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Lowdown: Big Announcements & New Gigs For NZ Creatives

20 Jul 2023

A plethora of local artists, performers, writers and creative minds have big news to share this week - we bring you what you need to know and celebrate.

What's the WORD

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There's a strong sense of self in the 2023 line-up for WORD Christchurch (23-27 August) announced this week.

There's the usual variety of topics and genres spread across the 130+ writers, thinkers, poets and performers in over 80 events (more than 20% of which are free events) but local talent is at the heart of it all.

WORD's Programme Lead Kiran Dass told The Lowdown "So much of the programme is Ōtautahi specific. One of my personal favourite sessions in the programme Whaia Te Ara o te Kareao: Follow the Path of the Kareao has members of the Ngāi Tahu Archive team and Te Pae Kōrako (Ngāi Tahu Archive Advisory Committee) delve into and speak about the rich pickings of taonga from the Ngāi Tahu Archives. 

"These tell the stories of Ōtautahi's mana whenua.

"Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) who will be part of our opening event Tīmataka will be reading from her gorgeous new book The Artist which encompasses the Te Waipounamu origin story.

"We are a world-class festival and have international guests this year, but all of those international guests will be in sessions alongside our brilliant local talent and I'm excited to see what conversations and ideas emerge from that."

Dass has worked together with guest programmers-at-large Catarina de Peters Leitão (nō Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), Melanie Dixon and Audrey Baldwin to bring the programme to life. 

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Kiran Dass. Photo: Petra Mingneau.

"One of the biggest challenges is the monstrous task of squeezing in as much as we can into the programme. Aotearoa publishing is in an extremely healthy state right now with a strong combination of both established and rising voices. We want to be able to include them all but of course are limited not only by space but also resources!"

Among the stars of the Festival will be Tusiata Avia - who is set to be a revealing discussion with John Campbell to discuss her provocative award-winning poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book, as well as helming RISK! The WORD Gala with featured international guests to examine  moments when they have ‘taken a risk and lived to tell the tale.'

Risk is a theme tackled in this year's festival with WORD Executive Director Steph Walker explaining to The Lowdown "Words have always been risky business because they often hold beliefs. And those who share their beliefs are at this present point in time under the microscope. I wish this didn't mean literal danger for people! Taking risks though, that's incredibly important. We wouldn't have half as much great art in this country if people played it safe all the time."

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Steph Walker. Photo: Supplied.

And some of Aotearoa's top literary talent fit that bill, with in-demand Ockham winner Catherine Chidgey in the line-up alongside the likes of Nathan Joe, Pip Adam, Fiona Farrell and Carl Nixon alongside emerging talents such as Josie Shapiro, Khadro Mohamed and Airana Ngarewa (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāruahine).

Others to keep an eye out for include Cabinet of Curiosities with Emily Perkins, international guest Gabriel Krauze, Andrew Paul Wood, Melody Thomas and Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu) revealing their ‘weird and wonderful deep obsessions’ while AI vs Librarians will pit staff from Tūranga - Christchurch’s main public library - against AI 'to gauge whether their combined years of wisdom and experience wins when it comes to devising personalised reading lists.' Admit it, you're curious...

NZ talent has WOW factor

Another cultural cornerstone has laid out their line-up - with a healthy smattering of Aotearoa creatives among the finalists for the World of WearableArt (WOW) Show (20 September-8 October).

Of the 120 designers from 23 countries - 66 (from 57 different entries) are New Zealand based.  There are more than $185,000 in awards in prizes on over across six sections come 22 September - the mainstays of Aotearoa, Avant-garde and Open, as well as this year's additions of Mars and Beyond, Gold, and the always popular Bizarre Bra.

All their garments are under wraps until Awards night.

Christchurch dental nurse Deborah Bassett has three separate entries in this year's finals, with Auckland's Carolyn Gibson, Paula Jackson from Tūrangi, Wellington's Vicky Roberston, Hastings duo Kelsey Roderick and Rhys Richards, Auckland pair Holly Neilson and Ashley Scott, and triple act Taralee Freeman, Marie Wright and Zach McDonald-Wright among those with multiple entries.

Former Supreme Winner Gill Saunders is in the running again, as is Dylan Mulder, who turned heads last year when then-Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern wore his creation on stage (I wonder if Chris Hipkins has been practising his strut?).

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Auckland gardener Christopher Davis won the sustainability award last year (above) is also in the mix again this year - with a reputation for literally growing his own materials. He told The Lowdown "This year I was really nervous to see if my garment would be selected. It really pushes the limitations of a material and so felt there was a fifty-fifty chance. I was ecstatic at the news that it was accepted."

