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In conversation with Georgie Johnson

Georgie Johnson is an emerging artist based in Wellington who has just had her first ‘official’ gallery show (as she called it) at Brunswick Street Gallery (BSG) in Melbourne Australia. The other first show-ers I have known have been with a local gallery where they have had the support of their friends and often family to help them navigate, or had at least met the gallery staff before opening day.  I caught up with Georgie about the experience of having her first show offshore and her thoughts about how she will move forward with her practise.

Meredith Leigh Crowe: Was this your first time visiting Melbourne?

Georgie Johnson: Yeah, I have been to Australia before, but never Melbourne, so it was a bit of an adventure.

M: How did you come to show with BSG?

G: I’ve shown before but it was in more causal locations and set ups.  This is my first official gig with a gallery which was a pretty cool thing! I’ve been doing a few commissioned pieces recently and selling to people overseas, and one of them was a guy in Melbourne who happened to know BSG because he buys work from them occasionally and he actually put me in touch with them.

M: How early did you need to come over?

G: Well, I probably should have come over earlier, but because of the distance I actually only arrived on opening day, just a few hours before. There was a little bit of stress getting everything up and ready before opening.  I think also it was the new experience of hanging in a place that is more professional, there were a few nerves!

M: Did you know any of the other artists you were showing with or their work?

G: No, everyone there was new to me except Miriam, the gallery director, who I have been digitally talking to during the lead up. That was quite a new thing for me too: not knowing the other artists I was showing with, I just met them that day.

M: Did you get the impression that they were a similar experience level, or did you think they might have had a few shows before?

G: I think that a lot of the others were more established within the gallery scene, I definitely think I was more of a newbie, the whole thing didn’t seem as foreign to them.

M: It was quite a big show in the end!

G: Yeah the gallery is two levels and there are about 10 spaces, with each artist having their own.

M: How do you think the gallery went about putting the whole thing together? There were definitely a lot of different mediums of work, but were there conceptual themes running throughout?

G: I’m not entirely sure to be honest, I think that there was lot of variety in the work that was showing. I was, I think, the only paper based artist; there was a lot of photography, painted works on canvas, and some sculpture.  I’m not sure how they gallery works through that kind of thing. I don’t know if everyone would have approached them with a portfolio as I did, or maybe some were approached by the gallery instead.

M: Do you think that the combinations worked? Opening night was certainly packed which was great! Do you think that having the variety of work was advantageous in terms of attracting a lot of people, and was that a good move by the gallery or would you prefer to show in a more regimented group?

G: I think that it was great. It was really cool to see such a variety of ages of people at the opening. Some had obviously come to support someone they knew, but checked out all the work. I think because there was such diversity in the art and artists you could see the diversity in the crowd, there were students, and professionals; one of my sales on opening night was from someone who had never heard of me.  That was really interesting, being able to talk to him about my work in a gallery setting when I think it was really unexpected for him.  He said that he hadn’t intended on buying anything that night.

M: You did make a couple of sales on opening night, what was that like?

G: Yeah, a good feeling! I think for any artist there is that greediness, but also self consciousness, so when you do get that recognition where someone says ‘hey I really like your work’ and they engage with it, you really do hold on to that feeling.

M: Is there a difference for you between someone saying ‘I really like this’ and then someone saying ‘I like this so much that I’m going to hang it in my house’?

G: I think my style is quite edgy and unexpected, so really I understand that for a lot of people it’s not their cup of tea, especially to have in their home. Though I have been approached by people who have seen my work online and have bought pieces for their home, or more commissioned pieces really. But that’s something I am trying to stay away from as well, and that’s why I think this exhibition was really a step in the right direction for me. I was able to just say ‘this is what I’m producing’. There’s no discussion about what the pieces are going to be, and people can appreciate the work if they want to.

M: So when someone has commissioned a piece from you what kind of direction will they give; conceptual, or is it more about sizing or finishing?

G: This is something I’ve been really aware of because I don’t really want to be strictly directed by someone else, so a lot of the time it has been that people will come across the work through Instagram and they’ll say ‘hey I really like this series, do you have any more of them, or can you do more of them?’ And sometimes they may ask for certain content, but I always find myself resisting it. The way that I work is really spontaneous and unmediated, and I find it puts a huge creative limit on me if I’m trying to work for a specific brief.

M: Did you make work specifically for this show?

G: I’m working all the time; basically whenever I have the chance to and last year I put together a group of works that I was really grooving with, and three of those kind of sparked a new series based on some ideas that had been floating around in my head, so I have created this set from being encouraged from the connections between those.

M: What was the highlight for you?

G: I think the best feeling was after they were hung; of just having them in the space. I think because I work in quite a confined environment, seeing them all in a gallery space was an amazing feeling. And then on the night seeing people moving around and actually engaging with them and talking about them is something I think that makes any artist stoked.

