Lowdown #28: Haere ra / and so it goes

Queen Kapussi by Hohua Ropate Kurene
Douglas Wright, Untitled. Courtesy the artist and AKL Art Gallery
Peter Peryer, Wrestlers, 2015. Courtesy the artist.
Iain Buchanan. Image by Sait Akkirman for Artsdiary.
Nokise and Holt.
Karlo Mila, via Instagram
Some very bright and beautiful stars left us this week. Janet McAllister bids them farewell, and shares more news from Aotearoa's art world.


Legendary photographer Peter Peryer died on Sunday 18 November, aged 77. The Taranaki Daily News published an early round-up of tributes on Monday night. 

Many of Peryer’s relatively recent images can be found on the blog he kept 2006-2013 and on his twitter feed 2011-2013. Bowerbank Ninow published a comprehensive essay by Andrew Clark on Peryer’s career on the occasion of his retrospective auction just last May, which reasonably concludes: “it is hard to imagine what contemporary photographic practice would be like had Peryer’s work not existed.” In an undated Cultural Icons episode (try the four-minute version if you don’t have time for the full 86 minutes) the arts laureate talks about his doughnut work: “the jam is important”.

Judging by the comments left on the Govett Brewster Facebook announcement, half of New Plymouth are going to miss bumping into Peryer around town and having a chat – as an interviewee, he was certainly an approachable and interesting conversationalist. Shirley Horrocks, who is working on a Peryer documentary, notes “he was a superb artist and a unique person, delightfully witty and thoughtful”. We look forward very much to seeing him again, if only on film.

Some beautiful tributes have been written for dancer, choreographer and all-round Renaissance man Douglas Wright, who died last Wednesday 14 November, aged 62. “Douglas is the single most important artist in my life,” begins Jennifer Shennan’s passionate, eloquent Dominion Post obituary. “The words he loathed most were ‘bland’ and ‘boring’.” Choreographer Sarah Foster-Sproull, in her personal Noted obituary, shows how generous Wright’s genius was: “I witnessed some of my dearest friends flourish under Douglas’ direction. He had an uncanny ability to unlock something hidden within certain dancers, a regal fury.” Perhaps it was such sacred anger that made afternoon tea with Wright seem so incongruous. “I never imagined that he would eat small cakes, but he did, so there you go.”

Several of Wright’s drawings are currently on display at Toi o Tamaki Auckland Art Gallery (“the figures in my drawings are verbs, not nouns”); dance works and documentaries can be viewed at NZ on Screen. In David Eggleton’s 2004 review of Wright’s award-winning memoir, he called Ghost Dance a “sharply-told black comedy” from the country’s “most visceral, most gutsy” choreographer. An old NZ Herald 2004 retrospective with Wright himself demonstrates his quick wit about difficult subjects. A public celebration of Wright’s life will be held mid-afternoon on Wednesday November 28th in Auckland.

Northern Renaissance art expert Iain Buchanan died aged 70, also on 14 November, the same day as Wright. As Buchanan’s University of Auckland colleague Linda Tyler writes in his obituary, Buchanan’s acclaimed work formed the basis for two separate exhibitions at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and made a fundamental contribution to the study of arts patronage, among other achievements. His family write, “Iain was an amazing man: highly intelligent, sensitive, funny, sophisticated, handsome and, most importantly, kind.”

Across the oceans to Oceania

Poet Karlo Mila was moved to tears and creativity by London’s current Oceania exhibition, writing 11 poems in one go about colonisation, but also reunion, some of which she has shared on Instagram. She also enjoyed bouncing off of her fellow Oceania writer delegates Paula Morris, Tina Makeriti, Witi Ihimaera and David Eggleton. Frissons of history were palpable in Marlborough House, with its colonial friezes when Morris read from her novel imagining her tipuna in London.

By all accounts, Oceania has been sensitively and wonderfully curated; Mila calls it “mana enhancing” and like the Jamie Belich/ Matariki Williams/ Pauline Autet/ Lana Lopesi panel discussion, she wishes more of Oceania’s people could see it. But Mila also points out that many precious taonga and Pacific pieces sit in cupboards in our own towns too – the British Museum doesn’t have everything, and perhaps it’s time to open our own archives up. As for presentation: “I am not sure we do such a good job to be frank,” says Mila. In Auckland Museum displays for example, “at the moment you might get a couple of lines about pieces, out of context, apart from the fact, say, that they all come from Tonga.”

Problematic Patronage

It’s been a couple of months since arts writer and curator Francis McWhannell published his extraordinary and moving piece “To Name and Amend” via Extended Conversations, recounting his disturbing experience of unwanted sexual advances from a “benefactor” and its aftermath. He has received heartfelt feedback from readers, many of them women who recognise their own experiences (caused by others) in Francis' description. It is a timely reminder that the often-steep power hierarchies of high-stakes cultural endeavours make exploitation, harassment and abuse (whether sexual or otherwise) a risk. Francis' piece is a subtle and nuanced presentation of difficult issues; highly recommended.

Winning Landfall essayist: I couldn’t have done it without Papers Past

Alice Miller, a New Zealand poet living in Germany, has won the Landfall Essay Competition 2018 with ‘The Great Ending’, a “teeming yet elegantly controlled catalogue of international and national, Pākehā and Māori historical events,” as Landfall editor Emma Neale puts it. The essay (not online, alas) is published in the just-out Landfall 236 Spring issue.

