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Lowdown #34: Daffodils & Theatre Bombs

Elisabeth Pointon as part of her work, Would You Look at That
Production still from City of 100 Lovers at Sky City
Film still from Daffodils
Film still from Hang Time: Gemma Knight, Steve Barr, Hayden J Weal, Nick Davies
Virginia King in her Waiheke Island Studio. Photo: Lucia King- Smith
Image from series Know Where by Wara Bullot
This week, Mark Amery investigates why not all is quite right with the Hundertwasser in Whangarei, reports the film premieres of this week and shares some magic online content



On Screen

Let the laptop shake: RNZ Music have announced they will  “unleash” on Monday a web series about local Te Reo Maori singing metallers Alien Weaponry’s 2018 three-month European tour: Rū Ana Te Whenua: Alien Weaponry Shake Europe. Nice to read that the teens took their parents along (looking after front of house sound and tour management respectively: “everything else that no-one wanted to do”). The series is a good indication of the new ways RNZ is moving into the busy web screen market with Kiwi content.  

Rū Ana Te Whenua is the work of Auckland TV production creatives The Down Low Concept, whose 2012 comedy series Hounds NZ Herald’s Chris Schultz last week proclaimed deserves to be considered one of the best NZ TV comedies ever made (here’s a trailer to match that claim). It’s now up on Lightbox.

Less well remembered is The Down Low Concept’s first feature 2017’s Gary of the Pacific, which received $1.8 million from the New Zealand Film Commission and $200,000 from NZ on Air to support online release (you can rent it, but should Kiwis be able to see it for free?). That’s pertinent at this time when the Film Commission are representing the Pacific at the Berlin Film Festival (here’s CEO Annabelle Sheehan on RNZ on Sunday), with a record  32 New Zealand filmmakers there. Last week The Hollywood Reporter published this Berlin review of Merata Mita: How Mum Decolonized the Screen.

It’s one thing to make a film, another in this age of Netflix to find screens online and offline that reach big audiences. Two new films get their premiere this week. First, Rochelle Bright’s hit music theatre play Daffodils, featuring reinterpretations of classic NZ pop songs, premieres as a feature at Wellington’s Embassy on Valentines Day, and has gained general release in cinemas from March 21. In the age of Bohemian Rhapsody and Mamma Mia it’s been billed as New Zealand’s first movie musical – an honour surely that goes to 1966’s Don’t Let it Get You.

Kicking off a seven centre tour of screenings meanwhile, new independent comedy Hang Time by Casey Zilbert features a bunch of millennials set loose in a vineyard for a lost weekend. It premieres in vineyard country Marlborough on Saturday. Hang time is the perfect title – “a new world wine term for the length of a vine’s growing season; the longer the grapes hang on the vine before harvest, the greater depth of flavour in the final wine.”

Exhibiting elsewhere

Excellent news from sculptor Virginia King who over three decades has established a strong distinctive public art practice in Australasia: “Exhibited at Venice” is easily assumed here in the antipodes as meaning at the Biennale but there are many associated events or “collateral exhibitions”. The Auckland sculptor will exhibit during this year’s Venice Biennale as part of the Global Art Foundation’s Personal Structures exhibition. She’ll install four works and a video in Palazzo Bembo, a fifteenth century building adjacent to the famous Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal. Here’s the news on her website.

Meanwhile Auckland photographic artist Wara Bullôt is currently one of 54 invited international photographers in the Royal Photographic Society International Exhibition in Bristol, the world's longest running photography exhibition. The selected images are part of her continuing series Know Where, which she began to assemble while studying at Massey University in Wellington.

And a different kind of elsewhere, Elisabeth Pointon developed her art practise working as a self-elected artist in residence in a luxury car dealership (here’s a work with a waving car-yard air dancer ‘Named Crystal”). She has been showing some strong work that plays with the big corporate signage gestures that encourage workplace and public wellbeing, and adopting them to promote herself as an emerging cash-strapped artist.

Pointon’s now taken that to next corporate-invading-our-airspace level by getting an Auckland aerial advertising company to fly a giant red banner reading ‘Spectacular’ around central Auckland in late January. She is exhibiting the giant banner and documentation as the first show at the recently relocated artist run space Playstation in Wellington, Would You Look at That. The work references the project Plane Text at the 2012 Art Basel Miami, which commissioned well known artists to create banners flown by planes. Pointon aims to highlight the inequity of who takes up large amounts of space (Pointon fundraised for the plane hire with a show with Wellington bands). Robbie Handcock writes on the work and provides images here.

