Monday, October 31, 2011

Let's curate again (like we did last summer)

Sudden gestures or noises brings together the work of three artists in an investigation of the 'gestural' possibilities of contemporary art.

New Zealand-born, LA-based video artist Sean Grattan's Carmen San Diego: Out Of Work And On The Run (2011) subverts filmic conventions and the notion of goal-based behaviour, creating an essentially gestural production that is activated by its imperfection. Questions of success and failure, and of subjectivity and objectivity, lie at the heart of the work, which engages with its viewers' expectations whilst simultaneously resisting them.

UK artist Ed Atkins' Death Mask III, too, toys with the semiotic structure of cinema. Seemingly disparate audiovisual elements are enmeshed in a way that is both familiar yet highly unstable. Sudden shifts in tone and subject deny the possibility of a narrative interpretation; Atkins ensures that the gestural movements of the film remain the focus.

In addition to these works, Australian artist Charlie Sofo will produce a new body of work that responds both to the physical space of the Artspace gallery and to the strategic possibilities of the gestural in terms of the production of art.
Bollocks. What Australian artist Australian artist Charlie Sofo did was come here, talk artwank with art people, buy some stuff and pin it to the walls. He took some photos as well. He recalls his adventures in Auckland on two sheets of A4 which lie on a table in the room at Artspace where his works are displayed. These works include a triangular box from the post office downstairs, some shiny material and a ladder. This last is tied to the wall in what is probably an ironic statement on curatorial praxis; either that or some way to fill up the space. This ladder was bought for the artist so he could paint the wall beside it, in a rather ugly colour somewhere between Puce and Prosthetic Limb. In other news, Mr Sofo was treated to coffee by his hosts.

So, in short and not employing any artwank, what we got was what he did on his holidays. I hope he kept the receipts. He could probably make another body of work out of them and get some more funding.

Not surprisingly, Mr Sofo has a blog:
I am asking people to come to my Masters studio at the vca for CHATS. With me. That's it. There is an empty space waiting there, and I think you can help me fill it.

I'm going to send some emails around now, but if you don't recieve one and would like to have a lunch time chat please get in contact: charliesofo at gmail . com
I think not. I think I would find it a very boring experience. I think I would have to use artwank words like liminal and intertextuality just to keep myself amused and awake. When I went to the opening  I found myself looking at the clerestory windows of Artspace, which are lovely, just to avoid looking at the art, which was not. I left after two drinks. I was bored.

Of late, I have often found myself in a state of boredom when visiting Artspace. A couple of weeks ago, I attended this:

Jennifer Teets will be presenting "The alter self of Lady Lux", a lecture and reading on scripted choreography in the work of General Idea.

Jennifer Teets (Houston, Texas, 1978) is a curator interested in conceptual potlatch, future renaissance, and hybrid systems. She currently lives and works in Paris.
I suffered for my art. I found myself sitting on the floor of Artspace choosing between death and cake. If I stayed and listened further to Jennifer Teets I risked slipping into a coma; if I left, I could buy cake. I chose cake.

It was a wise decision. By this stage in proceedings, I could feel my hair growing. Ms Teets' lecture and reading was neither; it was more of a wreck and a rambling. Ms Teets did that thing that first year Art History students do: neglect preparation. Then she did that other thing they do, which is to think they can improvise. They can't. A J P Taylor could talk without notes for an hour and grip his audience throughout; Ms Teets had this member of the audience looking for an excuse to leave, such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, the audience was too small to leave without being noticed leaving. Moreover,  it contained people I like, respect and fancy. In the Church of England, this is know as the Evensong Dilemma; in the art world it is known as the Performative Paradox; I am making up these terms as I go along but I am doing a better job than Ms Teets, believe me.

She seemed nice, she had beautiful blue eyes, but she had not done any work. She talked about W B Yeats and was not sure whether his name was pronounced Yates or Yeets. She talked about situationism and architecture, not for one moment betraying any knowledge of either. She had a page of notes that she should have left on the plane. She said she found things about the work of General Idea "interesting," just like the first-years do. "Interesting" means "I have no idea about what I am talking and please save me from this cold and lonely place into which I have stumbled," a cry for help that never is answered.