Photography by Eliza Bell

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Briefly on the Precarity of the Emerging Artist

Precariousness is the new contemporary condition of the emerging artist. Even the very words ‘emerging artist’ — that is towards some sense of stability or establishment within the art world — are words that are now intermingled with the notion of precarity. To be an emerging artist, more often than not, is to be in a state of precariousness, meaning to live with an insecure and unforeseeable future especially through the corrosion of state support systems and privatisation of almost every realm of life.

Now emerging artists are increasingly dependent on “something outside themselves, on others, on institutions and on sustained and sustainable environments.”(1)  To be an emerging artist today is to be dependent on many facets of the art world, more so than it ever has been. And because life is already precarious, under the current neoliberal agenda, artistic labor of the emerging artist is increasingly undervalued by the state. The precarity of living itself; the paying of bills, food, rent, power, internet and clothes etc., all impact artistic production. The harder it is to live, the harder it is to make art. Thus the emerging artist therefore is faced with a difficult decision; does the artists push on despite this precarity and invest in themselves? Or leave it completely.

The balancing of both ‘work’ and ‘artistic production’ is increasingly a strategic skill. How does one maintain a certain level of living with a minimal amount of work in order to create? For art needs space to breath and critically needs time, which is the most precious currency. Time is money, or rather time is the potentiality of the exchange of bodily-labour with labour-time, it is one’s own body that is to be sold as labour-power (2). But artistic production doesn’t fit neatly into this equation and it shouldn’t, as it exists both outside of societal labour yet uniquely within it. It has been proven time and time again that artistic production is inherently productive! As in contributing to both society as a whole and to the minds of individuals. However, because art is not immediately quantitative it is inherently doomed to retain a certain position within society, unless arts’ perception itself within the social sphere is changed. And this perception always impacts the emerging artist’s existence, lending to an increased state of precarity.

Of course all emerging artists have completely different levels of precarity, some more so than others, but what about the artists that fall through the cracks? Where is their support? And there’s always funding, which especially from the state feels like applying for work and income (which is also another option) and there’s also applying for competitions, residences, scholarships etc., but even that doesn’t seem enough. And why is it that Creative New Zealand relies on a funding system that is completely variable, it’s main donor; ‘The NZ Lottery Grants Board,’ who through gambling is reliant completely on sales which of course oscillate like the tides of the sea.

Perhaps my own biggest support base is my parents, who through their love and dedication provide me from time to time essential costs in both living and in art, which is a privilege no doubt afforded to a few.

There are more promising alternatives to the emerging artists’ labour relations. ‘Working Artists and the Greater Economy’ or ‘W.A.G.E’ for short is a “New York-based activist organization focused on regulating the payment of artist fees by non-profit art institutions and establishing a sustainable labor relation between artists and the institutions that contract our work.”(3)  Organisations such as W.A.G.E offer a unique model in the relations between artists and institutions by demanding the end of the refusal to pay artists fees for their labour and to reassert the role of artistic production towards cultural value within society. Their model functions as a type of union or coalition between art institutions through their certification process. Artists can therefore instead choose to associate with W.A.G.E approved institutions while placing pressure on those that aren’t. What this means is to reassert the cultural value of artists within the greater economy and to ease the precariousness of the emerging artist.          

What is certainly felt among emerging artists is a growing sense of insecurity. Felt both in New Zealand and internationally, such as the uncertainty of artists living abroad following Brexit, the seemingly never ending rise of tuition fees of art programmes, the cost of studio spaces, the cost of materials or things in general for artistic production and most importantly the role in the investment of art within society itself, to name a few examples. What is needed is a type of challenging against the current perception within public consciousness of ‘artistic production,’ we need to somehow convince the public of its worthiness and to educate on its merits. However the public more often than not blames arts exclusivity or its ‘strangeness’ to place it bluntly, they might also see it purely in monetary terms i.e. reserved for the upper classes or the elite, which in many ways is true and in many ways not. Art spaces, some dealer galleries and of course public galleries do seek to destabilize this myth, through attempts to engage with community, with outreach programmes and simply to provide spaces for art that is not necessarily commercial.

On a personal level, more often than not I have had to explain what contemporary art actually is; to justify my position as an emerging artist and to validate my passion and commitment towards a pursuit that has no clearly defined direction or path, basically a path that does not reward a certain level of labour reserved for other disciplines or occupations. However this is a fact that many emerging artists are certainly aware of and in applying for art school I knew of the difficulties and tribulations in such an endeavour, yet sheer fervour always overrides such obstacles.

Even after years of study it still took me sometime to even call myself an ‘emerging artist,’ and yet students who study law are immediately lawyers as if it’s the most natural thing in the world! But why was it so difficult for me to call myself an emerging artist? It meant acknowledging my own level of precarity.

