Going Viral Despite the Virus

The sight no one in the arts community wants to see. Image: Unsplash
Purple Pilgrims.
Whakakitenga, Aotearoa’s first immersive Māori virtual reality film.
New painting at new Auckland painter-run space Sanc.
Performance of Black Lover
Imogen Taylor speaking at Sapphic Pleasures, Hocken, Dunedin.
In this week’s arts media news bulletin, Mark Amery writes about how the arts are responding creatively to the coronavirus.

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Getting creative with the Virus

Rather than cancel, on 2 March a string quartet performed in Venice’s La Fenice Opera House to an empty theatre while streaming the concert online. Theatre, galleries and venues around the country know it: they need to get creative. This Thursday morning as the virus gets declared a pandemic Health Minister David Clark stated there was still no community outbreak in New Zealand so there was no need to cancel mass gatherings, but clearly the coronavirus is impacting attendance.

Last week The New York Times published this piece on art producers’ creativity in the face of closures, while another article highlighted museum creative thinking: “At the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the maintenance workers have doubled the number of times per day that they clean door knobs, railings and other surfaces. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles has its staff opening doors so that visitors don’t have to touch anything.”

Other than Auckland Arts Festival's outdoor show Place des Anges  (due to the virus’s affect on shipping) we’ve yet to see cancellations here. WOMAD, in New Plymouth this weekend, is on but they’re closely monitoring the situation, reports Stuff

New Zealand artists working overseas haven’t been so lucky. Art fairs Art Basel Hong Kong and now Art Dubai have been delayed, and one of the world’s biggest music festivals South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas has been cancelled, despite Austin Public Health stating last Wednesday, according to NZ Herald that “there's no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.”

Purple Pilgrims duo Clementine and Valentine Adams.

It’s an important industry event for NZ music, with a showcase and 13 New Zealand acts who were due to perform including Tami Neilson, Nadia Reid, Purple Pilgrims and Reb Fountain. The enormous Coachella festival in California in April has been postponed until October - after spending days under some pressure to cancel. The number of people attending gatherings is seen to matter: on Sunday France imposed a restriction on gatherings over 1000 people, which has seen Madonna cancel concerts.

It’s easy for the media to stimulate hysteria, rather than sense. It’s interesting to study worldwide headlines about the fact that our fourth confirmed case of Covid-19 was a man who attended Friday’s Tool concert in Auckland. Sensible coverage of this on Newshub went straight to providing advice for those who attended.  

Creative New Zealand’s current approach is “concerned, but not alarmed...  watching the situation closely.” They have put together a range of resources and their advice online includes how artists might deal with various scenarios involving international travel and project funding.

There’s no suggestion right now that New Zealanders should be changing their theatre and concert-going habits. In this Guardian piece on Sunday - in which Glastonbury and Hay festivals were confirmed to be still going ahead - it’s reported that UK events, theatres and museums have yet to be really affected, with reports of only small drops in attendance. 

Meanwhile in Australia, Artshub report on Dark Mofo being cancelled and other disruptions, while also noting that their have been no disruptions for the many coming for the Sydney Biennale this weekend. 

Our need to gather together is a human need. We just need to get creative and sensible about it. 

I’ll be going to see one of the casualties of the SXSW cancellation, Purple Pilgrims on Friday night in Wellington with Aldous Harding and Weyes Blood ahead of their Auckland and Christchurch dates. They’re busy overseas: Grant Smithies had this fulsome story in the Sunday Star Times, noting their recent New York residency and 24-date European tour.

Whakakitenga, Aotearoa’s first immersive Māori virtual reality film.

Indigenous film news

Tongan filmmaker Vea Mafile’o’s documentary For My Father’s Kingdom, which has played New Zealand and Berlin film festivals, has started a US tour to reach the Pacific diaspora according to TV’s Tagata Pasifika, Tour dates are here. There’s a lot of great cultural content online at the Tagata Pasifika site. Added last week a video behind the scenes with Grace Hutton, Te Papa’s Pacific Collection Manager.

