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Lowdown #30: Good art is good for you

Work Do, Basement Theatre
NZ Dance Company 2018
The Beths
Yona Lee, In Transit, 2018
Kazu Nakagawa, Carving Water Painting Voice
Kate Powell brings us the latest science, international news and internal affairs from Aotearoa’s finest minds across music, dance, visual arts and theatre.


Arts and Wellbeing – isn’t it obvious?

Last week, former President of the New Zealand Books Council and Arts Foundation Trustee Neil Plimmer penned a compelling op-ed for Stuff. Observing the push by political leaders towards a wellbeing policy, Plimmer argues it’s crucial we remember the contributions of the arts - and he has the evidence to back it up. Research shows that music, for example, can help slow dementia. In Quebec, a project has doctors prescribing free museum trips to patients, saying that “there is more and more scientific proof that art therapy is good for your physical health.” Plimmer concludes, If New Zealand is to flourish, so must its arts.” Any lover of the arts knows this, and increasingly the science is on our side. But this isn’t the first time we find ourselves waiting for the government to play catch up.

The New Zealand Dance Company takes to the international stage

Interviewed for Radio New Zealand, Shona McCullagh, Chief Executive & Artistic Director for the The New Zealand Dance Company, discusses the perpetual challenge of balancing art and business. At the sprightly age of six years old, the TNZDC seems to be managing with poise. Before 2018 calls curtains, they’re making a second visit to Europe, specifically Luxembourg and Belgium. For an encore, a tour of North America in 2019 and a seven-date New Zealand tour in April, before returning to Europe again in 2020.

She also touched on the recent death of dancer Douglas Wright who was described as having “an indelible imprint on the cellular structure for generations of New Zealand dancers, so there’s huge grief but also huge gratitude.”

New Zealand music: Beloved locals and international acclaim

Cuba Dupa is as synonymous with Wellington as decent coffee and crap weather. Running since 2015, this free street festival boasts a high calibre of local and international artists. Between 30-31 March 2019, punters can check out the funky groove of Cha-Wa, described as “a New Orleans-meets-brass band Indian Outfit.” They will be joined by Touch Compass, New Zealand’s only professional integrated dance company, and a whole lot more to be found on Cuba Dupa’s Facebook page.

Very few New Zealand artists find long-lived international success. Lorde is undeniably a once-in-a-generation musical export. Rather than relying on trends and fads, she makes them, and the merest hint of new music sends the world into a frenzy. Last week Lorde did just that when she sent a fan newsletter a few tidbits about her musical progression.“I haven't started properly on the next record yet, and I'm not sure how long it'll be," she writes. "But I've been teaching myself how to play piano, and here and there little bits come out.” Whenever it is, a new release by Lorde will be pop culture Dynamite.  

Local indie pop darlings The Beths –after receiving rave reviews in Pitchfork and Rolling Stone for their sunny, hook laden gems- have found a fan in none other than Will Arnett. The Bojack Horseman star Tweeted: “The Beths: Must, must listen...and listen some more.” Meanwhile The Beths are following another star, releasing a 7in vinyl cover of Yuletide classic Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. All profits go to the Girls Rock Camp Foundation, which “helps girls develop life skills, creative expression and collaboration through music.” Profits from their Wellington and Auckland shows on the 14th and 15th of December also go to Girls Rock Camp and Women’s Refuge.

No longer has mere hipster chic, vinyl has clearly catapulted into the mainstream with New Zealand welcoming its first record press in 30 years. Holiday Records will open its flagship store in the Auckland CBD this week, with the pressing plant launching in February 2019. Not only can music lovers pick up their favourite album, they’ll be able to watch the latest band du jour get their songs immortalised in wax. Holiday Records co-founder Joel Woods, outlined their mission to Radio New Zealand: “Our main focus is to support the New Zealand Music Industry first and foremost, but we’d love to encourage international artists to come press here as well.” Here’s hoping, Joel.

Visual arts: Legacies, new exhibitions and artwork for a good cause

It is with great sadness I report the death of multi-disciplinary artist Vivian Lynn. Her oeuvre stretched across sixty years where she worked in a myriad of mediums including painting, book making and installation. Regardless of style or technique, her works were bold, unflinching and inquisitive deconstructions of what it is to be a woman, what it is to be human. Always railing against patriarchal systems both within and outside of the art world, Lynn was infamous for using her hair to create installations in the 1980s. Her contribution to New Zealand art, and feminist art, cannot be overlooked, and several of her pieces can and should be viewed in Te Papa’s collection.

