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Log 3  -  - Writing

Auckland Roundup
Gwynneth Porter


Among other things in the last two weeks of October, Simon Cuming and Saskia Leek's Arken Stone of Thrain at Fiat Lux

New Zealand has a proud tradition of children's science fiction TV. We might have not done much, but what we have done we have done well. Which makes it such a pleasure to travel to Auckland, the setting for one such series, Under the Mountain, now lost no doubt somewhere in the New Zealand Television Archives, Lower Hutt (Avalon?).This was the story of two children, a boy and a girl, non-identical twins, who stumbled across a great and dangerous evil that needed fixing. This situation was of such import that they spontaneously developed telepathic powers, thus able to visualise the same things. Their avowed enemies were evil suited men [actually alien shape-shifters - they were big worms that had taken on human form - ed.], representatives of some invisible threat to humanity, or at least to Auckland. Their evil empire was situated beneath Rangitoto, one of Auckland's lovely volcanoes.

In Fiat Lux, Saskia Leek and Simon Cuming constructed Arken Stone of Thrain, a mountain with a pulsing ruby red light on top from corrugated cardboard and tape with a lot of gnomes (a bloat of gnomes?) lining up clear from the door to its base to scale its lofty, scary heights. The gnomes file towards the mountain as if hypnotised, overcome with desire. Each is the same sort of gnome - gnome painter -all the same 'cept for their painted skins (done by the artists and some children). Their poisonous colour schemes (don't eat me - I will kill you) in non-toxic school acrylics, are not of nature. The scene is small enough to make the viewing public into giants.

What are the gnomes doing? Wanting in, it appears. And apart from these wanting creatures, the silver-caped ones that perch on the mountains ledges, are they patrolling it? Drone attendants with certain uniform powers of the nerve-center? And what is inside the mountain? Is it really a weak-looking unsexy art-fag wizard of Oz muttering on a mental hamster wheel, "publish or perish, publish or perish"? Next year the pyramids are to be opened says Sandy of the Lotus Health Centre, and she is going to Egypt to see it too she says, so there will be one less mystery in this increasingly pornographic world - is nothing to be kept concealed? How are we supposed to process all this information?

Daniel Malone's accompanying Teststrip Micrograph for the exhibition, He's got a ticket to ride, hints that the Cuming Leek show is apparently to do with a theory recently advanced by an Auckland art gallery director at the opening of the Signs of the Times show at the City Gallery, Wellington about the supposed pyramidal structure of the artworld. We are given diagrams of a pyramid - artists, curatorial odd-jobbers, the public - and a story: "...careerism is a trip. Headlong into the pyramid, etching a well-worn path, your acid tongue sore from licking stamps... different people all start to look the same and they're all schmoozing for all these tickets... then we come to this place where nothing is hung, with plain white walls..."

Clearly, we live in dangerous times. And as for the future... Certainly it is the right climate for Science Fiction to be cultured, which we all know is based on our understanding of the past and present projected into the future. But made more interesting. (Which brings to mind a very insightful bumpersticker which passed me once as a teenager in Christchurch: "I only drink to make things seem more interesting.") This SF looks like it comes from a small, dull, remote place. Maybe two islands, one fractionally closer to Europe than the other.

Anyway, this fabricated scenario reminded me of that other TVNZ SF kid classic, Children of the Dog Star. In this show, likewise, a pulsing thing drove good people to do bad things in the name of something or rather. And it was up to the innocents to save the day in true grail questing fantasy fiction. And indeed the Fiat Lux mountain certainly has a Hobbit-y Lord of the Rings D&D Hugo and Nebula award winer look. And from here it is but a short leap to Thor type legend bands (Satan's jeweled crown, I have worn it so long...) with that attendant Men's Lives Destroyed By Pot, Part V: The Black Dog Years feel - And Golem, the evil one, walked away with her... The soul of a woman was created below... Come to the Sabbath etc.

These two gifted artists together have made a beautiful thing between them. They have have presented us with is something akin to sea monkeys that worked. Here is life schematised, a diagram fleshed out for our interpretation, forced by it flourishing there in the gallery, interesting (a quality not to be sniffed at today it seems). Here is a world that looks like it grew, tended and watered and in a dark place in clean poop - so very Auckland with all its insects and fungusy organisms - and died and froze the instant the lights went on it. Clearly something not meant for human observation, for if we were to understand this it would give us power we cannot be trusted with. Yes, all dead except for the pulsing noisy light on top - to warn model aircraft? To look like the red light off forestry centre terrain models or museum dioramas of historical sites? This show clearly proposes another model - creative visualisation taken to its logical conclusion in the face of careerism, the spoken word, and the void (albeit axminster).

Uncannily, David Rosetzky's screening of his video, Jonathan, two days before the opening of the aforementioned show features another gallery administrator walking with intent, well dressed, upwardly mobile, regarding formal paintings in a nice new big art gallery. It was set to a Depeche Mode soundtrack, the words "It's a competitive world" and "Construction time again" resounding through Fiat Lux. And the week before hand, more video was upon us with the staging of Communion: The Fiat Lux Video Package Strikes Back. This was no Moving Image Centre type of programme, despite its heavy conceptual bias. There was dancing, important information regarding mental health, pointers on mind and memory development, older horses and faster whisky and tears stupid tears, Souxsie, The Smiths, Nice Teeth, Alice in Wonderland, Mongo Santamaria, Snow worms, important information regarding the future, Paul John, and Gothic Melodrama. Plenty of bangs for your buck there.

Careerism rubbed up against art once again that October week at the Museum Directors Federation forum, Engaging Practices. And not just when the attending museum professionals sat politely in a circle watching the Pacific Sisters descend on them, harbingers of disorder at Artspace during an evening conference function. It was mainly because many of the speakers went with the "reading their papers to a well-organised a/v presentation" approach which was very dry when stacked up against what might have been possible given the header "the forum for artists and museums". However, three engaging characters saved the day - the suave, luxuriously, menacingly, nay villainishly dressed Peter Noever, the Austrian who wore no socks; James Putnam, senior curator (Egyptologist!) at the British Museum who looked just like Brian Jones; and my personal favourite, David Wilson of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Venice Beach, LA, who spoke of "philosophers of the infinite". Quite.

Gwynneth Porter
October 1997



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room