Tapes and bananas
When the firebrands of the great modernist art movements spat out their revolutionary manifestos a century or so ago, it's unlikely they realised they were laying the foundations for a venerable and rather stuffy tradition. Packed with denunciations of outmoded standards of bourgeois art and society, and pitched in a language that is both extravagant and elliptical, the manifestos of movements like Futurism, Surrealism, and Acmeism have become a touchstone for successive generations of grumpy young bohemians. Every new grouping of artists or writers, every new underground journal or non-dealer gallery seems to need its own manifesto, if it is to be taken at all seriously.
It's not surprising, then, that Last Tapes, the glossy freebie magazine launched last month by a gang of undergraduate Auckland students, begins with a manifesto:
1. The essential elements of our poetry will be old rags, new light and 8000 bananas. The aspirations of the new-born babe, Jesus of the winehouse, refuse the silly affairs of Providence. Sing! Yelp! and Eat Public Property!
And so on. It's rather surprising to go from these strident words to the first article in Last Tapes #1. In the sternly reasonable tones of a Granny Herald editorial, the annonymous author of 'Ban-daging the UN's wounds' inveighs against 'swollen bureaucracy' and worries that the world body may become 'irrelevant'. Those menacing superpowers North Korea and Sudan are held up as the key challenges facing new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This is not the sort of stuff that one expects from a generation that is supposed to be reviving the lost art of the anti-war protest.
Perhaps, though, 'Ban-daging the UN's wounds' is some sort of elaborate joke, like Vladimir Nabokov's stated support for the Vietnam War, and the Last Tapes crew is merely parodying the drearily earnest language in which international politics is wrapped by both bourgeois commenators and their left-wing opponents? Have I fallen for an elaborate avant-garde gag?
The plea to Mr Ban is followed by a leisurely and interesting dialogue between Kiwi painter Richard McWhannell and his son Francis (is he Francis or Frank on the birth certificate?). Sitting in front of one of the large but low-key portraits he seems to specialise in, McWhannel snr reminisces about the foibles of some of this country's canonised artists. Here's Toss Woollaston at work:
He took me to his studio, which was a Skyline garage type of thing, a tin-planked garage, with a potbelly stove in it. A garage in the front and a room out the back. As we went in from the house to the studio he said 'Richard, I'd like you to know that I am a practicing homosexual, if that interests you'. And as an eighteen year old, or as an any-year-old, perhaps, I said 'That's fine, Toss, but, no, it doesn't interest me. Thanks for telling me.' I was a very shy young man.
The centrepiece of the first issue of Last Tapes is a long article by chief editor Mark Taylor about the world of underground publishing. Taylor ranges from Scotland, where Kiwi exile and Chopin enthusiast Ken Ross has launched an online enterprise called Crywolf Books, to New Zealand, where Titus Books is making ripples in the small pond of local highbrow publishing. Taylor gives Titus kingpin Brett Cross plenty of time to make his case:
'There are quite a few good Auckland authors', Cross explains, 'who are just having trouble finding somewhere to get published. Most publishers are very concerend with the marketability of their work'...
Near the end of his article, Taylor talks about overcoming 'Divisons between...different forms of media' and fostering a 'community-minded approach to tackling the challenges of underground cultural production'. These words perhaps give us a clue about the design behind Last Tapes. The eclecticism of the journal's first issue - an issue which manages to include poetry, art photography, and an article about the founding of Q Theatre, as well as the stuff on Titus, the failings of the UN, and Toss' garage - expresses a desire to connect the numerous art and youth subcultures that often exist in splendid isolation from one another in New Zealand. If it receives the support it deserves, Last Tapes could become an important meeting place between painters and poets, photographers and actors, underground publishers and student politicos.