Being an emerging artist truth be told is extremely difficult, straight to the marrow. One cannot deny the state of precarious freelance labour. I cannot speak for all emerging artists either for their experiences and situations completely differ from my own. However I can speak more broadly on what seems to me a very pertinent issue, one in which I know will only get worse unless some reframing of artistic production is sought.

Why bring all this up at all? It seems to me that if there’s one area of labour within society that could create new support systems for its own practitioners could it not be the art world, which prides itself on being the critical lens of society, celebrating its creative freedoms and political potentialities? Or perhaps I’m being far too optimistic, one cannot have freedom with security and vice versa, for that is the endless struggle of politics. Although it seems we are losing both.    

Taylor Wagstaff



1. Lorey, I. (2015). State of insecurity: Government of the Precarious. NY: Verso Books.

2. Butler, J. (2009). Frames of war: When is life Grievable? NY: Verso Books.

3. http://www.wageforwork.com

Breathing in Beijing at Wallace Gallery

The world of residencies is a curious thing. The old saying, a change is as good as a rest probably operates here, but it’s become, it seems, something more than that these days. It’s morphed into a career move, the must have for all aspiring artists making their convoluted way inside the mysterious arena of professional advancement in the art business.

China seems to have become the “it” place to be. One can speculate about why that is the case. Is it the attraction of the strange and slightly exotic, the challenge of that which is foreign, unorthodox, transgressive, the other? Or is it something to do with being on site of an emerging new world power and witnessing culture in major social ferment, change and flux?

Whatever it is, it has attracted a growing number of New Zealand artists in recent years, one of whom is Bevan Shaw, freshly returned from a residency near Beijing.

He was domiciled in a small town just out from the big city on the north-eastern outskirts, a place called, Feijiacun. A few decades earlier, this was a quiet rural backwater, home to local farmers, but now it has become a busy migrant community, taking in rural workers from all over China.

Caught in transition, like so much else in the country, between the old traditional ways of life unchanged for centuries and the new urban conglomerates, the place is a classic case of farming community meets shopping plaza. In a very short space of time, quiet country life has been transformed into bustling crowded noisy streets with all the attendant problems associated with rapid change.

A pervading sense of transience has become the norm in this now transit town as the old is torn down to be replaced by the new, which in turn is added to and amended. One of the consequences is that infrastructure has not kept pace with the change and pollution has become an issue.

Artist Bevan Shaw captures the quandary of some of this in a small series of large works – acrylics on canvas, that stylistically float somewhere between illustration and abstraction.

There is a soft fauve look to his use of colours which in a way belies the underlying social issues fermenting in the place. These are bright and cheerful paintings that say little about the social disjunction or environmental degradation taking place. Indeed the high-rises that hover ghostlike on the horizon in “North Gate”, painted in a golden yellow wash and sketched out in simple line drawings, could be mistaken for the heavenly city about to descend from the clouds.

The darker foreground conveys more dislocation where blocked paving stones become upended, splattered with various spillages in a place where dogs roam free through the streets. Trees that do exist in this urban setting are leafless, small and stunted, stuck in the pavement like add-ons.

Shaw has rendered his subject with both realistic precision and with a kind of impressionistic wash over a strict gridded format which remains visible, perhaps acting as a metaphor for the somewhat artificial constructed nature of the locale.

A video accompanies the exhibition which documents the painting process, recording the painterly additions and subtractions as the canvases were developed. In an interesting way, this mimics at another level the artist’s subject.

China. Gateway to a new utopia or ruthless destroyer of traditional communities? Shaw seems to come down somewhere in the middle on this, though in works like “Footbridge” and “Park”, he veers heavily toward a more idealized image of a Shangri-La. Modernism never looked so inviting.   

Peter Dornauf         

Waiver Flash Deviate at Eastern Art Express

waiver · flash · deviate took place on the inaugural Eastern Art Express – a free bus service to Malcolm Smith Gallery in Howick and Te Tuhi in Pakuranga, departing opposite Artspace on Karangahape Road, Tāmaki Makaurau. Bridget Riggir-Cuddy and Taarati Taiaroa commissioned three new works from artists Hana Pera Aoake, Matilda Fraser and Olivia Blyth to take place throughout the journey. The following is an account of the event from one of the passengers who took part in the journey.


I drove to catch this bus

Wearing a red jersey.

Late, feeling anxious

Only wanting to sleep

 

The last on I make my way down to the back where I spot a familiar face and say some breathless hellos before being instructed to put on the blindfolds we were greeted with as we boarded.(1)

It was a hot winters day and the prospect of working up a sweat making idle sightless conversation amongst that small crowd had me move away to an empty seat.

People don’t stop talking. Within earshot they’re musing as to whether we might have been deceived and are being taken on some illicit journey. Like the game young toddlers play by covering their eyes to hide, the blindfold was immediately amusing and a relief. No eye contact necessary, roll my eyes at myself and feel the sun through the window.

