Month: September 2015

The Story of Rama at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

In the upstairs pink-washed interiors of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, the god-king Rama is depicted with celestial blue skin, using pigment made from crushed lapis lazuli. All colours, obtained through natural processes by pounding vegetables or powdering rocks, are applied with a single-haired squirrel brush, and Rama’s jewels, almost imperceptible, are made of fireflies with clipped wings. Courtesy of the National Museum, New Delhi, The Story of Rama is an exhibition of 101 miniatures from 16–19th century India, which together retell the Sanskrit epic-poem Ramayana. It is a story that is fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India, and is at the heart of the Hindu moral compass. It is very difficult not to be awe-struck, almost moved by the loveliness of these works. The technical mastery is exquisite and the presentation in the gallery is equally lush. But these are cultural objects of historical significance to India, and the deeper significance any viewer here might find seems contingent on the viewer’s capacity to re-orient themselves in two different ways, to two different …

Locating the Asia Pacific in Brisbane

As a fairly recent migrant to Brisbane, I’ve recently become aware of a quaint Fortitude Valley exhibition space called Media Art Asia Pacific (MAAP).   I assumed from the name that this space specialised in Asian and Pacific arts.  Indeed, the organisation is a staunch advocate for contemporary and historic Asian arts (and rightly so).  Interestingly enough they also advocate some European and non-indigenous Australian artists.  But from what I gather, there are very few, if any, Pacific heritage artists associated with MAAP. Frequently listing themselves as supporters of Asia-Pacific art, this blanket term is  problematic.  By using this, they commit a disservice to Pacific voices which are often overlooked.  Most importantly, they also evade the responsibility to specifically represent artists of Pacific heritage. The ever-shifting Shangri-la* or the concept of the ‘Asia-Pacific’ can hardly be held responsible for a lack of representation in a gallery that boasts itself as a supportive organisation for ‘unmapped media art activity from Australia, Asia and the Pacific.’  AND THE PACIFIC.  The description of MAAPs ambitions are further unravelled …

Flagging the Debate

With so many issues of political importance – the TPPA, sale of state housing, child poverty, and charter schools – considering the nation’s drapery seems almost immoral. The flag debate is political distraction par-excellence (as illustrated by our patron saint of topical comics, Toby Morris). Nothing will absorb the nation’s scant interest in politics like a debate over national aesthetics, and our media landscape simply isn’t capable of supporting a meaningful debate. The powers-that-be know this; the flag debate is carefully crafted political anathema. The flag debate is an aesthetic ploy, not a deeper meditation upon the meaning of New Zealand nationhood. The flag could have been tied to a larger conversation around Crown-sovereignty and the possibility of establishing a republic. The process might have taken ten years, but at-least substantive issues would have been propelled into the public domain. Instead, the terms of the flag debate have been kept strictly aesthetic, and the nation re-purposed into an unruly focus group trying to agree on a favourite colour. There was one problem right from the …

Mother’s Ruin: Being Cool

This is an on-going series that investigates Bella Horlor’s new role as a young mother. An artist and poet, Horlor shares the banal quandaries that exist between artistic and maternal labour.  ________________________ I wasn’t always the mother with the mum-bun and the muslin cape. I remember existing as a singular creative person, doing things as decadent as drinking a bottle of Fat Bird for a creatively inspirational breakfast. The other week my baby girl suddenly started to poo frothy dark green explosions. Her ass became a little saagwala paneer cannon and I was terrified. She was vomiting and suddenly the coziness of her skin felt a little too warm and I was sure she was sweating, she was definitely sweating and were her eyes glassy? Her head floppy? Was she cross-eyed? Was that a rash?  Oh my bloody Jesus. Sierra. Hotel. India. Tango. Briefly I had a flashback to a night of drinking red wine, smoking out the window, and watching Bridget Jones’ Diary in my underwear. For Inspiration. It’s not like I could just …

The Emperor’s New Clothes at Wallace Gallery Morrinsville

The old story of the Emperor’s New Clothes can be read in any number of ways; how politicians are easily duped, how mass conformity operates and so on. It can also be viewed as an exemplar of alternative perception, the outsider view. This is how curator James R Ford has chosen to understand the fable, using it as the title and focus for the exhibition currently showing at the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville. Given that the role of art, as some see it, is to “strip the veil of familiarity from things”, as poet Shelley once claimed, or to provide an unorthodox perspective, then Ford is in good company and the works in the show certainly provide an oblique angle on a range of subjects. One of the most arresting of those is a gem of a piece, by Sanjay Theodore, unprepossessing in its form, (it is simply a found bit of paper which has been then photocopied) yet provided with an ironic and satirical setting by having it placed inside an elaborate gold frame. The …

So hot right now? What about next week? – Saving decolonial practices from tokenisation and ephemerality.

