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Lowdown #41: Controversy and Breaking News

New Akl Art Gallery director Kirsten Paisley
Artist and woodchopping champion Darcell Apelu
From Ane Tonga’s room with Ani O’Neill in The Room, Objectspace, image by Samuel Hartnett.
Mitchell Bright, "Dave, Reefton, 2015", from The Within Land series
Liz Breslin’s poems in both Polish and English in Krakow, Poland, 2018
Mark Amery serves up this week’s menu of breaking stories across Aotearoa’s arts media


News just breaking

Following the withdrawal of incumbent Gregory Burke last month, a new director for the Auckland Art Gallery has been announced from the interviewed shortlist, Kirsten Paisley, current deputy director of the National Gallery of Australia. Here’s an interesting piece on Paisley in The Australian from 2015, when she took up the NGA position. She’s not a well known name on this side of the Tasman but is credited with supporting a dynamic commission from NZ duo Jess Johnston and Simon Ward at the NGA a year ago.

In other breaking news the first 33 artists for the 2020 Biennale of Sydney have been announced, and a strong new theme that breaks the mould in Australasia major exhibition curation. Artistic Director Brook Andrew has titled the biennale Nirin, with a focus on first nation languages in the mainstream. Nirin means ‘edge’ and it’s from Andrew’s mother’s nation, the Wiradjuri people of western New South Wales. Surprising given the theme only one New Zealand based artist has been announced. And one familiar already to Sydney: Lisa Reihana.

Darcell and Liz in Residence

Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Te Tuhi have announced that Mount Maunganui’s Darcell Apelu is the recipient of a 2019 UK four-week residency in October. Forty years old and home to a range of sculpture, the Park is set on a 500-acre 18th century estate. It’s billed as the UK’s largest open air exhibition space, with temporary and permanent projects. It’s the first time they’ve worked with a NZ artist.

What you’ve got to love is that this part Niuean, part Pakeha woman is also a leading international female woodchopper –strangely poignant in this context. A 2014 work by Darcell was entitled New Zealand Axemen's Association: Women’s Sub Committee President. Previous works by Darcell have been across varied media and concerned issues to do with the body and identity.

In literary news, Hawea Flat writer and playwright Liz Breslin is the recipient of a two-month residency in Krakow, Poland thanks to a UNESCO City of Literature Residency Programme that includes Dunedin in its Creative Cities network.  

Pictured is one of Liz’s poems projected onto a wall in Krakow in both English and Polish. Krakow? It was part of an initiative in 2018 that saw Dunedin writers’ works projected there. Both Dunedin and Krakow have recently been designated ‘Cities of Literature’.

“What’s funny about having them in both languages separately,” Liz wrote to me, “is that the original poem extract was in English with one line of Polish. 'Wszystko tak jak trzeba' translates to 'everything as it should be.’ It’s kind of the Polish equivalent of ’she’ll be right.”

Controversy in film this week

In a week that saw the passing of the great Maori film actor and activist Anzac Wallace, there was good and bad media for the New Zealand Film Commission. On the one hand they could boast that cinemas in Aotearoa have Vai (interview here), Daffodils and documentary The Heart Dances: the Journey of the Piano the Ballet all in them concurrently. 

On the other according to Stuff they have claimed, after new documents were released under the Official Information Act, to have been kept in the dark about the status of a steampunk Western The Ballad of Maddog Quinn, which was never released and in which they invested $90,000. In film terms, a modest sum.

Getting strong reviews, The Heart Dances has further exposed the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s need to get culturally up to speed. For its 2018 Czech adaptation of Jane Campion’s film The Piano the company were unable to employ Māori dancers, and slow to deal with key bicultural principles when it came to working with internationals.

“It’s clear in the film,” writes Dan Slevin for his excellent Widescreen on RNZ, “that everyone involved has the best intentions but it is also clear that ballet in New Zealand has a long way to go if it’s going to be an art form that speaks to all of us.”

On Stuff last year cultural advisor Moss Te Ururangi Patterson talked about how he was on the verge of leaving the production four weeks out from opening.

