Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Giovanni Tiso linking Cabbage Patch and Occupy

Occupy Wellington



Six months in the life of the city. From the night of January 4, 1978, when a cabbage patch appeared out of nowhere in the vacant lot at the corner of Manners and Willis, until the month of June, when the area that had become known as ‘the Roxy’ was farewelled with a week-long party, and the works for the construction of the two-storey arcade that would replace it commenced. Six months that began with a nocturnal intervention by young artist Barry Thomas, who planted his cabbages not for sustenance but to use that blank urban space as a canvas. ‘I just want to say something, and instead of doing a painting that hangs in some institution, that’s my painting on the ground,’ he told theEvening Post some days later, adding: ‘I know I could be prosecuted, but I hope [property owner Anthony Konstanich] won’t. The work’s so harmless – I’m not a radical or anything, and I don’t want to go to jail.’


Thomas might have had other reasons beside the desire not to be arrested for describing his artwork, entitled ‘Vacant Lot Of Cabbages’, as a harmless, non-radical act, misdirection being the most obvious one. The medium he had chosen – compost and cabbage seedlings – was hardly likely to warrant jail time after all, and the piece cannily but nonetheless gently invited the passer-by to reflect on alternative uses of the land, as opposed to inciting a take-over by violent means. But there was genius in that seemingly timid opening, too, for it didn’t foreclose the meanings that the lot – now that it had been successfully trespassed – could take on if others cared to add to that impromptu art-show.




And add to it they did. First came the top half of a tricycle, painted in fluorescent pink by George Rose, hung on a wall at six metres of height and tethered to the cabbage patch by means of a trail of paint; then an IBM 7330 magnetic tape unit, which was deposited next to the patch and ‘plugged’ into it; then a scarecrow-waiter with a cabbage for a head; then a living room suite complete with sofa, armchairs and a television set; then a grave with the ‘corpse’ only half-buried. And this just in the first two weeks. During this time the absentee site owner, Mr Konstanich, went from cheerful to irritated, first wishing Mr Thomas a bumper crop, then lamenting that all of the intrusions and dumping of stuff on the property would hinder his efforts to develop it and put it to proper use.

On this point, some necessary context, in the form of the two years that elapsed from the demolition of the Roxy Theatre andthe Duke of Edinburgh Hotel to the planting of the cabbages, and a string of newspaper articles and council queries and owner reassurances on the always seemingly imminent future of that empty space in the heart of the business district, at once an eyesore and a source of anxiety for the economic well-being of the city. The Tinakori branch of the Values Party had repeatedly petitioned the City Council to allow them to establish a temporary park on the site, only to be told that this would necessitate the owner’s authorisation, which wasn’t forthcoming. And so what it took to break the stalemate was an act of trespassing defused by humour, an artist’s statement calculated to buy time.

Six months is how much time it bought: six months during which a delimited section of the city remained open to intervention and reinvention. Some citizens might have been puzzled by some of the hardware that appeared next to the patch, but by all accounts they continued to look after the cabbages, and it was the cabbages themselves that dictated how long the show would run, for it would have been senseless to let them wilt.


Reports indicate that by harvesting time the Roxy had gone mainstream, attracting sponsorships and money from the Central Regional Arts Council, and helping the Commission for the Environment in turn to ‘promote public interest in trees’. To this end a ‘tree house’ cottage on wheels designed by architect Ian Athfield was built, initially drawn by Clydesdale horses from Rutherford House to the Roxy site, and later taken by Arbor Promotions on a tour of the North Island to sell native trees (or so it was planned). By this stage Mr Konstanich also appeared to have realised that the activities weren’t going to hurt his chances to profit from the property.

None of this however is to detract from the project, which is remembered by many people who lived through it as an important moment in the political and artistic life of the city. Of Thomas’ piece itself, Chris Trotter has written that it was ‘a conceptual artistic statement against the life-negating conservatism of the Muldoon years’, while Ian Wedde celebrated it as a 'work about ecology' that was also 'about public attitudes to art'; but what grew around the cabbage patch – chiefly in the forms of opportunities for expression – seems to have been just as important, and included more overt political speeches and works a papier-mâché pig with Muldoon’s face and the lines ‘Media Media expose the pig / Time to stop dancing to his jig’ scribbled on the back, installed by a ‘women’s action group’.



Then work started on the new building, erasing every trace of all that work. Art and political activism are accustomed to dealing with their own precarity, but the issues raised in relation to the Cabbage Patch are in some respects unique and, I think, significant from the point of view of current practice.

First of all, there is the question of how to preserve the memory of the work: where is the archive, where are the curators that will ensure that information about events projects such as this one are available to scholars, reporters, artists and activists? The documentation concerning the Cabbage Patch is not kept at Te Papa (it may be worth speculating as to why) or by any of Wellington’s universities, and for this post I have relied almost exclusively on Barry Thomas’ own archive and recollections. But personal networks and the efforts of individuals aren’t enough: sites of institutional memory are fundamental to preserve the genealogy of socio-political criticism and activism. There is a very plausible genealogy here, one that connects the movement against the extension of the motorway through Thorndon to the one against the Inner City bypass through Te Aro, but also the Springbok Tour protests and the Cuba Street Carnival, and the cabbage patch is likely linked in some way to all of them. Just as significant are the severed connections, for instance between the Cabbage Patch and Tao Wells’ Beneficiary’s Office – two works with much in common but sealed off from one another due to the lack of access to past local practice as a meaningful resource.

Then there is the implicit but no less stark contrast with the art that actively robs us of our memory.