It wasn't really her fault. No, probably it was, but I am trying to be nice. The trouble with talking about the work of General Idea is that there really is not much to talk about. They were Canadian. They made videos. They questioned the values of the art world while trying their hardest to make as much money as possible from it. They were really Eighties. Two of them died of AIDS.

All the while Ms Teets was stumbling, a loud video made by General Idea was turning. Nobody thought to turn it down and give Teets a chance. To someone who spoke artwank that might seem an ironical gesture on the boundaries of performative injunction and ludic aphrasia. I found it annoying. In truth, I had only come for the conceptual potlatch; I hoped it might be cake. It was not.

How did it come to this? How is it that Artspace displays work that is neither provocative nor challenging but instead is rather dull? How does it lure a curator all the way from Paris to conceptual murder on the gallery floor? Perhaps it is something to do with the Director:
Caterina Riva (b. 1980, Varese, Italy) is a curator who has been based in London since 2006. She studied in Italy and the UK where she received her MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Over the past three years at FormContent, her artistic programme has focused on exploring curatorial and artistic strategies, combining exhibition making, independent publishing and the production of events and performances, to critical acclaim.
You see what she did there? She got an MFA in Curating. Her artistic programme has focused on exploring curatorial and artistic strategies. In the past, curators had jobs or careers; in the now, they are artists. And look how she has travelled: the curators are everywhere and nowhere (baby).

And there's the rub. Yer international curatorial practice favours artists like Charlie Sofo. He is just an MFA student but clearly he is walking the walk and (more importantly) talking the talk. There is at least a score of MFAs and PhDs doing far more interesting work than Charlie and far more original (in the sense of not having been done forty years ago) work to boot. What's more, most of them live on K Road. But visiting curators are expected to bring artists from overseas and they are expected to find stuff which is "challenging." They don't. They find stuff which fits the same old paradigm of international curatorial practice.  This is why our contemporary art spaces are like airport lounges: everything is sort of the same, wherever you go. It is never quite the same, but neither is it very different. It features videos and concepts and performances, all stuff which was done by the end of the '60s. The people who come to see this stuff are the MFAs and PhDs who live on K Road. Nobody else cares.

 Still, she will be gone at the end of the year, on to another gallery in some other country. She will be replaced by someone else, who will do much the same. And so it goes, and so it goes.

In other news, do you remember that time when the Style Council invaded the Soviet Union and tried to convince the mulleted workers that class war  is real and that there is something wrong with wanting a colour TV? Patronising gits:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Free all the monsters

Trouble started this year when theatre attendance took a triple hammering because of the Christchurch earthquake, the global financial crisis, and the Rugby World Cup, Ms Beaton said.

Four production staff were axed and the theatre programme was cancelled from the beginning of this month.

The only show now listed at Downstage is a three-day run of a dance work called Carnival Hound in November.

But the theatre was also being used for other activities such as rehearsals, workshops and dance classes, Ms Beaton said. "We need the [council] funding because we don't have audiences. Audiences are our major generator of income at the moment."
No, obviously they are not. If you do not have any audiences because you cancelled the programme, then audiences are not likely to be your major generator of income. I do not know what is going down at Downstage, but it does not seem to include thinking. Which is a pity, because not only does Downstage have a notable history but the Hannah Playhouse in which it serves is one of the best buildings in New Zealand.

But what really bothers me about this story is the scene where Ms Beaton says it is disrespectful to describe the funding request as a bailout. Of course it is a bailout. Contrary to Ms Beaton's financial analysis, Downstage's problems are not the result of the crash, the quake and the rugby. They have been going on for years, as this post from the estimable Grant Robertson's blog - dated 4th November, 2008 - indicates. At this time in the Theatre's history, a little less bluster and a little more humility on the the part of the CEO might be appropriate. Perhaps not having a CEO might be a good idea. Perhaps theatres and other arts organisations should be put back into the hands of the people who make art rather than being controlled by pretend executives. Just a thought.

