Wednesday, August 5

interview: fluke (veteran montreal street artist; a'shop founder)

Fluke is a veteran Montreal graffiti artist who set up the graffiti company, A’Shop, in Montreal, Canada, in 2009. A’Shop supports artists in Montreal, setting the professional standard for artists and clients alike. OUSA has recently flown him to Dunedin and is commissioning him, along with a fellow artist, to work on a mural on campus, set to begin this week.
I talked to Fluke from his two-storey office space at A’Shop to gain an insight into his street background and the inspiration behind creating a graffiti company.
When you started out doing graffiti, what was your agenda? Or was graffiti just an activity for you?
No, I definitely wasn’t doing it as a form of activity. It’s a high risk to take — you can go to jail or potentially hurt yourself, or fall off a high building. As a teenager I think I was in search of my own identity, like most teenagers are. I think graffiti was a way for me to have that second identity. Nobody knows me by my real name — everybody calls me Fluke. It’s who I became at night after school. I became someone else — a superhero, I guess you could say, or a supervillain depending on what side you play on. I didn’t have to ask permission, I didn’t have to be rich. All I needed was a can of black and that’s it, you know? You can do what you want with your city, right? Whether it’s to express something or create an identity for yourself, it’s a huge amount of power.
Most importantly, I had an issue with how society was portraying me. We’re completely bombarded with publicity, billboards, advertisements. When I was a child, I was told that the reason why certain people had their faces on giant billboards is because they were important people. As a kid, I quickly realised if I wanted to be somebody, I had to have my face and my name on a big giant billboard. Well, I made my own billboard. I didn’t have the money, I wasn’t a superstar celebrity, but I definitely could climb a building and write my name on it. So I became important within my community. I created my own space, my own dialogue. Fluke was my nickname. It was my brand. 
So now you’re known as a veteran of the Montreal graffiti scene.
I’m definitely not one of the old timers, but I’ve contributed. Fluke was born at the age of nine, so I’ve definitely been involved in the scene for quite some time now. Now, with A’Shop, we’re supporting the next generation.
How do artists afford such a great space like A’Shop?
I pay for it. Ah, I’m actually Batman. But, no. About six years ago, I had already started as an artist in the neighbourhood. I was already getting work and hiring other graffiti artists who I had known for years to help me out with these projects. What I found out was there was a lot of talent across the country and across the province. Artists were doing great work, but they had no capability in representing themselves or often they would get straight up mistreated by clients and suckered into doing commissioned work for free. Because I was already representing myself as an artist, I took a few other artists under my wing and started sharing the knowledge that I had and the space that I had.
Every time someone hires our guys from A’Shop, a small percentage of the money they earn goes to financing this space. Essentially, instead of an artist having to pay for an agent or having to pay monthly fees for a studio space, I try to absorb that cost for A’Shop’s artists and try to find them work — so I act as a booking agent.
What drives you into being so giving?
This is what I would have wanted when I started doing this. I was raised in a big family, and I started doing graffiti when I was very young. The street culture wrapped around the graffiti culture is very crew oriented, it’s very family oriented — I was raised with this mentality. There was a lack of organisation within our community. The culture was slowing dying in certain areas on the more commercial side of things. I decided to, not only for other artists but also for myself, try and standardise things. 
The other problem we had and the reason for A’Shop was that there was no reference in this city. If you wanted to find a graffiti artist or a muralist, you couldn’t really pick up the phonebook and find one. By having a website and having this reference point, people quickly turned to us for these kinds of things.
Would you say that although graffiti is an art form, it’s pretty separated from the art world?
I think graffiti is something new; it’s only been around, if I’m not mistaken, since the 60s. So it’s something fairly new on the timeline of art in general and it’s becoming more and more mainstream and socially accepted and eventually will probably die down and be replaced by something else. I think graffiti artists would like to separate graffiti from the art world, but at the end of the day it’s all blended in together.
The one thing that’s really important to understand is that graffiti art or street art or whatever it’s called today, is not the same thing as graffiti. Graffiti in its purest form is vandalism. And it should remain that way. Graffiti itself is not made to look pretty necessarily. It’s an action. Whether you look at graffiti artists writing political messages or writing simply their name on a wall, what they’re doing is creating a statement. Regardless of what the end product looks like, it’s the action of doing the graffiti that is the art work and not necessarily the visual that’s left behind. As for street art and graffiti art, it’s very visually oriented. What the general public call graffiti art is not really graffiti anymore. At the end of the day it’s closer to art than to graffiti because most of it is done in a legal setting anyway. 
Does anyone who has known you in the past think that you’re a sell out?
It’s a touchy subject. I’m sure some people might think that. Had I started doing this form of artwork without my background, I think they would. But I’ve paid my dues and now I give back to the community in a certain way. I’m very involved with different graffiti communities. My aesthetic has always remained the same too regardless of whether I’m getting paid now to do it or not. No one has anything against making money. What the graffiti community is afraid of is people not coming from this background or knowing the culture and the roots behind this art form and now creating murals and doing these giant things called street art when they’re not. 
People are trying to protect their culture, you know? To me, painting murals is a sacred thing. You should have permission, not by the building owner but by the community, because as a public artist you have a social responsibility. Whether you chose to paint something provocative or something illegally or something that’s relevant to the community, I feel you have a responsibility behind that. At the end of the day, if the community doesn’t accept it, then they’re just going to paint right over it.

