I have been back in Wellington after a year in Berlin, but I have
not been feeling well. I have been spending too much time logged on to
hard core binaries newsgroups. Even though my skin still looks good,
I think I am depressed. I have begun to fake orgasm during masturbation.
Something definitely feels wrong here, but I am not sure why.
I continually imagine that tiny objects, insects, rodents or other small mammals,
are attacking me. This occurs during episodes of kleinmorphobia, the rare
condition of fear of being small. I think my recent attacks have something to
do with the culture shock of being back in NZ. In Berlin (C/F LOG 6) a different
sort of smallness upset me, but the panic attack at The Matterhorn was different.
It was more subtle, abstract and highly political. It was cultural smallness.
It is surprisingly difficult to detect unless one spends lots of time abroad.
Like the paranoiac male form of penile obsession, there is the optimistic fantasy
that the object in question is a lot bigger and more potent than it actually
Absolution Ritual in The Matterhorn
Video Still by Terrence Handscomb
The Matterhorn is possibly the worst place in Wellington to suffer culture shock.
I went upstairs and emptied both my stomach and bowel. Maybe the involuntary
vomiting was caused by a pathogen I ingested while I was away, but to be perfectly
honest, I have a reactive tendency to punish myself when I feel powerless. It
all started when I found the Leap of Faith publication in The Matterhorn
along with the Toi Toi Toi discussion at the Engaged Signal forum
at the Govett-Brewster. There has always been something quite suspect about the
way we construe our international cultural arts image at home. The rhetorical
peddling of Toi Toi Toi is no exception.
Much of the discussion at Engaged Signal focused on the claims that because
the NZ art in exhibitions such as Toi Toi Toi in Kassel and Cultural
Safety in Aachen has had considerable impact, NZ art is internationally strong.
The purported success of these shows must demonstrate to those NZ arts institutions
that fail to address contemporary NZ arts in their curatorial programmes that
they are making gross strategic errors. By initiating programmes that popularise
arts culture, or by heavily marketing franchised exhibitions such as Haring and
Star Trek to increasing vernacular audiences, demonstrates that the institutions
are somehow failing. The international success of shows like Toi Toi Toi and Cultural
Safety, both curated by internationally acknowledged German curators, continue
to emphasise these failings. At the same time, Toi Toi Toi tenaciously
demonstrates to culturally literate European audiences how important NZ contemporary
No wonder I am depressed.
The anti Te Papa rhetoric is getting tiresome and in my view City Gallery, Wellington
was written off ages ago. So why am I continually emptying my guts?
NZ art to German audiences is seen on the same level as say, Caribbean contemporary
art, contemporary Brazilian art, Central African contemporary art, South Asian
contemporary art. Simply not a major international player and certainly not in
the sense being construed at Engaged Signal.
Firstly, there is political pressure for publicly funded German museums
to curate shows of third/first world cultures or small colonial European
cultures in an
attempt to allay the mood (or the imagined guilt) of German cultural imperialism,
or claims of German right wing cultural nationalism. The show was initiated
in NZ with an invitation by CNZ to René Block to visit NZ after
being in Australia. Block would then view the works of various (the best)
NZ artists (which
he did) and make a selection of work for a show in Kassel. Admittedly Block
put up most of the money for the show, but I have already suggested why
he may have
Secondly Toi Toi Toi was not actually curated by René Block.
At least not to the extent in which it was being implied at Engaged Signal.
A politically "tight curatorial body" of NZ interests prepared a
list of works by NZ artists which was presented to Block. Without much further
Block then simply ticked them off. To suggest that the art included in Toi
Toi Toi was a major recognition of the most important art being made in NZ
at this time and the result of major research by an important international curator
is to overstate the process of selection. The line up of Toi Toi Toi is
so politically tight it would have been necessary for Block to be impossibly
cognisant of contemporary NZ arts politics in order to make a corresponding selection.
It is also fallacious to imply that the line-up is vindicated on deep levels
by strong international recognition.
Don't get me wrong. I like the work of most of the artists in Toi Toi Toi,
even though some of them are on the verge of being overrated. The sure sign of
reaching the famous NZ artists' mid-career plateau. However, it is also clear
that Leap of Faith is a strategically important show. Even though the Leap
of Faith public pamphlet (the one that upset me at The Matterhorn) is politically
over-engineered, the current curatorial programme at the Govett-Brewster is one
of the most important in NZ at this time.
I think I have been away too long. Either that or back in NZ for too long. Or
like Charles Bukowski, I think I just need a good shit.