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Incubation: Making an Art out of Isolation

Art Finds A Way. Photo: Daniel Tafjord
36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea.
Glad We Did That artists Elisabeth and Robbie Pointon.
As we step into country-wide lockdown, Mark Amery brings us up to date with arts news, key information and commentary to help you see your world in a new light.


The Arts at This Time

The arts will never seem more important. That book, that piece of music, that film, that artwork, that live stream. That guitar you hear over the fence, or that creative prank played out over your webcam. Culture giving strength, connection and hope; asking questions and telling stories that remind us we’ve been here before. That we’ll get over this, be better for it. So, my suggestion: when the media gets too much, find what you need from the artists you treasure, and share it with your whānau. 

As Lana Lopesi writes about, richly and honestly, over on Pantograph Punch this week the idea of the artist as someone who thrives on isolation during a pandemic can be a troubling trope. Connect up with them online! This week we provide plenty of evidence these independent spirits are hurting financially and are creatures in need of socialisation. But also that they are often the first to innovate to achieve it. 

The Big Idea has gone out to a wide range of arts leaders in this piece also just published. Crossing the arts disciplines, what combined wisdom they offer: from Jennifer Ward Lealand and Simon Bowden to Linda Tyler and Neil Ieremia.

Working fast last week for independents, in ‘Freelance Freefall’ on Friday Pantograph Punch went out and gathered the thoughts of many leading freelance, self-employed artists and arts managers

Meanwhile, James Wenley, editor of Theatrescenes, wrote When the Show Doesn’t Go On on Thursday, provided a passionate consideration of why live theatre matters at this time and a roundup of the impact on theatre of the virus: “As as a fundamental bottom line,” he wrote, “I would like to see a goal from (Creative New Zealand) that no arts company/ organisation should be left to fold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The Big Idea heard from Iain Gordon of Fat Freddy’s Drop in self-isolation on the impact on their European touring, and RNZ followed it up at the weekend with another drop-in to see how Gordon was doing (and a share for you of a video of his side project Kuki Koori live at CubaDupa 2019).  

36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea.


There’s a lot of focus on art experiences online, but let’s consider for a moment taking that solo walk the Prime Minister recommends and connecting with art experiences in your local environment. I’ve visited one of Kemi and Nikio’s miniature urban huts, still up across the Kapiti Coast post-NZ Festival  - social isolation is mandatory for these - they can only fit you and a family member.  

Meanwhile in Auckland, suddenly standing in the water staring out to sea makes complete sense. One art event not having to be cancelled is New York artist Sarah Cameron Sunde’s Tāmaki Makaurau iteration of a 12-hour performance 36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea, in Manukau Harbour this Sunday. 

Standing in the sea for a full tidal cycle, this is the eighth and penultimate performance Sunde has undertaken in six continents over seven years. Sunde’s work naturally speaks to climate change and our relationship to water, but also draws attention to the cultural environment around, collaborating as she does with communities. In this case, in such a time, as Te Uru gallery writes, “He Waka Eke Noa, we are all in this together”. For the full duration in the water, as the tide rises and recedes, she’ll be joined by artist Amiria Puia-Taylor of local iwi Ngāti Te Ata. You’re welcome to join them in the water, mark the time from the shore, join via a Livestream with or follow on Facebook. It’s from 8.16am to 8:35pm Sunday at Kaitarakihi Beach, Huia Road. 

Key Updates 

A week is currently a long time. Last Tuesday in The Lowdown we asked where the Emergency Arts Package is - that’s now been answered. We just need to get the details.

While cabinet was meeting to sign off a lockdown on Monday, Creative New Zealand was meeting to prepare more details regarding assistance to the arts following late Friday’s announcement of an ‘Emergency Response Package’. On Tuesday night, CNZ announced that first phase - a "$16 million investment to buffer and support the arts community." The Big Idea will be going in-depth on this announcement and getting a response from the arts sector - watch this space. 

This follows widespread concerns across the weekend over the suspension of current funding programmes - including those arts grants already submitted and due for assessment. Losing these grants would have a dramatic effect on the livelihoods of many artists and organisations from the middle of this year. 

CNZ had already indicated an initial investment of $4.5 million to “kick-start the package” which will include emergency support for existing investment clients and quick turnaround resilience grants. Concerns were expressed that $4.5 million might be the very pottle due to be awarded for the recently cancelled arts grants round. But on Sunday’s Standing Room Only CNZ’s chair Michael Moynihan stated that this was completely different money that they have had in reserve (although that $4.5 million is part of the overall $16 million first phase figure).

In the same RNZ piece, Simon Morris also spoke to Annabelle Sheehan, CEO of New Zealand Film Commission about their concerns in regards to the 1000s of jobs lost with film production cancellation. They are encouraging people to “still apply for production grants while we work through the situation.” Morris also spoke to Scott Blanks of the Classic comedy venue about the impact of the cancellation of the International Comedy Festival, and the comedy scene’s resilience always in the face of adversity.  

A key financial announcement on Monday changed the income assessment model for self-employed people, to enable them to be eligible for the wage subsidy scheme. This is key for many artists. Having a variable monthly income is no barrier if you can demonstrate revenue loss against the previous year’s monthly average (e.g. a 30% loss of income comparing March 2020 to the average monthly income in the period March 2019 to March 2020). 