Original interview first published here.

Sunday, August 2

midyear collect

1. When I visited my parents a few weeks ago, they passed on a gift from my Boston godmother. Tied up in gorgeous "found" wrapping were two new pairs of socks and a forty(ish) year old set of tarot cards from her mother.
2. In Auckland I went to Anna Miles Gallery for the first time and fanned over Lucien Rizos' "street photography" work, especially his spontaneous portraits of people driving cars, which he took from the roadside.
3. I was also inspired by the Prestige Lawyers law and consultancy firm who have bases in New Zealand, Taiwan and China. They are playing a super interesting (and totally under the radar) role in connecting China and New Zealand.

Sunday, July 19

vital bodies

Seeking out the vital bodies in the current Blue Oyster show curated by Georgina Watson is an experience that crosses the disciplines of writing, digital images, sculpture and painting. It is a matter of observing and questioning: is the vitality in the separate bodies of work by the five artists, writers and theorists? Is it in the works’ selection and interactions? Or is it the vital place a show like this takes in the realm of contemporary art in New Zealand?

The vital bodies alluded to in the short poem that stands in for the show’s description seem to be those that exist in moments of tension in nature, just before a drop of water breaks away from a leaf, or before seeds germinate. It is the tension of a beginning — not necessarily of a new life, but of a transition or expansion of a life already in momentum. It is hard to decide, however, if it is this type of vitality that connects each piece or whether the poem is actually an invitation for the gallery goer to step into another realm, another way of thinking.

The first piece I found myself drawn to is the most visually confrontational work in the show. Sam Norton’s two framed screen shots — one of her staring straight on and the other of her hand inserted between the plush cushions of a beige sofa or bed head — are from a film Norton took of herself on her birthday in a hotel room in Samoa. In the first, she looks at the camera in a state of disarray; in the second, her hand inserted into the crevasse between the sofa cushions sexualises the banal sofa.

If Norton’s work alludes to the vagina, this motif has a more explicit, disturbing reappearance as a “giant gaping wound” in Anna Rankin’s text, Get Born Again. Printed and placed on the wall beside Norton’s images, Rankin’s poetry leads to a reinterpretation of the entertaining perplexity and sensuality found in Norton’s work. The power of Rankin’s words taints the exhibition with the deep, resounding pains of being a woman. Holy Child’s emoji-riddled text on the opposite wall also contains a darkness but instead takes a surreal Dunedin as her subject.  

With what I interpret as an all-knowing eye and pink lips encircling a mottled green serpent or stream, the vagina takes on a more mystical form in Georgette Brown’s paint and mix-media piece, Painfully Aware at the Moment of Salvation. In the veiny pink and dotted yellow world of Brown’s work, the vagina creature is worshipped by the living and dead as a figure of eternal power and knowledge. Alone, the work may feel overtly ecstatic, but its placement in the show provides another interpretation of femininity that is nicely optimistic.

