On their own terms
2 Nov 2016
Mark Amery on a new generation of artist run activity in Wellington.
There’s nothing like having to run your own space to build a practice, create networks and work in exchange with others. Teststrip Gallery, which started upstairs in Auckland’s Vulcan Lane back in 1992 when I was a student, began just the latest generation of the artist run spaces that have been a key part of many artists’ - and art lovers’ – development in New Zealand. So much so they cloyingly now have their own acronym: an ARS.
Coming and going as they should - as collectives morph and fold - in Auckland they’ve remained vital, and further south there are many great examples.
In Wellington however it’s been something of a surprise that not more spaces have opened in the wake of a fine arts degree being offered by Massey with the institution of the College of Creative Arts in 1999.
Enjoy Gallery opened in 2000 as an artist run space, but with a board made up largely of artists employing a curator and communications manager it joins other spaces like The Physics Room as a key CMNZ funded non-commercial institution for the exhibition of significant emerging practice and discussion. As a self-dubbed artist-run initiative they play a broader, less idiosyncratic role supporting artists.
Other spaces in Wellington have occasionally come and gone: notably Show in Furness Lane (2004-2006, web archive here), The Russian Frost Farmers in Eva Street (2009-2013 or so, website now offline but early record here and here) and My Galaxi in a basement in Dixon Street (2010-2011). Open source community gallery 17 Tory Street has managed four and a half years and counting, with the artist run jewellery collective The See Here in the window. Then there have been the temporary projects enabled with space by Urban Dream Brokerage and this winter we saw the closure after four busy years of 30 Upstairs, owned by collector Malcolm Brow and managed by artist Jhana Millers. Meanwhile in Newtown painter Jason Secto has reopened this year his gallery in the quirky triangular site on the busy corner of Riddiford Street and Adelaide Roads. Alta Gallery is open Monday to Thursday 3-6pm and Friday and Saturday 2-5pm. The gallery recently held an exhibition of Chris Slane's brilliant original cartoon work, and running until 15 November is a show of Jake Fairweather's strong watercolours.
It has remained surprising that more Massey graduates haven’t taken the reins of spaces themselves. Perhaps the many opportunities in organised spaces have sufficed, more ephemeral practice has made the need less urgent, or Auckland (as in the theatre industry) has had a strong pull.
Well, no more. As of Spring we have at least two Wellington artist-run spaces, Meanwhile and Play_station. Then there’s Tory Street Studios a new set of inner-city artist studios with exhibition space, above 17 Tory Street.
Conveniently sited in Victoria Street close to City Gallery, next to Wellington police station and below Family Planning Meanwhile is being run by Massey grads Jesse Bowling, Jordana Bragg and Callum Devlin. Founding support came from Auckland’s Club Mirage. It has a gallery space and a whopping nine artists working from studios out back.
Meanwhile has been operating as a window gallery since July, and will open as a gallery proper in late November with a group exhibition of the studio artists, Pool Party. There’s been a recent callout for proposals (just closed).
Current window show Tom Mackie’s ‘A Gift For the Walls’ Re. Presenting looks smart but the framed works prove very difficult to view through the glass. Either there’s a lost conceptual joke here, or the show is a tidy placeholder from this strong artist.
Recently I interviewed Callum and Jordana for Circuitcast (listen here) and I was struck by the comment that Meanwhile provided a place where likeminded artists from outside Wellington, who sometimes found the Capital quite unreceptive, could come and visit. Artists meeting and developing their work under their own steam, on their own terms.
The three Meanwhile founders first worked together on a grad show in an underground cellar space in tiny lane Egmont Street, which is now the site of a new artist initiative Play_station.
Visit Egmont Street and see the laneways gentrification effect now in full swing in Wellington. Egmont Street has had the planter and boutique hipster outlet treatment that parallel Eva Street has already had. It’ll be interesting to see how well these planters date. But for now I’m not complaining: every vacant below ground cellar should be an artist-run space.
Collectively run by Hugh Chesterman, Tom Hammar, Tyler Jackson, BENT and Kane Laing, Play_station have a one year lease on the space for exhibitions and also plan on studio space. Their first exhibition 10 August to 22 October Table Manners arguably couldn’t have been more dealer-land conventional: formalist painting and sculpture. But then it's true to a strain that reaches from gallery known Massey lecturer Simon Morris, Shaun Waugh and mid-careerer Patrick Lundberg through to a new crop of emerging artists.
Current exhibition Honeywell is a student show of moving image work. All three works feel strangely familiar – as student work most often does, still digesting its inspirations – but is strong and well presented. Extended versions of these installations will appear as part of the end of year Massey show Exposure (5-19 November) but there is so much to be said for works like these being given their own space, particularly. This cellar arrangement really works for moving image. Indeed, Honeywell is one of numerous exhibitions where Massey students have installed their work in galleries and space around the city (listings here).
Cannily using the far L shape of the gallery Kirsty McCormick with ‘I owe it to myself’ has inserted a projector into the wall, the light spilling through a series of seven suspended plastic sheets onto the wall We see last. So on first approach you admire a shimmering, spectral aurora-like reflection onto the wall above the projector, and an installation that could have been straight out of the Govett Brewster 1971. The actual projection sees the repeated edges of the sheets, as if this were an old overhead projection, with an array of filmed surfaces abstracted in the process.
Isabella Loudon’s rather effective work on three screens is an exploration of our gaze in the screen age, each work denying us an intimate relationship with the subject. In one Loudon’s is a small gif image afloat on a black screen, the artist jerking back and forth with a vase of flowers. In a second on a flickering screen the artist is observed looking off camera at her own screen. It takes a while with both works to ascertain that the work is in essence static and not some webcam stream. On the third screen we’re on older school sculptural territory, forlorn ripped sheets on a washing line suggesting a story that’s denied us.
Finally, as you leave there is Chesterman's single channel work which would make for a nifty music video work. From above we look down on the artist as DJ amongst a tangle of screens, drives and laptops on a green floor, opening up multiple moving image works from her computer library. Like the other two works this feels like another turn on the self-portrait, here the artist still filing through to consider what might constitute a work of art and what a childhood home movie.
As Chesterman titles his work, each young artist seems to be stating and asking: ‘I am who I am (who am I?)’