Thursday, December 9, 2010

The hermeneutics of the puerile

"Heidegger is recorded to have laughed only once, at a picnic with Ernst Jünger in the Harz Mountains. Jünger leaned over to pick up a sauerkraut and sausage roll, and his lederhosen split with a tremendous crack."*

On reading this, not for the first time it occurred to me that staying up late to watch Monty Python in the 1970s has entirely informed my worldview.

*From Paul Johnson’s Humorists: From Hogarth to Noël Coward, reviewed by Dwight Garner in the New York Times: a "warmly appealing if slightly dotty book" which I am very much looking forward to reading. The photograph above is an entirely unrelated picture of Heidegger and his brother on a path across a field that Heidegger used to walk on a lot, and that he wrote about, at length, after his "turn".

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Satiation is no longer a dream"

Calling all Art Lovers

"For the art hungry who are feeling the cold fingers of cultural starvation gnawing at their vitals, satiation is no longer a dream. Melissa Sharplin has popped up like the genie from the lamp to show the world her latest exhibition "Swit Swurl" held at Archibalds Audi showroom. Wrapped in a dress by Gillian Melhop, Melissa, looking gorgeous, almost competed with her own paintings."

from CC: See and Be Seen, issue 9, 3 December 2010, p.8.

More art writing like this, please. I shall get on to EyeContact about it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tossery at #twecon

Yesterday I took part in the inaugural Episto Tweet Conference on Twitter, organised by @HORansome (the admirable Matthew Dentith, academic philosopher of conspiracy theories and "one of New Zealand's top debunkers".)

Here is @HORansome giving his opening address (nice suit):

The rules were very strict. A paper in six tweets, one of which was to be the title, each of which must be numbered consecutively and contain the hashtag #twecon. The papers were delivered as delegates made themselves available throughout the day. There were some questions from the floor, but as @kittenypentland noted, thankfully no conference weirdies. (Regrettably, there were also no conference drinks.)

Here's a copy of my paper, which could very well be subtitled "Imma Tosser".

Many of the papers were very good. I particularly enjoyed @SarahLibrarina's exposition of hand-painted signs on Dunedin student flats (research for her forthcoming book), and @KittenyPentland's consideration of ethics on Twitter. (Matthew Dentith has full transcripts of all papers available on his blog.) The event itself was a great success, and will be repeated. It also indicated the possibilities inherent in new modes of academic communication, which Mike Dickison discusses briefly here.)

In  short: despite unspeakable tossery from me, #twecon was a good thing. Looking forward to the next one.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Round the back: the small guy reviews Ron Mueck

The small guy reviews Ron Mueck at Christchurch Art Gallery.

"Well, this one's showing someone who's just died. His eyes are closed and he's not breathing. You can't see his chest going up and down. You can't see why he died, but I reckon probably he was a scientist who shrunk himself in an experiment and it all went wrong. You've got to be a bit careful, doing experiments."

"From the front, it looks like someone with their head cut off, but from the back you can see it's a mask. I like this one."

"This lady's having a baby. She looks sort of relaxed but a bit worried. The baby inside has made her very fat, and if you go round the back you can see her butt. I wonder how Ron got her toenails to stick on? Come round the back, Mum, and have a look at her butt."

"What I like about this one is that it's a new born baby. It shows a bit of blood, which is on babies when they're born. You can see that the baby's got one eye closed, and the other one open. She's keeping an eye on what's going on. She's got a bit of a grumpy expression. And look, you can see the baby's butt. That's the second butt I've seen in this exhibition."

"This guy's just figured out that he's been stabbed. Maybe he's going to die. We don't know."

"This guy's looking for an island. He's forgotten where he put his clothes and his food."

"Wild Man is big and fierce. But he looks sort of scared and shaky. He's got goosebumps on his arms. Heh heh, you can see his willy. Look! There it is. What's good about this one is that he's a giant, but he's scared of something, just like smaller people are. He's got a really hairy butt."

"This woman is looking at someone. It's like someone woke her up and she's a bit cross and tired. But she's trying not to show that."

"Woman with Sticks. She's carrying a lot of sticks, and she's tired of carrying them. She wants to put them down. One of the sticks is nearly poking her in the eye. Round the back, you can see the Woman with Sticks's butt."

"These two women are talking, but they've been interrupted by someone you can't see. Maybe they were quarrelling. I reckon they were moaning about their shoes. Maybe their feet hurt and they wanted to swap shoes and they were arguing about it. They are a couple of old moaners."

