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Phoebe Morris's illustration for google
film still: Hinekura, director: Becs Arahanga
Still from 'Golden Boy', short film by Alex Plumb
Simon Denny, Mine, 2019, installation view at Mona. Photo Credit: Mona/Jesse Hunniford. Image Courtesy Mona, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Opening of Vunilagi Vou in Ōtāhuhu. Image: Raymond Sagapolutele
Suzanne Tamaki, image courtesy of Vivienne Haldane. Via
Berlin wall in Christchurch
Mark Amery questions whether times have changed (or not) in Lowdown #49


The canary in the data mine

There are galleries and then there’s the world’s most significant webpage. As I write today Tuesday 11 June, Wellington artist Phoebe Morris has provided - my screenshot pictured - the lead illustration (the ‘Doodle’) to the Google search page. Morris is one of an international crew of women artists selected to promote the current FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup.

And, in a way, connected: Simon Denny has just opened Mine, his largest exhibition to date at the celebrated MONA in Tasmania. The exhibition acts, in the words of the artist, as a ‘theme park to extraction’: “the political and environmental significance of mining, but also the role of work and value throughout human history, and in the rapidly changing present.” Thinking of both data mining and mineral mining it includes “a giant version of a classic Australian board game; an operating shop-front for Extractor, life-size replicas of machines and products used in automated mineral mining; and a human-sized Amazon worker cage, home to the proverbial canary in the coal mine” Recommended is this ABC story. We await reviews. The wealthy have got till April 13, 2020, to get to Tasmania to see it.

Simon Denny, Mine, 2019, installation view at Mona. Photo Credit: Mona/Jesse Hunniford. Image Courtesy Mona, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.


A swag of support for new work

Creative New Zealand arts funding round results are always a treasure trove of upcoming arts news. And this round, CNZ say is their largest to date: $4 million towards supporting 136 arts projects. That’s due to upcoming changes also noted here.

Here’s a few of my pick outs: among a swag of  fellowships significant ones have been given to dancers Sasha Copland and Tupe Lualua; there’s a symposium at Artspace Sydney for Rosanna Raymond and FAFSWAG,  the presentation of work by John Miller, Lisa Reihana, Luke Willis Thompson and Kalisolaite 'Uhila confirmed for 2020’s Sydney Biennale (fitting its indigenous languages theme), a new work by Borderline Arts Ensemble for New Zealand Festival, and photographs by Bruce Connew of headstones and memorials from the New Zealand Wars. There are some good books coming: an Auckland Art Gallery volume on artist Louise Henderson, a biography of Chris Knox and an account care of Lemi Ponifasio of contemporary dance group MAU. Travelling: Hobson Street Theatre Company are off to the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam, and there will be an inaugural tour for musician Dudley Benson to Europe and Australia.

Pasifika art boom

Ema Tavola has been a leading force in assisting the development of the contemporary Pasifika art scene in Auckland since 2002. Founding curator of Fresh Gallery in Otara, she’s back with her own gallery, Vunilagi Vou in Ōtāhuhu, which opened at Queen’s Birthday. Tavola’s intention is to make contemporary Pacific art accessible to new collectors, with a monthly exhibition, sales and space for artists to come together, and a particular focus on artists from the Ōtāhuhu and Māngere area and women artists. Here's an interview with Ema Tavola just up on the awesome Coconet.

Opening of  Vunilagi Vou in Ōtāhuhu. Image: Raymond Sagapolutele


Crafting a curator

Artist Gina Matchitt is the new Blumhardt/ CNZ curatorial intern at the Dowse Art Museum - a much-valued position for the development of the craft.

Gina Matchitt, image via The Dowse

Judge Jane selects

Guest judge Jane Campion has selected six short films as finalists for the annual New Zealand Film Festival’s Best Short Film Competition: Nancy From Now On (dir: Keely Meechan), Krystal (dir: Briar Grace-Smith), Egg Cup Requiem (dirs: Prisca Bouchet, Nick Mayow), Golden Boy (dir: Alex Plumb), Our Father (dir: Esther Mauga) and Hinekura (dir: Becs Arahanga).

Film still from 'Hinekura', by Becs Arahanga, a finalist for New Zealand's Best Short Film

Still from 'Golden Boy', by Alex Plumb, a finalist for New Zealand's Best Short Film


Documenting greatness

Congrats also to the winners in awards from the International Documentary Film Festival DocEdge. Call Me Intern by Leo David Hyde and Nathalie Berger (trailer) took out Best NZ Feature and Best NZ Editing. It gives voice to the movement for intern rights. Camino Skies by Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth (trailer) took out Best NZ Director and Best NZ Emerging Filmmaker, following six Australasians on the Camino de Santiago walk.


Stuff and nonsense on public art

Does Christchurch really need more broken pieces of masonry? And what does the Berlin Wall represent to Otautahi? Two sections of the art decorated wall will be installed in central Victoria Square. They’ve been in storage since 2017 while the Council decided where to put them. The sections were a gift from a construction company - which raises that age-old public art concern: plan all you like for what you want your city to look like, but councils rarely avoid looking a gift horse in the mouth. The Stuff article also notes an early sculpture by Cantabrian Phil Price is to be installed in the CBD.