Miller, who has garnered an impressive shelf of awards and residencies, had an interesting email conversation with Paula Green earlier in the year about death and home. And she was quoted in the Landfall announcement as saying her essay “is indebted to the National Library's amazing Papers Past archive, which I quietly believe is one of the best things on the internet.” Hear hear.

CNZ investment changes

Creative New Zealand is making some changes to its multi-year funding of organisations; those currently funded are still getting their heads around what the changes might mean, but initial responses are generally positive: feedback from consultation has been taken into account.

A partial list: “Tōtara” organisations will be funded for six years, an increased length of time, making it easier to plan. Particular organisations will no longer be given sector or geographic “key” leadership roles; instead, there’ll be room for more diffuse leadership across multiple organisations which, some hope, will shake up some near monopolies on prevailing creative direction. Organisations will be categorised into three broad bands: Māori-led, Pasifika-led and General. And, a sweetener: the multi-year investment pool next year will be just over $32 million, nearly $5 million bigger than this year. Still, as one respondent pointed out, it remains to be seen what words like “resilience” and “partnerships” mean in practice.

Meanwhile, Auckland Council has released its UNESCO City of Music strategy. They mention promoting grassroots venues such as the Hollywood and Crystal Palace suburban cinemas; does this mean they will fund maintenance/restoration?

“Oligarchy of ageing top-dogs”

In a recent wide-ranging polemic connecting the philosophical dots from pokie money reliance to arts education and everything in between, independent arts producer and writer Amy Mansfield is courageously clear that who is funded, and how – and also who gets to make those decisions – is important to the cultural health of the country: “125 years of suffrage is a good time to come together to commiserate about the he-state of our nation”.

Soul food

In RNZ’s intriguing new podcast “Eating fried chicken in the shower”, “depressed alcoholic comedian [and theatremaker] James Nokise invites famous people into his mental health safe place for a finger-licking chat about headspace and happiness”.  Episode one “Bad Alcoholics” with Hayley Holt was a doozy – candid, charming, poignant and relatable. In a particularly arts-related moment, Nokise talks about the relationship between his former drinking and (avoiding) onstage anxiety.


The Spinoff Review of Books editor Steve Braunias has published 100 of the site’s exciting and lively Friday poems in a real-live book The Friday Poem (incidently, the Unity launch photo captions are suspiciously Brauniasque). Weirdly, however, I’m not sure if The Spinoff even mentions the book.

Another potential oversight: as far as I can tell, the first online announcement that Ashleigh Young would be the 2019 Friday poem editor was made by Paula Green on her own website. Perhaps Young will reinstate The Spinoff search button – or at least my ability to find it.

Botanical Badassery

FAFSWAG – the LGBT Pacific Arts Collective based out of South Auckland – is currently visible in three cities on two islands. Pati Solomona Tyrell’s Walter Prize-nominated work is at Auckland Art Gallery until 28 January; Tyrell, Jermaine Dean and Akashi Fisi’inaua, feature in MTG Hawke’s Bay’s “FAFSWAG: code switch”, which opened this week; and at the University of Canterbury library, you can view “Botanical Badassery”, a pop-up exhibition of FAFSWAG photographs by Hōhua Ropate Kurene, presented by Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies 2018 Artist in Residence Tanu Gago.


Tis the season of graduate shows; head along to spot the Next Big Thing. AUT’s, Massey’s and Ilam’s have finished but Elam’s is this Thursday to Sunday 22-25 November 10am-5pm with works also going online from 22 Nov; in Hamilton, Wintec’s opens Thursday night and runs until Sunday; Te Auaha’s first Wellington cohort are graduating, a year after opening (the first of two exhibitions opens on Friday 23 Nov); and the NZ School of Dance graduation season opens Wednesday 21 November and runs to 1 December, offering both traditional ballet and contemporary dance.

Other upcoming events: Hamilton unveils its new public sculpture Tōia Mai this Friday at 4pm; and if you happen to be in Brisbane this weekend, check out the opening festivities of the 9th Asia-Pacific Triennial, co-curated by Zara Stanhope at QAGOMA, and featuring a number of Aotearoa’s finest. And the participants for next year’s Sculpture on the Gulf event on Waiheke Island have been announced; they’ll be creating 26 works.

Bain on Bird

British comedy writer Sam Bain agrees Hera Lindsay Bird is worth joining Twitter for, as if you didn’t already know:



Want more of the Lowdown? 
Janet McAllister is an arts and social issues commentator who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Lowdowns here and subscribe here to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.
News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of the Lowdown. Please send to mark.amery@thebigidea.co.nz.


Image credits, top to bottom:
Queen Kapussi by Hohua Ropate Kurene
Peter Peryer, Wrestlers, 2005. Courtesy of the artist.
Douglas Wright, Untitled, circa 2003-07. Courtesy of the artist and the Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery.
Iain Buchanan, captured at Artis Gallery by Sait Akkirman for Artsdiary
Image by Karlo Mila
Image James Nokise for RNZ

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

21 Nov 2018

The Big Idea Editor

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