Other gallery news: Hopkinson Mossman has closed its Auckland space and is focussing on its international activity and Wellington gallery (which opened a year ago). Also in Wellington, legendary vintage store Hunters and Collectors in Cuba Street (known for its creative window displays across from the McLeaveys) has opened an upstairs exhibition space, full of daring glam street flare. Latest show is Fever Hotel, a “sexy photographic exhibition” from Ashley Church (DinosaurToast) and Xoe Hall, who has done a painting on the stairs up to the gallery.

Theatre Bomb

It came as no great surprise: last week it was announced that the Auckland Sky City musical extravaganza City of a 100 Lovers was to close, putting a legion of creatives out of work. Playing daily since October in the 700 seat Sky City theatre with its eye on the tourist market, struggles with drawing a crowd were highlighted by the NZ Herald back in December, and promotion of the work was poor to say the least. You feel for the cast and crew: its reportedly been playing to near empty houses for weeks.

Dione Joseph provided a useful review on debut but it was James Wenley’s long-form look at the production on Theatrescenes that was revealing. Matt Nippert at NZ Herald has been chasing the story, and the “mystery promoter” who has “not been responding to creditor enquiries”. He tallies up the production as costing $10 million, making it he surmises “New Zealand’s biggest theatre bomb”. That might be true, but there’s a reasonabke sized book to be written on commercial theatre failures in New Zealand. Sinking big international money into theatre shows that go onto bomb has a history that goes right back to building theatres on the back of pubs in Auckland in the 1840s!

Still, as the Auckland Fringe Festival and Auckland Arts Festival get set to kick off, its hard not to wonder what effect such investment in producing and getting locals and tourists to our existing strong theatre scene in Auckland might do.  

Helping the Hundertwasser

Back in January Simon Wilson wrote for the NZ Herald on the development of the $29 million Hundertwasser Art Centre (and the Wairau Māori Art Centre it will hold) in Whangārei. The centre is now being built, due to open in 2020, but Wilson writes of the despair of the Whangārei Art Museum trust board chair Grant Faber about the lack of council support for the project (which only supported funding the development which has major government funding by a narrow margin after public referendum). Wilson reported Faber’s intention to “probably” resign if they didn’t get further council support. Last week as reported by The Northern Advocate Faber did just that, replaced by deputy chair Thomas Bliss. Whangarei’s council  is clearly divided, at a crucial time to make the most of this precious opportunity.  Fundraising continues, with ways to contribute through website

More Online Content

Wide Angle, is a cracker new online podcast series interviewing New Zealand photographers and cinematographers, hosted by Rachel from 95bFM Artbank. You can listen to the first three episodes with Qiane Matata-Sipu, Murray Cammick and Sholto Buck. In a nice sponsorship fit, the series partners with Nikon.  

All hail the council arts worker, doing their best to help resource local arts scenes and highlight with their local authority the important role the arts play in the local economy and wellbeing.  Having a strong arts and culture strategy helps, and those documents may be coming back into vogue. A 10 year vision for Whanganui has just gone out to public consultation reports the Whanganui Chronicle – easily one of the most dynamic regional arts centres in the country. The council arts advisor Riah King-Wall talks about the strategy as part of regular local podcast series So, anyway... here.  

We missed it when it came out back in August but its online for you here: an interview in Dance Aotearoa New Zealand’s magazine online with Prime Minister and Minster of Arts, Culture and Heritage Jacinda Ardern. Ardern talks of more community access and participation as “the very question” and that “access is key” yet the specific ways this is an issue isn’t elaborated on. An update on what the Ministry has learnt, please!

In answer to a pointed question from interviewer Anton Carter on her advice to the Royal New Zealand Ballet about “expectations of a government-funded organisation in their position” Ardern talks about encouraging career pathways. It would be good to see this government be clearer on its expectations with our best funded organisations in terms of meeting its arts policy – access being one of them.

Meanwhile this month DANZ has announced its trialling a weekly email bulletin. You can subscribe here.

Finally, over on Pantograph Punch Adam Goodall has written a fascinating, surprising if rather long consideration of the treatment of old people in the plays of Roger Hall, and various approaches of other writers. It's an intriguing explosion of playwrights' stereotypes and assumptions about the people they portray, and the audience they seek to reflect. 

Written by

Mark Amery

13 Feb 2019

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