Davis has been entering WOW since 2011, with this his 7th garment to make the final cut, made from beeswax and palm husk fibres.

"Sustainability is paramount in my work. I utilise as much waste or pre-loved materials as possible and consider the waste that is generated from each garment. I feel like this year's garment has been constructed from a lot of what I have learnt from my previous WOW garment entries.

"I didn't know exactly how the garment would look or if it would function as a garment until the final stages of the construction process. So there was a huge amount of risk involved with this concept. I was so relieved to see the garment worn and functioning.

"Beeswax would have to be one of the most difficult materials I have worked with. I was trying to achieve geometric forms with a material that naturally wants to form more liquid shapes. It was a messy material to work with, making a mess of the kitchen and my clothes. 

"There were a few occasions I had to stop working on this garment as - when heating the beeswax for the mould - swarms of bees were lured by the scent, with some making their way inside!

"As this garment has been made from 100% natural materials, I wanted the viewer to consider their actions towards nature. Nature is resilient yet fragile. Humans rely on the natural world to exist. Are we doing enough to maintain a balance?"

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Geraldine-based seamstress Jo Marie Odgers is now an eight-time finalist (including last year's entry above) - but has missed out on 11 occasions as well so knows never to take the successes for granted.

She told The Lowdown about her inspiration for her latest garment. "You know when you’re shopping for curtains and they come around in the van, and you get the samples? They all get retired and deleted from the range and just thrown out! I used to work for a curtain company and just bought home a car boot full of them... 

"I moved last year to the South Island from Bay of Plenty, and they came too!"

But more experienced doesn't always mean more prepared...

"This is so terrible – I don’t really like saying it - the hand-in date was 12 June. Well, I started in June. I also make costumes for Miss New Zealand, and had just pumped out two of those so home was in total chaos, and I said to my husband, 'I might enter WOW' He laughed!

"So, as the deadline loomed, I didn’t have time to organise a courier....so I booked a plane ticket to Nelson, which bought me three more days! I was still finishing it when I walked out the door to the airport. 

"I jumped on the plane with my big box and at the other end, no taxis wanted to take me with this huge thing - then my taxi went the wrong way! I got there 45 minutes before the deadline - someone from WOW was waiting in the driveway for me!"

At the other end of the experience spectrum, Timaru hairdresser Felicity Bruce is a first-time finalist in her second attempt.

She told The Lowdown “It’s a dream come true. I’ve attended the show for almost 11 years and have always wanted to put a garment on stage, but needed the right idea to emerge.”

Explaining her process, Bruce explains “I was genuinely looking out the window, daydreaming, looking at the clouds. Next thing I was rummaging in my spare room looking for hair!

"I basically spent little bits of time on it every day for six months. I let the days dictate when I had time, but it’s so consuming – you’re thinking about it 24/7, and want to be working on it all the time, but need downtime to allow things to process and come up with solutions for things that aren’t quite working.

When she says hair, Bruce makes it clear - "My clients have been asking if it’s theirs. We’ve had lots of laughs about it. But, no, it’s synthetic."

All the finalists have to impress a very impressive judging panel - WOW Founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff, sculptor and Arts Laureate Brett Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), designer and Director of WORLD Benny Castles and Wētā Workshop Emerging Designer Award Judge, Sir Richard Taylor.

All go at APO

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The first new face at the top of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) has been revealed, with Diana Weir named as the next Chief Executive.

Weir brings a wealth of international experience to the role, with 15 years in senior positions in performing arts organisations in Canada, including as Executive Director of Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra (Ontario, Canada), Vice-President, Strategic Partnerships for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Interim Managing Director for Toronto Dance Theatre, the highly touted artistic home and collaboration hub for contemporary dance in Canada.

APO Chair Geraint Martin is thrilled to have landed someone of Diana’s calibre, stating "Alongside her love of orchestral music, Diana has relevant experience engaging with diverse communities and will continue to strengthen the place of the APO in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. She made an immediate impression on the selection panel with her clarity of vision and the warmth of her personality, and I know she will be a great fit for the APO whānau."

Weir, who starts her new position in October, comments "When I came to Auckland to hear the orchestra, I knew this city had something very special. I'm honoured by the opportunity to take on this leadership role, after Barbara Glaser's significant and successful tenure (17 years at the helm). I'm thrilled to step into this position, serving the city, its citizens, and APO's amazing musicians in collaboration with the board and Music Director Giordano Bellincampi."

