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October 8, 2016 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Peaks & Pits


Peak: Shannon Te Ao winning the Walters Prize

Louise and I spent last Friday night huddled around our phones and ipads, anxiously refreshing twitter feeds and wine glasses, waiting to hear who would take out NZ’s biggest contemporary art prize. When Shannon won it was feverish, there were shouts and hugs, this is how I imagine people feel when we win the rugby. Shannon is someone I admire as a friend, artist, and teacher. He makes work that is empathetic and sincere and this is exciting. Shannon has moved many people with his work Two shoots that stretch far out and I am not surprised this year’s judge agreed. Congrats mate, enjoy your $50,000.

Pit: Francis Upritchard, Dark Figure, 2016

Francis Upritchard’s appropriation and remaking of artifacts (e.g. taonga) in Jealous Saboteurs was pretty uncomfortable, but one work stood out—not in a good way. Among the hippies, soothsayers, and jesters sits one nude black body, made out of pantihose with exaggerated features. Unlike the other works which seem more ambiguous and nuanced in their representation of “historical figures,” the work is crude an objectified caricature, placing the black body in a historic past—an exotic other. Its was interesting that there didn’t seem to be any public discussion of it… certainly nothing from City Gallery or Upritchard.



Peak: Jay Hutchinson, Turn left at the end of the drive, 2016

Spray painted asphalt, tagged electrical boxes, and graffitied weatherboards—Jay Hutchinson transformed Enjoy Public Art Gallery into his driveway. Turn left at the end of the drive, which exhibited in May, compiled five textile based works that replicated segments outside his home on Riddiford Street in Newtown. Hutchinson highlighted the intimate observance of his surroundings by referencing tags and graffiti markings in which he then hand embroidered onto fabrics. These were then turned into the physical objects that he walked past everyday and are recognised as geographical self portraits. The intimacy within his work is a reflection of the attention to detail of his diverse environment, as well as his skill and technique. The work took 18 months to complete with every individual stitch replicating the fine textures of concrete, woodgrain, and paint. Once an avid graffiti artist, while living in Dunedin, Hutchinson has developed an art practice based within this subculture. The temporal nature of this art form is understood by Hutchinson, with the series working as an ephemeral documentation of something that no longer exists on the streets of Newtown.


I used up all of my 200 words writing about Jay’s work, sorry.



Peak: Mike Heynes, News of the Uruguay Round, 2016

One of my favourite exhibitions this year still has to be Mike Heynes’ News of the Uruguay Round, shown at Enjoy in February. The shonky, re-constructed, international film and television production company logos investigated the ongoing legacy of 1994 legislation on our television and movie industry—a conversation that sat perfectly alongside concerns over the TPPA—and further questioned what effect a lack local content on our screens and airwaves has on our formation of national identity. Fan art at its best.

Pit: Double feature

The first half of this exhibition would be one of my 2015 highlights, but sadly I found John Ward Knox’s bodies of water (failing) at Robert Heald to be one of this year’s biggest disappointments. The world does not need another series of oil paintings that abstract and objectify the female body.

However my trophy for the worst art moment of 2016 goes to James R. Ford. Your are not God. Artistic interventions in public space can create beautiful and subversive moments, but the poster paste ups proclaiming Ford as a deity read as an arrogant, egotistical statement of underserved (self) endorsement. As an advertisement for an accompanying exhibition, nothing about that statement made me want to see the show.



Peak: Harry Culy, The Gap, at Precinct 35

Walking into Precinct 35 this morning reminded me of how alive the Wellington art community is currently. I’m not certain, but I think Harry Culy’s The Gap might be my favourite show of this year. The work is soft, gentle, and meditative, giving you room to think! I wondered whether they were all shot in the same place (they were) and, looking through the exhibition catalogue, there was another clue. Turns out there is a beautiful story of a man who lived near ‘The Gap’—a cliff on the coast near Sydney that is renowned for suicide attempts—saving people’s lives, offering tea, and a warm safe space. The stairs up to the cliff are also coincidentally called Jacob’s Ladder, which also happens to be a Biblical metaphor for the space between heaven and earth. I could go on and on. A gem of a story, warm fuzzy vibes. This is what art is about.

Pit: Billy Apple, Great Britten!, at Chch Art Gallery

I’ve never been so bored in a gallery. Famous white male NZ artist celebrates NZ land motorcycle racing / design hero. Don’t get me wrong, John Britten is an incredible designer and engineer and he deserves attention. But holy. We do not need a whole exhibition made about his bike, checkers, and race track graphics. That was literally it. So dumb.


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