Tuesday, April 14

dunedin diary - april

These two photos are from my flat. Several times we have sat discussing how you would define the block of outside planted in the middle of our flat. We've decided it fits the qualities of an atrium. In this small section, we dry our washing, sit in the sun and my flatmates nurture their fantastic inner-city garden. This morning, I woke up to find this part covered in snow. It's  April. What.
My friend Dan Blackball and I are working on a project for The Attic. We want to document its four-ish years of existence and attempt to uncover what purposes it has served the Dunedin music community.
Kane Strang released a wonderful album and used my photo as its cover art. He is planning a string of shows in Dunedin and soon about to go on a tour around New Zealand with his band. Absolutely keep an eye out.

Even though I still think about China most days, it feels like I have never left Dunedin. When my head isn't stuck in the past, I do start to think about the future, which remains completely ambiguous to me. All I know is that it's my last year at university. Out of my three qualifications, I have completed one, and now have Visual Culture and Law left. The rest of the week I spend managing or writing the Art section of Critic and overseeing all the sections and columns. This schedule feels relentless and it also feels like not enough. I never want to spread myself thin but in China I observed such an incredible student work ethic that I realised what humans are capable of each day. It's hard to compromise these two feelings. But, still, I will never stop believing that I must spend each day how I wish to spend my life - seeking beauty in people, in being a witness to random occurrences, in treating myself at least once a day (often with an appropriately timed long black).  

Sunday, April 12

aliens, androids and unicorns


The Hal Salive Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection Aliens, Androids & Unicorns
The de Beer Gallery, Special Collections, University of Otago | 12 March 2015 - 22 May 2015

On the first poster that catches my eye as I enter the room, a blonde woman disinterestedly adjusts the strange, alien-gun weapon she is holding. The red swimsuit that adorns her toned body looks like a beast has clawed at it; it doesn’t cover much — in fact, it almost looks like a red tiger stripe painted on her skin (perhaps she is a rather lustily drawn alien). Behind her, a terrifying beast, not of this planet, moves through the dark towards its prey. This blown up, reproduced cover for the science fiction book, The Lion’s Game by James H. Schmitz, is one of twelve displayed on the wall by the entrance to the de Beer Gallery — an often overlooked space on the first floor of Central Library that hosts interesting and informative exhibitions from the University’s Special Collections.

Diagonal to The Lion’s Game, is another book cover, which depicts a woman in an impossibly small golden bikini warrior outfit, boldly posed as she wields her sword in front of a horse. This time, the book is The Golden Sword written by Janet E. Morris, part of a series that challenged the fantasy and science fiction community with its powerful female protagonist, pansexual characters and questions about sexuality and abuse of power.

These interesting, bizarre posters are only a small sample of Harold Terrence Salive’s (1939 –2012) extensive science fiction and fantasy collection. Salive’s avid following of science fiction and fantasy began in his teens and continued fervently throughout his life. In between collecting, Salive graduated with a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of Michigan and he and his family moved to Auckland to lecture. This collection, officially titled the Hal Salive Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection, was donated to the university’s Special Collections in 2013 by his second wife, Rachel Salive.

Moving away from the posters and the (slightly gimmicky, but what did you expect) Star Trek transporting platform on the floor, the viewer enters a delightfully displayed world (or several worlds) of fantasy, fiction, erotica, action and humour. Aliens, Androids & Unicorns provides insight into, and excitement for, Salive’s passion. The exhibition features books, correspondence to and from Salive, manuscripts and more, all carefully curated in display cabinets arranged throughout the space as well as in layers of drawers beneath the cabinets. Included in the show are works by some of the world’s most famous and popular science fiction authors, like Samuel Delany Alfred van Vogt, and fantasy authors, Poul Anderson and C.J. Cherryh (after whom asteroid 77185 Cherryh was named due to her work).

Each display has small paragraphs of either relevant stories about the object or snippets of Harold Salive’s life and character, making the show feel both more accessible for the non-expert viewer and personal. In one display, for example, the information outlines Salive’s avid interest in science fiction: Salive regarded his reading of science fiction as one of the most important activities of his life. Accordingly to family reports, when courting his second wife and visiting her parents, he would stress the importance of science fiction by pointedly sitting “reading” right in front of them so they knew from the outset who they were getting as a son-in-law.