Meet Regan Gentry’s Subject to Change, a work ‘commissioned by Wellington Sculpture Trust to commemorate the Wellington Inner City Bypass Project’ and ‘sponsored by NZ Transport Agency and Wellington City Council’ (as per the plaque; the emphasis is mine). This spit in the face of the wishes of the community, caught by Gentry in mid-air, is without doubt Wellington’s most galling publicly funded sculpture, and arguably the product of the same mindset that oversees the lack of institutional memory I have just described. A piece that is disdainful of its public, that instructs it to forget, to ‘get over’ the loss of heritage, paid for by the people who took a literal bulldozer to said heritage, representing both the death of irony and an utterly perverse use of the art form. We’d do well to remind ourselves that it is not all that Wellington is, and that the city has been the very opposite of that.

This Saturday something is going to happen and the people who are going to make it happen will lay claim to the phrase ‘occupy Wellington’. My strong reservations towards the ‘we are the 99%’ rhetoric notwithstanding, I look forward to finding out what form the local movement will take, if it takes shape at all. But none of the foregoing is intended as a lesson from the city’s past that ought to be heeded, nor as a sort of nostalgic exemplar: more as a hopefully not wholly untimely reminder that Wellington has a history of acts of trespassing, and of using art to engage the wider public and to pose political questions. This knowledge may be about to become useful again.








With many thanks to Barry Thomas for the conversations and giving me access to his archives, from which all of the images except for the penultimate one are taken. The Ian Wedde reference is from ‘Art’s Dirty Washing’, a review of the When Art Hits the Headlines show published in The Evening Post on January 20, 1988.

Last week's post is a part one, of sorts, of this one.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Some writing - before it gets lost - and links to other writing



References

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=bWhH1fjliCwC&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=barry+thomas+a+city+for+sculpture&source=bl&ots=qVmaU2gln9&sig=hAKcy5jjKFYMSt2m2ddypTkdVZU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=knZlU4mD8_88QXCyoKYAg&ved=0CGwQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=barry%20thomas%20a%20city%20for%20sculpture&f=false








http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=bWhH1fjliCwC&q=barry+thomas#v=snippet&q=barry%20thomas&f=false


Title
An Urban Quest for Chlorophyll
Authors
Publisher
Rim Books, 2013
ISBN
0473266431, 9780473266431

Barry Thomas – a bit
Planting cabbages as an intervention in a disused block of land in the central city (January 1978), or using a long length of rope threaded through a neighborhood block of houses in Clairemont Grove (1979) are social sculptures. Photographic portraits of the Cuba Street precinct also concern the artist outside the gallery. Interfacing with people, making and recording social document: Barry Thomas works with people not about them.
Through the 1990’s Thomas’s experiences within and outside of the mainstream film and television industries trained in him collaborative skills toward the end-game, humility. The innovative RADZ® series was art as time-based projects intervened within advertising space on TV – placing art into that most widespread of public mediums – first thought of by Thomas in the late 1980s, what Alan Brunton later called ‘art dancing in the devil’s playground’ (Illusions, Issue 17, Spring 1991).
His collaborative skills extend beyond industry. When working with underprivileged community groups in New Zealand, and between 2000 and 2004 with community groups in Manchester and London, narratives are mutually work-shopped, then are acted out – or made into ‘clay’ animations – and filmed by Thomas. These are matter of fact films to disclose the contestations faced by the subjects in and of their everyday life.
Thomas’s narratives tell life scenario: an account told by an 18 year old about a kid who was killed when a steel door collapsed off its hinges crushing him, this incident in a Manchester housing project occurs due to a sub-standard maintenance programme; a girl who loves soccer – the boys on the team believe girls can’t play soccer – and she scores the match-winning goal while wearing a monster disguise (a deft touch). Or a Maori youth who interviews the local MP over why the Mangrove trees were ripped-out in his town: the youth makes a clay representation of his subject and distends her facial features pending his (dis)trust of her answers (the interview is a voice-over to animation). So Barry Thomas does not ever overstate, or lead either his subject or the viewer to moments of grandeur. He guides response, does not manipulate in this current moment.
Dr. Marcus Moore,
Massey University                                                                                                          September 2009

“I do remember your cabbage patch. it always seemed to me to reflect a special Wellington spirit, which grew over the next few years and contributed to making Wellington the liveable, human city it became.” Rosslyn Noonan (ex WCC councilor and Chief commissioner – Human Rights Commission NZ)


Two Openings

STRIDING down Auckland’s Wellesley Street in the golden glow of an autumn evening the flags atop UNITE House were hard to miss. Bright red, and emblazoned with the UNITE union’s logo, they declared to all the world that capitalism’s monopoly over Queen Street was about to be contested by a merry band of entrepreneurial socialists. In celebration, the new tenants of 300 Queen Street’s twelfth floor were having a party.

As Matt McCarten, the Organising Director of UNITE, and his new partners from Te Wananga O Aotearoa and the United Credit Union, were welcoming a broad cross-section of the Auckland Left to their proletarian penthouse atop the old ASB building, another entrepreneur – this time in the arts – was preparing for an opening of his own.

Just a few miles away, on the other side of the Waitemata, Barry Thomas, and his fellow painter from the Coromandel, Evelyne Siegrist-Huang, were putting the finishing touches to “Di-Vested Interest” the joint exhibition they were due to open the following day at the Depot Artspace in Devonport.

What’s the connection? Well, apart from the fact that I’ve known both men for more than twenty years, it’s their extraordinary talent for breathing new life into very old ideas.

In McCarten’s case, it’s the idea that, to make a real difference to workers’ lives, working class organisation must go beyond the “bread-and-butter” fixations of traditional trade unionism. McCarten’s key insight, at the very beginning of his career, was that the only way to avoid being seduced by, and eventually joining, his capitalist opponents (as one of their industrial “minders”) was to beat them at their own game.

With Thomas, it’s an even older idea: that art can change society – and that one of the artist’s primary roles is to represent people’s desire for change through creative media. With personal links going all the way back to the merry pranksters and film-makers of BLERTA (Bruno Lawrence’s Electric Revelation & Travelling Apparition) in the 1970s, Thomas’s modus operandi has always been to laugh and/or embarrass ‘Korporate Kapitalist Kulture’ off the artistic stage.