Young on the move 

Paul Young. Photo: Kat Stefanova.

A big - but familiar - change for Movement Art Practice (MAP) with Paul Young shifting South to take over as Kaiwhakahaere/Director.

Young (Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga, Pākeha) co-founded MAP in 2013 (then known as REMAP) alongside Julia Harvie and Erica Viedma before becoming a lecturer at Te Pūkenga, Unitec in 2014, and served as Discipline Leader for the dance programme from late 2020. 

Young says, “After almost ten years living and working in Tāmaki Makarau, I am so excited to be returning to reconnect with my friends, whānau, and whakapapa in Ōtautahi.

"MAP Provides a vital space for our movement practitioner community to gather, research, and perform. What began as a nascent idea in 2013 has become a vibrant organisation that holds a unique place in the Aotearoa movement sector and supports Ōtautahi-based movement artists of all backgrounds to contribute to the national cultural conversation via a significant programme of classes, residencies, and events.”

He takes over from interim General Manager Virginia Kennard - who's off to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago - beginning the role in August. 

London calling

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Sorawit Songsataya. Photo: Bonnie Wroe.

A major opportunity has opened up for transdisciplinary artist Sorawit Songsataya - becoming the seventh New Zealander to be awarded a three-month fully funded residency at Gasworks in London.

Natasha Beckman, Director of the British Council Aotearoa New Zealand and Pacific describes the residency as “an exceptional annual project, which offers a young artist from Aotearoa the chance to work and live alongside three other international artists-in-residence, as well as nine London-based artists.”

Songsataya - who has held residencies in Stockholm and Dunedin previously and exhibited at Te Uru, Govett-Brewster and Auckland Art Gallery - plans to use their time at Gasworks to connect and develop a series of voice recordings with Thai and New Zealand immigrants in London. These voice recordings will then be integrated with sequences of 3D scans and photogrammetric visuals of stone buildings and public sculptures from around London. 

Sorawit Songsataya, Comfort zone (2022), Installation view at Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

“This will be a rare opportunity for me to connect and to better understand unique stories and perspectives of New Zealand and Thai immigrants outside the Asia-Pacific region. I am excited to get to know local artists, to exchange ideas, and to engage with local communities. The residency will allow me time and space to explore further different sonic qualities, to listen better, and to experiment with various ways human voice and sound could be presented alongside visual and sculptural component.”

Previous NZ artists in residence at Gasworks are Sriwhana Spong, Katrina Beekhuis, Hikalu Clarke, Christina Pataialii, Sarah Rose and Campbell Patterson.

Choral commencement

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Te Wehi Haka performing at the World Choir Games closing ceremony in Gangneung. Photo: Choi Yongbin.

The Olympics of choral music is officially in the hands of Aotearoa.

The official handover of hosting the next World Choir Games took place at the Closing Ceremony of the 12th staging of the event in Gangneung, Republic of Korea last week - with an audience of 12,000 witnessing a performance from Te Wehi Haka as part of proceedings, described as "incredibly powerful and deeply connected"

Barbara Edmonds, Minister of Economic Development and John Rosser, WCG2024 Artistic & Games Director, invited the global choral community to gather in Auckland next July. 

The World Choir Games is the largest choral festival and competition on the planet with 28 different categories, international and local concerts, workshops and cultural performances - and it's coming to the Southern Hemisphere for just the second time.

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Te Wehi Haka performing at the World Choir Games closing ceremony in Gangneung. Photo: Choi Yongbin.

Rosser told The Lowdown "We have just spent two weeks observing the World Choir Games 2023 in Korea and receiving the handover. We already knew the Games were huge and exciting, but we now simply can’t wait to bring this fabulous event to Aotearoa next July!"

He adds that singing in the Games “will offer all choirs and vocal ensembles huge benefits, including artistic growth, cultural exchange, international exposure and – most importantly – an unforgettable experience.”

Registrations to participate in the Games are open now, with earlybird registrations closing 20 September.

Auckland Museum's big digital step

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Auckland Musem is partnering with the National Museum of Australia and the Western Australian Museum to develop what it's labelling "a trio of majestic and ground-breaking virtual reality (VR) films" for exhibitions at the museums from 2024 onwards.

In what's believed to be a content world-first, the films are pushing boundaries in virtual reality documentary-making, using innovative technology such as specially modified drones and custom-built cameras.

The three museums have contributed $1 million in total between them over three years in partnership with Australian production company White Spark Pictures, who's created the million-dollar museum box office hit The Antarctica Experience as well as releasing Beyond the Milky Way this month. 