People all performing for each other, side by side

Making an effort

A missed opportunity, listening to that Chaka Khan song again

Who sits alone?

Colder with no one sitting next to you

Treating it just like a normal bus journey (hovering)

Wish a Speed type romance happened…

Even if wearing headphones channels your focus out the window, it’s difficult to ignore someone when they sit beside you. Silent acknowledgement, bodies shift to either make room or claim more space. After a while you both adjust to the proximity and ease back into your own thoughts. Any number of predictable or unfathomable situations could arise.

Some time into the journey somebody sat next to me. This was going to happen. Their presence was a comfort—made me make careful cat-like movements to be sure they really were there. They didn’t talk, but opened a packet of chips and crunched away—what a sweet sound—leaving as abruptly and inconspicuously as they had appeared. (2)

There was some good breeze, open windows probably

And the smell of citronella

‘So much citrus in this city’(3)

A disembodied voice

Lazy anticipation

Who was our driver? I don’t remember his name but I remember thanking him.

Looking at people from behind or in the reflection of the wide windows, the sky is always right there on these buses. Napes of necks are not so visible in winter.

‘Not knowing where you are is not quite the same as being lost’(4)

Running the 1 minute distance to the bus stop near my teenage home, where during the day or weekend there’s only one an hour. Breathless in a suburban street, making sure that there’s time to wait so as not to miss it. The colour of the sky might match the music in my headphones. Get on, there’s always a seat, being at the start of the route, and settle in for the hour long mission in to ‘the city’.

Remembering the music I listened to, the epiphanies I had on the bus at certain places in the journey (“wow the sky is three dimensional – I can see clouds moving in front of other clouds”).

While the works weren’t named, their presence was accurately conveyed without clear beginning or end. The blindfolds were taken off (‘it gave me motion sickness’), the subtlety of the audio playing through the sound system was lost in bubbles of conversation, and not many people had left the seat beside them empty. Any bus ride plays host to any nostalgia, and the blur between sitting and moving, between participating and creating, fades through memories.

Melanie Kung


  1. Olivia Blyth
  2. Hana Pera Aoake
  3. Matilda Fraser
  4. Matilda Fraser

Image: Matilda Fraser (2016) Photo taken by Bridget Riggir-Cuddy

Creep!!! at Skinroom

Fear and Loathing

Creep!!! at Skinroom came about from a casual conversation between two artists; Abigail Jensen and Eliza Webster — the director of Skinroom Gallery. Eliza had been receiving borderline stalker texts from a man, and the two stumbled across his page online, listed on FetLife.com, a social media platform like Facebook, but kinky. Aside from his continued unwelcome advances, they found themselves finding out more intimate details about his life and personal preferences than they ever wanted to know. Jokingly, they laughed about making an exhibition about this experience: Creep!!! 

Centred around creepiness, unsolicited attention from men, and general undesirable smut, their works follow this theme. Although most works in the exhibition are flat works on paper or board, there are several installation pieces. In the first room, a yellow sheet of plastic cut with metal stud punches and rings hangs. Translucent and thin like stretched, pierced skin, this work by Jensen recalls Eva Hesse’s latex and canvas hung works. In the second room, Webster installed a dentist chair from the 60s, the leather somewhat grimy and flesh-coloured. This chair had come with the lease for Skinroom, and its presence emphasises the carnal viscerality of Jensen’s works (the name of the gallery itself recalling its history as a dentist practice, and later tattoo parlour). 

Jensen’s pieces for this exhibition are take-it-or-leave-it psycho-sexual works. Largely concerned with the bodily functionality of sex, these works on paper feature toothy grimaces, predatory eyebrows, scribbled labia and black holes of body cavities. Largely, these organs are devoid of subject, meshed together and floating against negative space. Chain links weave over some of the surfaces, and gestural, almost frantic dashes and slashes of ink and paint punctuate the paper. Beneath a smile, one work reads ‘Do you know this asshole? WILL grab your ass, spike your drink, and pretend 2 look after you.’ Another work, Cock Board was pinned with a g-string, drawings of condoms, a peeled banana, and a gay couple making out, one with a swastika tattoo (for shock value?). 

Some of Jensen’s works revert to representations of erotically charged fruit with open and spilling cores and seeds, which I found somewhat pedestrian and lacking imagination. However, her works maintained a compositional dynamism between different media, and the heavy-handed gesturalism set a distinct tone of anger and corporeal disgust. 

Webster’s acrylic paint works were much larger in scale. Telescope featured a dripping and nude female figure, seemingly boneless and disjointed, while Memento Mori showed a large red skull over layers of decorative patterns. Brain Hole took a turn for abstract expressionism, and had a smudgy palimpsest of paint layers, which hinted at complex figures but remained inarticulate under a haze of swirled washes and shellac. Resisting a clear reading, Webster said that this work referenced forms of monsters, and her work process was a layering of addition and deletion, building up figurative layers which she then deleted or painted over. Although Webster’s works marked a ‘representation of [her] mental state at the time’ and most seem to swing between gestural fear and anger – this work, with harsh colours toned down by muting coats of shellac, suggested lenience and contemplation.