And Thomas knows whereof he speaks. It takes a special appreciation of the adman’s art to win a Golden Axis Award for the best automotive commercial – when the automobile being advertised is a Lada. Winning his award with the slogan ‘Nothing But Car’ – “because there wasn’t anything else!” – was something of an epiphany for Thomas. “I suddenly realised, I don’t have to do this anymore.”

With characteristic chutzpah, Thomas decided to stand the whole idea of advertising on its head. In collaboration with other like-minded “artist provocateurs”, he somehow persuaded Television New Zealand to pay for the privilege of inserting miniature artistic manifestos called “rADz®” (Radical Art Advertisements) into the network’s programme schedules. Popping up at random in the middle of genuine ad’ breaks, these frequently bizarre examples of guerrilla art caused many viewers to doubt the evidence of their own eyes: “Did I just see that?”

There is, however, nothing remotely electronic about Thomas’s contributions to “Di-Vested Interest”. Trained at of the Ilam School of Fine Arts, where he studied under the notorious Rudi Gopaz (who also taught Tony Fomison and Philip Clairmont), Thomas has always revelled in the experience of covering canvasses with paint. Three large examples of these: “Market Forces in the Shadow of the Long Black & White Cloud”, “Conscience Serving Life” and “Between Moa, Man, Sheep, Cabbage Tree & Rail” dominate his half of the exhibition.
  
Executed in pigments he has personally extracted from the Coromandel clays, these are paintings of stern didactic purpose and haunting imagery. Not for Thomas the elaborate explanatory infrastructure normally required to carry the ideas of “conceptual” and “installation” artists. The meaning of these three works is plainly rendered – and the message is unmistakable.

We have marred this landscape, says Thomas, and in doing so we have marred ourselves. But before we can heal our ravaged environment we must heal the wounds we have inflicted on each other.

In the words of one of Thomas’s youthful compositions: “Come to the country – be rained on.”

*  *  *  *  *

THERE’S not a lot of countryside to be seen from the twelfth floor of UNITE House, but the ideas of redemption and mutuality are in no way foreign to the two institutions McCarten has invited to flesh out his vision of a new trade unionism. Redemption through education, and mutual financial support, are the core businesses of Te Wananga O Aotearoa and the United Credit Union.

UNITE’s focus on young, Maori, Pacific Island and immigrant workers – many earning no more (and often less) than the minimum wage – made its innovative approach to trade union organising inevitable. In most developed countries such people constitute a stealth workforce, operating beneath the organisational radar of the traditional unions. Indeed, most of the “experts” in the field have argued that workers in the vast service industries of mature economies are simply not interested in joining unions. McCarten never bought it. “My secret weapon,” he chuckles, “was to ask them.”

The UNITE union’s highly successful “Supersize-My Pay!” campaign to organise young workers in the fast-food industry has already acquired semi-legendary status among those who keep an eye on such developments. But, in an industry with close to 100 percent staff turnover annually, something more was needed to keep the kids on board.

Having battled on behalf of Rongo Wetere and Te Wananga O Aotearoa against Trevor Mallard and Michael Cullen in 2005, McCarten was well-placed to initiate discussions about linking UNITE’s mission to organise young workers with the Wananga’s mission to educate them.

Bentham Ohia was there at the opening to celebrate a deal which brings the Wananga’s tutors face-to-face with young Maori, Pacific Island and Pakeha workers in language, computing, and basic business courses. For most of these low-paid workers it is their first encounter with anything remotely resembling a tertiary institution.

Phil Todd, CEO of the United Credit Union, was also there at the Friday 23 March opening. The 65 year-old, Wellington-based UCU is a not-for-profit financial institution dedicated to providing full banking-type facilities to its 10,000 trade union members. Naturally Todd was thrilled to be given the offer of office space in the CBD of New Zealand’s largest city.

The person who got McCarten really interested, though, was the UCU’s National Development Manager, Mark Griffiths, who successfully pitched the idea of a special UNITE “loyalty” card that offers “massive” discounts to union and UCU members. Recorded at the point-of-sale, their savings are aggregated and posted to UNITE members two weeks before Christmas in the form of a cheque from McCarten himself. “What could be better than that?”, demanded the UNITE leader of his mostly young audience. “A letter from your union boss which says “Merry Christmas! Oh, and by-the-way, here’s five hundred dollars for being a loyal union member!”

Old hat, you might say. Union discount cards have been around for years. Which is true. What’s different about the UNITE-Wananga-UCU combination, however, is that, in the past, the main recipients of such services were sensible public servants, and all those other employees-for-life who grew up in the stable industrial environment of the post-war boom. UNITE’s flash new card is going to patty-flippers, baristas and pop-corn sellers: the new, casualised, and consumption-driven workforce of the 21st century.

But, if the audience is new, the script is at least a century old. Because what’s being pulled together on the twelfth floor of UNITE House is something very like the trade union organisations which set the pace of collective bargaining at the turn of the 19th Century. They were unions which harboured ambitions much larger than winning a few extra pennies on the hourly rate. Their goal was the emancipation of an entire class.

And it’s this emanicipatory – this transformative – impulse, which, finally, brings the “openings” of Matt McCarten and Barry Thomas together. This gleaming office complex: with its Maori and trade union iconography; its rooms filled with state-of-the-art computer technology; and its UCU officer, Siu Armstrong, ready to lift the burden of South Auckland’s loan sharks from the shoulders of the poor – is McCarten’s work of art. And, like Thomas’s paintings, it has a power in and of itself: a power to move and inspire.

Not long before the opening, McCarten noticed one of the UNITE staff – his first recruit, Rima Taraia – just standing and looking at the bright new premises. This staunch, working-class woman had been with him at the very beginning, when the organisation ran on sweat, hope and aroha – and not much else. As she stood there, quietly taking in what she and her comrades had built, a single tear welled up, and rolled slowly down her cheek.

