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Lowdown #37: Riots & Rebels

Maria Vladamirovna 'Masha' Alyokhina
Shannon Novak's stained glass windows on Fullers ferry
Enjoy Public Gallery staff and board
Shannon Novak's stained glass windows on Fullers ferry
Ronnie Van Hout’s 'Quasi'
Te Anakura
Pussy Riot at hikoi in Wellington on Tuesday. Image: Olver Lovell
Stained glass windows on a ferry, shifts in Wellington, and theatre becoming a rather heated forum in Auckland and Christchurch. Mark Amery’s arts media Lowdown packs a punch this week


Art Activism

On Tuesday night, Maria Vladamirovna 'Masha' Alyokhina, the lead writer and activist of Pussy Riot, was gifted a mask from artist Ati of Ngai Tuhoe and Aue Designs at their Wellington Fringe concert (pictured). The Pussy Riot tour has amplified the work of local activist groups. The Wellington concert coincided with a hikoi on parliament carrying a petition calling on Government to intervene in the Fletcher Building’s development of Ihumātao for housing (the site of the oldest human settlement in Auckland), with Pussy Riot joining the hikoi. Next stop Thursday Nelson and then Dunedin, Christchurch and now, after visa complications have extended their stay, Invercargill

Theatre controversy and intervention

EQ fucking C is “a new play for this time and for this town.” So says artistic director at the Court in Christchurch Ross Gumbley, introducing Christina Stachurski’s new play opening 30 March. That title refers to public despair over their treatment by the Earthquake Commission. Here’s a video conversation between Gumbley and Stachurski, where Stachurski responds to the how the play came to be by reading out a terrific exasperated letter to the editor from The Press. Nice to see theatre working as a public forum. Speaking of which…

Oh, the critical conversation following the premiere of Sam Brooks’ Actressexual in the Auckland Fringe. Brooks’ conceit was to  write a new monologue every night for some of our “finest and most acclaimed actresses”, whom he also interviewed on stage. Brooks’ stated intention was to respond to his own complaints of senior male playwrights’ inability to write well for women, by testing himself to do it. For half an hour. Every night.

A show about the representation of women in theatre written by a man: good intentions clear; issue clear from the get-go. It was all rather further set up by Brooks being made out in the Dominion Post as proclaiming  that “most New Zealand theatre is rubbish”. Specifically, the writing of “women and people of colour”. Brook responded on Twitter to feedback and even made changes to the work during its run. But oh the response continued to run.

Kate Prior issued this lengthy intelligent response on Pantograph Punch (“a show doing the opposite of what it thinks it's doing” runs the subtitle), and Rachael Longshaw-Park has published a lengthy critical piece ‘Speaking for Ourselves’ on Theatrescenes, adding the collected comments of seven other women.

Writing on the interviewing of Jennifer Ward Lealand one night, Longshaw-Park:

“There was something incredibly disheartening about seeing the pillar of a community such as Ward-Lealand, a woman who has been a champion for union rights, an ambassador for Te Reo, and a beacon of hope for many young women in this industry, positioned as a mouthpiece for Brooks agenda. Nothing could distract me from the fact I was being meta-mansplained to.”      

On the positive side of representation: Theatrescenes editor James Wenley noted on Twitter this week a significant moment in arts criticism. Wild Dogs Under My Skirt at Auckland Festival has seen all reviews coming from Pasifika writers. This follows the request from the producers to editors "to consider, where possible, prioritising the voices of women, Pasifika, and/or women of colour". And so, in the NZ Herald long-time theatre critic Paul Simei Barton is replaced (and in fine writing) by daughter Kolopa Simei-Barton.  

Given the woeful and longstanding paucity of Maori and Pacific Island arts critics in mainstream media this is a most welcome intervention.

Moving Art

Shannon Novak has created a stained glass window for the Fullers Ferry “Torea,” commissioned as part of Sculpture in the Gulf on Waiheke. Looks gorgeous - video here. Good to see sculpture more integrated into place and community partners with this year’s big event – with some strong connections also to mana whenua and local issues. Stuff image gallery here, and plenty on the Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Sculpture in the Gardens in Auckland have announced their Summer 2019-2020 artists.

Publicly funded Wellington art project space Enjoy have announced they are set to move and grow. Enjoy shifts to triple the floor space in Cuba Mall’s Left Bank, close to Robert Heald Gallery (who late last year opened a second upstairs space). It is Enjoy’s third Cuba Street home in its 19-year history. Alongside two galleries, there will be a reading, gathering, discussion and research space, which a Boosted campaign has just been launched for.

Meanwhile, Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision in Wellington is “to move and reduce”. The announcement escaped us and (a search suggests) the rest of the media in the pre-Christmas rush. This purpose-designed national moving image archive, much-used cinema and once cutting-edge exhibition space is relocating to the National Library in April.

The NZ Film Archive moved there in 2002 under Chief Executive Frank Stark (now heading the Whanganui Regional Museum, due to reopen after renovation this month). New Zealand loses, well, a taonga. It was already hit hard by staff reductions after the amalgamation of the Film Archive, RNZ Sound Archives and Television New Zealand Archive in 2014. The name for the building (pictured), on the corner of Ghunzee and Taranaki Streets, Te Anakura was given to the archive by Dick Grace, a kaumātua of Ngāti Porou.

Remuneration and releases

The exhibition attendants for the Dane Mitchell project at Venice Biennale Post Hoc have been announced. The release stays clear of responding to controversy and concerns last year about lack of remuneration. In response CNZ have previously stated they will consider changes for future Biennale.