Initially taking the form of three pages of text on the gallery floor, Wendelien Bakker’s Swimming Pool (like Virginia Overell’s lime- and salt-coated coins “washed” onto the shore of Blue Oyster’s floor) has the potential to remain unnoticed by the gallery goer, who is habituated to looking at things on walls. But Bakker’s work in this show offered the most unexpectedly engaging experience for me, particularly added to by its understatement.

In her text, Bakker describes the process of building a swimming pool just larger than her body in the backyard of her Grey Lynn flat (wonderful photos documenting this can be found online). Her text is evidence of all sorts. It shows the physicality and intricacy of her process but is also evidence of challenging gender roles — interestingly, this is the only work in the show where men have some sort of presence. When buying mortar, Bakker notes, “The man at the counter asked if he could help to put the bag in the car. I tell him I’m walking. It is 25kg. He tells me to have a lot of breaks. I decide not to have any breaks.” In her process, Bakker challenges men who undermine her, peering neighbours and her own body’s endurance to create A Pool of Her Own.

vital bodies traverses a criss-cross of lines that interweave the subtle and explicit, femininity and nature. Georgina Watson has curated an enticing show that requires the gallery goer to engage more deeply, beyond simply being present and browsing, and instead, to seek, inspect, interpret.

Article first published here

Thursday, July 16

how to go to an art gallery



Art galleries are my sanctuaries. They are perfect places for quiet reflection and interesting interactions with created pieces or performances. However, I do have my off days. These are the kind of days where the sky seems an extra, disturbing tint of yellow or when it feels like everyone in the city has disappeared elsewhere, abandoning me. On these days, the gallery can turn from an escape into a surreal, frustrating place.

Whether you are having an on or off day — or are simply in a new place — I have devised a few tips for how to go to an art gallery and what to do once inside.

1) Find the art gallery.

Sometimes art galleries are obvious, planted directly in the city centre with big signs out the front. But finding the smaller spaces run by volunteers, or only one or two paid staff, often requires a complex process of locating a vague address online, then realising the gallery’s website was last updated two years ago and its opening times are obscure. Finding galleries then become like hunting down a runaway, highly strung teenager and requires of you the patience of a saint.

2) Enter the gallery.

Galleries may seem simple to enter — walking through automatic sliding doors or using door handles are rather instinctive to us — but be alert. The sudden tension between you (the “gallery goer”), the attendant, another gallery goer and sometimes even an artist lingering in a distant corner has been known to cause an anxiety so fierce that one might suddenly desperately need air, a toilet or a hole to hide in. But, in the smaller spaces, there is no turning back!

Even worse than this tension is when no one seems to be in the gallery whatsoever. This happens regularly, and it still remains an unexpectedly haunting experience. Many questions go through your mind: is the gallery closed? am I trespassing and therefore a criminal? am I being watched? am I the art? is the attendant going to suddenly appear around a corner and are we going to give each other a huge fright then simultaneously apologise and try to forget it all happened?

Also, be prepared for the silence. The world’s quietest room is said to drive a human crazy or make them hallucinate in under thirty minutes. While gallery spaces are not usually built with “no echo” technology, any sound you make in a gallery is, somehow, crude and exaggerated. Of course, you can decide your nose sniffs are your right, but I once followed a person who came down with a serious bout of hiccups through three different rooms of a large gallery in Japan. They bravely walked on while everyone around them quietly went through perplexion, anguish and hysterical contained laughter.

Take several breaths and quietly congratulate yourself for getting this far.

3) Find the art.

Contemporary art no longer consists entirely of big oil paintings in gold gilt frames made by horny old men who have taken hot girls as their subject matter and sources for revitalising their long-buried youth. Now art is...anything, really. And because of eccentric curators and boundary-pushing artists, art is not always easy to find. Sometimes a gallery goer can find themselves staring for ten minutes at the gallery’s closed bathroom door. After what seems like a cyclic inner monologue, desperately reminding yourself that art is about the process and ideas now and vaguely considering what you will eat for dinner tonight, you decide you have spent enough time on the piece and move on. As you move on, you hear a toilet flush and the attendant walks out. Red in the face, you start to walk away from the door, but a small text on the wall catches your eye: Bathroom Door (2015). And then it clicks, absolutely everything in your entire life falls into place! It was art, it’s all art!