Meanwhile what is being billed as Aotearoa’s first Māori virtual reality film is premiering at Ōtaki’s Māoriland Film Festival next week. Whakakitenga follows Ngāti Toa Rangatira leader Te Rangihaeata in 1846 as he realises the full implications of British colonial intentions around land. It’s been written and co-directed by Wiremu Grace, alongside Victoria University senior lecturer Miriam Ross and Associate Professor Paul Wolffram from the university's film programme.

Art Selections

The finalists have been announced for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. NZ Book Awards trustee Paula Morris was interviewed on RNZ’s Morning Report. "Some people are shocked or surprised to see that Elizabeth Knox, one of our great writers, one of our most revered writers, is not on our fiction list. That's the way it goes." In a welcome move for patron encouragement, the donor of the $50,000 annual fiction prize was revealed late last month: Retired Bay of Plenty radiologist Jann Medlicott. “I believe we are products of what we read, not what we eat,” she commented.

There’s been recognition also for four Massey University College of Creative Arts alumni, inducted into the College’s Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Government House: musician Jon Toogood, photographer Professor Anne Noble, film editor Annie Collins and the late educator Gordon Tovey. Collins is the subject of this story and interview with RNZ’s Standing Room Only, which provides a real window into the work of the film editor.

“I didn't reply right away,” Collins said of being offered the honour, “and then I just thought yes, I'm a woman, I'm in the film industry, I'm in an area which doesn't often get recognised - directors get recognised, producers get recognised, actors get recognised, and I thought that that was important to have that sort of face.”

The awards have been handed out at the annual Whanganui Arts Review, with the Open Award winning work, ‘Parrot Tulips - A Study in Sugar’ by Tracey Byatt.

And making a nice circle, the latest artist in residence at Tylee Cottage, Whanganui has been announced by the Sarjeant Gallery as Laurence Aberhart, who was the inaugural resident back in 1986. Here’s a great photograph of Aberhart with artists Mervyn Williams and Andrew Drummond at the cottage back in the day.

There are interesting opportunities afoot for four local artists, with Ayesha Green, Kristin Peren, Tracey Tawhiao and John Ward Knox shortlisted towards creating a piece of public art to join Robbie Burns in Dunedin’s Octagon - Otago Daily Times story here.

Meanwhile artists Denise Batchelor and Sarah Hunter have been offered Wild Creations funding through Creative New Zealand to undertake a DOC conservation experience, “to complete an artistic project based on the places”, one in the Hokianga, the other in the Hawkes Bay.

And more information on the Aotearoa artists at the Sydney Biennale opening this Saturday are, thanks to CNZ, here.

Also over the ditch, congratulations to Natasha Matila-Smith who is the inaugural Pacific Curator in Residence at Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art working towards the next Asia Pacific Triennial (more details on their blog).

New painting at new Auckland painter-run space Sanc: Tira Walsh, Danae Ripley, Reece King and Brendon Leung.

New Auckland Spaces

Artspace Aotearoa’s new ground floor space on Karangahape Road have opened and the move has provided room on level one for Tautai, a contemporary Pacific arts trust to get a gallery proper for the promotion of contemporary Pacific artists. It opens on 26 March with group exhibition Moana Legacy. “This is a new chapter for Tautai,” says director Courtney Sina Meredith, “a historical moment in which we are honouring our heritage and moving forward together.” A website revamp looks like it will be going live then too.

You’ve probably heard of artist-run spaces and they don’t always involve a lot of painting. Not far from Artspace and Tautai, Sanc is a new ‘painter-run space’ which opened on Friday at 3D/30 Upper Queen Street with a group show of seven painters. Their next show is by Hadley Hodgkinson, 21 March.

In other Auckland gallery news, here are images of the opening of Trish Clark’s big new space in Great North Road on Sait Akirman’s excellent Artsdiary. There’s a connection to Sanc: Brendon Leung appears in both group shows. Meanwhile Wellington’s Suite opens a second gallery at 189 Ponsonby Road in late April with new work by Richard Lewer on the subject of great New Zealand disasters.

Performance of Black Lover.

