Make a big difference to The Big Idea.

Help us tell the most creative stories.

Become a supporter

Up in Smoke

Dear Nelson by Shannon Novak.
Dear Nelson by Shannon Novak.
Manifesto of a Good Cripple. Suzanne Cowan.
Iwi Le Comte. ‘Te Ipukarea’, 2019. Ōnewa stone, pearl inlay. Rotorua Museum Supreme Award 2019.
Tavita Nielsen-Mamea.
Queer representation, NZ TV Award noms and the public artwork we almost lost in Mark Amery’s Lowdown #69.


Spotlight on queer artists

With disco balls showering glitter, Auckland artist Shannon Novak represents the concerns of Nelson’s LGBQTI+ community with Dear Nelson at Suter Gallery, in which participants share their first-hand experiences through paintings, sculptures, videos, performance and text. This is the third queer-centric project Novak has undertaken this year, following a show at New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and installation Alight on Upper Vulcan Lane during Auckland Artweek earlier this month. The latter featured an arcade of hung disco balls in homage to the cluster of gay bars in the area during the early 2000s. 

Novak’s new work is part of Suter’s Sympathetic Resonance exhibition, the eighth in the gallery’s series of group contemporary art projects looking at emerging contemporary art trends which began in 1999. Few regional galleries have made such a sustained commitment to surveying recent practice.

At Wellington’s Play_station gallery, Owen Connors has collaborated with queer artists on an excellent quilt project titled Sissymancy! in reference to the AIDS Memorial Quilt Project. I review it here at The Spinoff arts section.

From February 15th, Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery will present the group show Queer Algorithms, which will feature a selection of panels from the New Zealand Aids Memorial Quilt. Beyond the Dowse’s small exhibition, Sleeping Arrangements, last year, has there been a major group exhibition of queer artists in a New Zealand public art gallery before? Send me your thoughts.   

Survival story 

The biggest public art news of the past week concerns the country’s largest public artwork and it’s narrow escape from fire. The giant glass work of Sara Hughes and Peata Larkin on the exterior of the Sky City Convention Centre has been highly visible through media coverage. It would have looked painfully dull and smoky for cameras without it. The actual convention centre already has a delayed opening date of late 2020. More details on the artwork here

Screen news

We’re not afraid to join the world in sharing Taika, Bret and Jermaine-related news. Jojo Rabbit popped straight into the NZ box office’s number one slot this week. Top US critics love it with reservations, and it’s performing very well for an indie film at the US box office. Locally, The Spinoff staff have given their collective take and Stuff’s Emily Brookes delivered this thoughtful feature with the film’s New Zealand star, Thomasin McKenzie. 

Speaking of McKenzies (but no relation), on top of his New Zealand Festival curatorial duties (exciting news to come on that next Thursday), Bret has reportedly signed on to write the script and music for Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, based on the ‘70s ABC special from The Muppets’ Jim Henson. McKenzie is also contributing songs to Bob the Musical! and to the Disney/Warner Bros. comedy Moonland (though both have been in the works for a terribly long time). Meanwhile, Jemaine Clement has been back in town for the launch of the second season of Wellington Paranormal on TVNZ, and to appear in dodgy fan photos on Reddit.

Nominations for the New Zealand Television Awards have been announced. Leading is In Dark Places, South Pacific Pictures’ dramatic retelling of the wrongly-jailed Teina Pora. Among the new comedy series, Fresh Eggs is a clear leader with seven nods. Shortland Street will be named a TV legend, the first time a standalone television show has been honoured as such. Jemaine Clement and Paul Yates received a nomination for best script for Wellington Paranormal.

Script to Screen and the New Zealand Film Commission have partnered up to create the Fresh Shorts programme, offering grants of up to $15,000 to six new or emerging filmmaker teams to make a short film. Sixteen short films have been shortlisted and the makers will attend a three-day residential development lab this November. 

Winning writers

Tuvalu represent. Tavita Nielsen-Mamea is the Emerging Pasifika Writer in Residence at Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters for 2020. Tavita is going to be working on a new theatre project to follow his first play, Au Ko Tuvalu, which saw him awarded Most Promising Emerging Artist at the Wellington Fringe. The play, which follows the “world's first climate change refugees, on its final day of evacuations” went on to seasons at Court Theatre Christchurch, Kia Mau Festival Wellington and TAPAC Auckland, just this month. Lindsay Clark reviews it here on Theatreview.

Tavita Nielsen-Marama.

Christchurch’s Rebecca Macfie has won the CLNZ/NZSA Writers' Award 2019 for her biography of the late legendary fighter for workers’ rights Helen Kelly. Macfie left the NZ Listener last year to start writing the book, still underway, and which she describes as “the most challenging piece of work I have ever taken on”. Two other interesting projects were shortlisted:  Dr Sarah-Jane Barnett's Hidden Women: New Narratives of Middle Life and Nick Bollinger's Revolutions Per Minute: the Counterculture in New Zealand, 1960-75

Labour weekend in the regions 

I’m liking the trend of collective Labour Weekend regional arts festivities. This past weekend Tauranga held its inaugural Fringe Village, held at the Historic Village as part of Tauranga Arts Festival. While a strange and dislocated setting for engaging with artists, it’s a fascinating place to visit any time, with a range of arts spaces and colonial buildings relocated from around Tauranga. Tauranga Festival has taken to publishing ‘student reviews’ of its shows here.