The Art Asia Pacific Hui swept across Wellington, featuring everything from blindfolded music improvisation, to talks and ‘Zine workshops. A highlight was the day-long symposium at Te Papa where art makers, curators and commentators discussed “Diverse expressions of Asianess in the Arts.” A full wrap up of the hui can be found here.

Wellington’s City Gallery puts on consistently thought provoking and accessible art exhibitions, the latest being Yona Lee’s upcoming installation In Transit. The Auckland-based New Zealand Korean artist has made her name with site specific “maze like installations.” Running between 8 December and 24 March 2019, the installation marks the fifth in her In Transition series which has itself travelled through Seoul, Sydney and Auckland. Lee has transformed the Gallery space by creating three unique structures made of hundreds of metres of stainless steel pipes. The piece draws attention to the functional aspects of the gallery, while also adding new amenities such as extra lights, seating and a phone charger. You can read In Transit however you like – it can be funny or serious or confusing, a sculpture or a musical instrument (Lee has ‘played’ one of her structures before). But first you’ll have to see it for yourself.

The Mahara Gallery redevelopment design will be unveiled on December 15th. Designed by Athfield Architects, it comes with a $5.24m budget, a third of which is committed by Kapiti Coast District Council. The remainder is the responsibility of the Mahara Gallery Trust Board. Collectables Seeking New Homes launches the night of the unveiling with this in mind. Over 100 works will be hung in the gallery, before being auctioned on February 9th next year.

Support both local artists and a crucial charity this Christmas: Empowered Women Empower Women opens at Auckland’s Studio One Toi Tu on December 5th. This auction/art exhibition features artists at all stages of their career and at all price points. All proceeds will go to preventing the closure of Wellington Shakti Refuge, which protects migrant women and children experiencing domestic abuse. Find out more about the exhibition here.
Venice Biennale alum Simon Denny has a new exhibition at Christchurch Art Gallery, opening December 15th. The Founders Paradox showcases new sculptures and wall-based works. Denny’s exhibitions are often political, and not known for being light hearted. Here, he confronts serious concerns through the startlingly approachable medium of board games. Tasks like accumulating “wealth” or co-operating towards shared goals reflect tensions of individualism and collectivism.  There will also be several Michael Parakowhai, works on display in a nod to his influence on Denny. He recently spoke to Ellen Falconer about his inspirations and life in Berlin.   

There are only artists

E.H Gombrich said “There is really no such thing as Art. There are only Artists.” These Artists can, and should, be anyone. Lyn Cotton is the artistic director of integrated Christchurch Company Jolt Dance, who provide artist training, education and opportunities to people with disabilities. Creative New Zealand recently used them as a Community Arts case study. Cotton’s work aims “to offer meaningful and authentic creative expression opportunities for people with disabilities... celebrate the unique qualities of our dancers and to challenge perceptions of dance and take the glass ceilings away.”

Kazu Nakagawa and Helen Bowater join forces to create a stunning exhibition now on at the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Using installation and sonic composition respectively, they have created Carving Water, Painting Voice to explore complex themes of human migration and identity. It is complimented with a series of topographical maps created by Andrew Caldwell and poems by Riemke Ensing. Carving Water, Painted Voices runs until the end of March.

It’s that time of the year

Office Christmas parties are a comedic goldmine of politics, ‘fun bosses’ and awkwardness all tied up in a gaudy $2 Shop bow. Meanwhile, the current nostalgia for the 90s is alarming to anyone old enough to have lived through it. Throw them together and you’ve got Work Do celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Basement Christmas show, which doubles as a fundraiser. Written by internationally acclaimed comedians Rose Matafeo and Alice Snedden and directed by Leon Wadham, it follows Go Away Travel agency’s 1997 Christmas Party with a host of special celebrity guests each night.

It promises to be more cringe worthy than Creepy Santa, more glitzy than the Franklin Road Lights and provide you with more laughs than Linda from H.R. If you’re still not convinced, the New Zealand Herald has written a review and interviewed Rose, who explained the importance of The Basement Theatre to her career and to Auckland’s artistic landscape. Tickets always sell fast, so get yours here.

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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Images, top to bottom:
New Zealand Dance Company, Time. Image: John McDermott
The Beths, image courtesy the artists
Yona Lee, In Transit. Installation view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018
Kazu Nakagawa, Carving Water, Painting Voice, 2018. Installation view at NZ Maritime Museum. Image by Ben Journee, Side Project
'Work Do', image courtesy of Basement Theatre

Written by

Kate Powell

5 Dec 2018

Kate is a cultural critic and curator.   To date, she has held a variety of roles as a social media strategist, artist liaison, artistic director, and publicist.  Kate has studied at the Sotheby's Institute (London), Victoria University (Wellington) and AUT (Auckland).