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.
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?.