The cultural life of Wellington doesn't get much crazier than this:
once every two years the calendar is overwhelmed by the simultaneous
occurrence of the Arts Festival (NZ Festival 2000), the Fringe Festival
and Victoria University's orientation week.
Orientation: February 29 Shellac played the Union Hall with support from locals
Seven and HDU. I arrived with Dunedin's HDU in full swing and sounding for all
the world like U2, or was it just me? I think not. A wash of harmonics peeled
off heavily effected guitars. Was the singer's posturing angst even inspired
by the great Bono Vox? While HDU tilted at the sublime Shellac got there. Kill
the Rock 'n' Roll mood lighting, time to get serious, white light, straight up,
Fugazi style. Kill big effects and production shmooze, all the passion that Shellac
delivered (and there was plenty) had to be wrestled from their instruments with
determination. It was painfully honest. They could take a song way down to the
mere hum of electricity and sparse prose without a snicker of cynicism from the
audience, a hell of a feat.
The Fringe Festival officially started on February 26. The number of performers
was up 50 % on '99. This despite the fact that competition made it difficult
for many acts to secure an audience at last year's Fringe. The guide for the
Fringe is a God damn headache! By the very nature of Fringe, you're not likely
to have heard of most acts, yet these same acts insist on wasting their three
precious programme lines. Instead of telling you what it's all about they attempt
to weave enigma out of the fact that you may not give a shit. All you're left
with is Fringe-guide-as-bad-poetry and a desire to revisit the Festival 2000
programme for its glossy pictures.
From the Fringe. RoTAction - the music ensemble of Aucklander James McCarthy
- played the University's new Adam Gallery. Constantly referred to as being like
From Scratch there are however some obvious differences. The most obvious is
RoTAction's playfully ragged sense of humour, something less likely to find a
place within the ritual spiritual veneration of From Scratch.
From the Fringe. Toasted was a series of art works by one Maurice Bennett.
This guy uses toast as his medium. The science of achieving different shades
of toast (uncooked through to blackened) is employed to create huge mosaic portraits.
The works obsessive novelty (and skill?) impressed the locals. The only really
amusing thing about it was that drunken revellers started to eat unburned pieces
from Bennett's giant public portrait of our beloved mayor. This caused civic
concern that the unwitting culprits might suffer polyurethane poisoning as the
toast had been treated.
The big draw card at the City Gallery was Viva La Vida: Frida Kahlo, Diego
Rivera and Mexican Modernism. Many travelled from far and wide to be disappointed
at how few Frida Kahlo paintings were on show. The exhibition was advertised
as the romance of the century between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, in a manner
that would befit the NZ Woman's Weekly. Perhaps feeling a little self-conscious
at the lack of actual paintings by the great couple the gallery filled one entire
room with dozens of photographs (or cheap laser-copies of photographs); Frida
kissing Diego, Diego kissing Frida, Diego and Frida throw a red fist in the air,
Frida and Diego enjoy the garden. Tedious. The main gallery upstairs was given
over to a survey of Mexican Modernism and provided valuable context for the works
of Frida and Diego - Modernism provided a canvas for reinvention during Mexico's
time of revolution. The smaller upstairs gallery was given over to contemporary
Friends and critics alike raved about let's op Bach - dance from Belgium,
and Adolf - the one-man play by Britain's Pip Utton, both part of NZ Festival
2000. Seems I missed out on two of the best. Instead I got pissed on at the Edinburgh
Military Tattoo as Wellington turned on the appropriate weather. I was briefly
distracted from my misery by the awesome presence of the assembled Scottish pipe
bands that opened the event. My exalted state did not last as what seemed like
an endless stream of New Zealand brass bands chewed their way through TV theme
tunes and goofy dance moves.
Festival 2000. We got down with the damn native at Cool Heat Urban Beat (USA),
a showcase of skilled dancers who take it to and from the street. At its climax
the DJ implored us all to "wave our hands in the air like we just don't
care". Hundreds of white middle aged men and women let it all hang out,
it was just too surreal.
