Make a big difference to The Big Idea.  Help us tell the most creative stories.

Home  /  Stories  / 

Mark Amery's Lowdown #12

31 Jul 2018
NZ detainees in Australia; gallery concerns in Manawatu; conversations with the male member; Christchurch ditches meagre fund. Mark Amery and the Lowdown #12: arts news and weather in Aotearoa

NZ artist gives voice to immigration detainees

Cushla Donaldson is channeling the voices of those currently held in Australian detention centres. In her new work 501s, detainees get to hack directly into a video work and share their thoughts and experiences, at Melbourne Art Fair this week. Organised with Christchurch’s The Physics Room, it is one of the special projects at Melbourne, August 1 to 5.

Current detainees (who include New Zealanders) - as well as those already deported from Australia - can text what they wish in real time onto a large screen. The work’s title 501s comes from the legislation that detains them: the controversial Australian Migration Act. Donaldson says the work challenges the silencing of the detainees’ voices as the Australian Government attempts to confiscate their mobile phones.

The Australian Federal Court recently found that the Australian Border Force could not mandatorily confiscate property - including mobile phones - from people held in detention centres. The National Justice Project successfully brought the case on behalf of about 80 asylum seekers and, according to Amnesty International, “enshrined” the right to mobiles phones for migrants held in detention.

Cushla Donaldson, 501s, 2018 (video, excertped still frame).

Suitably, this Tuesday night RNZ Checkpoint story interviewed New Zealanders in detention, enabling the voices to get further out there. Donaldson: “I think its time people engaged - and artists in particular - in the fascism that’s occurring. And not just overseas, in our backyard."

The Physics Room project (Un)conditional III also includes Ayesha Green and is part of the gallery’s bold 2018 itinerant operating model.

Cushla Donaldson, 501s, 2018 (video, excertped still frame).

Creative New Zealand

A great source for art news is the published results of Creative New Zealand’s Quick Response Round. The latest round of 132 grants include Eli Matthewson’s The Year of Magical F***ing at the Edinburgh Fringe; a new dance work from Douglas Wright M.Nod premiering at Tempo Dance Festival; the development of ambrotype photographs by Jasmine Togo-Brisby exploring the early 20th century Pacific slave trade; Jazz Aotearoa to develop a website for the jazz community; a musical about Sir Howard Morrison; the remarkable Little Dog Barking Theatre Company’s work Twinkle attending the sixth International Shanghai Puppet Festival; and the publishing of Thomasin Sleigh's new novel, Women in the Field, One and Two.

Thomasin Sleigh. Photo source NZ Book Council.

Released 10 August the novel is set in the 1950s and looks at the acquisition of two paintings for the national art collection, exploring how “structural constraints have inhibited women's creativity and freedom” (on that note see the mention of Vivian Lynn at the end of this Lowdown).

Ultimate clickbait

It’s such an odd clickbait story I could not resist: the French translation of Wellington writer Dean Hewison’s Conversations with My Penis is big in French-speaking Canada.

It's a well kept secret, but in any month of the year there's usually a New Zealand play being produced somewhere around the world, licensed by playwright’s agency Playmarket. Skin Tight continues to be produced and produced all over the English speaking world and Ladies Night has been huge in Germany and Russia. But then there are the real quirky success stories. After New Zealand seasons Conversations premiered with company Theatre Bistouri in Montreal in 2016. After Quebec shows earlier this year, it plays in six different places from October onwards. And - just because its exists - here’s a video of the grooming of said member for the NZ comedy festival back in 2015.  

Comings and Goings

Earlier in the year it was Jenny Harper leaving Christchurch; last month Simon Rees departed the Govett Brewster, last week Courtney Johnston left the Dowse and then, this week, it was announced Rhana Devenport is departing Auckland Art Gallery after five years, bound for the Art Gallery of South Australia. Plenty of musical chairs and opportunities for new energy.

There’s been little commentary so far, so let’s just say that given Devenport’s previous ground-changing work at the Govett Brewster the impression is that these bedding-in years for Auckland’s gallery building with squeezed funding have made it a difficult time for real programming change - but that she might have left the ground more secure for the next director. Check out this back -story for an Australian perspective on the Australian Devenport.