Oh dear, this post is beginning to sound like an editorial. Here's The Bats, with a new song from their new album, a song which has the same name as the album:

Read about it here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Death and the Mehrtens

Diners in the Eden Park Pavilion were stunned when the man collapsed.

They were unsure about the man's condition and continued eating as St John staff arrived to help. The dinner was accompanied by a speech from former All Black Andrew Mehrtens.

Those in the Egmont Room at the pavilion included millionaire entrepreneur Seeby Woodhouse.

His business manager Karen Morfett said those enjoying the hospitality focused on their meals and Mehrten's delivery on stage in an attempt to preserve the dignity of the man being helped.
This has to be the creepiest story of the Cup. What better way to preserve the dignity of a dying man than by scoffing down dinner and listening to Mehrts? How many diners thought "I paid three thousand bucks for this; I am not missing it because some sod has corked it;" how many thought "will anyone notice if I take his main? What kind of people are these? Who pays $3000 for a meal and a speech? Who dines while someone dies? And what kind of newspaper runs the story with a request for diners to email its reporter?

In other news, my dinner included a packet of Copper Kettle BBQ Chips. They tasted like kettles. Really, they were horrible. Then in the morning I remembered this piece by the estimable Mr Judd. At least his tasted nice.

On a brighter note, there was that time when Can played disco on Top of the Pops:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Theme from a summer Place

For longer than anyone can remember, Khartoum Place has been a sordid blot on Auckland's urban landscape. Its rebuild in 1993 did nothing to change that. Rather than make it an attractive transition between Lorne St and Albert Park, it achieved little more than putting colourful ribbons on a pig.
Welcome to Auckland, where a sordid blot looks like this. Yes, even our eyesores have running water.

I find myself at variance with the estimable Hamish Keith, a man who has done much to tell Auckland about itself and stop it from doing itself more harm. Still, this time he sees an eyesore, I see a fountain. But then he thinks the new and improved Auckland Art Gallery is brilliant while I think it looks like an office furniture showroom in a business park on the edge of Whangarei; à chacun son goût.

What is it with the Auckland art community and the Suffrage Memorial? "A recent poll, admittedly at the Auckland Art Fair, showed that 85% favoured a reconfiguration of the Place while only 15% wanted it left as it is." Yes, but this was the Auckland Art Fair, full of ghastlies who buy art for investment purposes, the sort of people who have a Terry Stringer in the gazebo. How many of these people would give a stuff about suffrage? How many of them would use Khartoum Place, or Mr Keith's Suffrage Square? And why is it that the great and the good seem so determined to take away this public space and replace it with a staircase?

You see, while Mr Keith paints a lurid picture of Khartoum Place which makes it seem like Bedford-Stuyvesant, it is in fact a nice place. People go there to eat lunch. It is one of the few places in central Auckland which provides shade in the summer, natural shade produced by trees. The waterfall is cooling. Occasionally, on high days and holidays, oicks add dish-washing liquid, but this is not the end of the world. Best of all, there are no cars there. While crossing Kitchener Street to get to the spiffing new Art Gallery is taking one's life in one's hands, in Khartoum Place one is safe. There should be more places in the city like this.

Besides, not many years ago a large amount of money was spent improving the Place, putting in new seats and so on. It didn't really need improving, but that was better than Plan A, which was to let Urban Designers ruin it, just like they always do. And there was Chris Saines, trying to get rid of the steps and the memorial because they spoilt the view to his Art Gallery. Fortunately, he and the art establishment did not win that time. But now they want to do it again. Of course, every stakeholder will be consulted, from the lowest civic nuisance to the wealthiest philanthropist, but nobody will talk to the people who use the Place, just like they never do. Anyone for Tilted Arc?

Besides again, why do we have to spend our money replacing things that don't need replacing? The steps do what they are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with them. It is just that a bunch of powerful people want rid of them. Whilst such people simply adore street art produced by Elam graduates pretending to be oicks because it is so gritty and authentic, they cannot abide a work which is genuinely political and which seems to be very popular.

