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The Creative Inhabitants of Public Institutions – Sadness, Prison, and Metal

The vast majority of artists sustain themselves through some other labor. Artist’s commonly disguise these day-jobs, attempting to be seen solely as ‘professional practitioners’ miraculously buoyant on impossible financial waters. Within these necessary vocations, artistic labor becomes a clandestine activity, a moonlit enterprise that generally has little to do with the day-job.

Public institutions are key employers of wage-dependent artists. The community-ethos of art school, as well as a traditional allegiance to The Left, seems to make artists ideal public servants. Campbell Patterson is emblematic of this scenario, exhibiting regularly while working as a Librarian at the Auckland Public Library. Represented by Michael Lett, the artist has exhibited recently at Dog Park Art Project Space and FUZZYVIBES, and published his first book, Campellfrieda.

Wage-dependent artists may recall employers trying to make use of their more ‘creative’ staff members; “Perhaps you’d be interested in doing the companies Christmas tree?” “Or maybe you could spice up the bosses business cards?”. These are momentary invasions of the day-job onto the clandestine. Normal reactions to this scenario would include feeling diminished, perhaps fearful of a life of misused creativity. Flaunting the expected emotional response, Patterson offers another path. Side-stepping a culture of embarrassment associated with this request, Patterson embraces the confluence between the day-job and the clandestine through a series of Library displays.

Patterson’s textual shrines are not intended, nor positioned as artworks, and yet the themes of “Sadness”, “Prisoners”, “High-School”, and “Metal”, have a strange resonance with the artist’s work. Currently on display is “Metal”, a presentation of books, CD’s and DVD’s sourced from the Library’s collection. Distinguishing the display are six black balloons, hopelessly underwhelming in their attempt to be demonic, and a menacing poster boy that is quickly undone by selected titles ; ‘Metal Cats’, ‘Acid Bath’, as-well as an album cover featuring a gigantic otherworldly penis. Another title, ‘A Labor of Love and Hate’, perfectly captures the paradoxical relationship artists have to the security and tedium of undemanding day-jobs.

Elsewhere in the library, displays of entirely different provenance can be found. The Auckland-Guangzhou ‘sister cities’ partition looks as though it was installed by a Communist Party official struggling to stay enthused about their south pacific appointment. Presumably, some equivalent exists in a Guangzhou Library, installed by a comparable official attempting to describe the ‘urban scenes’ and ‘friendly visits’ of Auckland.

The tightrope between vocational and artistic labor is by no means a new phenomenon. Turning to New Zealand’s national cannon we find Colin McCahon – the seasonal laborer, and Gordon Walters – the commercial sign painter. These vocational lives should be embraced, and when read parallel to artist oeuvres, they can become subtly informative.

Emil Dryburgh

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