Aliens, Androids & Unicorns is unlike exhibitions one would find at galleries like the Dunedin Public Art Gallery — there is no original “art” on display and no single artist has created work for this show. However, the material along with the wonderful snippets that paint a narrative of a passionate collector is entertaining, enlightening, a little bit perverted and very, very quirky.

My piece was first published in Critic here.

Thursday, April 2

max makes thirteen million

Because of exchange and because my twin brother, Max, and I don't live in the same city anymore, I haven't done these posts for a while. However, Max-being-Max remarks were slowly stacking up on my phone and needed an outlet. This highly valued post is back.

Text Messages From Max

Max: Ring me.
Loulou: Why.
Max: R
Max: Ring me.
[two minutes later]
Max: Why is my phone not quivering?

Max: Stuck in 20 min transition of waiting for something to start but not enough time to do anything else.

Max: What's going on? How things progressing
Loulou: What? Why?
Max: Just asking, don't need to act surprised twice.
Loulou: Huh?
Max: You didn't answer my questions. Why is conversation with you strenuous
Loulou: Can we start this again?
Max: Okay. How have you been (oh, complicated).
Loulou: I am good, but quite busy. You?
Max: Same.
[conversation abruptly ends]

Max: I had a mind blank moment where I had the toilet roll in one hand and I was ripping pieces of paper with the other but instead of putting those in the toilet I put the whole roll in.

Wednesday, April 1

blue cheese - kane strang

Every time I have talked to Kane Strang since I arrived back from China, at some point during his day - and for a good chunk of it - he was either recording or mixing songs for Blue Cheese. Late this afternoon Kane himself released this album on Bandcamp and it's already gaining traction.

The nine track album features a succession of darker (feelin' blue) pop songs, which follow a range of characters who are hung up on feelings of isolation, unrequited love and obsession.  Although each song could be pulled from the album as a single (they're undeniably addictive), the way they work together to build a narrative means that, unlike the food, Blue Cheese should be consumed all at once. But I guess I am biased - it's my favourite cheese after all - decide for yourself by checking Kane's Bandcamp here (it'll make your day/week).


Sunday, March 22

interview: zoe crook & aodhan madden (artists)

Photo from the Blue Oyster website
The first time I met artists Zoe Crook and Aodhan Madden was as the Blue Oyster Project Space while they were part way through initial preparations for their Fringe Festival performance piece, “Suspicious Minds”. They had moved the gallery's office to a backroom, covered the entire front window and soon were to set up a whiteboard with a seemingly random list of nouns, which they planned to tick off each day.

The second time I met them, after several days of mulling over our initial conversation, was on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Both artists were still dressed in the blue overall and karate pants attire but this time Zoe had a bucket and sponge to clean the steps with. Aodhan held a copy of The Art of War to read to her from while she cleaned. We sat down together to discuss "Suspicious Minds".

Aodhan: I feel like we look like a church ornament with our clothes.

Zoe: We’ve been told we look very religious

Aodhan: What do people mean when they talk about religion? What place does religion hold for people when they are trying to assess something? Today viewing someone as looking religious feels like a person is saying ‘you don’t fit into the normal order therefore there must be some sort of higher cause for you to be doing this or you must be with God. But we’re not in that sense. We’re interested in the divine but not in active way with this project.

Zoe: We don’t want what we’re doing to be definitive ...

Aodhan: ... or programmed in that sense, but there are things that we’ve become interested in through our processes.

Zoe: For a lot of the ideas we’ve had initially and that we’ve had throughout the week our feelings about them have changed. Some ideas we’ve had aren’t relevant anymore. It was the same with organising the Blue Oyster. Our initial conception of how the show was going to be was edited hugely before it opened.

Aodhan: But we’re always doing something, we’re always ‘in it’.

Zoe: The act of being is very much a part of the performance - walking through public space, being in the public eye, interacting in the supposed 'social' of the city.

Aodhan: It's been interesting when we've gone to Glassons and Hallensteins. The shop assistants clearly know we’re something else and that we’re not there to buy the product. This division becomes uneasy. There’s disruption and confusion.

