Unauthorised Tours

'A break in proceedings', Public Share, Auckland Art Gallery
Consider This an Offering, 24 Marion Street, By Ruby Joy Eade, Louise Rutledge, Robbie Whyte and Elisabeth Pointon.
Consider This an Offering, 24 Marion Street, By Ruby Joy Eade, Louise Rutledge, Robbie Whyte and Elisabeth Pointon.
Mark Amery surveys an ever-increasing but easy to miss spread of art engaging the public in new ways - including an unauthorised tour of Te Papa.


Mark Amery surveys an ever-increasing but easy to miss spread of art engaging the public in new ways - including an unauthorised tour of Te Papa. 

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As the arts get more social they also get harder to track. When this activity works outside the established legitimators of what gets labelled art you, dear reader are increasingly reliant on who your social media friends are to get connected.

Sure, galleries and venues are bringing more socially based art under their auspices – bringing in new communities who previously didn’t know they existed. Most activity however is out on its relative lonesome - outside established sites and programmes and reliant on its community connections. It works to wildly differing timescales and in disparate sites. One project can involve multiple events at different times, with the parameters often changing to meet the needs of the participants. 
Participation in such activity is made possible by encounter, word of mouth or social media. Conversely, it can struggle to meet deadlines or formats for art mag listings, is often seen as too grassroots or small time to be considered by the mainstream media, and can’t always rely on causal turn ups from art circuit regulars. Instead it works to build new communities, usually involving lots of voluntary labour. This column is dedicated to a fraction of this activity encountered in the last fortnight.
The other weekend I was in Auckland for a symposium at Auckland Art Gallery on the changing connections between art and its publics, Engaging Publics/ Public Engagement. The fact we were having this conversation at the art gallery recognised the significant shifts we are seeing. Elsewhere in the building hoards, young and old, were building ghost cities with white lego as part of Olafur Eliasson’s Cubic Structural Evolution Project while up at Artspace on Karangahape Road new friendships were being forged on and around a dancefloor, as volunteers worked round the clock to support D.A.N.C.E Art Club, trying to break the Guinness Book World Record for the longest marathon DJ attempt with DJ Linda T. Artspace has been no stranger to performance events this year that break down barriers between disciplines, but this one looked like a real game-changer. It was also a strong teaser for excellent video works in the gallery by John Vea and Single Brown Female. 
Projects presented at the Symposium included Radio NFA, a radio station being run by the homeless on K Road (movingly Tosh Ahkit’s presentation was responded to by members of that community by a waiata - not a common enough sight at art events I attend), and new art space Fuzzy Vibes’ recent Night School, a charmingly eclectic and intimate looking series of evening “knowledge sharing exercises” (read ‘talks’) which included artist-organiser Emil Dryburgh’s smart drawings of his girlfriend in relation to objects set up for the talks. Auckland Art Gallery Toi Maori intern Martin Awa Clarke Langdon introduced the work of The Roots who have created at least 16 creative projects with communities around Auckland over the last two years. In a scene more akin to a community hall Martin got the auditorium warmed up with a group choral beatbox exercise.
At morning tea we ate an aesthetically pleasing array of dainty delights on ceramic slabs we were invited to take away. With them was a booklet outlining how the rough plates were fired from a seam of clay from a Te Atatu motorway site. To follow is a morning tea with 55 mugs made from the clay for Fulton Hogan workers who helped with access to the seam. 
Young artists are having to learn to create infrastructure and produce events as much as they are art. Back in Wellington I’ve been carrying around a map of no less than 17 group shows that were run by Massey art students this month in vacant commercial spaces as part of their end of year assessments (a copy can be found here PDF). With the Urban Dream Brokerage I help run we’ve brokered space for 12 art, theatre and design projects running over September and October alone.
Of all the Massey shows I’ve only caught one thus far, Consider This an Offering, but it came across as organised as any longer term artist run spaces. Situated in a large Marion Street space, the floor was covered with 100s of small bouncy balls you simply couldn’t avoid interacting with, a giant sandpit, billboard hoardings, a screening room for artist video, daily performances, a library and good coffee. The exhibition title is a tip to the generosity of the whole affair and its concerns with social space. This week the artist behind the balls, Louise Rutledge is involved in a residency in a Bouncy Castle in Christchurch (care of Zoe Crook), and some of the hoardings, by Ruby Joy Eade had been causing a far more effective pre-election stir as enigmatic individual statements (like “I’m feeling very trapped”) alongside election hoardings in public space.   
William Kentridge? Pah! The most stimulating piece of art in Wellington right now is Binge Culture Collective’s Unauthorised Audio Tour of Te Papa, available to anyone with a wifi connected or MP3 playing device. Written and narrated by Joel Baxendale and Ralph Upton, you don headphones in the museum foyer for a trip that increases your awareness not of the museum’s objects, but of the social space that surrounds them. 
As you commence, while “strangers move around you like tropical fish” you’re made aware of the “red shirts” (the Te Papa hosts) and the fact that they are watching you. A quick check confirms they are. Therein begins a 35 minute playful step around your usual self-interested perspective. You become acutely aware that aquarium-like not only are you being watched, you are watching others. 
The sense of escaping your usual world for a predetermined time is one shared with theatre, and the work benefits enormously from the duo’s sharp scriptwriting skills and own dramatic personae. It keeps up a Flight of the Conchords-like casual conversational repartee, whilst being extremely carefully paced and rehearsed to hit different location timemarks around the museum.
It’s clever and often very funny, Baxendale and Upton’s tongues moving quickly in and out of their cheeks. The criticism of Te Papa throughout is of a warm, dry Kiwi John Clarke-like jocular nature that the museum should have the sense of humour and smarts to embrace. Before you leace the foyer, you’re asked to touch the ball of stone rolling in water. To feel the energy contained in its gathered 1.4 billion years, and the logos of the ‘generous sponsors’ of the museum emblazoned upon it. 
Taking you to some of the museum’s loneliest and most architecturally awkward corners, I became aware of how seditious I must look for simply hanging out in such odd spaces. Are the staff aware of the podcast yet? Are they observing your behaviour and learning from it?  I became aware of both my own power in a public space, and the power of those with security cameras over me. Gently, I was made to feel like a spatial terrorist, with the script leaning (a little too heavily at times) on the video gaming tropes of looking for objects to collect and ways “to reach the next level”. In a suitably dramatic climax, you are required to move at pace through sundry different areas, as if about to be sprung. I can still hear Joel and Ralph yelling “Go! Go! Go!” in my ears. Exhilarating
Share. Welcome. Offer. Fuzzy Vibes. You’ll notice a change of language in the art world and in the above examples a fluidity across different artforms and disciplines. Quietly you’re being asked to get involved.

Written by

Mark Amery

24 Sep 2014

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media. He is co-curator of public art programme Letting Space.

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