Archive for February, 2008

Historical Tagging

There is still a lot in the news about tagging and graffiti and street art including the idiot who tagged a glacier. Because there have been quite a few references to cave drawings in the debate, I checked out two books “Prehistoric Rock Art of New Zealand” by M Trotter and B McCulloch (1971) and “Maori Rock Art: An ink that will stand forever” by Paul Thompson (1989). The Thompson one has excellent photographs and I just wish I’d had either on hand in my forays to look at the South Island sites. Last time we were down that way we went to Opihi site near Pleasant Point. That’s where the well known Taniwha images are but I recall being a bit disappointed. I guess it just wasn’t like the clear graphic images I’d seen.

stamp.jpg 1967 20c stamp

Thompson in the Maori Rock Art book had this section which I find very relevant:

“And we might like to ignore those whom we call vandals, who, ever since the drawings were discovered by Europeans. have scratched their own initials around and over the ancient forms, Whether the product of adolescent sexuality, as AP/PD, or the equally primeval drive to assert one’s existence, as in P.D.T 1951, these latter-day scribblings as yet have no sociological or political important, but if the results of spraycan graffiti – RASTA 4 EVAand the like – lasts over several decades, then some earnest young academic might be found analysing them and writing on the spread of a racial consciousness, albeit imported, among the young and the poor. When the original Vandals swept out of the north and sacked it was naturally enough a disaster for what was regarded as the civilised world, but after one thousand or so years, poets and artists delighted in the picturesque qualities of the ruins and thought drolly on the brevity of human achievement. Time softens the effects of disfigurement and destruction, and may even add an extra layer of meaning.Just as tourists now seek out Lord Byron’s weathered signature carved into the stone blocks Poseidon’s Temple at Cape Sounion overlooking the Aegean Sea or, closer home, yet apocryphally, Rutherford’s on his old desk at Canterbury University, these contemporary scrawlings will have an interest for the future. Not because the perpetrators are likely to become famous poets or scholars but because their idly scratched initials will provide a basis for speculation: who was here on a summer’s afternoon eighty years ago? The compulsion for recent visitors to leave their marks may even actually reflect, in part the intention of the original artists: I think, therefore I am, therefore I sign. But in the meantime, let us ignore these hopeful and defiant additions of the twentieth century, and stand, with our backs to the wall, to look out to the time when the rocks stood bare.”

There is quite a bit about Theo Schoon’s work too and his obsession with this art (and his habit of “touching them up!). However it did bring attention to preservation of these artworks and and had the (unfortunate?) side effect of popularising them. Items such as scarves and ashtrays printed with rock art images appeared in souvenir shops and the like.

So to my pic of the day. Lord Byron aside I think this is a great example of historical tagging and a particularly NZ one.


BTW: If anyone has any experience with art cataloguing software can they leave a comment please?.

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A short intermission…

The flu and world crude oil prices got the better of me so its a stay-at-home day rather than run madly around some galleries day. So here are some random items.

I just want to note that if someone corrects me on a blog entry I happily go back and put in an ammendment. However if you don’t read back you’d never know, so some updates are:

The ‘influenza” work at Pataka was created by Siliga David Setoga and a reference to the deadly influenza epidemic exported from New Zealand to Samoa in 1918.

The ‘stolen’ McCahon cross is in the McCahon database.

I have been interested in art and architecture particularly in industrial buildings since my attention was drawn to the Pyrmont Incinerator in Sydney. I can’t believe they just knocked it down. I am on the look out for New Zealand examples. The Victorians were quite good at embellisment, for example the Invercargill Water Tower but I’ve seen nothing in the same league as Pyrmont.

Detail from the chimney. Pyrmont

Somewhat related to this is an online site I have been watching – urban_decay at Livejournal. Some of the photographs are incredible and I especially like some out of Russia.


I have also been looking around the McNamara Gallery site and am very impressed – its worth a good look. Another gallery to put on my list to see.

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How to look at a…?

Since reading Justin Paton’s excellent book ‘How to look at a painting’  I have been thinking of doing a sweep of the Wellington galleries as he did in Auckland. Geographically this is not quite so easy though and I am having a little trouble compiling a current list of galleries. With my uneducated eye, I also think an guide may be in order to appreciate it fully anyway. Perhaps a companion volume is in order “How to encounter an installation” or something?

