Experimenting on the community

Dan Arps
Mairangi Arts Centre
Dan Arps, Plastic Mouthfeel II, Installation view, Michael Lett, 2015
The next month will take Dan Arps out of the galleries and into the community - and you get to leave an impression on his work.

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Dan Arps wants you to be uncomfortable.

Well, just a little.

The Christchurch born artist has made a name for himself by creating pieces that blur the lines between academia and banality, that sit with the spaces between contradictions. Although intended to instill a sense of unease, they are works that have a subversive playfulness at their heart.

Arps merges ready-made and found objects with painting, sculpture and installation, and has gained a significant following, exhibiting extensively in New Zealand and Australia. In 2010, he was the recipient of the prestigious Wallace Art Award, followed by the McCahon House Residency in 2014. 

March in Mairangi

Now, Arps has been named as the Artist in Residence for the Mairangi Arts Centre. He will be taking up his one month post during March. “I’ve been making a living from my work for a few years now, so [the residency] was a way of keeping things going” says Arps. “Also I work mostly in the dealer realm - the trouble with that kind of thing is that it doesn’t give you a lot of space to develop new stuff.

“It’s like being a professional gambler - you have to keep winning all the time to keep going. So I was looking for things that would let me concentrate on the work itself and the things that I am interested in.”

Mairangi Arts Centre

Strengthening Community Engagement

The Mairangi Arts Centre (MAC)  is one of Auckland’s largest art centres (supported by Hibiscus and Bays Local Board) with over 25 tutors overseeing art classes and workshops to children and adults. It is currently undergoing a period of metamorphosis. The brief of the residency explained that it was gradually restoring pathways to “improve linkages with [their] community.”

That resonated with Arps. “Working the way I do, it’s very isolated. One of the things I really like doing and don’t often get the chance to do is a very light hearted, playful collaboration - that is really what I based my proposal on and what I am looking for out of the residency. I want to collaborate with some different people than I would normally collaborate with; for them to energise me and for me to energise them.” 

Dan Arps, Plastic Mouthfeel II, Installation view, Michael Lett, 2015

Keeping Things Fresh

"I like having different kinds of production and different kinds of art work. While I appreciate people who have a singular vision within their artwork, it’s not my approach.”

Speaking to Arps about his proposed work, it is clear that it merges many of his established artistic interests and techniques while allowing for space for him to grow. “There will be crossovers and things that will come out in future shows” he says. “That’s the way I’ve always worked - the works draw on a very broad base; I like having different kinds of production and different kinds of art work. While I appreciate people who have a singular vision within their artwork, it’s not my approach.”

 Using a readymade picnic table, Arps will invite members of the public to carve into it “like graffiti.” Eventually, this will be cast in polyurethane “but more of a caricature version.”

The interplay between light and dark has always been a feature of Arps’s oeuvre and his proposed work is no different. “Usually I take something light and make it darker, but sometimes I try and go the other way - take something dark and try and make it happy” he reflects. “But I think that trying to take something that’s a negative and turn it around as a positive - that’s what art is supposed to do.”

Unexpected Inspiration

For Arps, childhood memories of going to Christchurch parks and “seeing skinhead graffiti gauged into anything wooden” sparked his initial interest in using carved graffiti within his work. “I don’t dig the messages [of skinheads] at all, but I am interested in the aesthetic of carving” he explains.

“The audience is going to be different than those you get in galleries”

From these unsavoury inspirations, Arps is creating a work where participation, diversity and community is at its heart.

“Hopefully it will break down a lot of barriers - I like to engage with the community [and] while it’s slightly scarier working in a public setting, which can be challenging and difficult, I find all of the interactions can be invigorating for the work” he says.

“The audience is going to be different than those you get in galleries”  Arps muses, “I think working in the dealer system, you do get some interesting conversations and some interesting people that engage with your work. But I feel that maybe this will be a little more diverse.”

Readers can leave their own impression on Dan’s work after the Nice Graffiti workshop takes place through to the end of the residency. 

Dan Arps Residency runs from Monday 28 March - Friday 24 April.

Events Include:

Nice Graffiti workshop:
Saturday 28 March 11am - 1pm

Clay Workshop:
Wednesday 1 April 4-6 pm

Artist Talk/ Closing Party:
Thursday 23 April 7pm- 9pm

Written in partnership with the Mairangi Arts Centre  

Written by

Kate Powell

2 Mar 2020

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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