Oh, why don’t you break away?
You weren’t born to obey.
Come to the country – be rained on.


- ENDS -
(1,468 Words)


Likewise Thomas has links also to another English town that has turned the like of the cabbage patch into the entire brand for Tod Morden… please do take the time to be inspired by Pam Warhurst’s Ted Talk on the subject. https://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes.
In art history terms – to our knowledge – Joseph Beuys (Germany’s most important artist of the 2oth century) was the first artist in Europe to use living plants as works of art but he did this four years after the Cabbage Patch…  in the Documenta show of 1982 when he planted his  “7000 oaks”… our Cabbage Patch – a by far more complex, open, political and participatory work has reached much further into multiple generations of artists and is embedded in the very psyche of the capital…  the capital that now calls itself the ‘creative capital’ was most certainly a long, long way from that in 1978. Chris Lipscombe has recently described it as “ sitting at the intersection of so many lines of enquiry… art, history, urban living, community development, sustainability, health, even economics. For me, urban foraging presents a similar intersection.”
As noted above – the capital’s well regarded vacant buildings art initiative -  Letting Space – (headed by Sophie Jerram and Mark Amery) again,  follows in the wake of the Cabbage Patch waka – writing in the Listener(March 2013)  Amery says “If you need an official marker that contemporary art’s role as a politicised community change agent is now centre stage …Te Papa’s purchase of the cabbage patch archive could well be it. Ever greater numbers of artists are doing planting projects, increasing the public commons and collaborating with communities, industries and businesses, well beyond the confines of the gallery. .. This is art that deals with the complexities of life. It is a movement, I predict, that will see artists this century recognised as key public players in experimenting with the different ways society might operate.”
Thomas himself has even gone to the extent of providing his own definition of art that has come in part from his own studies and long reflection into the workings and growth of the cabbage patch and many others of his works: “Art is only leading – seeding radical new memes in the pavement cracks of culture… framing elephants in rooms.” Thomas’s other largely under critically examined and curatorially side-lined major initiative - radical art advertisements rADz® was in part described in Rome’s largest newspaper Il Messaggero – by the very chap who ‘discovered Peter Jackson’ whilst he was a critics week selector at the Venice film festival – one Fabio Ferzetti described Thomas’ rADz and their arrival in Rome’s Festival of Brevity thus:
And so “short form, long thought” (here again condensing things into a slogan). But maybe Giacomo Maramao was right when, quoting Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, La Bruyere and Valery, (“A philosophy has to be portable”) he eulogised about the aphorism as a form of anti-systematic thinking, above all capable of reconciling the Orient and the West.

Thereby, anticipating that, the most left of field of the contributors to the conference (Rome’s Festival of Brevity) (the New Zealand Producer Barry Thomas – the inventor of lightning shorts rADz of less than one minute duration, which in his distant country were scheduled in TV advertising breaks) should land in Europe with his latest project: a collection of filmed proverbs which are to be made drawing upon the traditions of every country in the Old Continent. Ancient and modern. Striking and genius.”

As the readymades of Marcel Duchamp directly informed the conception of the Cabbage Patch it recalls words written about Duchamp (and how he engaged the media into the rejection of the urinal) and how in the complex ways Thomas deliberately chose to invite both media and the public into the work… On the front page of the Dominion under the headline “Phantom cabbage ‘artist’ appears” he said “I have planted the cabbages now it’s up to Wellington what will happen to them”  and react and contribute they did – and in describing Duchamp’s legacy Caroline Cros (Curator with France’s National Museums and professor of Contemporary Art - Ecole du Louvre) said “he systematically reversed the relationship between the artist, the artwork and the public.” It also recalls for Thomas the legendary defining of Duchamp by Guillaume Apollinaire “Just as a work by Cimabue was paraded through the streets, our century has seen Blériot’s airplane, bearing the weight of humanity, of thousands of years of endeavour, and of necessary art triumphantly paraded through Paris to the Arts-et-Métiers museum. It will perhaps fall to an artist as free of aesthetic considerations and as concerned with energy as Marcel Duchamp to reconcile Art and the People.” The cabbage patch has arguably achieved much of what Apollinaire foresaw…

Giovanni continues… “Six months is how much time it bought: six months during which a delimited section of the city remained open to intervention and reinvention. .. there is the question of how to preserve the memory of the work: where is the archive, where are the curators that will ensure that information about events and projects such as this one are available to scholars, reporters, artists and activists? The documentation concerning the Cabbage Patch is not kept at Te Papa (it may be worth speculating as to why) or by any of Wellington’s universities, and for this post I have relied almost exclusively on Barry Thomas’ own archive and recollections. But personal networks and the efforts of individuals aren’t enough: sites of institutional memory are fundamental to preserve the genealogy of socio-political criticism and activism. There is a very plausible genealogy here, one that connects the movement against the extension of the motorway through Thorndon to the one against the Inner City bypass through Te Aro, but also the Springbok Tour protests and the Cuba Street Carnival, and the cabbage patch is likely linked in some way to all of them. Just as significant are the severed connections, for instance between the Cabbage Patch and Tao Wells’ Beneficiary’s Office – two works with much in common but sealed off from one another due to the lack of access to past local practice as a meaningful resource.” (our highlights). Add to this the now legendary occupation of Aro Park c. 1982) – which is now the most used park in the city.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Song written and performed by moi... 'Beating of the HeartlaNZ" 1988

Written and performed by Barry Thomas aka b'art Homme - Co produced with Johnathan Besser, Backing by Rose, Jacqui Clark, Charlotte Yates, French horn Ross Harris, Bass Albert Umangahttps://soundcloud.com/bart-homme/beating-of-the-heartlanz-by-bart-homme-1988?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=facebook

Saturday, April 5, 2014

This is a work (in two parts) called

"Mona Lisa with adbreaks"... It is really funny when one googles the title... this is the first image that appears! ... the world's first Mona Lisa with adbreaks ha! I guess it says everything I can say about how advertising forces itself willfully into our personal time and space... shredding the cinematic arts in the body of which it parasitically 'cohabits'... this idea gave rize to rADz... radical art advertisements - born in the late eighties, consuated with two - jointly made by myself, Russell Colins (with some help from Carlos Wedde) and Red Mole Enterprizes - which is documented in Alan Brunton's article in Illusions Magazine ... as Marcus Moore has said...