I loved the fact that the exhibition resulted from a shared disdain for creepy men who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and presents a creative response to this feeling of helplessness, frustration and revulsion. More impressively, all the works were created under immense time pressure for this show – save the dentist chair.

Eleanor Lee-Duncan

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Images courtesy of Skinroom.

Emanations at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

The Art of the Cameraless Photograph.

Ask a few people what a cameraless photograph is, and you’ll most likely be met with blank stares. Our experience of photography is manifestly entwined with the camera, the lens, and the act of looking through a device to see what is out there. The notion of a photograph made without a camera seems paradoxical. But the camera is ultimately a tool which causes light to fall on a light sensitive surface in a particular way – and if we remove the camera from the equation, what remains is the interplay of light, surface, and time. These are fundamentals every photographer engages with in the production of work. Yet on their own, they challenge our understanding of what photography is, or might be.

Emanations at the Govett-Brewster has a breadth of material that will appeal to the photographic community and a general gallery audience alike. There is a wide scope of national and international practitioners, historic and contemporary work, and the variety of aesthetic and conceptual investigations afforded by cameraless processes is engaging. It’s a substantial show, filling all of the Govett-Brewster and much of the Len Lye center.

The exhibition offers us an insight into a history of early cameraless photography not often given an outing. Salt prints from British photography pioneer (and inventor of the negative-positive process) William Henry Fox Talbot are present, as are the cyanotype botanical specimens of Anna Atkins. These photographs were rendered by placing objects – plant forms – on sheets of light sensitive paper and exposing them to light. The resulting images are darker where the light has hit the paper and lighter where the object has held light back. This type of process is generally now known as a photogram, though this name has varied. Man Ray and Christian Schad modestly called them ‘Rayographs,’ and ‘Schadographs’ respectively, and Len Lye was known to refer to his as ‘Shadowgraphs.’

Lye

Len Lye, Cameraless photographic portraits, 1947. Image courtesy of Bryan James.

Unsurprisingly, Lye’s work features prominently, forming what the brochure describes as “the heart of the exhibition.” The space containing Lye’s work and that of other mid-century modernists is the closest the gallery has to a ‘white cube,’ and both visually and conceptually, it’s one of the most satisfying aspects of the show. The work within it represents a dogged determination on the part of practitioners (including Man Ray, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Kepes, Max Dupain and Bronislaw Schlabs) to figure out what-this-thing-called-photography-really-is. Lye’s portrait photograms, created in New York in 1947, are the striking centerpiece. Playful and engaging, Lye has worked backwards and forwards between the initial photogram and its positive imprint, constructing and layering subjects, objects and photo paper to achieve a variety of results. If you’re able, spend some time deciphering the three photograms of Georgia O’Keefe, a visual rubik’s cube of twists and turns. Lye is best known for his kinetic sculptures, so it’s very rewarding to see his photographic work surrounded by that of his contemporaries, to consider him as part of a broader investigation into the possibilities of photography.

But what’s the appeal of the cameraless photograph to contemporary photographers? It’s evidently an enduring one, given the work in Emanations spans the existence of photography itself. Perhaps it’s a truism, but we’re surrounded with so many camera-based images that they often fail to resonate. Some photo historians have argued that traditional social documentary practice, for example, promotes indifference and emphasizes social division rather than remedying it. Many of the photographers in Emanations are concerned with raising awareness about particular issues, and the cameraless photograph offers an alternative method of communication – often based on touch as much as vision. For example, Japanese artist Shimpei Takeda’s work Trace #17-1, Joen Ji, (2012) was made using soil sourced from 12 locations around the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the 2011 tsunami and reactor meltdown. Spread over photographic film, the soil was left to ‘expose,’ resulting in a speckled arrangement of black and white that reveals the soil’s latent ‘power’ – radiation which would be invisible to camera-based photography. Lynn Cazabon’s ‘solar photographs’ explore another environmental concern – our immense production of e-waste. Sheets of silver gelatin photo paper were coated in vinegar, baking soda, digital and organic waste, and left to expose in the sun for several hours. The resulting grid of images suggests the disquieting experience of a landfill from within – the weight of our culture’s cast offs pressing against the photographic paper.

Takeda

(left) Shimpei Takeda, Trace #17-1, Joen Ji, 2012, (gelatin silver photograph) and (centre/ right), Justine Varga, Desklamp, 2011-12, and Exit (Red State), 2014-2015 (Chromogenic Photographs). Image courtesy of Bryan James.