4) Leave the art gallery.

After going through this explorative process, don’t forget to leave the art gallery. Hone that inspiration and start your own practice. You are an “artiste” now.


My article first appear on Critic, here.

Tuesday, July 7

interview: fresh and fruity (gallery space, social media endeavour)

Photos from Fresh and Fruity's The Waiting Room / Severine Costa
Fresh and Fruity is not just a gallery space up the stairs at 140 George Street - it is also a social media endeavour with its own manifesto. I interviewed for Critic two members of the collective who run Fresh and Fruity, Hana Aoake and Mya Middleton, to hear more about the project.


What is Fresh and Fruity? And who are the people behind it?

Fresh and Fruity is a sexy new look. It is a social media spectacle with a physical location run by a collective in Dunedin. The collective consists of Hana Aoake, Mya Middleton, Severine Costa, Alannah Kwant and Kimmi Rindel. We are constantly challenging the relevance of having a hierarchy or ‘directors’ and finding new ways to work as a collective. Although, currently, Mya and Hana are our joint brand strategists and content editors.

How is Fresh and Fruity both original and a sexy new look?

Fresh and Fruity is a reflection of lifestyle imagery. It is a simulacra of capitalist ideals and the problems within the art world. Fresh and Fruity is intended to offer a challenge to the white cube gallery system which is inherently faux progressive and exists between the same power structures which operate within corporate spheres. Fresh and Fruity is an appropriation, a copy and will never be concerned with being ‘original’ because originality does not exist.

How is it different to gallery spaces in Dunedin? Did you start it in response to a gap or frustrations with the typical gallery process/display?

It was formed in mid-2014 by Hana Aoake and Zach Williams in response to issues around branding and lifestyle imagery and the way corporate motives merge onto art spheres. It also happened because of chance or rather the availability of the space within their studio. It has morphed into a bridging space — offering young women the chance to gain skills and experience by having shows and hosting them. Fresh and Fruity aims to create space for people who are both excluded and exploited within the art world and market, especially under a neo-colonial capitalist framework.

What challenges you as a space and a concept?

Finding ways to negate corporate art markets while maintaining a space and practice with zero budget is always a challenge. However, having a heavy online presence is incredibly useful in terms of constructing Fresh and Fruity as a space for contemporary art, a collective and a ‘lifestyle brand’. We are interested in the disappearance of ‘capitalist subjectivity’ through the use of language and imagery in social media.

What part does social media play in your practices and the running of Fresh and Fruity?

Corporatised social media is key to Fresh and Fruity’s practice. Our shows are all heavily documented to alleviate geographical distances between audiences and artist. Fresh and Fruity is also committed to having an expansive audience that operates between a url and irl format. We are interested in social media as a tool for communication. Online engagement makes up around 65 percent of our audience and allows for an experience of an artwork regardless of location and in intimate spaces such as one’s bedroom.

Are there artists and/or galleries that really excite you in New Zealand? Why/why not?

The Blue Oyster Art Project Space really excites us — we may sound biased as they have been a big helping hand in our ongoing existence, but they are consistently facilitating intriguing shows and open to challenging and critiquing the art system. They are also one of a few non-commercial galleries in Dunedin. We are also interested in North Projects in Christchurch, Enjoy in Wellington, Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne and projects like Hapori in Auckland. We are interested in curatorial practices which operate between, yet challenge and critique, the ways in which art functions.

Are you able to describe current/upcoming projects?

One of our upcoming projects is with artist Sarah Kelleher (Misfit Mod), an electronic musician from Christchurch who will be holding an electronic music workshop for women in late July at Fresh and Fruity. We have a project at YES Collective in Auckland this month called Title title what’s a title and will be part of an event at St PAUL St Gallery, also in Auckland, called Prepersonal, transpersonal and personal, which has been organised by Georgina Watson. In November we are participating in two projects; one is in the participatory section of the Feminisms in Aotearoa show at Enjoy Gallery in Wellington, and the other is the trans/forming feminisms: media, technology, identity conference at the University of Otago.

