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Art as a special glue

Illustration by David Shrigley via
Rita Angus painting a self-portrait 1936-37. Jean Bertram. Gelatin silver print, Te Papa.
Apiscope at Avalon Intermediate School, Wellington
Bob Jahnke and Wallace Art Award Paramount winning work Lamentation VI
Elyssia Ra’nee Wilson-Heti, Malia Baker Urale, Ria Hiroki and Falencie Filipo in Reclamation at The Basement Theatre
Opening night performance of Xin Cheng's exhibition Following the Rubber Trails at Frappant Galerie, Hambourg : Resonanz by Jozefina Frljić, Natalia Golubtsova, Sigrid Bohlens (choreography), Tam Thi Pham & Goran Lazarević (music). Photo: Federico Calvo Gutierrez
Yuk King Tan, Eternity Screen, 2019, cable tie, plastic handcuffs, zip ties at Starkwhite gallery
Mālō e lelei! Mark Amery has The Lowdown #61, with exciting news and a trove of great arts stories.


In breaking news...

The first solo show of a New Zealand artist at the Royal Academy of Arts in London will be of the late Rita Angus in October next year. Around 70 works will be exhibited before returning for exhibiton at Te Papa in 2021. Jill Trevelyan, author of Rita Angus: an artist's life, is co-curating the exhibition with Adrian Locke, the Royal Academy’s Senior Curator. 

Speaking of NZ artists being exhibited overseas: a major show of Len Lye’s work opens in Basel, Switzerland at Museum Tinguely in late October. It includes new work created by the Len Lye Foundation from Lye’s drawings, Sky Snakes elements of which will also be at the New Plymouth Len Lye Centre from December. Jean Tinguely like Lye was a kinetic sculptor, and the Swiss art museum similarly holds permanent exhibitions of his work. 

Rita Angus painting a self-portrait 1936-37. Jean Bertram. Gelatin silver print, Te Papa.

Remarkable Multidisciplinary Projects

They tell me it’s New Zealand Art Month. But I know one place where they’re also celebrating New Zealand Bee Aware Month. Turning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) into STEAM (adding the arts) is a first-of-a-kind project that has seen an observational beehive (an apiscope) installed at Avalon Intermediate School, Welington. It’s been inspiring music, photography and poetry, working with Massey University creatives like Anne Noble and Warren Maxwell - as seen in this great wee documentary and heard on accompanying album Yellow Black Nation

Apiscope at Avalon Intermediate School, Wellington.

This project shows how arts can be a special glue in a multidisciplinary learning environment, making it more engaging and inclusive. “Although not the focus of this study,” says Anne Noble, “this project raises further questions about standard assessment processes that may well disadvantage some learners at this level.”

Crossing between art and archeology, the gallery and the museum Alex Monteith’s collaborative project at Dunedin Public Art gallery Kā paroro o haumumu: Coastal Flows / Coastal Incursions is another example of that glue. 

As well as Alex’s video documentary works, the exhibition involves the actual cataloguing in the gallery by Ngāi Tahu scholars of material found in midden in layers of the floor of a Fiordland rock shelter, ranging from the remains of kai moana to fish hooks and woven material. The material has been trucked up from Southland Museum and Art Gallery (where the project had its first iteration back in 2016). Monteith is working with the likes of Ngāi Tahu art collective Kaihaukai to reconnect this material with communities. You can now thanks to Circuit watch an excerpt from Alex’s documentation and listen to a Circuitcast conversation between Alex and Mark Williams. Circuit publish a review of the exhibition by David Eggleton later this week.

Anti-heroines Disgracing

A Melbourne Fringe Festival show Aisha the Aussie Geisha has been cancelled after an open letter signed by at least 70 artists accused it of "yellowface". To which we might call out Australia’s racism - but call-outs on racism and prejudicial behaviour of all kinds look set to get stronger here as well. Take this horrid instance late last month reported by Newshub: law students at the University of Canterbury forced to apologise following complaints after a Law Revue skit ridiculed (to put it mildly) a fellow profoundly deaf student. 

“The last time, a debut novel by a New Zealand author got a rave review in the Guardian and then a few days later another rave review in the Irish Times was like actually never ever,” writes Steve Braunias, but it happened in August to Wellington writer Annaleese Jochems, with Baby (the book that won her best first book at the 2018 Ockhams). Writes Beejay Silcox in the Guardian: “Cynthia, the simpering, scheming, covetous emotional sinkhole of New Zealander Annaleese Jochems’s assured debut novel, Baby, is alive and squirming; a memorable addition to the growing coterie of unapologetic antiheroines (dis)gracing the pages of contemporary fiction.”

Also published on Newsroom's books section, Reading Room, edited by Braunias this last week has been this gorgeous piece by Kevin Ireland on his old friend the late poet Denis Glover, and elsewhere on the site a really quite remarkable essay by Talia Marshall on Janet Frame and the stigma of institutionalisation. 

Award season

New Zealand’s largest and longest running annual art awards The Wallace were announced at the Pah Homestead Auckland Monday (the awards show is on until November and then tours). Nine winners are off on varied international residencies. The full list and images are here.  

Bob Jahnke and Wallace Art Award Paramount winning work Lamentation VI.