The VR documentaries will give museum visitors a 360° cinema experience in 4K resolution, creating immersive and memorable experiences - with the Kimberley VR Experience,  humpback Whale focused Journey of the Giants and Rangitāhua (Kermadec Islands) on the production slate. 

When asked about the partnership and the link with their Trans Tasman counterparts, Auckland Museum Acting Chief Executive David Reeves told The Lowdown "Auckland Museum couldn’t source films of this complexity and quality on our own, so partnering with Museums in Australia makes sense in terms of spreading the financial risk, access to expertise and additional investment opportunities. 

"White Spark Pictures specialise in VR film production and have been making a name for themselves in the Museum space for the past 5-6 years - having already launched a number of successful Museum VR experiences including The Antarctica Experience shown at Auckland Museum in 2021.

"Different segments of our audience like to engage in different ways. We are interested in the power of technology and developing innovative digital tools, interactivity, and immersive experiences onsite, offsite and online. Technology such as this helps us bring in a broader range of experiences for our visitors and share more of the world around us."

Rolling Stone awards

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The finalists for the second annual Rolling Stone Aotearoa Awards have been announced for the 20 September event.

Seven local acts - Princess Chelsea, COTERIE, Six60, The Beths, TE KAAHU (above), Fazerdaze and L.A.B - are nominated for two of the four gongs on offer, with the first six mentioned competing for Best Record (joined by Marlon Williams and Stan Walker.

Princess Chelsea, L.A.B. and Fazerdaze will contest Best Single in a broad field of nominees with Daily J (featuring Boo Seeka), lilbubblegum, SXMPRA (featuring Ski Mask the Slump God), Tami Neilson and Kaylee Bell. 

The 2023 edition of the awards see a wide range of genres represented across four categories: Best Record, Best Single, Best New Artist, and the Rolling Stone Global Award.

Joining TE KAAHU and COTERIE in the Best New Artist category are Georgia Lines, Hanbee, Luca George, Teo Glacier, 33 Below and NO CIGAR, while the Rolling Stone Global award will be decided between The Beths, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Six6, Bic Runga, BENEE, Mitch James, MELODOWNZ and L.A.B. 

Gigs galore

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Fazerdaze. Photo: Supplied.

Two of the above-mentioned artists are also part of the Elemental Nights line-up performing in Tāmaki Makaurau over the coming weeks (21 July-5 August).

Promoter Renée Hermsen from Live Nation New Zealand told The Lowdown "We’ve been trying to book Fazerdaze since the first edition, so ’m really glad to have her on the program this year. Another show I’m proud to have included is Bic Runga, presenting the 20th anniversary of her Beautiful Collision album. 

"As we are part of Elemental AKL, we do our best to ensure the shows appeal to a broad audience. The program ranges from hip-hop, rock, indie, alt-pop, seated and standing shows, and as small as a few hundred people in a Mt Albert community hall in, to thousands at Spark Arena. We also include underutilised venues in the program, churches, cinemas or community halls, so the series travels through town in a way."

UK rock band IDLES opens the series of weekly concerts tomorrow (Friday 21 July) with the likes of Swedish pop superstar Tove Lo in the line-up alongside locals Runga, Fazerdaze and There's a Tuesday. "For most artists - whether domestic or international - we book local supports. So it’s a great opportunity for local artists to play in front of big audiences." 

Hermsen adds "Live events draw people out of their homes and give life to our city, support a lot of businesses, not to mention the hospitality sector. Without any major events, we tend to just hide away in our homes throughout winter, and wait 3-4 months till spring rolls around. We all know how detrimental that can be for a city and for our own well-being. 

"To me personally, these kinds of events, whether film festivals, exhibitions, concerts, are the main reason to live in a city."

Speaking of spring/summer, Rolling Stone Aotearoa Awards finalist Georgia Lines is among the 20 Kiwi acts named in the first drop for Rhythm and Vines 2023.

As well as announcing international headliners Central Cee, Dom Dolla and Wilkinson, there's a healthy smattering of Aotearoa talent getting a spot on one of the biggest gigs of the summer.

Joining Lines is Gin Wigmore who makes her long-awaited RnV debut, Pasifika DJ BBYFACEKILLA, electro-pop rising stars Foley, Beccie B, Jess Rhodes and Jujulipps, with breakout performances from Nice Girl and and Christchurch DJ producer Emile.

With more than 100 acts expected to be included in the three-day festival, there are plenty more spots for local acts to fill.

Next: How To Ace Your Application For Creatives In Schools