Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 9 - Lists
Log 9 - Lists

Christchurch Roundup
Dan Arps


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.


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 brick planters.

Geodesic Dome

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 it's romantic.

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 the evening...Romantic.

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.

Dan Arps
Summer 2000



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room