Unfortunately sections of this text are missing from the print
version of LOG due to a glitch in the process, but the full
version exists below in all its glory. LOG would like to apologise
to Dan Arps for the unfortunate error.
SOME ENCHANTED EVENING
Things have been bubbling away in little old Christchurch for a good while. Maybe
it is in preparation for the Second Coming but there seems to be a proliferation
of large public artworks in line for the new millennium. There is Andrew Drummond's
upcoming Colloquium (a South Island Post-Object art symposium and exhibition/s
etc.) and his bridge that looks like a cross between one of those wheels that
rats run around in, and the part that they forgot to put in The Challenger. There
is Neil Dawson's giant conical thing in the Square. And there is Arts and Industry
2000, a sinister organisation where all the board members have ancestors who
got off the first four ships. Weird.
My favourite, though, is Lawrence Shustak's New Brighton Dome, which I found
out about while scouting around for cheap shops to rent, something that Shustak
had already beaten me to.
Shustak's now defunct gallery was located in an under-utilised shopping mall.
In archetypal New Brighton c. 1976 style, the space opened out to the mall with
large aluminium framed windows and was carpeted, floor to ceiling in grey hard-twist
pile. Low-key and sparsely decorated, the gallery contained works by Shustak
and some of his friends: a red neon sign that read SIGHT-SEEING; a collection
of 'tasteful' black and white nude photographs; photocopies of a seminal theoretical
text about why modern art is rubbish; and a replica of a Marcel Duchamp master
work, namely a buckled bicycle wheel crudely attached to a stool, daubed with
red and yellow paint, kept company by a collection of driftwood that had been
given a similar paint job.
Sellotaped to the shop window were a postcard and a computer print out. The postcard
was of the geodesic dome in Covent Garden with "transfer to New Brighton" scrawled
on it in biro, while the print-out showed a 3D rendering of the projected dome
in its local setting. It looked like a giant UFO, sucking the life out of the
once-prosperous weekend shopping Mecca, and assimilating the palm trees and red
Shustak, a retired photography lecturer, later told me that it was admiration
for Buckminster Fuller (the inventor of the geodesic dome) that had led him astray
from his happy existence as a freelance photographer, and into academia. It was
this heady world that finally lured Shustak away from his native North America
to Christchurch, and after his retirement, to New Brighton. The dome was the
solution to the problems felt by local businesses since the loosening of weekend
trading laws and the loss of New Brighton's Saturday trading monopoly. The pier
just is not enough. Shustak felt that after a poor start, where all the local
authorities thought he was a crackpot, he was making progress with his project,
having secured the support of former Mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt.
I like the idea, it's really big and that's all that really matters. I think
Speaking of romantic, my own little project: S*W*A*B presents is a series of
one night shows coordinated by myself and Physics Room wizard Emma Bugden. S*W*A*B
has been operating out of my minuscule studio, located within the confines of
New Zealand's longest running artist-run space, the High Street Project. Designed
as an alternative to something that already supposes itself to be alternative,
S*W*A*B aims to open up discussion about the function of the High Street Project,
and whether, after seven years, it still fulfils that function.
Being a series of one-night shows, S*W*A*B allows the artists a greater degree
of freedom by refocusing the space under a microscope for the observation of
social relations. Probably the best example of this was the situation organised
by Julaine Stevenson under the pseudonym of Seismogirl. As the sun set on the
horizon, and the beer at the adjacent High Street opening was dwindling, S*W*A*B's
doors where thrown open. Consisting of a light-box with custom- built S*W*A*B
martini glass logo and an old-style Formica and vinyl bar set beneath it, the
main protagonist proceeded to serve cut-price vodka and beer, quickly gaining
a clientele by draining punters from the rather austere installation by Suzy
Peacock next door. Helped along by a selection of honey-roasted peanuts and a
soundtrack courtesy of the Pet Shop Boys, Stevenson's opening lasted well into
On the topic of romance, or perhaps more the topic of the virtual reality of
genetically modified vegetables, I saw David Cronenberg's eXistenZ a while
back, and though I didn't like it much at first, I've now decided that it was
a stunner of a flick. Less noir detective Naked Lunch and more straight
to the point than Crash, eXistenZ is one of those movies that aim
to make you question whether reality is really real or whether you're just fucked
up. Gross-out special effects and fleshy globs of sexual innuendo are used to
good effect as the main protagonists stick rubber nipples into their auxiliary
anuses in order to have some genetically modified out-of-body experiences. It
made me feel really funny the next time I played Nintendo.
I also felt a bit funny after the opening of Robert Hood's show at the High Street
Project that was joined by Kent Bell in the lift space and Warren Olds in S*W*A*B
studios. Maybe it was the German beer that Olds supplied as some kind of gateway
in to his work. Anyway, all three shows toyed with the notion of virtual reality
in some way or another. Hood's relaxed effort featured some fetching op-shop
photos of horse races, and an ancient console playing a car racing game that
appeared to be powered by a row of tinfoil solar panels. Hood's work seemed to
be an almost-critique of technology that matched the hyperbolic speed of progress
with a nostalgic yearning for the way things were.