Through the 1990’s Thomas’s experiences within and outside of the mainstream film and television industries trained in him collaborative skills toward the end-game, humility. The innovative RADZ® series was art as time-based projects intervened within advertising space on TV – placing art into that most widespread of public mediums – first thought of by Thomas in the late 1980s, what Alan Brunton later called ‘art dancing in the devil’s playground’ (Illusions, Issue 17, Spring 1991). 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Drawing from caves to computers

Another Joe Thomas shot of me - shot in Palmerston North when I was about 9 .

Hands and feet drawn when I was about 13



Mum knitting 

Mum in front of television

Chinese ornament

Glenda my first girlfriend

Ma and Pa

More TV mother

TV Dad exhausted in front of TV

Evan Webb 1976

A Mother

Mother on telephone

Mother and Child

Mother and child

Ruth and Justine Jungersen - Smith with Trevor Edmond and China Black in Lauris' bamboo

Blind sketches 

Ruth - from memory

Sylvia in chinese ink 1997

Hellen Bollinger with child c. 1972

British Waterways rubbish barge at Little Venice c. 2002

Tuturamuri... Kneeling before the hills c.1979

Tuturamuri - Wairarapa dry lands




A young boy learns how to draw. The nearest still things at hand – a Chinese ornament, his own hands, his parents as they watch television, sleep in front of television.

Why does he do it? He knows people will give him praise, he has a quest for this praise and he has a quest, is motivated to see through the eyes of a painter, an artist. But what do these words mean?

The core facts of drawing – from nature – are... a species called Homo Sapiens (wise man) has the will and capacity to translate and transfer what arrives through sensory devices to another medium. This is done to help the species along, to communicate. It started with a bare hand being silhouetted with basic pigment in a cave some 30 to 50,000 years ago. That momentous instant when a shadow from the most likely recently invented portable lights flickering in those caves cast shadows on the mainly limestone, creamy walls. Black on white. Either through a straw or with a mouthful of chewed or ground up carbon/charcoal and maybe some fat from the recently roasted animals this concoction was sprayed over an outstretched hand . When the hand was removed the negative imprint of the hand was left silhouetted on the wall – hey presto an image of mankind. A self portrait. And can you imagine the “power” this would have had among the artist's peers.

The artist could have then played all sorts of games with that image – imagine him (one does presume a male!) then holding out his hand in front of the lamp (yes lamp) to then cast another shadow of his hand inside the image on the wall – effectively we have a white and and a moving black hand. A smaller projected hand inside the large hand – the movies were born.

Inevitably this set of projections would have become the cinema of the times – and would have created both mirth, myth and legend, and would have created a very specialised person in the camp – the artist. No doubt the species already had manifold specialists at the time – great warriors, great hunters, awesome gatherers, hut makers, clothes makers, chefs let alone tattooists, weavers, rope makers, tool makers, fire makers, vessel makers, morticians and yes lamp makers.

I am speaking here of my knowledge of European cave art – which is most likely far younger – for some reason than certainly Australian early art. In Lascaux we see the lamps that made all of this possible and I think we are talking around 27,000 years ago. Lamps made from animal fat and a wick. Controlled light – in itself a work of art. Imagine the power the controller of light would have wealded when he or she first managed to understand and then create wicks. Sure any old animal roasting on a fire is going to create fat and oils which are then going to burn brighter than any other part of the fire – will then be able to be taken from the bottom of a fire once it is cold in the form of sand/ dirt and fat. It would not have taken long to learn that this fat when a stork of grass, cotton fibre is best – is dangled from the liquid fat allows the oil to be drawn up the fibres and burned at the tip. The wick was the pre-eminent piece of technology of the age. Alone in a fire the cotton or straw fibre wick would be burned in a second but when the oil is drawn up into the flame through the fibres there is very little of the wick that burns – why? I don't know. Perhaps the oil burns at a lower temperature? Or higher temperature somehow allowing the wick to be mainly preserved. Wicks do burn down of course and I do know that the diameter and thereby drawing power of a wick and the amount of wax around it have been carefully measured over  - no doubt – millennia so that the burning of the wax and the wick maintain an equilibrium and burn down together – another great unsung pas de deux of human ingenuity.

So back to the boy – drawn by the same propulsive mechanisms of race and culture, genes, hormones and whatever else – he sits by a fire and draws his own hand. The world has a copying machine. The boy shows his picture to his family. They praise him, he continues, get better at it – he studies other painters and drawers, learns techniques like cross hatching, methods of rendering shade, tone, light.

He learns that people like it, hold him in regard because he can render something onto paper. He has learned a valuable skill. He can translate nature into culture. He can take the wild world onto a piece of canvas or paper and go elsewhere with it. This stuff is portable – he can heap more praise on himself by taking it to his peers, to school. This is a lot to do with power. He becomes known as “a good drawer and painter” “an artist”.

So why is there this glow around the word artist – other than the glimmer surrounding other skills – like gardening, parenting, even mathematics. The artist takes the raw image of the world and translates it into language, portable language, shares this in depth and searching analysis of the object of his gaze through his depictions. Second hand ideograms, pictographs, symbols.

Back in tha cave I am sure it would not have been that long that images of the hunter, the hunted started to appear following the hand – who knows maybe the quarry was first? It doesn't really matter. Art and visual language had begun. And the animals from out there and the great battles won etc were all now able to be recalled, passed on, we had memory banks. Hard drives of hard walled limestone caves.