Zoe: We went into these stores and attempted to investigate and understand what it is to be a man or a woman. We had a conversation between us about what symbols were in the store.

What uneasiness was created?

Zoe: The shop assistants didn’t know what to do. Their initial reactions was to find out what we want because then they could help us and make a sale. But we didn’t want to buy anything so we didn’t - in their eyes - belong in the store. They didn’t understand our intentions.

Aodhan: Yesterday we also went to New World and we walked around the store, making random decisions on where to go. If our paths met we had this briefcase that we would change over. People were freaked out. The management thought we might have something to do with the baby milk scandal in New Zealand.

Zoe: Maybe in that same way the Glassons and Hallensteins shop assistants didn’t know how to deal with us. Maybe because they couldn’t put us in a box they resorted to thinking that we might have been there to steal something.

And so you were creating suspicious minds? You were going into spaces with clear constructs on how you should act and by not following these norms but in a  completely harmless way it’s immediately seen as suspicious and negative.

Zoe: It’s corrupting the flow of space.

Aodhan: So much of our show has hopefully been about engendering some kind of suspicion in the viewer or interactor. It’s really interesting what people do with that suspicion.

Zoe: On the street I think people feel that they have more agency to talk to us - like there’s more equal footing - whereas in the shops, the shop assistants decide not to ask us what we’re about. Instead they remove themselves completely and see it as kind of symbolic .   

Oh, everyone is pointing out the vomit on the steps. Maybe I should get onto that. We should properly clean the steps before church tomorrow.

So you’re pretty open minded with your schedule?

Zoe: Yeah, that’s part of it. We feel like it needs certain things that are planned but it also needs to be open in order for us to think about it in that sense.

Aodhan: What we do informs the flyers that we make. For example, one we’re going to make today is “Forever Friday 13th”.

Zoe: It’s constantly elaborating on itself.

Aodhan: That then influences the the things we tick off on the board in the gallery and then that influences the performances. We can‘t determine what we are going to do each day without the day before and the day before that.

Zoe: The more understanding we can have the more pertinent the judgments we can make.

Aodhan: Art just goes on and on and on and on. I feel like our  performance also goes on and on and on and on.

A shorter version of this interview was originally published in Critic.

Wednesday, March 18

draft copy

Patrick Lundberg’s Draft Copy is a connect-the-dots of all sorts: literally in its arrangements of round pins intersected by faint pencil lines and intellectually in the discussions it raises between art objects and the gallery space. This show can be enjoyed by taking a step closer to discover the finer details of painted patterns, and then a step back to examine the interesting, ongoing conversation in the way art objects are made and their visual qualities in contrast to the importance of their context and the ideas behind them.

On entering the Hocken Gallery, however, a distracted viewer, or one with diminishing eyesight, may wonder where the art is at all. A closer inspection of the white surfaces is revealing. Arranged across the walls are small colourful objects like round, stationary insects. These globes of gesso, acrylic, pencil and varnish attached to the wall by hidden pins are arranged in six different installments throughout the gallery, with large spaces between each installment. In one room, for example, there are four creamy-white balls arranged at the intersections of the room’s walls. At first, they are almost indecipherable from the wall. But a closer look reveals small, speckled, colourful details.

The works that Lundberg has created for Draft Copy can be examined as individual art objects that occupy their own space and also as the shape that they create within their arrangement. This and the objects’ visual qualities show that Lundberg has used his time in Dunedin as 2014 Frances Hodgkins Fellow (previous fellows include Ralph Hotere, Jeffrey Harris and Seraphine Pick) to build on previously formed ideas.

While beautiful in themselves, the pin heads’ size is such that the viewer finds herself equally lost in the inbetween and the periphery. Suddenly, the rough white paint covering the walls and the bulk of the lights that illuminate the art from above (both staples of most gallery spaces) become noticeable and part of the work in a way that could never be achieved by framed paintings or stand-alone sculptures. The boundaries of the institutionalised gallery space are brought into question again in an installment where one of the balls, like a dropped yellow lolly, is “lost” on the ground. For several minutes the viewer may consider going downstairs to inform the staff that the exhibition is falling apart. But, be warned, Lundberg is playing with her; forcing her to acknowledge her deeply held, supposedly natural, ideologies about how a gallery “should be”.

