfolded across two stages: documentary fieldwork, and a speculative design intervention. 

Bed Objects 2021

The fieldwork for this project consisted of expeditions to three memorial swimming pools found across Te Ika-a-Maui, the North Island. Methods of site-specific inhabitation and witnessing identify, and accrete the phenomenal language of these memorial sites. This involved particular observation presences and absences. Transient and mundane images were investigated as counter-memorial markers, and as evidence of changing roles, temporalities, and ecologies. Travel, the fieldworker’s approach and temporary inhabitation, is considered as a part of the fieldwork methodology of the project, both in a practical and temporal sense. The fieldwork developed a conversational understanding of place through considering the past, present, and future landscapes we occupy in relation to one another.

Vacancy Landscape 2021

The speculative design intervention leverages the affectual language developed in the fieldwork to propose a reconfiguration of the Waitara Swimming Pool as a counter-memorial. The work comprises a series of mnemonic provocations detailing loss, vacancy, and the crossing of ritual thresholds. These present conversational and dialogical encounters. The images of these surfaces and spaces derive from inhabitation, and activity, rather than detached contemplation. They are lived memorials.  Conscious and subconscious movements position the viewer as an active participant rather than a distanced observer. Both the present and the absent body are critical to the formal and thematic composition of each encounter presented to the viewer. Vertical and horizontal cuts form frames and floors which are inhabited or made void by the body. Through ecological conditions, and as the pools are used, these cuts generate new reflective surfaces and offer viewpoints.

Bentley’s work imagines ways to localise memories and stories through immersion in a new counter-memorial landscape, presenting opportunities to inhabit attenuated memory.

Centre for Design Research
Te Kura Toi a Hoahoa
School of Art and Design

Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau,
Auckland University of Technology


Susan Hedges
Mandy Smith

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© Centre for Design Research, AUT University 2021