I am thinking of going on down to the City Gallery tomorrow morning to see “Reboot: The Jim Barr and Mary Barr Collection” and maybe go over to the Theo Schoon thing at Te Papa. I do wonder if Reboot would be better if I had seen ‘Good Work’  in 2001 though. I know I have to see more art and more art that’s outside my comfort zone so I will go – just not sure if tomorrow will be the day.

This possible job has got me thinking about public art and local government involvement. I looked up the Wellington City Councils art policies as they have come in for a fair amount of criticism about their artworks. I found this interesting.

Artistic merit and quality: art works will and should be the subject of debate as to their artistic merits. Regard will be given to: public response and interaction; accessibility to the public; the degree to which it reflects Wellington’s heritage and/or contemporary culture; merits of the work; whether the work is enduring enough to justify the costs associated with its adoption.

Of course there is a committee to decide all this stuff. The Public Art Panel is comprised of (according to the website) Mark Amery, Alison Bartley, Tina Barton, Heather Galbraith, Rob Garrett and Karen Wallace. You know I am sort of with Hamish Keith on his hatred of committees (as espoused in “The Big Picture”). Last time I worked in the corporate world I refused to have more than one committee-type meeting a week as I felt they were a BIG waste of time. I feel the outcomes of these types of panels are also often watered down and meek. I have no idea if the above panel is like this – any comments? There is a nice gallery of Wellington public art. I quite like some of it.

Anchor Stone – Ra Vincent

Speaking of public art, I am intrigued by this exhibition ‘What We Walk By’ images of Wellington’s Inner City Street Art by Dra McKay.

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So what are your qualifications…?

Some things have conspired recently to make me look at qualifications. A few people have  asked how I am qualified to write this blog. Well actually I am not in the sense of any formal art qualifications but any idiot can put a blog up right? And I do have post grad qualifications in other areas. There is no test you have to pass or licence you have to take out to have a web space. As a friend said, this is about art and MY life which I am uniquely qualified to write about. I am after all Jane Public – the person who likes arts and letters and has a little knowledge (definitely a dangerous thing) and walks into your gallery, watches your film, reads your book, sees your public artwork. I am not part of the art world or literary world. I am a viewer, a consumer, an end-user.

That said I am considering applying for a job that would take me into that world in an employment sense. I know I could easily do the work and a large chunk of it is admin. However my CV doesn’t have any arts, literary or museum quals on it. I doubt I’d even get short listed but I am going to apply for the process anyway. I wonder if I should wear the Hammond shirt to the interview if I got one (ha)? I think I like being mostly an outsider actually :-)

On a lighter note, I wanted to run a competition for a picture of the worst NZ public art work but that seems a little negative and I’m not sure how the prize (cupcakes) would travel via NZPost. So I’ll just post a picture for the day.

Jacqueline Fahey – The Birthday Party (1974)

Oh yes – I am anxious to see the Theo Schoon exhibition on at Te Papa too

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Further to that story…

Dog – Found! 
“Thank you for your enquiry re the large dog that used to sit outside the Dowse. The Large White Dog is made by Barry Lett  in 1990 and is currently in the collections store at TheNewDowse. Due to fragility it cannot be sitting outside exposed to elements. ”

I had totally not picked this for Barry Lett because it was made of river stones not scoria and I’d only seen those skinny red dogs (lesson – listen to your “art elders”). It looked more like a Keith Haring dog. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me. I wonder why is sat outside for what I recall as “years” and now is too fragile.  I wonder if its in pieces? At least now I don’t have to offer a reward to locate it.

The McCahon (online) Database “contains some 1600 works, including paintings and drawings“. It does not have a subject index but you can search it. I searched for iron and cross and looked under religious so I am fairly confident his iron cross sculpture is not there – maybe it isn’t meant to be (because its just paintings and drawings)?

EDIT: – see comments. This IS in the database and I am an idiot :-) I do worry about a database that didn’t find it when the term sculpture was put in the search field though. Who would think I used to design and develop databases for a living huh? I do admit to searching on “iron cross” when its not made from iron. I am sure I entered cross but I was having a “mummy” day at the time.

I tried to watch the Kurt Cobain movie “About a Son” on Saturday night. I had heard good things about it and it was quite different for a doco. Interesting cinematography and choice of imagery with audio edited from interviews with KC about his life. Unfortunately I was also baking a bright pink Barbie layer cake at the same time and the two activities were not mutally conducive. I think the cake won out.

