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Lowdown #31: Game Changers

Lucy Marinkovich in Lobsters at Circa.
Label at Groundswell Auckland Art gallery. Image: Raewyn Turner.
Matekino Lawless
Charlotte Graham at Britomart
Mistakes and reinventions, winners and game changers: Mark Amery brings us up to speed with this week's news and content online from across the arts in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Speaking Up and Speaking Out

The spirit of direct action with performance art lives on. When artist Raewyn Turner noticed her name was incorrect on a label at Auckland Art Gallery documenting a 1973 performance in the just opened Groundswell: Avant-Garde Auckland 1971-79 she got out the red lipstick (the result, pictured from a Facebook post).

Mistakes do happen, in even our finest galleries, they just rarely get so exposed. In a rabid social media age our galleries are clearly even more on watch to make sure they get details right - before artists or their friends take to social media.

Groundswell is a significant opportunity to engage with a critical, influential period in the development of contemporary art. It sees the restaging of several performance pieces, this last weekend  Bruce Barber’s ‘Bucket Action’(on that note, here’s an interesting interview with Barber for Contemporary Hum last year), and next are restagings with new collaborators of three 1974 performances from Four Men in a Boat by Jim Allen, Philip Dadson and Kieran Lyons. Dadson and Curator Natasha Conland discussed the show on RNZ.

And if artists sometimes now publicly correct public galleries, they’re also using social media to correct journalists. Our ‘Best Edinburgh Comedy Award’ star Rose Matafeo wasn’t holding back on her reaction to her Sunday Star Times story on Twitter. “Very bad” was her assessment: “Best bit was when the writer asked me to explain what the Edinburgh comedy award was” Matafeo’s tweet sent off a volley of responses,  actually rather mixed in their support. There were those who suggested she should be more constructive in her feedback, while another called her churlish: “Better to ask than get it wrong.” But aren’t we all better for being able to speak out? 

Speaking of brave artists, the last few days has seen an outpouring of concern on social media, spilling out publicly over how we react to the murder of yet another young woman by a man (UK backpacker Grace Millane). New Zealand comedians were doing something about it for their own community already on Sunday night, in the wake of the tragic death in June of young Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon - raped and murdered walking her short walk home from a midweek gig. Comedy duo the Fan Brigade organised a star-studded fundraiser One Hell of a Comedy Show at Auckland’s Q Theatre, with all money going to Get Me Home NZ. There’s also a givealittle page you can contribute to. This will establish a fund to provide Uber credit for women and non-binary comedians feeling vulnerable needing a ride home - who couldn’t otherwise afford it. One of the fundraiser comedians Michele A’Court wrote a powerful opinion piece on the subject for RNZ on Tuesday.

Awards ringing in Change

The results of this year’s Wellington Theatre Awards are testament to how far the old pigeonholes of what constitutes ‘theatre’ have been thrown out in Wellington in the last few years - and at stalwart Circa Theatre in particular (who announced a diverse 2019 programme recently). Leading the awards were Meremere and Rushes, both at Circa and both directed by choreographer Malia Johnston - exceptional shows that vigorously broke boundaries. Also leading the wins were two Pacific Island plays that originated in Auckland, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (hitting Auckland Festival in 2019) and Still Life with Chickens.

Dunedin also had theatre awards this week but there was a sad note to recognising an innovative work. The last production at the Fortune Theatre An Iliad won awards for sound design, performance, and production of the year. The production brought together the talents live of musician Shayne Carter and actor and writer Michael Hurst.

Auckland Theatre Awards have taken a year off having an awards event, with the polite explanation that they’re taking the time to be a “more sustainable, purpose-fit organisation, which delivers an awards event that is worthy...” Sounds  like trouble at mill – and they’re currently calling for a general manager. Yet in a welcome, delightful Clayton’s manoeuvre they’re still going to give the love and hand out some awards, via a livestream on Facebook 1pm this Thursday.

One award-winning work that was a sign of thinking having changed at Circa the year before last was Lobsters (pictured). Two of its creators the dynamic duo and couple dancer Lucy Marinkovich and saxophonist and composer Lucien Johnson have been announced (as we go ‘to print’) as the recipients of the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency. It allows them to stay in New York “for as long as $100,000 lasts them”. Paula Morris has also been announced by the Arts Foundation at the same time as the recipient of one of our most prestigious literary fellowships, the Katherine Mansfield Menton fellowship. Paula heads to the French Riviera.