Friday, June 26

sandy looking at things

Curiosity is one of the best traits a person can have but sometimes it creates trouble and other times it creates massive detours. Great Barrier Island is incredibly quiet during the winter, which gives Mum the perfect opportunity to take a closer look into gardens, homes...odd (phallic?) alien plants.


Friday, June 19

interview: finlay wall (dj, vinyl collector)

Although Finlay Wall studies Law and Politics during the week in his spare time he is often mulling over and carefully listening through music - especially electronic music. About three or four years ago Fin began to collect vinyls and DJ for friends and venues around Dunedin (I once remember being that terrible person to consistently tell him to play Kanye West all evening - he very politely ignored me). Fin and his sister Hannah also have paired up with the bar and venue, Re:Fuel, to run Back on Track, which aims to make "off kilter house" and "punishing techno" music a part of the Dunedin music scene.

Fin's room is filled with crates of his collected vinyl, which I often admire simply for their beautiful sleeve artworks. But after a few conversations about his records, I realised how much I valued his appreciation for collecting and the research and passion he puts into his choices. We sat down to talk about vinyl and listen to two songs (below) that Fin has given a lot of deck time.


What made you become interested in DJing?

I often watched videos on YouTube of live DJs but I didn't have a clue what they were doing, so I bought a mini DJ controller in my first year of uni - you can plug an iPod into it and play two songs at once. It was really crappy but I was only learning to DJ. I bought these two turntables half a year later. Once I had those, I started collecting records.

Are there a lot of misconceptions that DJs just play songs one after the other?

Well, that's what it is.

Then why do you need all the gear?

There are more convenient ways of DJing, I have just used my laptop. But even though it is a bit more convenient to just use a laptop, you lose the stuff that makes it interesting. DJing is just playing songs but it is the collecting of music, which makes it special when you actually play. The more time you have spent collecting music and listening to it, the more unique an experience you can make it for people when you play.

Say you have a show coming up next week and you have all this music that you've carefully collected and know really well - you're probably going to make a much better experience for the people listening compared to someone who has spent half an hour looking up songs beforehand. It is all about the collecting - and the whole point of collecting vinyl is that it changes how you think about the music.  It takes up a lot more time and space but you remember what you have bought compared to just downloading masses of music. When I started out I used to download gigabytes of music from blogs and other websites - it was possible to get a hundred thousand songs in one sitting - but you're just never going to properly listen through that.

But you must have to work pretty hard to get your records - aren't they expensive?

There is a full range. The limitation makes it better as well. If you only have about $50 to spend and are only able to purchase three records, then you will be spending a lot more time choosing to make sure that when you finally pick something, it will be special.

Do you want to continue DJing in the future?

It's definitely a hobby and I'll definitely keep collecting records regardless of what ends up happening.

Can you describe the two records that you are sharing with me today?

I am playing you "Yala" by Rezzett now, which is a record I bought from Japan. This is probably one of my favourite songs of late. It's sort of a dance record - there's a beat behind it - but its atmosphere and textures aren't like typical electronic music. It sounds like there is an electric guitar playing the whole way through, which is different to a lot of house and techno that sounds really electronic and like it's really only made by digital instruments. Rezzett have a fresh approach in both sounds and song structures, which sets them apart from other house artists.

My Vito Ricci record is a full album. The music on the album was recorded in the early 80s, during a time when electronic music had hardly been explored. He's a composer from New York, this is an album of music he hadn't previously released.

Why is this album literally heavier than the Rezzett one?

There are different weights for vinyls and the thicker they are, the deeper the grooves can be, which means the record can reach louder volumes. So the Rezzett vinyl has one song on one side, which gives that song more room and means it can be louder. But the Ricci vinyl has five songs (you can count the rings) on one side, so it will be a bit quieter.

I like how they have listed all the instruments used in the Ricci record.

Yeah, it's pretty honest. It reminds of Aphex Twin's Syro record, which has a printed list that breaks down every pound earned from selling the album - like a journalist's travel expenses from France to London, or venue hire for LA listening party, or postage costs for UK radio promotion mail out


Fin and I plan to continue discussing his record collection over a series of conversations during the second half of the year. Stay tuned.