With space being one part of the conversation, art’s permanence (or lack thereof) is another. An interest of Lundberg’s, Sol LeWitt was a leader and one of the first artists of the postmodern era and advocated for an idea itself being art. LeWitt believed that the production of work could be delegated to others and still be able to be called his art. Draft Copy’s temporary nature invokes a similar idea. While Lundberg has created the art himself, the balls arrived at the gallery and will leave the gallery with no decided or definite layout. In their perpetual status as “drafts”, the balls are incomplete artworks in that they can always be rearranged; how they interact with the space and the viewer will also change accordingly.

While Lundberg’s final products are beautiful, it is when viewing his work as this idea of a draft or an incomplete process to be completed by the viewer’s interaction with the art that makes Draft Copy exciting; it partly relies on the viewer to make it engaging. This art is about ideas and, as LeWitt said, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.”

My piece is from Critic - the online version can be found here.

The long version of an interview with Patrick Lundberg conducted by Zane Pocock can be found here.

Wednesday, March 11

dogwood days

Here's another piece for Critic's Art section; this time I wrote about Erica van Zon's "Dogwood Days" at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The exhibition ends in four days!

W hen my family was moving house yet again, I remember listening to a conversation between two relocators. They were packing my mother’s various objects, which decorated the numerous shelves in the study. While arranging two strangely bent papier-mâché trout and a found piece of burnt driftwood into a nearly full box of similarly arbitrary objects, one relocator exclaimed, “Look at all this shit!” Mildly entertained and frustrated, I felt defensive of the special objects my mother had collected over her lifetime and that I had played with or made stories for throughout mine. This memory and the thoughts it invokes came to mind once again when encountering Erica van Zon’s “Dogwood Days”.

“Dogwood Days” is tucked between Fiona Connor’s movable painting stands and “Mythos”, a collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s prints; drifting into it is reminiscent of discovering a forgotten box of your treasured objects or, for me, the hoarded items displayed on my mother’s bookshelves. In her show, Erica van Zon has crafted household items and foods, arranging them along a plywood, rectangular display so that viewers can wander around the works and carefully study each item.

The pieces vary from nearly exact imitations of aqua-coloured breeze blocks (that one expert viewer remarked are barely used now because of their structural inadequacy) and dimpled, cut melons to flattened remakes of meat cuts that almost look like props or cut-outs from a children’s book. The textures of the objects are just as varied — from the pale purple and pink fur of the 1970s “View Street Rug” to the clothes and shoes embedded in wax to look like soaking washing. In the texts accompanying the exhibition, the objects are described as “portraits” of the artist’s family members and inspirations as well as “clues of the immaterial” to be gathered and deciphered by the viewers or “pseudo-archaeologists”. In most cases, van Zon has used traditional craft methods in a new way appropriate for a contemporary art gallery. Her varied responses to the works reflect their varied physical characteristics — as the crafted pile of brown and white bread in the show suggests, “Dogwood Days” is a layered experience.

The questions raised by the colourful objects multiple further because of the deliberate way they are displayed. Because the objects are elevated but close to knee level, wandering around the show’s rectangle platform is similar to exploring a design store, but instead of shopping to then physically consume the objects or acquire them for one’s own home, the viewers are purchasing experiences and memories — of home, of parents, of stories. The everyday of the family home is elevated into the realm of art in a surprisingly pleasant encounter. But the encounter is also filled with interesting tensions — as Martin Patrick observes, the show negotiates a plethora of identities and directly contrasting ideas of art/craft, real/configuration, material/conceptual, and now/then.

After attaining a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Auckland in 2008, van Zon has exhibited around New Zealand and overseas. In 2014 the artist spent eight weeks over July and August in Dunedin working on “Dogwood Days” as a Dunedin Public Art Gallery Visiting Artist. Her final body of work for this show incorporates, as Aaron Kreisler describes, her “continued investigation into ‘domestic’ modernism, culinary fetishism, disposable and popular culture” and also pushes her work into new areas. Her work is smart and researched, but is wonderfully accessible. “Dogwood Days” engages a diverse audience and stimulates stories to be shared between child and parent, two friends or just oneself, making the show a welcome invitation to add to a shared cultural knowledge.