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Lowdown #16: Guest Editor!

28 Aug 2018
NZ wins on Edinburgh's stage; words and images in Christchurch; Oceania in Britannia: guest editor Emma Johnson brings us the arts news and weather from Aotearoa.

Emma Johnson is an editor, publisher and arts producer based in Christchurch. We're stoked to have her tapping the art wires to bring us this week's edition of the Lowdown. 

New Zealanders win on Edinburgh’s stage

Comedian Rose Matafeo took out Best Comedy Show and £10,000 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Horndog, described by The Guardian as ‘uproarious, emotionally intimate and feminist’ – ‘a cracking show’. Rose is the first Kiwi and the fifth female to win the coveted award at the world’s largest arts festival, where for three weeks some 50,000 people attend over 3,000 shows that traverse comedy, performance art and theatre. Sam Brooks talks about why her win is a big deal in his piece on The Spinoff.

Rose Matafeo. Image via Twitter.

Two New Zealand acts won Fringe First awards for new writing, selected by the Scotsman’s critics. Valerie, presented by The Last Tapes Theatre Company, explores family history and mental health by interweaving music and storytelling,and is ‘possibly one of the most unique and personal pieces of theatre made in New Zealand’ according to the NZ Herald. The Basement Tapes, an ‘intimate and spine tingling’ experience in the words of The Stage’s critics, was the other recipient.

Word smiths

The WORD festival kicks off in Christchurch on Wednesday 29 August and offers everything that a good festival should: the promise of discovery and debate, as well as exposure to new ideas – an experience that certain Stuff commentators, whose ire was ignited by Helen Clark’s addition to the programme, might benefit from.

New voices, established writers, politics, erotica, science, book collecting, indigenous narratives, gender and graphic novels all feature in the imaginative and expansive programme, which includes Scottish poet Hollie McNish. She explains why parenthood is worthy of literary exploration in this Saturday Morning interview. The Pantograph Punch team lists its top picks in an article where they explore the thoughts behind the programming with festival director Rachael King and guest programmer Tusiata Avia. TBI ran a straight Q&A with Rachael King, here. Lastly, for a look at the challenges and controversies facing literary festivals today, this Guardian article makes for good reading.

In other literary news, Wellington has been selected to host the World Science Fiction Convention in 2020 with George R. R. Martin as Master of Ceremonies, and on August 24, pubs, schools, libraries, beaches and trains rang out with verse in celebration of National Poetry Day.

Art and anniversaries

Ten contemporary New Zealand artists will feature in Oceania at the Royal Academy, in the UK’s first major exhibition of Māori and Pacific culture. Fiona Pardington, Michael Parekowhai, John Pule and Lisa Reihana are among them. Marking the anniversary of Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, Oceania spans 500 years but will also be a ‘revelation of modernity’, according to the Royal Academy. Coinciding with the opening this September is Francis Upritchard’s site-specific installation Wetwang Slack at the Barbican.

The arts and the city

Christchurch City Council, in conjunction with the Rata Foundation and Creative New Zealand, is working on a citywide strategy for the arts in a long overdue review, as Warren Feeney wrote earlier in the year. The outcomes of the feedback rounds, which closed Monday 27 August, will guide the creation of the draft strategy and, eventually, funding priorities.

The CCC states on its website that its goal is ‘to create a broad, inclusive strategy that covers all forms of arts . . . and makes sure the city continues to value its creative side.’ In the wake of Christchurch’s public art fund being scrapped from the latest long-term plan, some might be feeling a little sceptical.

One way of encouraging a city to value ‘its creative side’ is to present more New Zealanders with opportunities to engage with it.

In an effort to create ‘energy around this important strategy’ as its Facebook event stated, the Arts Forum was held on Tuesday 21 August to bring together the arts community and attempt ‘to present a bold, clear vision with one voice’. It quickly became apparent that this was not going to be possible, but one idea that attendees did agree on (including me) was that Christchurch should apply to be part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. The survival of the arts in post-quake Christchurch (despite a lack of traditional venues and in extenuating circumstances), and the key role they have played in the city’s regeneration, were suggested as reasons enough to do so.

Accessible arts

One way of encouraging a city to value ‘its creative side’ is to present more New Zealanders with opportunities to engage with it. Weaving literature into the everyday, The Commuting Book has gone live with its ‘Stories on the Go’ project, which runs throughout August and September. The not-for-profit group focused on bringing reading into public spaces is targeting bus routes. By scanning a QR code on a bus, travellers can read a short piece written by a New Zealand author –  current selections include contributions from Frankie McMillan, Charlotte Grimshaw and Rachael King.

The recently launched ShoPOP project has brought art to empty shop fronts in Christchurch and marks a shift in the rebuild – the vacant spaces in need of activation are now located in new buildings, not on empty sites. Artistic duo Shades Arcade has created a kinetic  digital installation of swirling pompoms; artists Audrey Baldwin and Khye Hitchcock have created a series of colourful dioramas that invite passers-by ‘to view the everyday with a sense of humour and childlike wonder.’

Shade Arcade: The Pompoms. 2018.

Coming and goings

Footnote New Zealand Dance is touring its double bill of contemporary dance, Balancing Point, featuring works by Zahra Killeen-Chance and collaborative duo Eliza Sanders and James O'Hara. Having visited Wellington and Christchurch it is heading to Auckland’s Q Theatre on 28 & 29 August. Reviewed here by Brigitte Knight, she describes its constituent parts: ‘the first low energy, slow, ordered and the second bright, wild and free.’

The Performing Arts Network of New Zealand (PANNZ) has several new appointees to its board, including Megan Peacock Coyle, Hawkes’ Bay Opera House and Arts Precinct Manager, as Chair. PANNZ is one of the new organisations to join the CNZ investment programme Toi Uru Kahikatea (Arts Development), having received $750,000 in funding with the remit to tour New Zealand work and internationalise its three-day industry event, PANNZ Art Market.

The multimedia Mexican artist Eduardo Abaroa, whose projects challenge structures of governance and power, has begun his three-month Te Whare Hēra residency in Wellington, offered by Wellington City Council in conjunction with Massey University.

Footnote Dance Company: Balancing Point. Photo by Caroline Atkinson.


The judges for 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards have been announced. The twelve immortals include experienced academics, writers, curators and a bookseller. Submissions for books published between 1 January and 31 August 2018 will close September 10, with the second round of submissions opening the day after.  Information for entry is found here.

And finally, Professor Derek Lardelli, known as New Zealand’s finest tā moko artist, will receive the prestigious ‘Keeper of Tradition’ award at the Waiata Māori Music Awards in Hastings next month.

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