I recall the stunning image of a chimpanzee filmed in the 60's or 70's – that famous woman who lived with and studied them. The camp had a number of oil drums – tins left empty and this male chimp – for some reason chose to use this tin as a – well a kind of weapon – he bashed and smashed and rolled the drum to create a cacophony scaring all the other chimps in earshot... was this art?

Then in 1901 I think it was the Lumiere Brothers … for the first time played to a packed cinema in Paris the scene of a steam train coming straight for the audience... they ducked, screamed, ran out.

We honour, scare, enthrall and enchant. Challenge the status quo. But more than anything we collect the audience. - they make the work into the collective memory – they pass it on with word of mouth. In this way art is pure democracy – especially when it is possible for anyone to see the work, access  is an issue but so is newness and new technology – The chimp had some new technology – as did the Lumiere brothers.

 If it's worth remembering... then don't forget it. Or – if you can't remember it – forget it. And it's worth remembering for many reasons – sometimes it really is just the new tricks of the techno trade – like Speilberg with the dinosaurs, the chimps and some of Jackson's tricks like Stephen Regelous' use of AI in Lord of the Rings crowd scene software “Massive” but often these are forgotten with the money that made them – mainly the lasting art that gets real memories going is driven by conscience – (the science of the con? – na just kidding). Conscience is the driver for much of my later work – after many of these drawings were done. The Cabbage Patch, much of the artist's co-op stuff – where one's thoughts move through – concern, to contradiction to a synthesis of new direction – a truly cathartic process as TARKOVSKY says – art is essentially “a purging trauma”. The artist, in the first instance, followed by the audience. This catharsis – endured, enthralled provides a learning and it thereby coheses  the audience into a shared belief, a culture – with the work as the talisman. 

Conscience drives comedy and most drama. As Duchamp said (mainly of esthetics) “I wanted to throw (the urinal) in their (the art judges) faces”. He wanted revenge of sorts, was motivated by pure need for the written words that “all works will be displayed” to be tested. The egalitarian driver of the show was not able to live up to it's aspirations when confronted with the comic yet vicious Duchampian response. His conscience said – let's see what happens if I take this to an extreme. In doing so he changed art forever. He challenged authority pure and simple. The artist out on the electron field of culture – orbiting the hub – fires a random yet targeted arrow back into the status quo and changed the nature of that atom. In this instant, unlike most of his other work, he was purely political. I have found a rare small Da Vinci drawing that I have no-where seen commentary on which shows Leonardo's only similar political anger. Drawn around the time of his deluges Da Vinci shows an hypothetical situation of a flood of cultural flotsam and jetsam – pots and pans, brooms, junk commodities all sailing down to earth (from nature) – man's or Da Vinci's revenge on commodification in Renaissance Italy!  Brilliant. His conscience said to him... we have too much junk in our lives mate. By the way – while we are on Da Vinci – I learned ages ago that Leonardo  Da Vinci means – Leonardo of  Vinci (the town) so I thought I could call myself Barry  da Upper Hutt... it has such a ring nay?

Why draw? Why copy nature? It shows and displays a discipline – a devotion a respect for the world as it appears. It creates a memoir to the time and place of the thing drawn. It displays the fact that we humans can and do hold the language of surrogate, sign and symbol, metaphor dearly. Like money being a surrogate for energy/ power, resources art and language stand in place of something, stand for something – a value at the heart of the matter at hand. Values drive culture, what we believe holds us together and propels culture forward... these are our myths and until they are bettered they stand firm, sentinels in the sands, markers for the directions we all need to live by. In the absence of the church and with an ever growing gap between haves and have nots – an increasing homelessness in western cities – a virtual plague of “nots” and a media increasingly at the mercy of those who pay their bills, banks that care less, politicians playing all of the above for their short term re-electability and corporate feeders  - we need something like art to hold our values up. Get moral, make art.

Like Da Vinci – after one has done one's study, can draw well then – as with his “commodity deluge” it is then necessary to imagine, consider and reflect on what is wrong with the world and use art to re-design the future. I think this would be a pre-requisit of any art school I ran – learn to look, draw and then reflect.
 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

b'art'sart # 2 Photos in the blood

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 So – going back a little – I thought I would show a little early b’art's photography. And what better to start with than one of my Grandfather's photographs of me when I was about two, maybe three years old. I think therefore it as taken in our Porirua house up on the southern hills of Porirua where we lived in an old cottage... I can still, just, remember -  white weatherboard single story - with a huge macrocarpa hedge. We had no toilet in the house - the l'eau being a 'short drop' out in the backyard... a shed and a tin can under the toilet seat. Dad's job was to empty the tin by digging down a foot in our vege patch and letting nature have its way with the contents. Mum and dad said this garden was the best they ever had - bar none.

So why on earth do we need huge, expensive, difficult to maintain and difficult to manage sewage systems one wonders? better to spread the concentration of effluent into each and every section - especially the suburbs...  grow goddamned food! The way we deal with "waste and energy is almost unbelievable.

I had a realisation back in the early nineties when these new mushrooming gymnasiums - where gyms (read - business) were paid to help lose the energy (read fat) people had worked so hard for only to then shove down their throats...  My thought was - we could turn this on its head by charging the gym for the energy one is giving... ie... all treadmills in the gyms to be hooked up to generators. Could at least re-charge Kindles, lap tops or phones nay?

This photo depicts a part of what I think was a long and often difficult reconciliation between my father and his father Joseph Thomas. Joseph - the photographer, Joseph - the musician "Uncle Jo" as we called him (itself part of a complex web of no doubt pain suffered by dad at having his estranged father deliberately ignore him on the street once in wellington). Uncle Jo would later come and visit and do what he could - like take studio-ish shots of us then take them back to his Adams Terrace home and develop and print them.