At Wellington Jazz Festival, former head of programming Marnie Karmelita is to replace Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza as “Creative Director” (note the change in language). Formerly at Brisbane’s excellent Powerhouse, there’s a snappy Q and A with Karmelita on the Festival’s site, but no media interrogation yet of what sort of approach or vision we can expect for New Zealand Festival 2020. Better for clues perhaps is the festival’s introduction to Karmelita when she joined back in 2016.

“The fund commissioned more major, new public art for Christchurch in just a decade than was built in the city over the four decades before then. It felt like a quiet revolution was unfolding in Christchurch as the earthquake helped the city shake off its colonial and Nimby past.”

This week it was announced that Angela Green will be replacing Karmelita as Head of Programming. Formerly of Auckland Arts Festival and a key figure in establishing the programming at Q Theatre in Auckland, Green is currently at the Edinburgh Fringe with A Slightly Isolated Dog’s Don Juan.

Recently we’ve turned attention on new artist run initiative spaces in Hamilton and Wellington, but the place where they really turn over at a healthy rate is Auckland. The latest to launch, this last weekend is Comet Project Space, whose intention is “to serve as a supportive, challenging, connective, discursive, and free space”.  Other recent spaces include Mercy Pictures in K Road and SatchiandSatchiandSatchi, across the road from Saatchi&Saatchi in Parnell.

Public Art

Concern continues to grow in Palmerston North over the priority provided to art within the museum Te Manawa. Since incorporating the Manawatu Art Gallery, there has been a steady erosion of art programming, with no signs of a Te Papa-like assertion of the gallery within the museum. There is speculation that MAG’s strong exhibition history - and it tasty collection, valued at $12m - will both be squandered.

Concerns are coming to a head with the former art gallery building currently closed for repairs. A public petition has been launched asking Palmerston North City Council to get the public art gallery run by an independent trust board, separate from Te Manawa Museum’s own trust.

Unknown, Manawatu Art Gallery, 1963. Source Manawatu Heritage

“The Art Gallery is now closed until 2019, for up to 10 months,” states the petition. “Even the very existence of the Art Gallery is now under threat, with an uncertain future ahead - the Art Gallery building may be demolished, despite being structurally sound.”

Meanwhile: Christchurch City Council has taken its meagre $290,000 public art fund, and ditched it from their long term plan. If an opinion piece by columnist Mike Yardley is to be swallowed it comes down to a lack of public consultation. Still, you can forget any kind of progressive public art if you look for a mandate in letters to the editor: just ask those behind New Plymouth’s Len Lye Centre.

As Press Senior Report Charlie Gates writes, the cut feels “a bit mean” next to Auckland’s $3.1 million annual fund. “The fund commissioned more major, new public art for Christchurch in just a decade than was built in the city over the four decades before then. It felt like a quiet revolution was unfolding in Christchurch as the earthquake helped the city shake off its colonial and Nimby past.”

Leaving public art investment principally in the hands of city councils hasn’t proven a great model elsewhere. So all power to Scape and Christchurch Art Gallery then in their continued partnership work in this field.

Speaking of which, new director of the gallery Blair Jackson got in touch this week to correct a comment in last week’s Lowdown: that Christchurch was overdue on a Ronnie Van Hout survey. Turns out the gallery did indeed have a “sizeable” Van Hout exhibition in 2009.

Among the many Van Hout works Christchurch Art Gallery has supported, the magnificent giant hand sculpture ‘Quasi’ atop the gallery would likely have never got the thumbs up if put out to public consultation.

More reading and viewing

A rather smart online journal for emerging New Zealand writing is Starling with issue six out now.

Resound is a cool new resource in the world of contemporary art music. Here you can access years’ and years’ worth of recordings - both audio and video - made by Radio NZ Concert. The site is a collaboration between RNZ, SOUNZ (Centre for NZ Music) and NZ On Air. Totally amazing.

While we’re on multimedia, here’s a handy resource for arts groups: Creative New Zealand’s Vicki Allpress Hill has conducted Facebook live interviews with experienced arts managers about their real life experiences with digital marketing. You can view them here, here and here.

Finally, Wellington artist Vivian Lynn is now retired but it’s a treat to see work of hers as part of Embodied Knowledge at the Dowse. An installation artist of formidable independent intellect and imagination her work should strike a chord with many artists today. This week I discovered that Lynn has her work documented well online, grouped under such statement headings asI was addicted to displacing myself in order to grow” and “I refused the symbolic order.”

Want more of the Lowdown? Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here  to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox.

News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to [email protected].