Here’s CNZ Communications Manager Jasmyne Chung when asked for comment this week: “If at the end of the project there are savings in some of the budget lines we would look to make a modest retrospective contribution to attendants’ living costs in Venice, as we did for the last Biennale.

“We will be canvassing a way to remunerate attendants (in addition to covering flights and accommodation) with the Arts Council as part of the budget-setting process for the next financial year. Any changes would come into effect for 2021.”

The opening date for Dane Mitchell’s Post Hoc has also been announced this week, May 8.

Elsewhere in Europe, NZ painter Judy Millar has a well-earned survey exhibition at the Kunstmuseum St.Gallen in Switzerland. Millar continues to exhibit and practice both here and in Europe. Auckland next thanks - survey exhibitions of Auckland artists are all too thin on the ground. Here’s an interview with Millar last year with Aimee Ralfini for Verve.

London-based Sriwhana Spong opens a major solo exhibition April 5 at a lead UK instititution, Spike Island in Bristol. 

And in international funding news here are new grants announced by Creative New Zealand, giving you a fair idea who in the performing arts is representing us in Edinburgh this year.

More visual arts news in Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and South Auckland 

Claudia Kogachi - suitably with a rendition of a competitive race - has won the NZ Painting and Printmaking Awards in Hamilton. Her Mom Wait Up and the finalist exhibition are reviewed by Peter Donauf for Eyecontactsite.

Christchurch has bidden farewell to Ronnie Van Hout’s giant five-metre tall animated hand Quasi, ahead of it re-appearing soon on the rooftops above Wellington’s Civic Square. Emily Writes on Spinoff had the decency to finally interview the long-serving Quasi.

Also in Christchurch: previously, exhibitions would take over the whole gallery. Public gallery CoCa have divided up their programme into four different offerings in four different spaces, and late last year launched a moving image programme. In this interview with Artbeat’s Warren Feeney director Romy Willing also states of their large front Mair Gallery: “It is just such an incredible and unique space in New Zealand, so voluminous and so vast. We are taking a view of it as being a bit like The Tate Turbine Hall or Carriage Works. We want to put large-scale installations in there.”

As reported on RNZ Upbeat this last weekend the Manukau Symphony Orchestra premiered a new work by composer Warwick Blair in South Auckland that not only features no conductor but asks each musician to play to their own interpretation. Blair, in conversation with host David Morriss, speaks of the work’s political intent as both egalitarian and anarchistic.


In film news Vai got this great feature on Women and Hollywood as it hits SXSW ahead of its New Zealand release, starting at Maoriland Film festival 20 March. It’s the successor to Waru now screening On Demand on Maori Television.

And speaking of international news a bit of a local news splash was made by Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt’s film adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeling receiving some strong reviews in the US. As Rotten Tomatoes records the fuller story was more mixed, if still solid. Missed it on release? Back home you can rent it online through Google Play or ITunes.


New Zealand Opera has announced Lindy Tennent-Brown as Head of Music for the Company. As previously reported, the company is having a significant change in its staffing and in considering its strategic vision. New Zealand raised Tennent Brown returns to NZ after twenty years working with major companies in the UK.

Former Auckland Theatre Company Manager Lester McGrath isn’t known for giving interviews so nice to see him in his new post heading the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s business talking to The Big Idea.

The RNZB’s recent new choreographic series gets reviewed at DANZ here. And - while you’re there - DANZ have pumped up their dance reviews: new and notable is this glowing review of Ross McCormack’s premiering work Muscle Mouth at Auckland Festival.

Wrapping up with more great content online

We had a great response to last week’s publication of an annual arts media directory, bringing together links to NZ arts content online. Additions flooded in, with the odd surprise. Like this great recent initiative: Motif Poetry is a spoken word video project on Facebook and Youtube. Founder Ben Fagan says that by this time next year they plan to have scaled up in terms of representation of contemporary NZ poetry performers.

And new NZ media outlet of the month goes to the independent community run Taranaki Community News. It even has a theatre review section.

Creative New Zealand have published their Maori Arts Strategy online.

Moving image organisation Circuit have published e-book The Time of the Now featuring interviews, presentations and discussion responding to artists strategies to test media representation of reality and its channels, and the expansion of the documentary form. The programme of commissions that accompanied it Truth or Consequences is currently showing at Ashburton Art Gallery until 28 April and screens this Wednesday night at Christchurch Art Gallery. Two of the commissioned works, by Vea Mafile'o and Jeremy Leatinu'u screened at the Berlin Film Festival and a third by Bridget Reweti Ziarah was recently shown by Circuit at the Rotterdam Film Festival

Art curator Heather Galbraith joins Double Denim’s Fanny Pack, while actor Nicola Kawana talks balancing theatre and gardening online in NZ Life magazine.

Images, top to bottom:
Pussy Riot's Maria Vladamirovna 'Masha' Alyokhina with gifted mask, and at hikoi in Wellington this week (this image: Oliver Lovell)
Shannon Novak’s stained glass window for the Waiheke ferry. Images courtesy of Fullers360
Enjoy staff and board of trustees outside 211 Left Bank, Wellington. From left: trustee Sonya Lacey, tia tuarua co chair Melanie Oliver, trustee Kate Ricketts, trustee Herbe Bartley, curator and manager Sophie Davis, publications and communications manager Simon Gennard, trustee Essi Airisniemi, tia tuarua co-chair Bridget Reweti, 2019. Image courtesy of Xander Dixon
Te Anakura – home of Ngā Taonga and previously the New Zealand Film Archive
Ronnie Van Hout’s Quasi says farewell Christchurch, hello Wellington
Shannon Novak’s stained glass window for the Waiheke ferry. Images courtesy of Fullers360

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Written by

Mark Amery

14 Mar 2019

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