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Mark Amery's Lowdown #4

Stuart Forsyth
NZDC Lumina - Photo by Caroline Bindon
Sean Kerr
Sriwhana Spong - Photo by Lina Hermsdorf
Mark Amery with the fourth instalment of the Arts Media Lowdown, bringing together significant news and arts content online from across the arts in Aotearoa New Zealand over the past fortnight.


“I think that part of the reason that Downstage struggled and Fortune struggled, has been an unwillingness to put investment into the capital infrastructure to deliver what people want,” commented Indian Ink Theatre Company’s Justin Lewis in an interview here  with RNZ’s Standing Room Only, directing people to the success of Auckland’s Q Theatre and revived BATS in Wellington. “Both organisations had buildings that are fairly old and nobody has been willing to put money in to make them things contemporary audiences want, that they want to go and spend time in…”  

There has been much lamentation on the closure of Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre and the beginnings of some healthy discussion. Theatreview have provided a thread collecting media coverage and comment. Here playwright Dean Parker lobbed in the challenge that “Theatre's not really alive in the sense of being part of the national conversation”, causing some animated replies.  

The comment was pertinent in a week in which Stuff (aka Fairfax Newspapers) went tabloid across nine newspapers, with news starting to emerge that arts reviewing is being cut. Arts reviewers at Dominion Post and The Press reported being told that only events of national significance will be reviewed. From what these writers are saying galleries and theatres outside the larger venues appear at risk of missing out on coverage altogether. While many have directed attention to the strength of reviewing online at sites like Pantograph Punch, Eyecontactsite and Theatreview, for many at risk is the wider public visibility of the arts, in cities where they are considered vital to civic identity and health. Lynn Freeman at RNZ spoke to two of writer casualties, senior arts commentators Warren Feeney, weekly arts columnist for The Press and Dominion Post theatre reviewer Ewan Coleman.

Justin Lewis was speaking alongside co-director of Indian Ink Jacob Rajan on the occasion of the coming world premiere of their ninth work, Welcome to the Murder House in Wellington this month. The work is notable for having been commissioned by an American theatre company, South Coast Repertory in California who are known for their production of new work. Yet to be produced in the US, the work premieres in New Zealand.

Rajan revealed there is a late September shoot date for Indian Ink’s long anticipated feature film version of their celebrated play Krishnan’s Dairy. Lee Tamahori is to direct, John Barnett produces and it stars The Lunchbox actress Nimrat Kaur. But there’s a change in title for international viewers not familiar with the concept of a ‘dairy’: Tip Top Taj Mahal.

Indian Ink also produce a sequel to Krishnan’s Dairy this year, Mrs Krishnan’s Party set in the dairy stockroom during the Onam Hindu Harvest Festival. Touring nationally from August, the company discuss the work on their website. Now with a strong touring back catalogue, last year Indian Ink performed their play Guru of Chai in significant venues in Sydney and Melbourne and, in April, at Wyndham, Victoria.

International movements

The New Zealand Dance Company have opened a national tour of their celebrated Lumina after performances at Paris’s grand Théâtre National de Chaillot and in Liverpool. These follow acclaim previously at the Holland Dance Festival and Germany. A video introduction to the tour is here.

The Paris performances got off to a nightmare start when the lighting computer system crashed during the premiere performance, and the show had to be cancelled mid-flight. Artistic director Shona McCullagh not surprisingly recalls it as “one of the worst nights of my career in dance” in an interesting diary on their time in Paris for the NZ Herald travel section.  

Circuit, the New Zealand agency that supports New Zealand moving image artists has also been busy in Europe in May. At London’s Whitechapel Gallery Circuit presented their 2017 programme of artist cinema commissions Thick Cinema, returned to Germany's Oberhausen Film Festival with a programme of recent works (watch a trailer here) and screened Through a Different Lens / Film Work by Joanna Margaret Paul in Ghent, Belgium at the artist-run OFFoff. The Margaret Paul programme has also screened this year at the Glasgow Film festival and London’s Cinema Museum, after which Eleanor Woodhouse wrote extensively about the programme on Contemporary Hum here.

Coming out of nowhere a New Zealand feature film Stray has won a Best Actor award for Kieran Charnock at the Moscow International Film Festival (there’s a very sweet video or Kieran’s acceptance speech here). The first New Zealand film to screen at the world’s second oldest festival, Dustin Feneley’s film got Boosted crowdfunding support from an impressive line-up of film who’s who after not getting New Zealand Film Commission funding. It is due for release later this year. Our writer Karyn Tattersfield here at The Big Idea recently interviewed Dustin where he talks at length about how to fundraise.

The biggest international New Zealand arts news this fortnight however was the shortlisting of Luke Willis-Thompson’s autoportrait for the UK’s Turner Prize. A significant occasion, Willis-Thompson was selected based on his current residency in London – the work was commissioned by London’s Chisendale Gallery in 2017.

Much of the commentary on the Turner shortlist in the UK has been on its political nature.  “That this year’s Turner shortlist showcases art that explicitly reflects the inequities and complications of the world is a good thing,” writes former Turner juror Dan Fox in an excellent piece here in Frieze. Back home Kim Hill discussed the shortlist with Head of Elam School of Fine Arts Peter Shand. She also pushed him hard on not making a public position on the planned closure of the Elam Fine Arts Library (excellent Pantograph Punch piece and collection of memories here). Hill’s February interview with Willis Thompson is an excellent introduction to the artist and the work. Meanwhile this opinion piece in online UK magazine Gal-dem has been really stirring things up. At least it highlights the difficult space for discussion Willis Thompson opens up with his relocation of sites of trauma.