Down in Masterton, the creative community threw their third annual Block Party, closing off the streets to celebrate the arts on Saturday. 

Dance on wheels 

New Zealand is blessed with some outstanding wheelchair dancers. We’ve already had Rodney Bell’s autobiographical show, Meremere, and now fellow Touch Compass alumni Suzanne Cowan has produced her solo show: Manifesto of a Good Cripple. She spoke with Dione Joseph at the Herald and Lynn Freeman on RNZ’s Standing Room Only ahead of the show, which is currently on at The Basement. Cowan is the world’s first woman in a wheelchair to graduate with a research PhD in dance.

Manifesto of a Good Cripple. 

Turning 80

Sad evidence of the erosion of arts journalism. This story on the sale of Michael Smither's ‘Sea Wall and Kingfisher’ 1967 reads as a press release sent out by an auction house and then shared by NZ Herald and RNZ to bulk up web content. I’m not sure journalism was involved, but it gives us an excuse to say happy birthday to the great painter Michael Smither, turning 80 this week. 

And speaking of big numbers we also want to wish one of the great totara of New Zealand and Samoan literature, Maualaivao Albert Wendt, a happy birthday - he turned 80 this past week.

Photography, sculpture and slam poetry

Three founders of the group Women and Photography NZ and AU have curated a great online exhibition about the female gaze with a diverse set of women photographers, Everywhere We Look, at Photoforum.  

Te Arawa carver Iwi Le Comte has won this year’s $10,000 Rotorua Museum Supreme Art Award with his work Te Ipukarea, the smallest work submitted. The judge this year was Leafa Wilson (interviewed here in NZ Herald), and with the museum still closed the finalists are currently on display at Rotorua’s Energy Events Centre. 

Iwi Le Comte. Te Ipukarea, 2019. Ōnewa stone, pearl inlay.

Coming up November 8-10 and held at Christchurch’s Loudon Farm, Banks Peninsula, the biennial Sculpture on the Peninsula bills itself as the South Island’s largest outdoor festival. Reminiscent in openness to Auckland’s NZ Sculpture OnShore, quantity is the name of the game, with almost 80 sculptors exhibiting.

An interesting-looking work in terms of concept is Trent Hiles’ ‘Labour of Life’, which sees Hiles dig three trenches over the duration of the festival to permanently bury a Tīrau (boundary peg), Kakauroa (axe) and Kō (digging stick), acknowledging histories of labour, colonisation and deforestation.

Slam poetry, it’s bigger than you may think. There’s a Wellington Festival of Slam happening this weekend run by poetry platform Motif Poetry. Online co-organiser Ben Fagan has also started Pākehā 2020,  a poetry video series about “pākehātanga, both tip-top and toxic.”

Reviews of all sorts

Arts review of the week: Dave Armstrong on Saturday’s rugger as a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

And here’s how you draw a book review. Kirsten Slade cartoons a review of Sarah Laing’s book of cartoons, Let Me be Frank, up on Newsroom

Good reviews are coming in for the first-ever theatrical adaptation of Janet Frame’s Owls Do Cry, from Red Leap Theatre in Auckland. Here’s Cynthia Lam on Theatrescenes.   

Speaking of good sites... 

Murray Cammick has penned a history of one of Auckland’s most important outdoor live music venues: Albert Park. It’s published with lots of nostalgic images over on Audioculture

I’m always discovering great new NZ online resources that enable collective participation and this one is well developed: The site encourages you to “journey through the country’s cultural landscape” with anyone able to add poetry, writing, artwork or photography that speaks to the experience of specific places in New Zealand. Take this butterfly wall mural in Kingsland by Kate MIlligan, for example, or the painting I get by Marianne Muggeridge when I pop in my own place of Paekakāriki.

It strikes me as a great way to catalogue public art of all stripes and all manner of quirks. One bugbear is that the ownership of the site or how it’s funded aren’t very transparent. Dig in and you’ll find that you keep your copyright but that the site is owned by Infotour Guides, so I’d prefer to know more about whether my contributions might end up in a guidebook sometime or be used for advertising.

Written by

Mark Amery

30 Oct 2019

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

Caroline Norman & fans at The Music Zoo, APO 4 Kids (supplied)
Tom Hamill talks to Renee Liang about getting in deep with the community.
Amber Curreen (Te Reo Māori team), Briar Collard (producer at Te Pou and representing team Pākeha), Edward Peni (Team Samoa) and Renee Liang (Team Canto) find some chairs.
Te Reo Māori, Samoan, and Cantonese
Body Double Production - Photo by Tabitha Arthur
Renee Liang reflects on some of the final offerings of the Auckland Arts Festival, along with the Festival’s future balancing delivery to audiences while nurturing the local arts ecosystem.