Other Arts news

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, Auckland’s Hobson Street Theatre Company, run in association with the Auckland City Mission and made up of people who have experienced homelessness, are about to fly to the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam. It’s held every three years and is the world’s largest community arts event. It’s the first time an NZ group has been invited. Here’s a NZ Herald story and an interview with RNZ’s Lynn Freeman

It’s one of those great examples of how art is able to bring the past we forgot into the present to help us understand ourselves. Auckland-based Zimbabwean playwright Stanley Makuwe’s play Black Lover is about white New Zealander Sir Garfield Todd who went to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in the 1930s and became Prime Minister. It’s a story that deserves to be better known in addressing our own racist past: Todd fell out of favour with the British when he introduced measures aimed at improving black lives, which ultimately led to him being under house arrest. Mukame and Todd’s daughter Judith were interviewed by the NZ Herald. Cameron Rhodes plays Todd and I’m rather envious of his diet, revealed in a new Metro feature: ‘What I Ate’, “a food diary by New Zealand's artists, hospo stars, writers, singers etc.” 

Something else deserving of a mention as significant arts news: with 'In The Air', New Zealand band L.A.B have got the first NZ artist number one single since Lorde's 'Green Light' in 2017. More depressingly, it’s the first independent local release to reach number one since Flight Of The Conchords in 2012.  L.A.B play WOMAD this weekend and are all lined up for an Australian tour in May.

Echoing Laurie Anderson’s device of getting the audience to scream at Friday’s Here Comes the Ocean concert in Wellington (inspired by a Yoko Ono scream after the election of Trump), for a new concerto Clarion composer Eve de Castro-Robinson has, she tells NZ Herald, "extended the idea of calling across the oceans to wake us all up to climate change." The piece has been commissioned by New Zealand-born trumpeter Bede Williams, at the University of St Andrews, Scotland which hosted the work’s world premiere. It’s now part of Auckland Arts Festival on Monday night, as discussed on 95bFm’s ‘Culture Club’.

Imogen Taylor speaking at Sapphic Pleasures, Hocken, Dunedin.

Great Online Arts Content

It was International Women’s Day on Sunday and some good arts stories coincided. At The Spinoff, this cracker review by Bridie Lonie of Imogen Taylor’s terrific Sapphic Pleasures painting installation at Dunedin’s Hocken, winding up her Frances Hodgkins Residency. Meanwhile at Auckland’s Michael Lett is a show of the early work of Anne Hamblett, the wife of Colin McCahon. Their daughter Victoria Carr spoke to RNZ’s Lynn Freeman.

I loved Anthems of Belonging at the Dowse Art Museum, in which Olivia Webb worked with different families from different ethnic backgrounds to write and perform their own songs. Here’s an essay about the project on Circuit by Connie Brown: “What if we lend a microphone and a stage in an art gallery to what is usually quiet, and what if we paid attention to them?” Brown writes. “What if we dived into the deep seas of other people?”

Great to see an art review in a regional Stuff newspaper. Here’s Kaye Cederman writing on an exhibition of contemporary Indian artists at Blenheim’s High Street Art Gallery, of the Marlborough Art Society. Though they keep things critically rather close to home - Kaye is the society’s president, and the curator Sudhir Duppati Vice President - nonetheless it’s good to see local artists stepping up to the critics’ plate.

The New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland have been doing a terrific video series with the artists in their current show Tākiri;An Unfurling. This item with artist Jasmine Togo-Brisby, about what it means to be an Australian South Sea Islander, artist and mother, is totally beautiful.  Another incredible artist from the same exhibit, Nikau Hindin, is featured right here on The Big Idea in a lovely piece by Jessica Thompson Carr. 

Renee’s Wednesday busk is this inspirational senior writer’s blog, where she publishes poems and occasional interviews with other writers she is friends with, giving writing a welcome intimacy and sense of community.

Finally, appearing in the Tautai group exhibition mentioned above, artist Cora-Allan Wickcliff (also curator at Henderson’s Corban Estate Arts Centre) is the only surviving traditional maker of hiapo — the Niuean artform of barkcloth painting. Here’s a Viva interview with her.

And finally a correction: In last week’s Lowdown I stated that the Director of the Ashburton Art Gallery had left for Australia. This was incorrect. To clarify, Tanya Robinson was the Director of the Ashburton Museum, not gallery, and has indeed moved to Australia. “I’m still running the Gallery and haven’t been tempted by Australia yet,” writes gallery manager and curator Shirin Khosraviani.

Written by

Mark Amery

12 Mar 2020

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

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