Lest that eclipse all else, even more of the moment right now is the opening of a major installation by Kate Newby on 15 May at Kunsthalle Wien, the principal exhibition space for contemporary art in Vienna. Installed on the floor in the Karlsplatz building, Newby is said to have modified unfired bricks, and inserted into them shattered glass fragments left behind by people in the surrounding area. Newby is also currently showing at the Sydney Biennale.

Finally, on the international front I can’t resist posting an image of artist Sean Kerr performing ‘Hear hair’ at performance space SuperDeluxe in Tokyo using his new ‘XYZ wig sensor’ and real time 3D DIY instrument the ‘wigamonizer’. Kerr this year has been an artist in residence at Laboratory in Spokane, Washington.

Recommended Content Online

“When you go into the city in Wellington, the only Māori people you see are the ones in hi vis. They’re sort of invisible. I saw that as a subject matter.” That’s young artist Kauri Hawkins keeping things real in an excellent piece by Kahu Kutia online at Vice, part of a series about Maori breaking new ground. There’s other good arts content being commissioned for Vice’s New Zealand section, including this Q and A with Walters Prize shortlisted Pati Solomona Turell by Anthony Byrt about his “meteoric 18 months”

On the subject of Māori culture Nicole Hawkins writes on the tricky long running discussion on when and when not employing that culture by non-Māori artists is fair game at the Spinoff.

The new Christchurch Art Gallery is celebrating 15 years and in honour of that we once again direct you to their website as an example of doing things well for the arts online. In the multimedia section you can see a valuable interview with painter Jacqueline Fahey, Ani O’Neill demonstrating how to make a crocheted crater, and a pile of great live footage of musicians live at the gallery, beautifully shot – the latest Delaney Davidson.  

Still in Christchurch Peter Robinson’s installation at COCA gets impressive online documentation for the delight of out-of-towners here at

It’s New Zealand Comedy Festival time and apart from the joy of endlessly Youtubing the routines of comedians who pique interest, photographer Matt Grace has put online a gorgeous set of portraits of comedians. It’s also being shown at Auckland’s Q Theatre.   

The last Lowdown was full of news of regional institutions in trouble. Spare a thought for Tauranga, now ahead of Dunedin as our fifth largest city. Ignoring its good new public gallery, Tony Wall in this Stuff piece is troubled by Tauranga’s lack of a museum, or more precisely ratepayers lack of interest.

No such issues in Dunedin, blessed by remarkable museums and there’s much positive happening in Dunedin beyond the tumult of the Fortune closing. Dunedin City Council have launched an attractive online newsletter Toi Oho documenting some of it.

Meanwhile there are more indications Dunedin council are getting ready to invest more in public art with the first of a series of portable ‘public art labs’ placed at Dunedin Public Art Gallery and at Mosgiel Library to get feedback from residents on where and what they’d like to see. Also featured are books, films and photographs of successful public art projects from New Zealand and around the world. DPAG director Cam McCracken told the Otago Daily Times last month there would be a series of steps before the next public work of art was commissioned.

Wellington is a place where it's said its hard not to bump into public art. No such issue with this work above . It's a city council commission for the outside of Toi Poneke it's arts hub and home to Toi Poneke gallery by Stuart Forysth (website here). Suitably it reads: one day I am going to get noticed.

We mentioned Circuit earlier. It provides a huge archive of artists moving image work. A recommended new addition is Mike Ting’s Strange Intimate. "In May of 2017,” Mike writes, “I travelled to Taipei to investigate 15 people I had found on the internet. We had no knowledge or any contact with each other, total strangers in fact but we had one thing in common; we’re all called Mike Ting.” The works were shown at Meanwhile gallery in Wellington last year but I think they suit the news-televisual intimacy of the web – so enjoy here. Ting’s voiceover is gorgeous droll, citizen journalism. Give the man his own series.

Beyond websites there are apps but not many for the New Zealand arts. For the second year running however the Auckland Festival of Photography (31 May- 22 June) has launched one.

And in the changes to newspapers nationwide it’s interesting to see a regional app based media platform emerge: The Nelson App, which includes reviews of shows. You’ll see here they’re using a Facebook page as a key way to connect readers in.

A few exhibition platforms

New artist in residence at the Govett Brewster is Sriwhana Spong. Her exhibition, opening May 12, has been reworked from its initial showing in London at Pumphouse Gallery, her first solo UK showing, that followed a residency for New Zealand artists at Gasworks. This exhibition follows the artist’s research into a language invented by 12th-century abbess Hildegard von Bingen at a monastery in Germany. Also published by Govett Brewster is a book project from Tao and Laura Wells, illuminating Tao Wells critically and comically sharp examination of the systems that govern the production of art and livelihood of artists since the late 1980s. It features a new essay from the celebrated Chris Kraus and can be perused here.

A shout out to Aidan Wojtas for his exhibition at Wellington’s Thistle Hall in April, re-imagining Wellington as a Te Reo city: signs, names, buildings – all in Te Reo. Story here.

And in Auckland, check out Satellites, with its supersmart website which over the next two months across “Auckland’s more culturally underserviced suburbs” a series of public events showcasing a range of local Asian artists. Also see the NZ Herald story here.

Finally, two places online I really recommend for brief exhibition criticism are Robyn Maree Pickens column ‘Art Seen’ in the Otago Daily Times and Pantograph Punch’s The Unmissables.

Want more of the Lowdown? Check out Mark Amery's first , second and third Arts Media Lowdowns and make sure you subscribe to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.

News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to

Written by

Mark Amery

9 May 2018

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

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