Much work also shows a delight in testing photographic materials, and referencing photography and its history – American photographer Alison Rossiter’s work is a beautiful example. Her recent practice involves developing expired photographic paper from previously unopened packets, some of it dating to the 1920s. They’re delicate, precious and contain a reverence for the materials she’s working with. They’re also conceptually rewarding – an exposure, decades in the making; a slip of photo paper becomes a time capsule of compounded light.

Some of the work challenges even the boundaries of the cameraless photograph. How comfortably does Ian Burn’s Xerox Book #1 (1968) fit within the context of cameraless photography? A photocopier has a lens after all; but this hardly makes Burn’s work camera based – does it? What about Shaun Waugh’s series, produced by colour sampling Agfa photopaper boxes using a spectrophotometer (a device which measures the colour of light)? Waugh prints the resultant colour swatch, and uses the original box as a frame. Is his work ‘photography’ or art ‘about photography’? Or is the use of the spectrophotometer enough for us to classify the work as photographic? Emanations takes an inclusive approach and doesn’t give us any hard and fast boundaries. Rather, it provides us with a broad range of material and invites us to consider the possibilities of photography for ourselves. Indeed, one of the appeals of the exhibition is in observing New Zealand practitioners contributing to this international conversation about photography’s scope and potential. 

The exhibition is complimented by a substantial publication, featuring an essay from curator and photo historian Geoffrey Batchen which explores and expands on the exhibition material. It’s a lush publication, satisfyingly visual and providing historical and conceptual context to both the exhibition content and cameraless photography not included in the show. Unfortunately, Emanations isn’t travelling to any other venue (why has no other institution taken it up?) so your singular opportunity to see this very rewarding exhibition is at the Govett-Brewster, until August 14.

Deidra Sullivan

43 things I have learnt while working in an art museum.

1. When it’s raining it’s generally busier.

2. Video is the new black.

3. More and more shows are for entertainment.

4. Curators tend to pack exhibitions with as many artists as they can, more is more apparently and I think this is a bad idea. 

5. I see a lot of couples, it seems to be the perfect place for a date, perhaps I will go on one too, but I won’t cause I work there.

6. Sometimes the architecture is more impressive than the art according to visitors.

6. People don’t like paying for art exhibitions but it’s the norm in many places.

7. Kids can say the best things about art; we forget to take art at face value sometimes.

8. People hit on the gallery assistants all the time, remember we are paid to be friendly, emotional labor is no easy feat.

9. People generally look at the wall text first; for once it would be nice to have none at all. They are so prosaic, but for good reason. I think that’s what titles are for and that’s enough.

10. I left my book on the ground once, someone thought it was art and said “interesting,” it was a philosophy book and I guess it did kind of relate to the show.

11. People are so fashionable at the museum sometimes, so much inspiration.

12. The gallery is a good place to kill time, according to a lot of visitors.

13. Once I worked out the ratio of men artists to women artists, it was roughly 80% men and 20% women…

14. Contemporary art is still a hard pill to swallow for many People.

15. Underneath the museum I was immediately reminded of a sterile hospital, this is no coincidence.

16. Sometimes I like certain artworks with more time spent with it and sometimes I like it less.

17. The best work is perhaps that which you keep thinking about.

18. There’s this one person who regularly returns to visit one painting, sometimes staring at it for hours on end, I have no idea what he sees in the work, I fantasize about what he might, one day maybe I will ask him, but I’m not sure if I want to.

19. You really do get all types of people at the museum, from all ages and identities, perhaps that’s the most beautiful aspect of an art museum.

20. The gift shop books are overpriced.

21. There’s always a little rush of people before closing time!

23. The first people in the museum are the most eager.

24. Obviously kids love to touch art, even more so when we tell them they’re not allowed.

25. I forget that for a lot of people it’s their first time in an art museum.

26. People take a lot of selfies with art. I regularly wonder what happens to most of those photos, I feel like this is an untapped resource for the museum.

27. No bags, food, drink and selfie sticks are allowed in the museum.

28. The director of the gallery hasn’t talked to me yet.

29. The guides for the tours are volunteers, sometimes there’s one person on the tour all the way up to thirty plus, thus the nature of the tour changes accordingly. 

30. I get asked a lot of technical questions about how specific art works are made, more so than the ideas or meanings behind a work. I blame modernism.

31. There are so many different departments and jobs I have never knew existed, forming a tree like structure, it would be nice if it were rhizomatic.

32. So much invisible labor for the production of the visible.

33. There is an ongoing tension between artists, curators and the technicians, a productive tension nonetheless.

34. Sometimes there are moments of pure curatorial beauty, where works when placed from another form an extended narrative, overlaid upon its intended meaning. 

35. I was once retorted for calling the museum a Church, thinking back now I think they are more like clubhouses.

36. A lot of the gallery assistants are over qualified.

37. Where the collections is stored could be an exhibition in its own right, the haphazard placement of objects determined by a productive use of space, also the paintings look so effective on the metal sliding racks.