By the end of the weekend, most public galleries had closed. Many are local authority managed or funded and closed as part of the closure of council public facilities. On Thursday on The Spinoff art section, I wrote on the closures as a ‘when rather than if’ situation, noting different approaches internationally. That now seems a long time ago. 

Meanwhile in the literary world, having had to cancel the launch of his new novel Aspiring, Damien Wilkins held it virtually on Newsroom, publishing an adapted launch speech.


 Glad We Did That artists Elisabeth Pointon and Robbie Handcock.

Getting Creative Online

There has been a small window for performing arts companies to get creative online with live-streaming. So much for the NZSO’s noble Engage@Home streaming programme announced a week ago, for example, though can we expect a boon in solo shows streaming. 

And crucially, is there a financial case? It seems so. An important test on Friday night was solo drag king Hugo Grrrl’s show Princess Boy Wonder. As the New Zealand Fringe closed its doors, BATS organised a paid-for live stream (as reported on Stuff) that cost $15 a stream. Over 150 people watched.

And the visual arts? Are online tours of exhibitions with artist interviews dead with the new Code 4 social distancing? Probably, unless the artist or dealer are doing them. 

Sneaking in there ahead of Wednesday lockdown, my favourite art vlog Glad We Did That (artists Elisabeth Pointon and Robbie Handcock) have produced this vlog at Hancock’s recently opened painting show at Toi Pōneke, Urinal My Dreams

Meanwhile following in the footsteps of the Auckland Fringe, the New Zealand Fringe Awards were live-streamed on Sunday night. The results are published here

Silo Theatre has come up with a great initiative to support artists and keep us involved. For an eight week period starting 30 March, The Silo - Instagram Residency sees the theatre host a different artist each week on their Instagram platform to share content every morning for 10-20 minutes. “This could include dance classes, a tour of your neighbourhood, an excerpt from a show you can no longer perform, your Grandma’s best cake recipes, music, model-making, oratory or whatever sets your heart on fire.” Artists will be paid $500 for seven days of engagement. It’s open to Auckland artists who need to submit this Google form by 5pm Thursday, with the successful artists’ names being pulled out of a hat.

Writer and cartoonist Sarah Laing’s online diaristic strips were popular enough to garner an excellent Victoria University Press collection Let Me Be Frank last year. And if there’s another thing to be thankful to this virus for, it’s that after an extended break, she’s responded delightfully with her ink. The ‘COVID-19 Diaries’ start here and she intends to continue publishing online over the next four weeks.   

Key Arts COVID-19 Resources

In response to COVID-19’s impact on the screen industry, the sector on Monday announced the formation of the Screen Sector COVID-19 Action Group and a fulsome online information hub. The group is “a pan-sector team, made up of representatives from many key industry guilds and organisations, as well as major stakeholders.”

Pantograph Punch’s Kate Prior has assembled a pānui providing “updates, news and announcements that affect and support the freelance (and salaried!) arts workforce”. 

Creative New Zealand have assembled key resources, information and links.

Facebook group AA(e)-C(19)C - Aotearoa Arts and Events during the COVID-19 Crisis has proven a critical central resource for artists to gather information and ask questions. A closed group, it has close to 3000 members at the time of writing. 

Music Helps has a great resource page in response to COVID-19 for musicians. They have also started a givealittle campaign to support musicians impacted by the crisis with a target of $2million.

Dance Aotearoa New Zealand has a page of resources for the dance community.

The Big Idea continues to gather information and advice in their Covid19 section.

Great Reading Online

It took until Tuesday for the big Sydney galleries to close and with them the Sydney Biennale. One of the New Zealand artists participating, and now in isolation back in Christchurch is Kulimoe’ anga Maka. Here’s a terrific profile by The Press’s Vicki Anderson with images in his studio garage by Chris Skelton. 

Keeping in there as an art critic as everything started to close around him, here’s the first part of John McDonald’s Sydney Morning Herald look at the biennale, including the work of Aotearoa’s Emily Karaka amongst the old masters at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

At times like this, we need silly sausage: In a five-part series for The Sapling, Gemma Gracewood looks at Spike Milligan’s Badjelly the Witch and why it has had such an impact in New Zealand.

The weekend before last saw Tauranga’s Tattoo and Art Extravaganza, featuring Mount Maunganui artist Julie Paama-Pengelly, who in this NZ Herald Local Focus piece talks about the resurgence of indigenous tattoos. “Māori tattooing was exiled in the early 1900s with the Tohunga Suppression Act,” she notes. “Particularly facial tattoos, and anything that looked like we were revering our gods, was outlawed. So that practice has really only seen the light again through the active measures of a number of artists.” 

Dunedin group Eye, the late Peter Stapleton on the right.

Finally, I was sad to hear this weekend of the death of Dunedin musician Peter Stapleton after illness, quietly the backbone of many initiatives and bands from Flying Nun pioneers The Pin Group, through Scorched Earth Policy, The Terminals, Dadamah to Eye. Here’s a 2016 interview with Stapleton. Recently Stapleton has co-run the Lines of Flight sound festival in Dunedin, and in this book extract writes on Dunedin noise in the 1990s. Recommended, the Audioculture page with links for The Terminals. A tribute to Peter’s musical career will be held at a later date.

Written by

Mark Amery

24 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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