Cat among the Pigeons?

Fiona Pardington. Image: Meek Zuiderwyk (via Starkwhite Gallery)
Jo Randerson
Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], 2017
Kura Forrester
James Nokise
CNZ research graphic
Hot conversations and media comment this week followed by Kate Powell for Lowdown #47


Clamour for artists living wages grows louder

It was heartening to see the story about Creative New Zealand’s research around artist salaries cause such a fervour online. Last week’s story by Andrea Rush took off and quickly hit the most read article on TBI. The Spinoff rightly pointed out the impact of cause and effect with an illuminating piece Creatives are struggling to make a living and it’s hurting our creative industries. Mark Amery put the hard questions to Chief Executives of Creative New Zealand and NZ on Air respectively - Stephen Wainwright and Jane Wrightson as well as artists Jo Randerson and Jan Hellriegel over the weekend on Standing Room Only. Although it’s useless to shoot the messengers (CNZ and NZ On Air) these findings unequivocally call out one of the cornerstones of the contemporary creative community - that of the un/barely paid intern keen to get exposure in the art world. It would seem many have concerns that the creative sector economy is built on the backs of artists and supporters expected to use their valuable time and money.  We have heard the "doing it for ’love’ or ‘the experience’"-rationale for so long. This is unfair - the creative model should focus on supporting the artists themselves, rather than expecting the artists to prop up the model.

What makes this research even more pertinent is that our current government is keen to focus their budget around wellbeing. There are countless studies that have shown the importance of art and art-making in the well being of both society and those creating So it would be a massive oversight to not allow for a portion of the budget to go towards artists and supporting them to live sustainably while they create their work. (see closing para)

Jo Randerson 

Moving the needle

More interesting research has emerged with PLAYMARKET announcing the results of its research of works being staged by professional theatres in 2018. It captures a vibrant picture of Aotearoa’s theatre scene. Overall, there have been increases in New Zealand work all round, especially amongst women and Maori practitioners. Of the 241 professionally produced theatre works, 84% of them were New Zealand works, up from 79% in 2017. Seven companies created seasons of 100% NZ work. Works by women accounted for 58% of the nationwide total, up from 52% in 2017 while works by NZ women totalled 51%. Maori works comprised 17% of all works created last year. The survey covers the seasons of all theatre companies funded by Creative NZ.

It’s truly wonderful to see such strong gains made by our theatre community in the space of a year. You cannot help but think that if the same statistics were applied to, science or technology, businesses and/or the government would be falling over themselves to throw money at it. On that note…..

Pacific Music Blooming


The 15th annual Pacific Music Awards saw Kings and Tomorrow People adding four awards each to their already considerable stashes. The evening also recognised Manukau Institute of Technology Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Her Majesty Queen Sālote Tupou lll - first Queen regent and third Monarch of the Kingdom of Tonga, while talented rapper MeloDownz received the Most Promising Pacific Artist award. His album Melo & Blues made many New Zealand music critics ‘Best Of’ lists last year (including my own). Check him out.

Tackling tricky topics

Consent has dominated headlines around the world for the last 18 months or so, with calls to readdress how we discuss and teach consent to younger generations. Artists have been using their work to untangle the tricky topic for millennia. Local playwright Karin McCracken’s new work YES YES YES, co-written by Eleanor Bishop, aims to do just that, focussing on teaching teenagers about consent and sexual harassment. This timely show opens in Wellington this week before heading to Auckland in June.

In an interview with The Spinoff, Karin, who has spent years working in the sexual abuse prevention sphere outlined the process of the play's creation; “it involved talking to many school groups about their experiences with dating, sex and consent.” I learnt a lot from them, it’s so totally different from when I was that age, but saying that, the central things are the same. There’s always a fear of rejection and confusion around what to do when you’re dating and in those situations.”

While aimed at the under 24-set, the themes and issues are intergenerational, making YES, YES, YES essential viewing for everyone.

Lisa Reihana acquired by US institutions

In a stunning win for New Zealand art on the international stage, Lisa Reihana’s work In Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-2017) that represented New Zealand at the 2017 Venice Biennale has been jointly acquired by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The piece, which debuted in Auckland in 2015, will be shown at FAMSF at the institution’s de Young Museum in August. Curator in charge of contemporary art and programming at FAMSF, Claudia Schmuckli describes the work as “really captivating—the sheer scale and scope of the work are mesmerising.”

Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], 2015-2017

It’s an appropriate description; In Pursuit of Venus [Infected] is a massive “digital scroll” with a 64-minute soundtrack. It reinterprets an 1804 French wallpaper by Joseph Dufour, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique. The Art Newspaper points out that although this is officially translated in press materials as “Natives of the Pacific Ocean” it literally translates to “savages.”

The funniest of them all

The International Comedy Festival has wrapped up for the year. The Spinoff’s Josie Adams has penned a piece questioning the tenacity of Kiwi audiences, but we are certainly not lacking for talent. James Nokise scooped the Fred Award which recognises the best show at the ICF for his piece God Damn Fancy Man.

The Speakeasy described the show as...a well structured, comedic vehicle for addressing some serious issues. Suicide, racism, homophobia, Donald Trump. James covers the topics that make us feel icky, but in a language so conversational and relatable that you don’t feel icky...he speaks the truth, the hilarious uncomfortable truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Kura Forrester has been draped with the prestigious yellow towel and the Billy T Award. The Speakeasy notes  Her discussion around race relations was well-done, as she made soft jabs at the effects of colonialism and the division between Māori and Pākehā, without seemingly alienating any sections of the roaring audience who were certainly along for the ride. Forrester’s win also marks an encouraging streak for the Billy T Award, being the third woman to scoop the prize in a row, following Melanie Bracewell in 2018 and Angella Dravid in 2017. This is by no means the status quo for the Billy T’s history- including those three, only 5 out of 27 winners have been women. Rose Matafeo and Jan Maree have the distinction of being the only women to win The Fred award.

Judge Fiona

Celebrated artist Fiona Pardington has gone from creator to judge with the announcement of the finalists for the 2019 National Contemporary Art Awards at the Waikato Museum.

Fiona Pardington. Image: Meek Zuiderwyk (via Starkwhite Gallery)

After blind judging of reviewing images, artists statements and videos,  Pardington has selected 51 artists. Of the selection process, Pardington has said “It’s always hard for one artist to judge another artist’s work and I found this very difficult, especially when presented with works out of context. There were so many wonderful entries…” To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the awards, major sponsors Tompkins Wake and Chow have increased the grand prize from $20,000 to $25,000, with several other prizes on offer.  All of the winners will be announced at the Waikato Museum on the evening of August 2. A full list of finalist is now available.

A big week ahead

With so many new and rising talents on display this week, (and every other week for that matter)
I’m crossing my fingers and toes for the creative sector that the government’s cheque book is poised to make necessary changes in our sector.. The aforementioned release of CNZ’s research was described as “letting the cat amongst the pigeons.” Time will tell if feathers will fly or if the Wellbeing Budget continues to pussyfoot around adequately funding creativity in Aotearoa.

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Written by

Kate Powell

28 May 2019

Kate is a cultural critic, curator and gallery essayist. She has held a variety of community-art focussed roles as a social media strategist, artist liaison, artistic director, and publicist. 

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