Jo was part of a band of vaudeville musos back in the early 1900s. I still have his guitar in parts having suffered the cow glue melting in damp places I have lived... it has simply sprung apart. The other shots of family are staid normal but mine was this moment of joy and laughter - I always smile when I take it in - the gingernut in my right hand, my left hand bracing against an impending pee and my face - one of those great memories of innocent unbridled laughter.



The next shot is one I took while at Heretaunga College - part of the art scene there I guess - fellow photographer Glen Jowitt has made his name for his photography and once, later visiting on holidays from Ilam art school where we both went Glen and I took it upon ourselves to go and shoot an old people's home - I think I still have a few of these stills somewhere.

Uncle Joe was a golfer too and a very good competitive swimmer - and this is part of where our family sportiness comes from - Dad was a good swimmer as am I. Dad trailed once for the  all blacks - a fullback playing for Poneke.  My brother Ron , his son and I have all been reasonable golfers.

This shot of mum and dad - fills me with both the respect and a kind of terror I have of working class life. Mum - the stay at home, dad almost literally knackering himself daily for our well being. It fills me with my love for them, the hope in mum's clasped hands, but for them - all that work, the war, orphanages, pain - I give thanks.

Much later on I took it upon myself to record much of dad's story - having failed to do the same for mum before she passed away. Failed is too strong - more like that I was not then aware of the value of doing such a good thing as record one's parents' stories. I shot four, hour long hi8 video tapes of dad talking to me about his life - and recorded another similar number of hours of his stories on audio cassette - both in the film archive now. My plan has always been to make a film with this material - for my kids and any others interested. The title is "Dovetail" because - dad - being a cabinet maker and I asking him to show me  (on audio tape) how to make a dovetail - and it being a loving tribute between a son and a father... I still absolutely love "dovetail", love the sound of the word, the feelings, the colours of the meanings it calls up... A dove's tail, the fan shape made from hand sawn and chiseled wood to hold the corners of drawers and boxes together - for just about ever - so strong, so little else involved, no glue, just wood holding two pieces of wood together at right angles.

There is mum in her scarf, every bit a house bound housewife of the 60's and 70's,  My sister Linda always says I had a particularly strong relationship with her and her with me - me being the youngest, the naughtiest, the one who didn't get the strap over the bath, got away with things... for better and worse. Easy can be a curse.

Mum was christened Florence Olive Gameson - daughter of Alfred Isaac Gameson of Birmingham - a carpenter , son of carpenters. He was a tall man who lived the latter part of his life in Foxton yet who had suffered the indignity of being left to fend and care for his kids as a working man failed and deposited them (mum among them) at an Upper Hutt orphanage where they were homed for many years. This - as with my father's identical orphanage situation where his mother Maryann also had to leave her kids for a few years as she got herself back on her feet to manage a home without a spouse after she and Joe split.  Dada spent most of his earl life in downtown Wellington - the later part of his childhood in a house on Kent Terrace.

A couple of years back I gave usage rights of some of my photographs of Cuba street characters - including one that Peter McLeavey bought off me - of him and his daughter in their gallery - to a film being thrown together about Peter's longevity in art dealership and Cuba street life. This film was made by Luit and Jan Beiringer . At the opening party Peter said to me he suspected my art legacy was going to b that of a photographer. I am not sure he is right. I think I am more like Lye - with a finger in many art pies. A hand in many a gingernut art genres. The stills were shot for my 1992 Cuba street calendar with one large and four smaller stills on each month. This was published by the Illusions collective - Lawrence MacDonald , Lyndsay Rabbit and another chap who's name I have forgotten. The group were tenants of mine at my 181 Cuba street studios in the Yeti days - 1990 - 2000.

The pic of mum and dad is always liked by people - there is something about dad's nervous whistling, their (probably directed par moi) looking out to their suburban estate, mum's chubby fingered hands clasped in a real pride, Dad's arm cuddling mum, his hand made furniture in our north facing Brentwood street living room, Mum's home made "shift" frock patterned for real 70's fash.  This was Trentham, beside the Bartons bush and park, beside the childhood loved Hutt river - before the MOW mowed our river into a surrogate canal so it could make yet another bloody motorway against the western hills of our valley. Gone those days of flinging ourselves off the rope swing into the big pool. gone those snorkeling sessions seeing trout swimming with us in our own river pools.

I always recall too the sadness of mum trying hard to re-enter the workplace - a difficult stint at a newspaper outlet in Trentham lead to tears and a foreboding in the house and home then another entrepreneurial effort which saw mum invent a method of making icing cake with wonderful patterns - using templates like plastic serviettes to impress the icing. I must have been around 17 years old when I offered to take mum to a small factory in Porirua where she attempted to "sell" her icing invention to the boss of this place. It must have taken less than half an hour and huge sadness and pain as mum returned to my car enfeebled by her rejection. I can't remember tears but I do recall dad's not wanting to support mum's free market adventure.

Entrepreneurialism - a hard road for an ex orphan with next to no education, low self esteem and the isolation of suburban child-rearing.
at Heretaunga College - part of the art scene there I guess - fellow photographer Glen Jowitt has made his name for his photography and once, later visiting on holidays from Ilam art school where we both went Glen and I took it upon ourselves to go and shoot an old people's home - I think I still have a few of these stills somewhere.

Uncle Joe was a golfer too and a very good competitive swimmer - and this is part of where our family sportiness comes from - Dad was a good swimmer as am I. Dad trailed once for the  all blacks - a fullback playing for Poneke.  My brother Ron , his son and I have all been reasonable golfers.

This shot of mum and dad - fills me with both the respect and a kind of terror I have of working class life. Mum - the stay at home, dad almost literally knackering himself daily for our well being. It fills me with my love for them, the hope in mum's clasped hands, but for them - all that work, the war, orphanages, pain - I give thanks.