"[Dancers were dressed in] plastic tikis that looked like frogs, the 'Māori' dancers were all wearing wigs. The piupiu were bits of little plastic hanging off, the dancers were wearing moko all over their bodies that looked like something out of a high school production,"

The documentary throws a cultural gauntlet down to the RNZB management team, who in 2016 received for the company from the government a significant 23 per cent funding boost, to $5.384 million per annum. They've gone some way since to address things. Patterson was commissioned to create Hine for their March choreographic season (reviewed here) which Patteron speaks about in this Facebook video. In her review of Patterson's work Lynn Pringle applauds the wairua of the company but makes the interesting assertion that ballet and tikanga "are diametrically opposed. We are left questioning whether they can be bed fellows."

Up it pops!

The phenomenon that is Pop-Up Globe is set to pop up all around the shop, in seven different centres, it was announced this week. Pop-Up has sold more than half a million tickets across its Auckland and Sydney seasons. and celebrated its 1000th performance in February. It now leaves its purpose-built version of an Elizabethan Globe Theatre to inhabit everything from proscenium arch theatres like Wellington’s Opera House to Nelson’s Theatre Royal.

How much the touring set and productions will provide the magic of the unique Globe experience remains to be seen. "We have designed an extraordinary set that recreates the atmosphere of our Auckland home theatre, including seating for some lucky audience members on stage, in the heart of the action,” writes artistic director Miles Gregory. The tour commences in Dunedin in June, and it notable for being the first large scale NZ produced tour of Shakespeare to the provinces since the New Zealand Actors’ Company took A Midsummer Night’s Dream out on the road in 2000. A company that sank after the gender-swapping Leah did poorly.

Making Room at Objectspace

Auckland gallery Objectspace, never shy of new exhibition models for the applied arts, has for The Room created four separate new temporary rooms within a room. They have been made for interior designer Rufus Knight, Te Papa curator Justine Olsen, writer Emma Ng, and artist and curator Ane Tonga to create their own very different types of rooms with others. This NZ Herald piece introduces all four, and Denizen Modern Living magazine took a tour.

Worth Checking Out Online

Lawrence Wharerau has been to all six Māoriland Film Festivals in Otaki - now a cornerstone film event connecting up indigenous film practice. He writes this week on the Ngā Taonga blog on how the festival has developed.

The South Island’s West Coast has long been a site relished by documentary photographers for the tension between industrial history and a verdant environment, and its dedicated, sometimes eccentric outsider residents. Caroline McQuarrie offers new views on such clichés in this thoughtful essay on the Photoforum site. She focuses on photographers who have all recently done Coast projects: Mitchell Bright (a portrait pictured below), Julia Johnston, Jake Mein, Hannah Watkinson and herself.

“Some might see much of what has been photographed here as dereliction,” she writes, “and there is always the risk when photographing in this region of falling into the genre of photography that celebrates the ruined, abandoned or deserted. However, that type of photography often plucks buildings from their context, from their communities. The projects featured here all celebrate community, drawing wider attention to an often-overlooked part of the country”.

In a welcome move Wellington review site Art Murmurs has moved out of its theatre comfort zone to review the visual arts - here on Briana Jamieson’s paintings at Toi Poneke.

Speaking of reviews Metro Magazine share this cracker on leading NZ circus company Dust Palace’s new show The Goblin Market in Auckland. Over 10 years The Dust Palace have built up an impressive company, with five works in their 2019 touring repertoire, and The Goblin Market having already toured in Canada.

It’s high time I introduced you to Art New Zealand editor William Dart’s excellent half hour review of “rock, pop, country, folk and beyond” on RNZ New Horizons. Dart deserves kudos for endurance – his reviewing for RNZ goes back to the 1970s, and he’s been Art New Zealand editor since 1983.

Finally following last Lowdown’s piece on the arrival of Ron Mueck’s sculpture ‘chicken/man’ at Christchurch Art Gallery, here’s a great wee film the gallery have made of the work’s creation.


Image credits, from the top:
New Auckland Art Gallery director Kirsten Paisley (image supplied).
Artist and woodchopping champion Darcell Apelu (image supplied).
Liz Breslin’s poems in both Polish and English in Krakow, Poland, 2018
From Ane Tonga’s room with Ani O’Neill in The Room, Objectspace, image by Samuel Hartnett.
Mitchell Bright, "Dave, Reefton, 2015", from The Within Land series

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Written by

Mark Amery

9 Apr 2019

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