Warren Olds continued with S*W*A*B's short tradition of subtle antagonism via
his policy of only giving beer to people that either he knew or liked the look
of. Handbag Jungle consisted of a collection of designer handbags adorned
with urban camouflage in a tasteful colour range of off-whites, greys and eggshell
blues. Paired with this was a video projection of a jaunt around an Olds-modified
Doom level sporting a tasteful interior decoration in a similar colour scheme.
My sick little mind quickly joined the two things together, giving me an amusing
mental image of a muscle-bound character modelled on Earnest Borgnine, sashaying
around with a Gattling gun in one hand and a designer handbag in the other.
Kent Bell's lift space debut was another stunner, playing upon the space's previous
incarnation. Bell's deceptively simple video managed to hold my attention almost
long enough for me to forget who I was or what I was doing there. Shot in one
take on an extremely lo-budget camera, and displayed on a 14 inch monitor on
the floor, the two-hour video depicted the artist in a hotel bell-boy's uniform,
travelling up and down in an empty elevator, attempting to look purposeful while
self-consciously wasting time. Perhaps this is some kind of statement about the
role of artists in today's society, that of putting on disguises and attempting
to be some kind of minor-league public nuisance? The sheer banality of the work
caused my mind to wander. I wanted a monkey on his shoulder. I wanted him to
take a leak. Anything. Hell, I wanted him to GET BACK TO WORK! Goddammit.
Veteran sculptor Maddie Leach recently produced a site-specific work in and around
the former leper colony site on Quail Island. Pariah Tables consisted
of nine handcrafted wood and glass tables, each in a position that corresponded
with the location of a particular leper's cottage, and refers to their caregivers'
daily practice of leaving food on a table in order to avoid actual contact.
Personally, I found that the opening was the most interesting thing about the
work. The sunny Sunday picnic on an old colony site had a weird edge that I don't
think the tables themselves had. Due to their considered sculptural construction,
they functioned as formalist aesthetic art objects and, as such, were quite pretty.
But they neither functioned as actual picnic tables, nor did they offer much
of a way in. Had I not already known about the history of the site. The other
thing I thought was that the angular design of the tables was perhaps inappropriate,
leprosy being a disease that destroys the nerves just under the skin, leaving
the leper extremely vulnerable in the occurrence of a minor cut or scratch.
I guess that since the lepers are now long gone the tables were actually meant
for us as a reminder of our history, but I think this would have been a more
potent work if the tables had been functional rather than dry aestheticised surrogates.
I can't help but think that they lacked a little of the quirky humour that has
characterised Leech's work in the past and that this seriousness might have something
to do with her being back at art school.
On the topic of lacking humour, the Robert McDougall has recently sunk to new
levels of mediocrity with a major retrospective of the legendarily bad tempered
expressionist PAINter, Alan Pearson. The show is much of a muchness, as Pearson
progresses from his muddy lumpy bright coloured phase all the way to his muddy
lumpy dark coloured phase. Much remains constant throughout his oeuvre: awkward
compositions, and a dark brooding temperament that comes off as a little apologetic
sometimes. There is a tendency in his paintings to cover the angry slashing marks
with delicate flurries that make the paint look over-determined and too planned
to really be an outpouring of angst.
One painting however avoids this trap, and I think it's one of the more successful
works in the show. Simply titled FUCK OFF POMMY BASTARD, the painting frankly
and energetically talks about why Pearson's English-ness rather than lack of
talent, has hindered him on the road to New Zealand art-world supremacy. Painted
at a crossroads between his bright muddy lumpy phase and his dark muddy lumpy
phase, Pearson somehow manages to use all the bright colours mixed together to
make a dark, muddy painting. As he is painting about something he is at least
slightly agitated about, rather than his girlfriend or himself looking like washed
up real estate agents, the paintwork is violently and un-apologetically slashed.
If Lex Luthor, Superman's arch-nemesis, was a painter, he would probably be Allan
Pearson. Anyway, this is Pearson's only foray into the heady conceptual world
of word painting and even then he has to revert to name calling. Talk about immature.
It makes me wonder not only about Pearson himself but also about our public art
gallery. Shows like these make the McDougall look like an old boys' club at best
and at worst a retirement village. Even the Art Annex, the supposed contemporary
wing, seems to be showing a lot of dead or nearly dead people. Let them die.
Anyway all that shouldn't matter for too much longer since there is yet another
major arts project that the city has thoughtfully embarked on. A scale model
of the Guggenheim Bilbao will be built in an arts quadrant car park and apparently
it will function as the new public art gallery. Featuring a curvy glass wall
with Gehry-esque fortress-like impenetrability, and prime views of the tramway,
even if the art doesn't get better, it's got to be a step up from the musty halls
of the Robert McDougall. I only ever went in there for the air conditioning.