The Fest Test
Visual arts columnist Mark Amery returns to his roots and relives his youth as an 'arts festival junkie' to bring us blogs from Auckland Arts Festival.
"There will, I hope, be no regurgitated media pap from me. Rather a roving diary of shows and exhibitions across the city, with more than a few personal asides thrown in."
10pm Friday 8 March
I've just boarded the Air New Zealand 'night rider' flight. I expected disco lights, a little bit of pizzaz or, alternately, the equivalent of the 10pm train to Paekakariki, drunken businessmen and tipsy teenagers, but it's all very family and friendly. I'm flying home for eight days for the festival, friends and family. I'm not sure if that's the right order of proceedings or not.
I say home because Bucklame is my turangawaewae, when I'm not in Paekakariki. I grew up north, moving to Wellington following a woman in my mid-20s. I come back as often as I can.
Funnily enough, returning does make me feel young. I whet my whistle as an arts festival junkie travelling the other way: to the NZ International Arts Festival every couple of years as a correspondent for 95bFM and other media. Slept on the publicists floor, had dinner with Wynton Marsalis's band, stepped on French ballerina's toes in the festival bar, that kind of thing. This year the Auckland Festival publicist has shouted me a room for three nights in a hotel. Thanks Siobhan. I promise, dear reader, it won't impinge my critical judgement.
Before I had kids I used to immerse myself in arts festivals all over the shop: Edinburgh, Belfast, Christchurch, Taranaki and of course Auckland. So this return to form is to be relished.
There will, I hope, be no regurgitated media pap from me. Rather a roving diary of shows and exhibitions across the city, with more than a few personal asides thrown in.
Carla Van Zon's programme looks great. I'm looking forward to crossing the visual and performing arts with wanton abandon.
We're now airborne and there is actually a pretty snazzy crimson light strip running down the roof panels of the cabin. Where's the drinks trolley?
Pity it takes to page 111 of the Kia Ora inflight magazine, past the reams of paper devoted to travel, consumer items and business, to find a small Auckland Arts Festival overview story. It makes the festival programme look like literature. Yep festival pap: "cultural feast", "starting with a bang", "spoiled for choice", "extravaganza" etc. Really, these stories could be dialed in from anywhere. When will we editorially grow up? What about arts features that really engage with a city's issues and sense of place?
Meantime here come the boiled sweets.
The Ballad - 11am Saturday 9 March
The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk is actually a beautiful companion piece to Bruce Mason's own monologue of memories of childhood. A smart piece of programming to have it here, and a trip to Takapuna the perfect festival experience.
Cars and Scoria - 3pm Saturday 9 March
Props to Te Tuhi on the opening function front. First, director James McCarthy does his admirably short speech with a megaphone (fitting with the political directness of the work of Santiago Sierra, Destroyed Word we have come to see) and secondly, they've created their own Te Tuhi homebrew for the occasion. Very good straight from the bottle.
The View Out My Window - 8am Sunday 10 March
At Q Theatre, the stunning new addition in my window landscape, next to the Basement and Town Hall, the Kila Kokonut Krew bring back memories of the Dawn Raids with their musical The Factory. Sharp and strong as a tack, it has been immaculately reworked for the Festival since its debut in Mangere in 2011, a credit to the Krew's growth and the Festival's role in development. Tama Waipara and a crack hot funky band have clearly made a significant contribution to boot.
Heaving Rhinoceros - 2pm Sunday 10 March
Today I bumped into another old friend, the Kestrel Ferry. Built in 1905 it's the last of the harbour's wooden double-ended ferries still afloat. These days it can be found docked down by the heaving Wynyard Quarter and Silo Park.
I call this area heaving because in sunny weather like this there's a nonstop family party going on. I blame the council allowing my friend Chris Morley Hall, Head Honcho once of the Cuba Street Carnival, to play a part in its development.
Pacific crosscurrents - Monday 11 March 3pm
The visual arts programme's core is instead the Pacific exchange of ideas and imagery, the melding of art-forms and the way the past informs present and future. I have written previously in this blog of Kila Kokonut Krew's The Factory, the tale of human exchange that occurred in the 1970s as 1000s poured in from the Pacific to 'the land of milk and honey' for work. Real modern cultural exchange has taken much longer, and some of the country's leading exponents feature in is festival's programme. In the visual arts I think particularly of Jo Torr and Robin White, who both have significant exhibitions on.
Ducks and Bikes - Tuesday 12 March 9pm
I stopped in the Domain 'enroute' to K Road on my bicycle. Yes, thats right. I've given you planes and buses in this blog and now I move onto the bike. Soon in this piece I'll be alighting for some pedestrian activity. Swimming is surely next on the list.
As someone who this week feels constantly enroute, rediscovering my city, production En Route is clearly the show for me.
Art and Sport – Thursday 14 March 9pm
As the long shadows start to stretch over the cricket and soccer games on the green expanses of the Auckland Domain in the evening, I'm thinking about what art and sport have in common. They are both great cultural levellers. When you join a sports team you're often entering a society far more mixed than that from which you've come. Likewise theatrefolk come from all parts. I count getting involved in theatre as a teen - a hop skip and a jump over Grafton Gully from here - as a key reason why my friendships cross many different cultural and social boundaries..
A Rave - Friday 15 March 10.30pm
It's late, in blog time. But I'm in the mood for a rave. I've just returned from a lock-in in a Scottish pub up Durham Lane. We got given a dram of single malt on entry and then the doors closed, and the bar opened. It was, as described, a Scottish Ceildh that turned into a Scottish Kylie: from old folk ballads to karaoke. Everyone waved their hands in the air and sang repetitively 'There's only one Colin Symes' to the tune of Guantanamera, to said person atop a tabletop in his underwear. It was 9pm on a Friday night and no one looked remotely drunk.
Dom Rd is Bending - Saturday 16 March 6pm
Saturday morning and I head west, first stop UNITEC in Point Chevalier to present on the public art programme I co-direct, Letting Space, at the morning session of a symposium associated with the Rosebank Road project. This project is about art as an agent of change with communities and businesses.
Artists in charge - Sunday 17 March 11am
For the last leg of my week at the festival I've ditched walking, busing and cycling for that more traditional mode of Auckland transport, the car. Clearly I'm blatantly rebelling against White Night's beautiful and successful effort to get people into buses, but the physical extent of the programme for the critic is such that, even taking in an inner city loop, I'm doing some drive by tastings.