Festival 2000. Somehow less surreal was Urban Dream Capsule(Australia).
UBC lived in the window of Farmers for two weeks. Most of us thought we were
in for some reality TV as performance art. Instead we got four children's show
hosts on Prozac. UBS hammed up the most mundane of daily chores until they were
robbed of all personality. They came on like entertainers which left me waiting
on visual jokes that never arrived. They just couldn't make good on the promise
of the shows attendant baggage as a show. On the subject, local entertainment
guide the Package wrote: "Today we made Pavlova" - and who gives a
Festival 2000. The only show to truly rock my world was Giulio Cesare (Italy).
The New Zealand medical establishment accused this show of exploiting a clinically
anorexic woman. How boring, puritanical and so totally unsurprising of them.
Giulio Cesare was a visual and aural masterpiece that at times had more akin
to Performance Art than Theatre. Some accused it of relying too heavily on the
saturation of sound, lighting and props at the expense of real theatre. Real
theatre as what? A cultural tradition and holy craft? Joint director Claudia
Castellucci explained to the local press: "Whereas the dominating theme
of Western theatre is still very tied to literature, our line, on the other hand,
is that of... a visual theatre which takes account of all perceptions. Therefore
there is not just an intellect listening to the piece but also a sensual approach."
In its first months The Adam Gallery has played host to many valued performers
apart from its life as a conventional gallery space. From Scratch after RoTAction.
More recently Otomo Yoshihide from Tokyo. It didn't take long for Yoshihide to
drive me and many others out into the cold night air: his frequencies were torture
and at volume too Was this the point? I did not bomb Hiroshima! At the Adam through
March and April - Joseph Kosuth with Guests & Foreigners. His Adam
show sees NZ as sixth stop in an international site-specific project. Kosuth
is here as visitor to play with NZ's bicultural language and in doing so provide
a wider context as guest/foreigner. A great idea but does it wash? Do the text-covered
walls really utilise the site or should this guy just write a book? NZ artists
get in on the act with the group show Language Matters, curated by Christina
At the Michael Hirschfeld Gallery (dedicated to art from Wellington, yeah! -
not before time) recently I caught the opening of Neil Pardington's photographic
show Elsewhere. Not as sexy as the invitation. Iconographic photographs
in black and white - Squirrel, Rat, Apartment etc. The appeal of the works' size
and succulent exaggerated grain did not make up for what they lacked as strong
images. Those in attendance were equally stylish. Prior to Elsewhere was
the group show Past Life: "Wellington painters explore traditions
of folk, naïve and visionary art". The esteemed collection failed to
surpass anything down at Pablos, the under patronised Vivienne Street gallery
dedicated to supplying an outlet for the art of mental health users. Try Pablos
for "folk, naïve and visionary art".
Also worth visiting is the new performance venue The Space in Newtown, the suburb
that resists gentrification. The Space is run by three members of the Wellington
Jazz Collective. They like all that unlistenable left-field Free Jazz and Noise
that doesn't get through the door at Bodega. Support The Space so it stays up
Time out. I apologise for not covering Wellington's dealer art showrooms but
you all know what goes on there. Some of the most collectable has been on show
at Te Papa's new Recent Acquisitions space. Unfortunately the work is hamstrung
by an all too desperate searching for the NZ identity. The show could be subtitled
'works by guilty Pakeha and angry Maori'. Our identity as New Zealanders is surely
more myriad and wonderful than the impression we get here.
From memory Wellington doesn't recover from festival fever until August.
Between now and then we have the comedy Laugh Festival followed by movie
the Paramount World Cinema Showcase, The Incredibly Strange Film Festival, The
Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Finally the International Film Festival.
Get some sleep you lot!
Bryce Galloway [Aries Horse] is the founding member of the performance
group Wendyhouse. Living in Wellington, he is an avid cartoonist with tenuous
connections to the art scene.