Also I just got my hands on a copy of JK Baxter’s kids book “The Seagull”. It would be somewhat romantic to hope that it will be the first book my daughter reads by herself but I can try…


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News bulletin

As I have the flu, have lost my voice and am trying to cope with the forthcoming weekend of visiting relatives, a kids party and then my daughter’s first day of school on Monday, this will be short and (hopefully) sweet.

I learnt something about reviewing yesterday – don’t try and do it when you are in a rush, are being bugged and have little time for revision. It comes off sounding like you are a 7 year old writing about what you did in the holidays 

The Hone Tuwhare tribute last night was great. Glenn Colquhoun certainly invoked the spirit of Tuwhare (in my opinion) and Michelle McGregors’s documetary was excellent. Funny about Tuwhare giving away the Hotere’s that were gifted to him :-) I don’t think Hone would have minded me feeding my baby during the evening either;-)


Interesting about the ‘stolen’ McCahon sculpture. Is it stolen? Is it an estate issue? Will Dunbar Sloane be liable? Why isn’t it in the McCahon database?

I see the guy charged with stabbing the tagger in Auckland is out on bail today. The law change on taggers has brought up a lot of interesting debate in the media and online. Artbash right now is debating “what is art? is tagging outsider art?” and other great questions. A really interesting view (and some provoking art) can also be found at Streetarse and Askew’s website. You have to love this:


I just wanted to note how much I am enjoying Peter Peryer’s blog just now. Having grown up in Southland then living in Central Otago for quite a few years, his move back down that way is bemusing to me. I loved Central but I couldn’t wait to get out of Invercargill. That could have been a teenage thing though. Lately I have been softening towards it and his photos capture something really special about those places. Check out the whitebait.

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I don’t live in a cultural wilderness – really I don’t. Where I live is supposedly “arty” and there is a lot of art about but, as I was saying to someone the other day “surely mediocrity is the enemy?”.

Anyway yesterday I took the road south to Porirua and the drive down the coast gave me an idea why many artists have been draw to the area, it was a beautiful clear, calm day with long views to the South Island. Also a few literary names that sprang to mind on the journey were JC Sturm in Paekakariki,  Alistair and Meg Campbell in Pukerua Bay, Sam Hunt in Paremata.

My target was Pataka in Porirua (well after I’d bought tepee making materials). I had no idea what was on so it was a pleasant surprise to see so many good things. I am no art reviewer but I can give a brief run down.

ObservanceNicola Dove
“Observanceis a series of long exposure portraits and soundscapes of people in a meditative state of prayer from a wide spectrum of spiritual practices and faiths from around the world.” This was excellent and although I was a little put off by the blurriness due to the long exposures to start with, overall I think that added to the effect. There is a video to watch as well which I didn’t get to sit right through but which would be worth going back to see. One critique is that only a selection of the photos are on display. There was a small list with tiny thumbnails of the whole series near the video screen and I felt a little short changed. A humorous thing for me was one of the ‘spiritual practices’ was Jedi!

Samoan Contemporary
The only artist I recognised was Michael Tuffery and he had an interesting display of fly pictures. One of his corned beef can bulls was  also in the foyer. The exhibition was a real mix of styles and mediums. I liked John Ioane‘s cowrie shells and also “influenza” a pile of cynically printed apple boxes (not sure of artist). EDIT: The artist of “influenza” is Siliga David Setoga. For a review see here


There were also 2 exhibitions of prints. ‘Crow’s Shadow’ – Native American artists and ‘Crossing Cultures’ by Australian aboriginal artists.  My pick of the bunch were Lillian Pitt’s pictographs from the former and D W Eastwood’s work from the latter.

owl-dance-lillian-pitt.jpg Owl Dance– Lillian Pitt

There was a lot to take in. Hows that for a “high-school style” review? :-) I can also recommend the gallery cafe and the oaty caramel slice.

OK I had to drive 20 minutes to see that but thats nothing really. I am also very happy to report that 5mins away in our local library there is a literary event tonight – A Tribute to Hone Tuwhare.  Poet Glenn Colquhoun is presenting the documentary about Hone Tuwhare’s return to his Northland home. I’ll be there.

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