38. A museum by definition is a building that stores and exhibits artistic and historical objects; although this definition could be broadened encapsulate the production of experiences and events.

39. An art museum is usually didactic in how they critique and display art

40. Wall texts are hung with blue tack.

41. Some people confuse signs with artworks; I still can’t tell if they’re joking.

42. “In dealing with the artworks there is the perspective of the museum visitor—but there is also the perspective of the cleaning lady who cleans the museum space as she would clean any other space. The technology of conservation, restoration, and exhibition are profane technologies—even if they produce objects of aesthetic contemplation. There is a profane life inside the museum—and it is precisely this profane life and profane practice that allow the museum items to function as aesthetic objects.” (1) I now agree with Boris Groys on this one.

43. The art museum is increasingly becoming a type of civic centre, including events and experiences that don’t necessarily relate to art at all, an institution opening its doors to that which perhaps falls outside of the cultural radar.

Taylor Wagstaff

  1. Groys, B. (2016). The truth of art. E-flux. Retrieved from; http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-truth-of-art/

Writing about writing

I’ve reverted to writing about writing.  And fair warning, I have nothing conclusive to say.

Almost a year ago now I left Wellington. I bummed off my parents for a bit, went travelling and eventually moved to Australia. Up until that point I was writing regularly, for #500words, Design Assembly, the Wellington City Council, and a few other smaller artsy publications. I had been working at Enjoy Public Art Gallery for almost two years, and was in my fourth year (on and off) tutoring in the design programme at Victoria University. Without really appreciating it I was constantly surrounded by extremely talented creative people. Curators, artists, writers, photographers, designers, illustrators; world-view-altering over-coffee musings were weekly (I lie, sometimes we drank beer).

1.

Working for Enjoy was — to put it simply — a very cool experience. I met amazing people, people who I still look up to and work with, and wish happy birthday on Facebook. I hope I appreciated it at the time, but I certainly appreciate it now. The most remarkable thing about Enjoy is how much people love it and are prepared to give for it. The energy of good-will that surrounds that tiny wee upstairs gallery on Cuba St still astounds me, and I feel like she deserves every vibe.

I remember one afternoon sitting on beanbags on the gallery floor (it must have been during Emil McAvoy’s PRISMISM because its the only show I can remember that had beanbags) and feverishly arguing with one of our Interns; I can’t actually recall what about, but I remember her hands waving through the air at me, and at the work, and her face turning pink and her sinking further and further into the beanbag trap as she bounced up and down with every sentence. Gallery visitors came and went as we rattled at each other. We were completely at home in that wonderful space, safe enough to raise our voices and fight it out; and raw enough not to feel like our words, thoughts and feelings were just being sucked into a vacuum. Enjoy was a space of consequence, and everyone believed it.

2.

Interviewing was often my writing tactic of choice. I would find people doing something interesting and ask them for some of their time, rope in a photographer friend, and we would all sit around and talk. There was a natural sense of curiosity, not just surrounding the interviewee, but about everything that brought the three of us to be in the same place, yabbering away like we were. No one was in a hurry, no one felt under pressure.

3.

Moving to Melbourne has been fantastic in so many ways, but I didn’t realise what a gem of a social and professional circle I had in Wellington and how hard it was going to be to try and build something similar on the other side of the Tasman. The people I spent time with in Wellington gave me my writing voice. Without them, I’m not sure what I want to say. I didn’t realise how much I benefited from their creative and critical energies and what a privilege it was to feel a part of it.

4.

Now, I work in a creative studio and I absolutely, completely love it. We are busy, bustling, and we work with specialists and experts, people at the top of their creative and strategic game; professionals. I have unequivocal respect for our director who is bold ambitious, charismatic and masterful. It is a very different space to the very un-professional figure-it-out, see where it takes you ethos that was at play with students at Vic, and to an extent, at Enjoy, where risk taking and serendipity was a large and valued part of how we achieved anything. It was a given in the learning process that both organisations used to support and stretch their young talent. Working in a studio for clients, there simply isn’t the same room to celebrate failure.

It feels like by leaving the Wellington bubble my whole life has taken a shift towards the for-profit space. I receive regular letters from the New Zealand IRD informing me of just how much interest my student loan is incurring.  Several times I have calculated my Australian salary vs. my potential New Zealand salary to see if I offset the interest by living here. Invoices come in and go out of our studio for freelance photographers and illustrators and they are worth every penny. But it has changed how I would feel about asking a friend, or ex-student to come with me to interview an artist or creative business owner when I know full well that no one is paying any one. I absolutely, 100% believe that the value of something can not, and should not be measured by its excel spreadsheet line, but now that I’m playing in the private company space I don’t feel the same about reaching out and asking people to take part in something just ‘because’. Now, that would make me feel extremely arrogant, thinking that my half formed brainchild is worth other peoples time.

