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Lowdown #25: The Tale of the Flying Chicken

Buckwheat Cowley. Photo by Mark Tantrum.
Installation View of Wetwang Slack. Photo by Angus Mill.
Francis Upritchard at Wetwang Slack. Photo by Angus Mill.
Losefa Enari. Photo by Mark Tantrum.
The winners of the 2018 Creative New Zealand Pasifika Arts Awards. Photograph by Mark Tantrum.
The politics of new NZ theatre, Francis Upritchard's 'Wetwang Slack', and celebrating our Pasifika artists: Mark Amery broadcasts the latest news and cultural tensions from across the arts in Aotearoa


Fresh Politics, new records

Auckland Theatre Company have launched their 2019 programme including welcomed partnerships with Prayas Theatre and Te Rēhia Theatre Company.
“These plays remind us what it is to be human,” Artistic Director Colin McColl writes at the beginning of the programme, “they hold a mirror up to the world, when the world forgets what it looks like.” And yet on that mirror as playwright Sam Brooks said on social media: “Seven shows - seven male directors and five male playwrights. In 2019”.

How do other 2019 theatre company programmes compare? The Court’s 2018/19 programme features two women playwrights and two women directors. But in Wellington, Circa’s 2018 programme has at least a dozen women playwrights and nine directors and they are welcoming submissions from professional theatre practitioners and companies for their 2020 programme. Next years programme is yet to be announced. 

Featuring at ATC in 2019 is Albert Belz’s Astroman which we think might have set a new kind of record, by premiering right now at Court Theatre Christchurch and Melbourne Theatre Company at the same time. Productions of NZ plays with major theatre companies in Australia are in themselves few and far between. The setting of an 80s video game parlour has been changed to Geelong for Australia, and the protagonist from Jimmy Te Rehua to Jimmy Djalu. Here’s Albert Belz this week writing on Pantograph Punch.

Albert Belz’s Astroman might have set a new kind of record.

Big news for ATC fans this week is the departure of Executive Director Lester McGrath, as reported in the NZ Herald. McGrath has led the company for 11 strong years, including fundraising the building of its waterfront theatre. From January he will be the new Executive Director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, an announcement that came far faster than we expected in the last Lowdown.

Sam Brooks meanwhile is premiering Jacinda at Auckland’s the Basement in November, set between election night 2017 and when the new coalition comes to power. Nice to see a young playwright dealing with fresh politics. It’s not Brooks' first play with local politics – Jacinda following Burn Her (reviewed at Theatrescenes) in August.

Kiwis Gone Global

Creative New Zealand and Arts Council England have both put funding into Francis Upritchard’s major project, the 30th commission for the Curve gallery in London’s prestigious Barbican - delightfully titled after an Iron Age archaeological site in West Yorkshire, Wetwang Slack. You probably haven’t heard of it, but then it’s not international rugby or cricket news is it? Or am I being colonial?

The impressive looking installation is on until January 2019, at the same time as Oceania at the Royal Academy. Curator Leila Hasham provides a great video introduction and there’s a good review at Apollo Art magazine. Timeout’s Eddy Frankel writes enthusiastically of it being "like every museum in London has been chucked into the Barbican’s Curve gallery.” Back home that British museological blending has been more critically appraised (Lana Lopesi last year), leading Kiwi in London Jessica Douglas to be apologetic in this Contemporary Hum piece about being a Pakeha writer critiquing a Pakeha artist for a multicultural English audience. Yet sited in London this discussion feels part of the work’s role. The cultural tensions? Part of the frisson.

The cultural tensions? Part of the frisson.

Director Pietra Brettkelly's documentary Yellow is Forbidden about Chinese designer Guo Pei (view a trailer or read NZ Herald review) is New Zealand's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 91st Academy Awards. It was the first New Zealand film to screen in competition at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Pacific Arts going from strength to strength

Award ceremonies do not come more joyous or better dressed than the annual Creative New Zealand Pasifika Arts Awards at Parliament - as Mark Tantrum’s photos attest. With great cultural and political representation they’ve become an important flag of the strength of contemporary Pacific arts. Inspirational performance artist Rosanna Raymond took out the $20,000 Senior Artist Award, while Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows and Tui Emma Gillies won the Heritage Artist award for their Tongan tapa making, Angela Tiatia the Contemporary Artist Award, and a special recognition award was given to Iosefa Enari for the great impact he’s had as a dance advocate, including founding Pacific Dance New Zealand and directing Pacific Dance Festival. Full results are here. Kudos to Pacific Arts Adviser Makerita Urale and the CNZ team.