Smashing to see the Paramount award go to senior artist and one of our most respected teachers Bob Jahnke, with ‘Lamentation VI’ (pictured, by Sait Akirrman). It’s a collaboration with slam poet Te Kahu Rolleston, taken from an exhibition of Jahnke’s work with poets now on at Hastings Art Gallery. Waatea News story here.

Also announced the finalists in the Women of Influence Awards, with an impressive nine from arts and culture included, including publisher Bridget Williams to Libby Hakaraia of Maoriland Film Festival.

And as previously reported, with features on the winners on The Big Idea and in NZ Herald, ten new New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureates have just been announced.

The Foundation have also launched “30 days dedicated to celebrating, acknowledging and exploring the arts in our communities”: New Zealand Art Month. As part of their campaign they have launched a tool where you can digitally create your own definition - you can contribute and see the contributions here

Defining art runs against its very undefinability. As ‘Ally’ writes by way of her offering: ‘Art is not a thing; it is a way’. Kudos to the Foundation for looking to raise art “on the national agenda” although I’m less a fan of ‘art is…’ (you fill in the gap) campaigns to extoll art’s general importance. If ‘art is everywhere’ as the Arts Foundation tells us - part of the fabric of things - let’s also work on embedding the arts in our world, rather than ‘made an exhibition of’ its framing.  

Frames however are needed to highlight giving. And at the launch of New Zealand Arts Month, the New Zealand Arts Ball this last weekend the Arts Foundation report $225,000 was raised for their new Springboard programme providing ten emerging artists with $15,000 and a senior artist mentor (valued at $10,000).  

Disruptive Trailblazers

Niuean performance artist and ‘disobedient disruptor’ Elyssia Ra’nee Wilson-Heti from arts collective Fafswag is the subject of this Q and A over on Coconet, ahead of directing and starring in Reclamation at Auckland’s Basement Theatre September 19. 

Elyssia Ra’nee Wilson-Heti, Malia Baker Urale, Ria Hiroki and Falencie Filipo in Reclamation at The Basement Theatre.

Reclamation is a collaboration between Wilson-Heti, Malia Baker Urale, Ria Hiroki and Falencie Filipo, and the second project in the Basement’s inaugural New Vision programme supporting “disruptive and unpredictable works to challenge the mainstream”. Ria Hiroki, in a Fafswag promo video doing the social media rounds says, “growing up I never saw people like me in the media, though I was surrounded by big beautiful soft women. People who share my physique are often excluded from telling their stories. Reclamation is the opportunity for me to stand in my power as a fat woman of colour. It’s a chance to celebrate the joyous, pleasurable, beautiful stories of indigenous women.”    

Another Auckland disruptor, artist Xin Cheng as Jari Niesner writes, ”makes the case that only an adaptive and playful approach leads us to a future where we are still alive”. Niesner has written on Xin’s recent residency in Hamburg, Germany on Contemporary Hum, offering a glimpse into the artist run scene in Germany for New Zealand artists. Also on Hum, Leah Reynolds explores Sriwhana Spong’s recent exhibition Ida-Ida in Bristol.

Yuk King Tan’s latest work features a screen made from plastic zip-tie handcuffs and an assemblage of objects sourced from protests in Hong Kong, Korea and Aotearoa. I spoke to her last week about the creativity on the ground currently in Hong Kong for Spinoff Art.  

Yuk King Tan, Eternity Screen, 2019, cable tie, plastic handcuffs, zip ties at Starkwhite gallery. 

The delightfully, aptly named Art Hole is a new space in Christchurch for exhibitions, performance, rehearsals, meetings and photography. Formerly occupied by Next Gallery, it’s adjacent to music venue and bar Darkroom and record store Ride on Super Sound - as reported by Warren Feeney on Artbeat

More great content online

Loving this year’s Loading Docs short films, with the great web interface and media attention. Here’s Katy McRae’s just released film Water Baby about freediver William Trubridge and actress Sachiko Fukumoto’s remarkable work in water, and their journey to have a water birth (they wanted sharks!). 

Audioculture continues apace to gather an invaluable and lively digital archive of New Zealand music history. Just out is Russell Brown on the influential ‘90s Auckland recording studio The Incubator. From the Headless Chickens to Moana and the Moahunters, the Incubator - first established by Angus McNaughton and Mike Hodgson - was key to the growth of music locally. 

Also new up on site, a Jan Hellreigal essay from her book (and album) Sportsman of the Year on her experiences of the music industry in those said ‘90s.    

More diverse writing on architecture! From different perspectives! Here as exemplar, dealing with the tensions between owner and architect,  Dilohana Lekagme on Ron Sang’s house for Brian Brake on Hainamana. “To put it plainly, this home was built for a Pakeha man who built his career showing non-western culture to the Western world through his lens. He wanted a home constructed in the style of a Japanese farmhouse, and proposed the design to a Fijian-born architect of Chinese descent that he met through a mutual friend, also of Chinese descent.” 

An  “anti-capitalist commentary on SkyCity’s property deals”: a short review by Jesse Quaid of AKL, Babel a dance work at Auckland’s Basement Studio on the DANZ website (a great spot for dance news and listings).

Finally, Anthony Byrt has written for international art mag Artforum’s September issue on Simon Denny, a major shot for both artist and writer. It’s here, behind a paywall. 

Written by

Mark Amery

4 Sep 2019

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

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