For that matter, I have no one to ask. I quite unceremoniously ripped myself out of my very connected, very good-willed Wellington network, and I don’t yet actually know anyone who I would even think about asking over here. Those connections take time, and I haven’t yet spent it.

The irony of all of this is that I still willingly offer my time to my creative friends who need an ear, or a pen, or an amateur photographer, writer, editor; anything. But a combination of the for-profit shift, and physically distancing myself from my connected, inspirational, bubbling and boiling Wellington hot-pot has meant that I’m not sure what to say. Not sure that I have anything to say, or that it has any value, or that anyone should care.

5.

I still haven’t really written anything.

Meredith Leigh Crowe

Blonde Maiden series 2016 at ALL GOODS

When I was young, up to 14 we were still walking around with our skirts and with no tops, we went to school and the only time we wore tops or a whole dress was when we went to church but at my age we were still running around topless and there was nothing wrong with that. We went to Samoa college and I remember one guy said come and look at our photos and we went to his house and his father had all these nude paintings of girls just in their skirts going to school and it made me think ‘oh’, it made me feel it’s dirty and I realised, I said ‘are we doing the wrong thing?’ But then it made me really angry.

Interview with Pusi Urale, 2013 (1)

Pinks, peaches, yellows, blues and whites blend together in the 10 paintings of the Palagi female figure. Blonde Maiden, a solo exhibition by Pusi Vaele Urale, forefronts societal norms of beauty and measure. I heard grumblings from fellow visitors to the gallery that echo my own first impressions; don’t they take up enough space already?

Elisapeta welcomes you into the foyer space with her head hung. Turning into the main exhibition space the nude forms almost glow against their brightly coloured backgrounds, thickly rendered in acrylic paint. There is a frank approach to shading and tonal variation in the figures. Each painting is bordered by intricate Samoan designs with some almost seeming to claustrophobically enclose the Palagi women within. This tension is continued with the Samoan Tatau adorning each of the figures. Bold geometric patterns in indian ink sit on top of creamy sections of the backs, legs, arms and bums of the figures. They don’t look at home on these bodies. The stark variation in material feels intentional and strangely superficial, with the indian ink sitting heavily on the soft pink flesh. The eyes of Vitoria follow you around the room openly staring from the canvas. Her blue-eyed gaze is compounded by the tight circular bordering, with a similarly bright blue background. Contemplative, Lepora covers her mouth exuding a protective gaze, which when positioned among the other women whose faces are turned away, makes her seem like the matriarch, wary of her viewers intentions.

Pusi Urale was born in Samoa in 1938. Head of the influential Urale family, she has been painting in Aotearoa for the last 27 years. With female nudes prolific in many of her works, you can’t escape the references to the warm sticky history of Western painters re-presenting Pacific Island women.

What happens when you use the nude genre as a tool?

A bi-product of colonisation is the power of dominant culture to mediate understandings of indigenous bodies. This ongoing practice continues today in all media, including contemporary art. Pusi’s works flip that concept on its head (literally), by mediating imagined Palagi bodies, and reclaiming power by being the gaze(r) not the gaze(d).

I can’t think about the ‘legacy’ of artists like Gauguin — who the exhibition texts highlights as someone Urale is referencing — without thinking of Teha’amana his first 13 year old ‘native wife’ or vahine. Teha’amana appears in many of his works alongside his other  subsequent vahine. I also am reminded of the gruesome detail that his death was brought on by complications with his long standing chronic affliction of Syphilis.

Looking to artists from the past like Gauguin with the rose-tint that they ‘didn’t know better’ quietly perpetuates this violence today. Urale is reminding us — through calm movements and soft spoken words — that just because this is normal in an age where whiteness dominates…. It is not normal.  John Berger’s essay in Ways of Seeing;

‘The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose…. A people or class which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This is why – and this is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue.’ (2)

It would be amiss to view this series solely within the canon of the nude in the Pacific. There is a curiosity underneath the surface level subversion of an archaic and violent western tradition. There is a respect and maturity in the way the nude figure is rendered in Urale’s work. She avoids the deep, dark feeling of anxiousness which is created by the male gaze, replicated by so many ‘anthropologist’s’ in history, and continually reproduced by young male artists today. This is a process based contemplation of the Palagi figure. Urale toys with nudity and vulnerability alongside tensions between cultural transference, appropriation and exchange. There is an intentional breaking of cultural codes here, and in breaking them you are forced to look beyond the figure.

Taking these ideas with a touch as light as Pusi’s, has a very powerful nuanced reclamation. Each soft brush stroke paints a different story, lightly revealing the space that has been taken away.

Ahilapalapa Rands

 

  1. Urale. P, 2013, D.A.N.C.E. art club presents Our Mums, video/ 21.08min
  2. Berger. J, Ways of Seeing, 1972, pg 33