SCAPE public art director Deborah McCormick, left, and Christchurch City councillor Vicki Buck with one of two sections of the Berlin Wall that are
likely to be installed in Victoria Square. Image via

Public art has also provided us with our Most Ridiculous Art Story of the Month. News again care of Stuff that Ronnie van Hout’s beloved giant hand ‘Quasi’ (now about to settle on a Wellington rooftop) cost Christchurch ratepayers about $90 a day for its nearly three-year stay on rooftops. Owned by Van Hout, quite why this rental - of all the property rental costs the council makes daily - should make the news - other than its clickbait potential is beyond me.


Bookish birds-in-the-hands

The finalists for the Children and Young Adult Book Awards have been announced and children were part of the judging process. Awards will be given out 7 August.  

Last month Newsroom launched a books section under the leadership of Steve Braunias. He introduces it here and this week has announced he’ll be publishing a new short story every Saturday. As Braunias points out: “Consider it as a response or a corrective to our Age of Blather. Everything is so goddamned long.”


Nostalgia and great artist-run spaces

Dunedin has always had a healthy shifting artist-run space scene, but lasting the distance matters. Two enduring spaces of note have recently closed. A collaborative art space, None Gallery has recently ended. Established in 2003, Dunedin Sound have named it our longest running artist-run space (arguably, but it certainly had a very long life for a collective artist-run project). They collected memories of the space in this article by Fraser Thompson. Senior experimental musician Alastair Galbraith remembers visiting the building as a child when it housed a “dog food/horse meat processing plant”.

And in this also excellent piece out this week on Pantograph Punch Daniel Blackwell writes of The Attic, 2011-2018. There’s lots of archival material, documenting a key part of the Dunedin music scene of the last decade.

Other 100% volunteer not-for-profit artist-run spaces continue long term. Wellington’s epicentre of experimental music, The Sound and Light Exploration Society celebrate their 10th birthday this month. Back in 2009, they opened Fred’s in the old Chinese Mission Hall on Frederick Street and now successfully carry on as Pyramid Club. Here’s a Salient interview from a few years back about Pyramid Club’s background.


Times have changed, and they haven’t changed

As Kate Powell signalled in last week’s Lowdown it’s a significant moment for NZ theatre this week, as Prayas premiere A Fine Balance with Auckland Theatre Company featuring a cast of 18 Asian actors. Unthinkable 20 years ago. Kristine Landon-Smith (a founder of the UK’s Tamasha Theatre and an adapter of the stage text) talked to Lynn Freeman on RNZ. Landon-Smith: “Times have changed, and they also haven't changed. I mean, we all still fight the fight. This. It takes a long time. If small companies that are dedicated to communities don't exist, if you are not working 24/7, and also feeding the mainstream, then all this work can also on a turn of a coin disappear”

Powerhouse for emerging theatre talent, Wellington’s BATS Theatre’s 30th birthday is this year. And following their big party David O’Donnell has penned this excellent personal history of the theatre and commentary on how it is still thriving, published in international site The Theatre Times (where O’Donnell and others continue to provide theatre criticism).


Outstanding mahi

I adore that Auckland Writers Festival have put their 2019 sessions on Soundcloud for our listening pleasure. That is awesome mahi. Outstanding listening. Could our public universities follow suit?


Hamster time

A big review read on the New Zealand visual arts is the annual Hamster of short reviews from around the country, published by Christchurch’s The Physics Room as a challenge to “the lack of representation of contemporary art in established mainstream media.” The 2018 annual was published in May, available here as a PDF and in newsprint. And now there is a call for proposals for Hamster issue 5.


Fabulous Photos

New on Photoforum is a strong photographic essay by 19-year-old Benj Hartfield of his time at Scots College, selected from over 500 images with an essay by Max Oettli.

There are artist’s homes and then there are artist’s bathrooms. Here’s perhaps the most fabulous one: that of Suzanne Tamaki of the Pacific Sisters.

Suzanne Tamaki, one of the original Pacific Sisters. Image courtesy of Vivienne Haldane. Sourced via


Let the cash registers sing

And for those who missed the early ‘90s, the revival of one-hit-wonder hair metallers Push Push has begun, capped by a support slot for Kiss on their farewell tour in December. Let the cash registers sing. Here’s Push Push’s Mikey Havoc with Marty Duda at Havoc has recently finished his third stint as 95bFM breakfast host, a tenure that goes back 25 years to when I was still there DJing!


Finally in our arts media Lowdown, awesome to see the Bay of Plenty Times give a fulsome feature this week to one of the Bay's leading carvers, the internationally sought after Todd Couper.

Mark's screenshot of Phoebe Morris's illustration for

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Written by

Mark Amery

11 Jun 2019

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

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