One Night, Four Weeks. Bryn Roberts, Bridget Riggir, Robin Murphy.
September. Window Gallery.
One Night, Four Weeks by Bryn Roberts, Bridget Riggir, and Robin Murphy is a recent installment of the student co-operative – Window. The exhibitions display of The John Weeks Memorial Trust, come baring the disenfranchised relics of an earlier school of Elamites.
The collection of paintings, drawings and prints come carrying names, big and small. Colin McCahon, Don Binney, Toss Woolaston and the trust’s naming-figure John Weeks, together representing some of the major proponents of New Zealand modernism. Among these titans of our tentative national canon, are less certain names – Ben Corban, Adriana Tuscia and Helen Mitchel; but-a-few of the anonymous figures that announce the collections breadth and eclecticism.
Roberts, Riggir and Murphy have not delivered a long overdue survey-show of the collection, but rather presented the artworks collared with their current institutional reliance. Through the snippets of back door politics made available to us, the objects are recast as insurance liabilities, status symbols of the Executive branch, and flashpoints of inter-departmental dispute.
Surrounding the exhibition are performative moments that resemble a bureaucratic dance. A eight-man convoy accompanied McCahon’s ‘Let Us Possess One World, 1955’ from the chancelleries bastion of Alfred Nathan House, and a security guard patrolled the show’s opening. Even the artworks themselves stand elevated from Windows floor, a precautionary cushion, and a slight of hand allusion to ‘the hot water cabinet’ – a humid and flood prone home to the trust’s collection.
The current (waterlogged) life of the collection is entirely incongruent with the founding aspiration of the trust…
‘To foster and encourage, and to provide financial support for, the artistic endeavors of final year and graduated students of the Elam School of Fine Arts’
This energetic mission statement is seemingly incompatible with the administrative requirements of The University of Auckland. As the tertiary funding belt tightens another notch, the aspiration to foster Elam with vitality, support and patronage seems more needed than ever. With One Night, Four Weeks, the artists remind us of our entitlements, and ask us, what might be the future of this student owned asset?
It is at this juncture that the figure of John Weeks provides pertinent advice – not as an empty letterhead upon another University committee -but as a model for art education in our own space and time. While Weeks the artist is valued as a relentless experimenter and pioneer of New Zealand modernism, it is his reputation as a teacher that many of his generation consistently highlight. Deeply committed to his students, and in possession of a ‘remarkable patience’, Weeks was instrumental in building Elam’s reputation as the most vital and important art school in the country.
Stories of Week’s daily rituals seem to closely align his work as an artist with his responsibilities as a teacher and mentor. His was a practice of laboring with students, rather than laboring on students. I’m certainly not suggesting that the staff of The University of Auckland sleep on school grounds, so as to be more available to students (as Weeks was known to do), but perhaps our relationships have become too defined by the administration we have built around our community. It seems to me that One Night, Four Weeks and the life of John Weeks ask us to invest more –not less, in the institutions that connect us. Our relationships and possibilities as a community are only as rich as what the individuals within are prepared to offer.
Photo credit: Window Gallery