Review: The Drifting Room

By Paul Harvey

What: ‘The Drifting Room’ by Stephen Bain, an event part of The Performance Arcade – Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts

Where: Waterfront, East side of Te Papa

When: Thursday 22nd February (2pm)


8 people enter a tent-like, lightweight structure with the intention to move around, sense and observe the world beyond its walls. The attendee is participating, becoming the performer (to the public viewing from outside). The tent has no floor, the remaining envelope covered in mesh that permits visibility out but very limited visibility in. To those inside, the world is recontextualized as a vast stage with a cast of thousands.

Movement was possible by carrying it collectively, using a lightweight timber handrail that was mounted internally. Our chosen journey took us in a loop – up Tory Street, along Courtenay Place, down Blair (or Allen?) Street and back to the Waterfront.


  • We got a range of reactions – no acknowledgement/ ignored, kid waiving, wheelchair-bound woman clapping and pursuing us to take a photo
  • We drew attention and were popular – the attendee remains anonymous despite being able to look the public in the eye. Any sense of popularity gained must be left when the event ends and we exit the tent
  • We paid homage to Wellington Museum Hotel, a once kinetic form. History from Wiki:

Weighing an estimated 3500 tonnes, this reinforced concrete building was moved from its original site (in 1993), now the location of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to a site some 180 metres down and across Cable Street

  • The structure was similar to those seen on footpaths protecting workers attending underground services, or Police tents concealing a crime scene:
    • When still, the public could rationalize its presence
    • When moving, it became humorous, disconcerting
  • Once in the tent we became a singular form. For 40 minutes I was 3m long and 2m wide – and I wasn’t emitting CO2!
  • Our character changed depending on our location, on the footpath we were a temporary tent, or an extension of an adjacent building, when moving through the carpark we became a car, circling for a park

Reflections/ Review

  • The post-event discussion with fellow attendees drew association between “drifting” and anonymity gained from our collective experience wearing face masks in recent years
  • This was a fantastic event, part of a fantastic festival. I loved the remix of perspective the event provided


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