As Lana’s recent article read, there is no denying that ‘decolonial discourses are so hot right now.’ She raises some critical points about how decolonialism is being viewed with regards to wider criticism and practice in Aotearoa. Let’s elaborate on this. What is the potential detriment of this ostensibly sudden but enthusiastic pique of decolonialist movements? Imma be straight with you – I’m not bagging this charged-up movement – I too am a bandwagoner, hence me seizing this opportunity to write about it. For one, the popularity of these movements have apparently been successful in democratising decolonisation narratives. The exponential growth (measured from my Twitter and Facebook newsfeed) of mentions, hashtags and general awareness regarding race relations in (primarily) the USA, and New Zealand is evidence that decolonial narratives are making their way into the mainstream, even if they are sometimes misinformed.  Yet what concerns me is the potential decline of this boom – like pop culture fads: yo-yos and bindi-wearing – I fear that the ‘so hot right now’-ness of decolonial discourses risks the …

Wunderūmma at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Assorted small things In a room full of perspex cases and salon-hung paintings at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, there are two modest works sitting quietly side-by-side. Wunderūmma: New Zealand Jewellery showcases so many works that it appears overwhelming. In this particular case a fascinating piece from Te Papa Tongawera, titled Randell Cottage Jewellery, 1850-1910, makers unknown, rests alongside Kate Newby’s Most Naturally from 2013. Both works involve a collection of small items carefully arranged, and seeming to promise a good story. You can find them for yourself in case ‘L’. It took me several inspections of Wunderūmma to get to know this pair and the fascinating story behind the Randell Cottage Jewellery. Long forgotten, the objects were found in a hidden cache of the Randell Cottage in Thorndon, Wellington. A bloom of turquoise oxide now covers the small collection of keys, brooches and other miscellaneous items. No one knows the collector, where the objects came from or why they were chosen. Kate Newby’s work on the other hand consists of a number …

The Theocracy of David Bowie

Theo Macdonald is an artist that publishes a regular comic series called Theocracy – an excruciatingly simple pun on the artist’s name. The autobiographical and mock-scholar tone of Theocracy suits, as with each new release, Macdonald outlines another adventure of embodied cultural critique. The latest issue titled Go Out – Stay In – Get Things Done, outlines the artist’s fourteen-week conversion to David Bowie circa 1983 (one of the musicians most maligned periods). As Macdonald explains on page one: “The project is thinking about how certain parts of an artist’s career are canonised and the transitional phases glossed over.” The comic format is a surprisingly intuitive guide to the conceptual performance piece. The necessary context of the work is made illustrative, and each intricacy repurposed as a twist in the story. A map of Macdonald’s experience during the performance; the comic is a personal record of what might otherwise seem a deceitful exercise. While Go Out – Stay In – Get Things Done feels like the definitive guide to the performance, Macdonald’s shape shifting found …

Decolonisation is so hot right now – ST PAUL St Curatorial Symposium 2015 – Random Thoughts 

Note: I could not cover everything in this article nor was I trying to, this is just some thoughts that I had post the Symposium on my experience over 2 days of talks and manākitanga. This years ST PAUL St Curatorial Symposium was centred on alternate ways of being and knowing. It’s a social event for New Zealand’s curatorial community, really. There were talks by Julia Moritz, Cassandra Barnett, Léuli Eshraghi, Peter Brunt, Misal Adnan Yildiz and Marysia Lewandowska and manākitanga by Public Share and Local Time. The first four talks where led by speakers qualified with or on their way to a PhD. Despite the academic heft present, much of the time was spent considering alternate (non-academic or university sanctioned) ways knowing, often involving a process of unlearning. Learning, then unlearning. It can all be a bit of a vortex if you think about it for too long. Much of the energy seemed to be spent theorising what could otherwise be seen as instinctual. A common thread of the symposium was the use, redefinition …