Major festival changes

Major changes for the New Zealand Festival. And it’s a cultural marker that finally the era of collaboration has been embraced at a high level over the singular artistic vision. Bess Manson at the Dominion Post goes into more detail.

No, NZ Festival are not going annual like Auckland Festival, but actually, yes, they are growing in different clothing. They will premiere a major new annual event for the younger set called Second Unit from 2019, in collaboration with Koko (led by Cuba Street Carnival dynamo founder Chris Morley Hall) and a creative team including the great Stella Reid, Benjamin Henson and Andrew Foster. “An immersive experience inspired by the world of film designed for a young, movie and comedy-loving audience who don’t often attend live theatre.” More detail next year. 

Secondly, they’ve created a new charitable company Tāwhiri to connect all the festivals and experiences that their team creates – a sensible new overarching brand it seems.

But the most significant news, I think, is that they are bringing in artists as guest curators to NZ Festival, rather than ye olde singular Artistic Director model. There will be three guest curators for 2020 and the first is none other than one of our most visionary and provocative international artists Lemi Ponifasio of Mau Company.

Furthermore alongside Tāwhiri's Creative Director and the programming team will sit two Artist Advisory Panels for the New Zealand Festival 2020 and the Wellington Jazz Festival. They say: “We wanted to open ourselves up to more conversations with New Zealand’s practicing artists in order to consider a diverse range of creative voices.” A few other large arts institutions will likely now be wondering if they need to follow suit.

In other breaking news

Enough Christmas trees! Artist Charlotte Graham was commissioned by Auckland Council to mark Christmas in a local Indigenous way by creating ‘Te Waiora’, a ground-based temporary artwork that takes in all nine blocks of the Britomart precinct’s pavement marking the pre-colonial coastline. The result are 24 hand-painted water droplets. Here’s the NZ Herald story.

Arts, health and wellbeing organisations have been omitted from the government’s Mental Health Inquiry report, reports Christchurch based Ōtautahi Creative Spaces which was established after the Christchurch earthquakes to support people with experience of distress. Ōtautahi Creative Spaces’ Room 5 studio is “an artist-centred space” - more on our site here. They won the Arts Access Holdsworth Creative Space Award 2018, presented by Arts Access Aotearoa earlier this year.

The new design for the redevelopment of Mahara Gallery, the Kapiti Coast’s regional art gallery has been agreed to. It’s by the well-known Athfield Architects and you can get a peek here. Athfield got the job after a Kāpiti Coast District Council-led selection process. The council have committed to fund a third of the $5.24 million budgeted cost. The much needed redevelopment has been long sought, providing a home for Waikanae’s Field Collection, with the original selected design for a combined gallery and library redevelopment scuttled a few years back. Things appear now to be back on track and crown investment is being sought.

On architecture, Andrew Patterson (the man behind that glorious Len Lye Centre) has been recognised by being one of only a select few architects worldwide to have a large monograph published by Thames and Hudson, Houses of Aotearoa. Patterson has plenty to say about the state of our domestic architecture in this RNZ interview with pictures.

We’ve been rocked by a fair few significant deaths in the arts in Aotearoa of late so let’s join Tauranga Arts Gallery in celebrating the living. With Whatu Manawa, they celebrate Lake Rotoiti based weaver Matekino Lawless QSM (Tainui), who celebrated her 90th birthday this year. Lawless started weaving in her late thirties. Now at 90 she is a mentor and advocate.

More content online

Sometimes it’s the stories about things that didn’t happen that good journalists need to dig up remind us of so we might learn. Here’s Philip Matthews in The Press on the innovative bridge that never happened for Christchurch’s Avon River.  

Portal to content on New Zealand artists overseas, Contemporary Hum is celebrating its second birthday  with 12 days of HUM, for which they've asked a few artists, curators and writers that have been involved in NZ art projects abroad this year to share their highlights on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

An even bigger treat from Circuit: Artist Film and Video Aotearoa, who are rolling out online screenings of their annual artist film commission series at the moment.

Finally, farewell to a giant in our cinema history Geoff Murphy. Russell Baillie and the NZ Listener did a great job in paying tribute, and put it online with Noted here, while Geoff’s son Heperi Mita penned a poignant piece on growing up with his enigmatic father.


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Written by

Mark Amery

12 Dec 2018

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