And look what they want put in its place: a fooking great staircase. So, instead of a simple set of steps and a fountain which work, they want something that could have been designed by Albert Speer. All it lacks is an equestrian statue of Chris Saines at the top, and maybe a few banners. Whilst the steps and fountain offer shade and water, the staircase will be accessible only to the fleet of foot (the people of money don't think about this, because they arrive by car, but infirm people appreciate having resting places on a staircase) and will bake its users in summer.

But then, the users don't matter. The purpose of the staircase is to add lustre to the Art Gallery. Of course, as you can see in the artist's impression, the staircase blocks access to the buildings facing the Place; but again their occupants do not matter. Nobody matters except the great and the good.

And what of Suffrage Square? Well, apart from being an ugly name which will challenge wearers of false teeth, what is the point? The Place is not a Square. We could condescend to women by getting a lady sculptress to make a statue symbolising the spirit of womanhood, just like they did in the Thirties, but we don't need another sculpture - Auckland has quite enough ugly realist sculptures. Besides, Mr Keith should know that public commemorative sculpture is not exactly the cutting edge of the avant garde these days. We would not get anything that would not make us cringe. In any case, while we are thinking of names, how about the Potemkin Staircase? The City could employ a woman with a pram in a performance piece to celebrate suffrage.

So how about we tell the great and the good to sod off and leave our public spaces alone? They got their Art Gallery. They have their atrium. The Gallery is quite bossy enough to keep the oicks away. So perhaps the great and the good could now ease off on the arrogance and leave alone something that belongs to the rest of Auckland.

Meanwhile, Mr Rudman also is on the side of the steps. Here is Haunted Love, who have an album, which is very good:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Night of the living documents

This was unanimously voted on by all members of Occupy Wall Street last night, around 8pm, Sept 29. It is our first official document for release. We have three more underway, that will likely be released in the upcoming days: 1) A declaration of demands. 2) Principles of Solidarity 3) Documentation on how to form your own Direct Democracy Occupation Group. This is a living document. you can receive an official press copy of the latest version by emailing
It is over before it started. The Occupy Wall Street movement has turned out to be boring, bureaucratic and bourgeois, just like ever revolutionary group before it. It has manifesti: a declaration, some principles and a how-to-do-it guide. Soon, it will be like IKEA: branches everywhere, instruction leaflets, flat-pack activism.

Anyway, what do they want? They want revenge. Of course they do, we all do. Corporations are awful, Wall Street is dreadful, Madison Avenue is worse. But this list, which is not dissimilar to Luther's 95 theses, omits the greatest wrongs committed by corporations:
They have made shiny things that we really like.
They have made yummy things that we really, really like.
They have commodified sex, thus making it fun.
We could go on, adding to the list, dredging further grievances from the backs of our super-egos. Why don't we all go to your place and make muffins while we add to the list? Come on, it'll be fun:
They have made DVD boxed sets of all our favourite albums.
They have made yet another movie of Jane Eyre
They have filled our houses with junk.
They have made everything retro.
They have made documentaries about Late Capitalism.
They are Late Capitalism.
They have made Late Capitalism fun.
That's the problem with Wall Street. It keeps providing stuff that we never knew we really wanted until a branch opened near us. Future archaeologists will clamber over the remains of our civilisation (and what remains, Pip! Best middens ever) and wonder why we needed a Sunglasses Hut in every mall, why we went to such expensive lengths to make coffee just right, why we needed so many pictures framed. We could tell them now: we were buying souvenirs of our own lives. Or we could just not think about it; probably best.

Let us take a quick and lazy look at the people involved. Yes, you thought the same as did I: LATFH. These are the very same people who created a micro-economy where bikes without brakes or gears are worth more than bikes which work properly, the people who made deep shallow so they could sell it to each other, the people who spent a fortune on tattoos which already look silly. No wonder they are angry. And look at this firkin LATFH. It has a book already. Who would buy a book of a blog? Who would prefer to pay for a commodity that will be out of date before it arrives to getting something for nothing? Us, that's who. We're like that.

Painting: The White Slave by Jean Lecomte du Nouy; look, she's smoking! Next up, Andy Warhol makes a music video, with hilarious results: