Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Art and the Occupy generation
'Uhila's street performance, which was called Mo'ui Tukuhausia, was one of the four artworks to make the shortlist for this year's Walters' Prize, but missed out to Luke Willis Thompson's equally controversial inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam.
Thompson's work saw visitors to a gallery space being led by a security guard down a long corridor and delivered to a taxi driver, who in turn took them to the home of the artist's mother, where they were invited to look about.
Over on facebook, one commenter used my essay to draw a contrast between 'Uhila and Thompson. According to her, Thompson's work was 'weak and washed out' compared to Mo'ui Tukuhausia, and only won the Walters Prize because of the racism of the New Zealand art world.
Here's the response I made on facebook:
I agree that there is a lack of knowledge about the cultural and historical contexts in which many Tongan artists work amongst Pakeha who visit galleries and museums, and I think that this lack of knowledge probably contributed to the failure of 'Ite to win the Walters. There's an irony in the way that Pakeha interested in the arts, as students or practitioners of critics, will devour difficult, often convoluted texts by European intellectuals - Derrida and Zizek and Baudrillard and so on - but won't consider the work of Pasifika intellectuals like, say, Futa Helu or Epeli Hau'ofa, or learn about the traditions within which, say, ngatu artists work, because that stuff is - to quote the sort of words I've heard used - too 'alien' or 'esoteric'! I understand these contradictory attitudes, because I used to harbour them myself.
I'm not sure I agree with you, though, when you try to make a dichotomy between 'Uhila and Luke Willis Thompson, and suggest that Thompson was much less deserving of the Walters than 'Ite.
It seems to me that 'Ite and Thompson's shortlisted works had several things in common. Both were attempts to steer their audiences away from the art gallery, both were questioning where the boundary between art and the rest of the world lies, and both seemed, to me at least, to be making critical statements about the way Niu Sila society operates.
'Ite threw away the artist's normal repertoire of tricks, abandoned the gallery, became a haua, and tried to show that some of the virtues we see in artists, and in other esteemed members of society, are also present in the despised homeless on our streets, if only we would look.
For his part, Thompson forced visitors out of the safe, antiseptic space of the gallery, led them to a cool, slightly rundown, and eerily empty home, and seemed to ask them to meditate on the relationship between the everyday world in which we live and the tidied up, beautified world of art and the art gallery.
I think that 'Ite and Thompson are both artists who belong to a generation that is questioning, in a perhaps inchoate way, the verities of market capitalism and runaway technology, and seeking some more authentic way of being in the world. We might perhaps, call theirs the 'Occupy Generation', after the protesters who tried to bring direct human interaction to the alienated wildernesses of our central cities. I certainly see something of the idealism of the Occupy protesters in the methods of both 'Ite and Thompson. Both seem to want to break down the walls between artist and audience and art and life, and substitute human intimacy for the formal operations of galleries and the art market.
In the discussion thread underneath my piece about 'Ite for EyeContact, I've argued that there are some risks involved in trying to get rid of the distinctions between art and life and artist and audience. As you can see, Daniel Webby disagrees with me.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Monday, October 20, 2014
Ramsay ran Niuafo'ou's store and designed its postal system, which saw muscled young men holding cans full of postcards and letters above the water while they swam to passing cargo ships.
When I look at Ramsay's map of Niuafo'ou, I can't easily separate fact from fantasy. For a distant admirer like me, the island's warm crater lake, which contains islands and an island lake of its own, seem as impossibly marvellous as the cherub who wheezes in the map's northwestern corner.
I grew up commanding armies of stunted toy soldiers and fighting with stick guns for the ditch-trenches of the family farm, but my wife has banned me from making our children into militarists. When he sees a gun on television or in a cast-off piece of newspaper, my son has learned to call the strange device a telescope.
When Aneirin and I recently climbed that most fabled and tunneled of Auckland's hills, Maungauika/North Head, and discovered a large gun near the northern summit, pointing towards Rangitoto, he decided, quite reasonably, that it was a telescope made to help visitors 'spy on the dinosaurs' of the nearby island. He looked down the barrel of the instrument and began to describe the fantastic creatures of Rangitoto.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Spitting on the artist
On three separate occasions, members of the police force confronted and interrogated the artist. During the last of these grillings, the artist handed his inquisitors a letter from the gallery's manager, which explained the institution's support for his work. A policeman tore the piece of paper up, and the artist decided that the time had come for him to end his show.
The events I've been described didn't occur in Solzhenitsyn's Soviet Union, or in the Ayatollahs' Iran, but in the east Auckland suburb of Pakuranga, where Kalisolaite 'Uhila performed Mo'ui Tukuhausia, or Living Homeless, for two weeks in 2012.
We New Zealanders like to consider ourselves a tolerant, enlightened people. We chuckle when we see the televangelists of America or the mullahs of the Middle East condemn a pop song with naughty lyrics or a film with nude scenes as an insult to the Almighty; we shake our heads when we read about the arrest of demonstrators demanding democracy in China.
When Kalisoliate 'Uhila donned the tattered black uniform of a tramp and took up residence in the grounds of Te Tuhi gallery, though, he soon showed the limits of our tolerance and enlightenment. The sanctity of private property; the separation of our private, embarrassingly intimate, and public, respectable lives; the moral necessity of work: all of these solemn principles of our society seemed mocked by the silent man in black.
This year Mo'ui Tukuhausia was nominated for the Walters Prize, New Zealand's most prestigious art award. At the request of the Auckland City Art Gallery, Kalisoliate 'Uhila has just finished a three month reprise of the work that made him a familiar and sometimes controversial figure on the pavements and in the parks of our central city. In the latest of my series of essays for the online arts journal EyeContact, I've tried to counter the criticisms that 'Uhila has faced, and linked his performances with some of the radical intellectual and artistic traditions of his native Tonga.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Monday, October 13, 2014
Sir, there is dry rot in the Labour Party
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Saturday, October 11, 2014
The return of the 'now'
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Speaking over Heaphy
Here are another couple of excerpts from my introduction to Murray's book. I'll see you tomorrow night, and shout you a Rheineck.]
At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, Murray Edmond was one of a gang of young literary rebels who published a magazine called The Word is Freed, or Freed for short, from their base in inner city Auckland. Like many writers of their generation, the Freed group considered cultural and political radicalism to be inextricably connected. The Fordist capitalist societies of the postwar West, with their vast and orderly factories, quiescent working classes, and smug, bureaucratised political parties, seemed to depend for stability on a puritanical morality and a philistine mass culture. Seduced into conformity by their televisions and by well-stocked supermarkets, and fearful of the consequences of sexual and chemical experimentation, the denizens of the West needed to change their lifestyle as well as their politics.
For the Baby Boomers who marched and rioted in the streets at the end of the sixties, culture was therefore as much an issue as economics and politics. During the revolutionary ‘May Days’ of 1968, the students and workers of France demanded the end of sexual and cultural repression as well as common ownership of the economy, and painted the slogan TOUT LE POUVOIR A L’IMAGINATION (ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION) on walls. Poets, it seemed, were in the vanguard of the revolution.
The exuberantly innovative poems published in Freed were intended, then, as a challenge to New Zealand society, as well as to New Zealand literature. In the first issue of the magazine, Alan Brunton condemned the notion of art for art’s sake, insisting that ‘A WORK OF ART HAS NO RIGHT TO LEAD AN AUTNOMOUS MORAL EXISTENCE’ inside a world that is too often ‘DIVORCED FROM THE VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE’.
As Murray Edmond notes in his preface to this book, though, the coupling of revolutionary politics and revolutionary art did not last long. In the eighties Thatcher, Reagan, and our own Roger Douglas brutally restructured capitalism, shrinking the state, shutting factories, splintering the left, and inaugurating a post-Fordist era in which an atomised population competed for insecure service sector jobs. At the same time, the cultural phenomena that had seemed aberrant and dangerous in the sixties – sex outside marriage, communal living, alternative religions, rock festivals, independent film making, and so on – were accepted and commercialised by most Western societies. The counterculture became a set of unthreatening subcultures...
Theatre occupies a special place in this book, and a special place in Edmond’s life. He has worked as a dramaturge, theatre director, and teacher of drama, and mentored generations of playwrights and actors. Edmond sees the theatre not as some autonomous zone where the contradictions of quotidian life are dissolved, but as a site where contradictions and the conflicts they produce can be experienced and examined. Edmond shows us the conflicts that can arise between playwright and director, director and actors, and actors and audiences, and links these clashes to conditions in the world outside the playhouse. The aesthetic success of any theatrical venture depends, Edmond suggests, on the acknowledgement and creative use of contradictions. A successful theatrical performance is a model, however small-scale and temporary, of a democratic society, where differences are acknowledged rather than evaded or repressed.
The long, eponymous essay that concludes this book has an elegaic tone that contrasts poignantly with the brusque optimism of some of Edmond’s youthful writings. Where the proclamations of Freed looked forward to a revolutionary future, ‘Then It Was Now Again’ looks backwards, deep into New Zealand’s past, and laments the way that successive propagandists for the powerful, beginning with the nineteenth century surveyor Charles Heaphy, have tried to write inconvenient individuals and communities out of history. Edmond presents New Zealand writing as a continual joyous struggle to salvage and restore the memory of marginalised people and forgotten events.
The style of ‘Then It Was Now Again’ perfectly matches the essay’s argument.
As he refutes the simplified versions of New Zealand history produced by men like Heaphy, Edmond offers quotations, in English and Maori and a strange hybrid of the two languages, from more than a dozen authors. Historians like Judith Binney and James Belich are quoted alongside poets like Smithyman and Robin Hyde and the nineteenth century prophet Te Ua. Several authors whose names have been lost – footsoldiers in the anti-imperialist wars of the nineteenth century, who left their words of defiance hanging in the air like gunsmoke – join the fray.
For Murray Edmond, history is a democratic, and often contradictory, polyphony of voices, rather than some smooth monologue. We can be thankful that Edmond has added his voice to New Zealand literature over the past four decades.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Monday, October 06, 2014
Inside the Seleka Club
Last Thursday, after being directed to a barren public park by a series of text messages, I was handed a large untitled painting by Tevita Latu, the founder and spiritual leader of Tonga's Seleka Club, whose members sit up all night, almost every night, drinking kava from a toilet bowl and making provocative art.
Latu's painting was brought to Niu Sila by art mule Tui Emma Gillies, who recently visited Tonga to stock up on tapa cloth and dye and to drink kava with the Selekarians. I hope that, like its predecessors, the painting will act as a magical portal from a still-chilly Auckland to the permanent summer of Tongatapu.
A fragment of film showing Tui Emma Gillies inside the hallowed coconut trunk walls of the Seleka Club has turned up on Youtube. She and the Selekarians appear to be beautifying some rubbish bins kidnapped from the streets of Nuku'alofa.