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The Fest Test: Heaving

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've come down for an exciting looking sculpture programme in the giant silos, but it seems summer programming is over. A few stray sculptures look lonely on the browning grass.
The outdoor sculpture stock is looking rather dated and unimaginative. The exception are the Buddha sculptures, their small forms a kind of peaceful zen punctuation amongst the large industrial architecture.
After taking in my favourite street scene and piece of public seating, Reo, outside the Central Library, I watch eels swoop over the Waipiro Trading Store in a Rangimoana Hollis video work featured in the library window.
Miniatures of the Auckland Sky Tower, St Paul Street Gallery at AUT, by Bob Van Der Wal. He's making casts here and then selling them at the foot of the Sky Tower, with proceeds to be gambled at the end of the exhibition.
Conspicuous by its absence from the visual arts programme is the Auckland Art Gallery. The main link is that festival featured artist Tiffany Singh has a collection of work with children and of her own in the education space.
The National Theatre of China's 'Rhinoceros in Love' is a play about young love: love is a dream, love is absurd, love is everything and nothing - qualities that encapsulate the production and script.
The Auckland Festival visual arts programme is strong, but there are many more events and exhibitions which don't feature.

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The latest Auckland Arts Festival blog from Mark Amery.

2pm Sunday

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.

We had the silly idea of staging our sixth form ball on the Kestrel. You could say it was memorable. In rough harbour weather, ball gowns went everywhere and boys and girls - getting their sea legs with a few illicit drinks inside them - threw up, over both sides. The windward was messy. The Dixie Jazz band played on.

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. Wellingtonians can no longer afford to look so smug. Stray kids, dogs and bikes are scattered across the various play areas, and nearby there are nearly as many posh eateries and bars as Courtenay Place.

I've come down for an exciting looking sculpture programme in the giant silos, but it seems summer programming is over. A few stray sculptures look lonely on the browning grass. The outdoor sculpture stock is looking rather dated and unimaginative. The exception are the Buddha sculptures (I've tried to find the artist's name to no avail), their small forms a kind of peaceful zen punctuation amongst the large industrial architecture.

So I hop on the Link bus up to the Auckland Art Gallery (struck by the fact that I can catch a bus around inner city Auckland for 50c, which in Wellington would cost $2).

The Auckland Festival visual arts programme is strong, but there are many more events and exhibitions which don't feature. After taking in my favourite street scene and piece of public seating, Reo (see image) outside the Central Library, I watch eels swoop over the Waipiro Trading Store in a Rangimoana Hollis video work featured in the library window. I troop up to St Paul Street Gallery at AUT. I find it closed (I will return) but in the window are miniatures of the Auckland Sky Tower and the materials to make more. The work is by Bob Van Der Wal, and on other days he's making casts here and then selling them at the foot of the Sky Tower (a scrawled note tells me that's where he is when I arrive). The profit from each day's sales will be exchanged for Sky City gambling chips, and before the end of the exhibition the entire proceeds will be gambled at the roulette table for double or nothing. Brilliant.

Conspicuous by its absence from the visual arts programme is the Auckland Art Gallery. Indeed, when I turn up one gallery is closed for a reinstall and the rest are all collection hangs. This strikes me rather odd. The main link is that festival featured artist Tiffany Singh has a collection of work with children and of her own in the education space, May the Rainbow Always Touch Your Shoulder. Like miniature shop displays of sacred and natural materials, ordered in a strata of intense colours, a set of small installations bring spiritual, domestic and consumer items into the same realm through an awakening of the senses.  It seems strange that her work is boxed away in the education room like this, whilst the elegant cavernous architecture of the gallery's entrance areas remain empty of festival activity.

The new gallery opens out beautifully to leafy yet formal Albert Park, a place that never fails to move me when I walk through. Auckland University is my alma mater and the park was our playground. I walk through on my way to the Maidment Theatre at the Uni to see the National Theatre of China's Rhinoceros in Love. It's very fitting that the festival has invited this theatre company to come to Auckland and present what since its premiere in 1999 has become a beloved play in China, particularly with students. It's easy to see why. This is a play about young love: love is a dream, love is absurd, love is everything and nothing - qualities that encapsulate the production and script. The young characters are stubbornly wrapped up in themselves, making it hard sometimes for this now 40 something to empathise.

A young Rhinoceros keeper is in love with a neighbour. She plays with his feelings like cat with mouse, and is with another. What ensues is a surreal melodrama. His friends form a Greek style chorus, offering us comic interludes that move from cheesy love songs to game shows. All are delivered smartly with a delightful theatre-game like absurdity, shifting rapidly. Much of the best dialogue and moments provide an intense witty surreal poetry. Like love, nothing really makes sense, and all is thrown into a fragmentary dreamworld. The image of the rhinoceros: stubborn - thick-skinned yet needing a mate to prove his worth - is a thread throughout.

Visually the work begins banally, with the stage setting awkward for the action, but transforms over time with strong lighting, a giant treadmill and a flooded stage from the halfway point. There is a strong unifying use of white and red material and transparent sheeting, which is transformed through water and light. A television playing static is on throughout. All these devices work to subtly underline the message that love is everywhere: in the air and water we consume.The final image of the young man's lover, bounded and gagged sitting on a chair on a bed covered in a transparent plastic shroud with water pouring down over her is arresting. Arresting but also disturbing - I struggled with seeing yet another cultural work where the woman is drawn as slightly mentally unstable: the anarchic element that must be contained.

Written by

Mark Amery

10 Mar 2013

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.