Year: 2015

Dovetail Dreams at David Lloyd Gallery

Agnes Dean was a cabinetmaker. That’s a somewhat startling piece of information when you consider the detail. A woman and with the name Agnes, would put her back somewhere in the early part of the twentieth century. Furniture making, of course, was the preserve of men, along with all the other ‘manly’ professions. To be born female and in 1920 or thereabouts would be a recipe for the predetermination of one’s role, clearly defined and limited to the narrow confines of domestic help, nursing or occupations of similar ilk. But Agnes broke the mould in conservative England where social parameters were rigidly set and strictly followed. What helped Agnes Dean was the fact that her foray into an exclusively male domain happened during the war years where all the traditional gender roles, of necessity, were, at least temporarily, abrogated. Men in large numbers conscripted for war meant shortages on the home front which were filled by women, who kept “the home fires burning”. Thousands worked in munitions factories for which Rosie the Riveter was the …

The Transactional Practice of Mordo Barkley

The following text completes an agreement of exchange between Emil Dryburgh and Mordo Barkley, for the painting Collection of E. Dryburgh, swapped for Five Hundred Words, 2015. I’m pretty sure this kind of stuff happens all the time. Nepotism is the oil that greases the art world’s wheels, and everybody likes to be nice to their friends. Admittedly, the transaction is not usually as literal as this, but the principles of reciprocity and mutual gain are the same. It could be said that Mordo Barkley is using me as a hired gun, a means to inflate the brand through the written medium by which art is traditionally assessed. At-least we’re conducting our bargain in broad daylight, better than the smoke and mirrors of many a ‘critical reception’. I’m not the first to strike a bargain with Barkley. The artist has already bartered transactions with writers, designers, gallerists, and even a constructions manager. While trading art works is in itself not uncommon (McCahon constantly bartered his paintings), the method is rarely used to access the knowledge …

Hot Brown Honey at Judith Wright Centre

BRIEFS FACTORY/BLACK HONEY COMPANY (AUS) Presented by Brisbane Festival & Briefs Factory in association with Judith Wright Centre Through word-of-mouth recommendations and a fortuitously available spare ticket, I viewed the critically popular all-female (and one drag queen) production Hot Brown Honey.  Created by performer and dancer Lisa Fa’alafi, the show addresses and attempts to redefine cultural stereotypes, often with a less than subtle criticism on patriarchal colonial systems and their trappings.   The first irony that I notice, as the audience filled into the theatre, was that a majority of the patrons were not brown skinned.  I was aware that HBH was written to inform people about the issues that accompany cultural stereotypes, but dually conscious that this production didn’t hold back in regards to vocal criticisms of white Australians.  As one of the audience members at my table pointed out though, the performers of HBH had a fabulous and perhaps intended opportunity – to reach people who are often the main perpetrators of cultural misunderstandings.  This ironic tension lasted throughout the show – with …

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 …