“I think it shuts the artist down in growth… and the ability to shift work and change, and the perception of the audience” Angela Tiatia tells RNZ’s Lynn Freeman of just being labelled a ‘Pacific artist’ - a discussion we will likely hear more of.

"Just being labelled a 'Pacific artist' shuts the artist down in growth."

It’s been a big year for the Sydney based Tiatia, known for her work principally in video. Among an array of projects, her work ‘Tuvalu’ was purchased by and shown at the Australia Museum, she’s been picked up by dealers Sullivan+Strumpf, and won Australia’s Ravenswood Women’s Art Prize for ‘The Fall’: commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore, this piece was inspired by survivor accounts on the fall of Singapore at the end of the Second World War.

Museum Digs

The principle Watt St buildings of the Whanganui Regional Museum (they’re currently in temporary digs) will reopen with a completely revamped museum in January, writes Director Frank Stark in the Whanganui Chronicle.

No such luck for Tauranga which I visited last week, where there is still much wailing over the Council’s decision earlier in the year to not proceed with a museum while many artefacts lie in storage. The situation is beautifully covered in the October issue of a classy wee magazine Our Place (offline I’m afraid) available from a recently opened dynamic pop up village with entertainment space Our Place. Situated in the CBD close to great existing facilities Baycourt Theatre and Tauranga Art Gallery, it forms a great hub for a growing city suffering from growing pains.

A growing city suffering from growing pains.

Speaking of temporary, it’s long been a tradition to get artists to decorate hoardings around construction sites (that notion of artists being the weeds in the cracks in the paving...). More permanent public sites are welcomed, but it is noticeable in the main centres that councils  are taking the opportunity to create additional exhibition spaces, even if only temporarily. New in Auckland at Britomart is a works on paper series, with the first artist to feature being Tracey Tawhiao, as recorded by Idealog and republished on The Big Idea.

Juicy reviews, selfies, and more online news

A new work by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck is being added to the Christchurch Art Gallery's permanent collection. As Philip Matthews recounts, Mueck is fondly remembered for a popular show that ran between the two Christchurch earthquakes 2010-2011. Matthew’s feature is ostensibly about our public galleries reaction to selfie culture, but also provides interesting commentary across Christchurch: City Art Gallery Wellington and Auckland Art Gallery also know to utilise the lure of selfies in their galleries - visitor numbers soar when the artwork catches the public mood.

We’re not above good published gossip here either: Juicy Literary Criticism of the Year Award goes hands down to ‘Threesomes and foursomes in Titirangi’: the great poet Fleur Adcock’s reviews Philip Temple’s biography of Maurice Shadbolt for The Spinoff, and ‘sets the record straight about an alleged phone message she left for her ex-lover, provoking his (third) wife to throw a chicken at him.’”By 1984 I had no romantic interest at all in her rather shop-soiled husband,” Adcock writers. Temple has somehow conflated two widely separated episodes, inserted the wrong name, and created an almighty tangle!’

'She left a phone message for her ex-lover, provoking his wife to throw a chicken at him'

Will we see a flow of reviews of biographies which are fact-checkers by former intimates?

Marty Duda’s wide ranging arts platform on the web The 13th Floor is no more (although the archive of music, arts and theatre content remains). Instead, its sensibly relaunched, firmly music focussed has the same energetic plant, but with pruning.

In Takapuna, Auckland outdoor exhibition NZ Sculpture OnShore (raising funds for Women’s Refuge) opens this coming weekend, and we mention it here not for the inevitable gorgeous drone footage of the clifftop site, but a video interview with sculptor Dion Hitchens.


Want more of the Lowdown? Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here  to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.
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Image credits, from the top:
Buckwheat Cowley. Photo by Mark Tantrum.
Installation View of Wetwang Slack. Photo by Angus Mill.
Francis Upritchard at Wetwang Slack. Photo by Angus Mill.
The winners of the 2018 Creative New Zealand Pasifika Arts Awards. Photograph by Mark Tantrum.
Losefa Enari. Photo by Mark Tantrum.

Written by

Mark Amery

31 Oct 2018

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