Much later on I took it upon myself to record much of dad's story - having failed to do the same for mum before she passed away. Failed is too strong - more like that I was not then aware of the value of doing such a good thing as record one's parents' stories. I shot four, hour long hi8 video tapes of dad talking to me about his life - and recorded another similar number of hours of his stories on audio cassette - both in the film archive now. My plan has always been to make a film with this material - for my kids and any others interested. The title is "Dovetail" because - dad - being a cabinet maker and I asking him to show me  (on audio tape) how to make a dovetail - and it being a loving tribute between a son and a father... I still absolutely love "dovetail", love the sound of the word, the feelings, the colours of the meanings it calls up... A dove's tail, the fan shape made from hand sawn and chiseled wood to hold the corners of drawers and boxes together - for just about ever - so strong, so little else involved, no glue, just wood holding two pieces of wood together at right angles.

There is mum in her scarf, every bit a house bound housewife of the 60's and 70's,  My sister Linda always says I had a particularly strong relationship with her and her with me - me being the youngest, the naughtiest, the one who didn't get the strap over the bath, got away with things... for better and worse. Easy can be a curse.

Mum was christened Florence Olive Gameson - daughter of Alfred Isaac Gameson of Birmingham - a carpenter , son of carpenters. He was a tall man who lived the latter part of his life in Foxton yet who had suffered the indignity of being left to fend and care for his kids as a working man failed and deposited them (mum among them) at an Upper Hutt orphanage where they were homed for many years. This - as with my father's identical orphanage situation where his mother Maryann also had to leave her kids for a few years as she got herself back on her feet to manage a home without a spouse after she and Joe split.  Dada spent most of his earl life in downtown Wellington - the later part of his childhood in a house on Kent Terrace.

A couple of years back I gave usage rights of some of my photographs of Cuba street characters - including one that Peter McLeavey bought off me - of him and his daughter in their gallery - to a film being thrown together about Peter's longevity in art dealership and Cuba street life. This film was made by Luit and Jan Beiringer . At the opening party Peter said to me he suspected my art legacy was going to b that of a photographer. I am not sure he is right. I think I am more like Lye - with a finger in many art pies. A hand in many a gingernut art genres. The stills were shot for my 1992 Cuba street calendar with one large and four smaller stills on each month. This was published by the Illusions collective - Lawrence MacDonald , Lyndsay Rabbit and another chap who's name I have forgotten. The group were tenants of mine at my 181 Cuba street studios in the Yeti days - 1990 - 2000.

The pic of mum and dad is always liked by people - there is something about dad's nervous whistling, their (probably directed par moi) looking out to their suburban estate, mum's chubby fingered hands clasped in a real pride, Dad's arm cuddling mum, his hand made furniture in our north facing Brentwood street living room, Mum's home made "shift" frock patterned for real 70's fash.  This was Trentham, beside the Bartons bush and park, beside the childhood loved Hutt river - before the MOW mowed our river into a surrogate canal so it could make yet another bloody motorway against the western hills of our valley. Gone those days of flinging ourselves off the rope swing into the big pool. gone those snorkeling sessions seeing trout swimming with us in our own river pools.

I always recall too the sadness of mum trying hard to re-enter the workplace - a difficult stint at a newspaper outlet in Trentham lead to tears and a foreboding in the house and home then another entrepreneurial effort which saw mum invent a method of making icing cake with wonderful patterns - using templates like plastic serviettes to impress the icing. I must have been around 17 years old when I offered to take mum to a small factory in Porirua where she attempted to "sell" her icing invention to the boss of this place. It must have taken less than half an hour and huge sadness and pain as mum returned to my car enfeebled by her rejection. I can't remember tears but I do recall dad's not wanting to support mum's free market adventure.

Entrepreneurialism - a hard road for an ex orphan with next to no education, low self esteem and the isolation of suburban child-rearing.














The next shot of Dad in his own chair - slumped back, smoking indoors, endless chops and sunday lamb roasts. Again the clasped hands - an almost prayer. He also made the cushions and did most of the sewing in our house. He had left his trade of cabinet making after the war - somehow returning he could not get back into it - he blamed the introduction of all the new machinery the industrialization and dehumanization - the cutting off of the hand made part of the making - he once lost one and a half fingers to his trade. So post war he did a stint as a dress maker's cutter. so was very competent at this stuff. i am sure it was an issue between mum and him - that he was better than her. She probably knitted the jersey - as she did for us all - later she got into a flash knitting machine - all that speed but it was never as hand made after that.

Here he sits watching the black and white Bell TV, curved sides. Television - my first memory was of going to the Spicers in Manor Park where we lived after Island Bay - which followed Porirua. I was about six or so and the Spicers had the only TV set so we were invited to go and watch - and one night I saw William Tell - and was so terrified Mum had to bring me home to console me. I can still very clearly remember her stroking my forehead as I drifted off to sleep. All my kids have received this treatment.We used to play around the English styled village green in Manor Park - by name - by nature? cricket every Sunday - but these games and collectivity waned under the TV wave. It had swept in and over us all.



Sunday, June 24, 2012

REAR VIEW FORWARD

I have had one of those - middle of the night moments - love em! Thought... due to the fact that no institution in Wellington or that I know of is interested in collecting the history of the artist's co-op Cabbage Patch, Art Centre early days Capital art of the 70's - yet there seems to be a growing chorus of mainly younger artists re-creating their own versions of these early feral/collective art/politics/community efforts and are keen to know more of these days in the 70s etc. (groups like Concerned Citizens Coalition "CCC"), various academics like Giovanni Tiso's Bat,bean,beam blog and other writers like Marcus Moore (Massey), Chris Trotter - I thought I would at least attempt putting a serialised musing on art I have made or had a substantial hand in the birth... without being a wanker!

So... looking back to look forward - starting with my very early art - it's context and reflections of its place/ meanings, connections with current art, ideas about - where to from here et al. "Rear view ahead"... All three of you in favour?

b'art