"This guy's floating away. He's in a swimming pool which has opened up into the sea, and he's drifting away to somewhere no one knows about. He'll start paddling soon."

"Real chickens aren't this big. This bird would probably be a moa or an eagle. It's a bit disgusting how it's cut open. It's got a drip on the end of its beak."

"This one doesn't want to be woken up. She's just on the edge of going to sleep. Sometimes you can think of quite good things when you're just about going to sleep."

1. Ron Mueck Dead Dad 1996-7. Silicone, polyurethane, styrene, synthetic hair.
2. Ron Mueck Mask II 2002. Polyester resin, fibreglass, steel, plywood, synthetic hair.
3. Ron Mueck Pregnant Woman 2002. Polyester resin, fibreglass, steel, aluminium, synthetic hair.
4. Ron Mueck A girl 2006. Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, synthetic hair, synthetic polymer paint.
5. Ron Mueck Youth 2009. Silicone, polyurethane, steel, synthetic hair, fabric.
6. Ron Mueck Man in a Boat 2002. Silicone, polyurethane, synthetic hair, painted wood, metal.
7. Ron Mueck Wild Man 2005. Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, aluminium, wood, horse hair, synthetic hair.
8. Ron Mueck Woman in Bed 2005. Polyester resin, fibreglass, polyurethane, horse hair, cotton.
9. Ron Mueck Woman with Sticks 2008. Silicone, polyurethane, steel, wood, synthetic hair.
10. Ron Mueck Two Women 2005. Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium wire, steel, wool, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal.
11. Ron Mueck Drift 2009. Silicone, synthetic hair, polyester resin, fibreglass, polyurethane, aluminium, plastic, fabric.
12. Ron Mueck Still Life 2009. Silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, feathers, stainless steel, nylon rope.
13. Ron Mueck Old Woman in Bed 2002. Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, synthetic hair, cotton, polyester.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"I pretended I was asleep"

"Dancing's not working out too well, Mum. I have a doofus of a partner, named Ella, who keeps asking me if she's bossy. She's a nuisance. She IS bossy, but that's not the point. It's just tiring. Today I pretended I was asleep so I didn't have to talk to her."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poetry warning

I may have made a few ill-natured remarks in my time about my feelings in regards to the poetry voice, but I am, in fact, a keen—albeit a silent—reader of poetry. (Some people's poetry, that is; not everyone's; I do discriminate freely.)

Consider my surprise then when a very welcome parcel stuffed with a friend's recent books and catalogues arrived, featuring this notice written prominently on the front:

I was quite taken aback. (The essays by Gregory O'Brien are superb: in one he quotes the Swedish poet-philosopher Lars Gustafsson, who said that the artist should handle ideas with consummate care and ease—"the skill with which a German handles a boiled egg." Which has prompted me to seek out more of Gustafsson's writings.)

The small guy, who seems alarmingly keen on reading poetry out loud, recently wrote an environmental poem featuring (I think) slant rhymes. A transcription appears below, as it's been on the windowsill.

The fish are farting

The whales are eating fast food,
The sharks are trying to look good.
The fish are farting in the reef,
and the toilet seat has teeth.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Perpetual Xmas: No Abstractions

In my experience, holidays can be divided into two predominant types: cultural, where the object is travelling vast distances to look intently at rare and special things; and actual, where the object is to keep one's eyes closed for as long as possible while lying on the beach in the sun and pretending not to hear the children asking for drinks.

Many holidays taken during my English childhood were of the former 'cultural' category, and involved my family packed into a pop-top VW Combi van (known ominously as The Dormobile), sitting in a campsite somewhere in the home counties waiting for the rain to lift so that we could visit a historic house and garden. The vehicle was stuffy, and had a roaring engine, and I suffered reliably from travel sickness in any particularly winding bits. At night, my parents slept on the bench seats pushed together to make a double mattress (a brown tartan pattern): my brother and I were hoisted on to the swing-out canvas bunks above. We ate corned beef. The Dormobile smelled of kerosine from the tiny camp stove. There were always naked Germans in the toilet block. There were moments when everyone was quite cross with everyone else. It was not altogether jolly.

Even now when I see a Combi I come out in a sweat. Visiting Michael Parekowhai's The Big OE (2006) on Te Papa's roof required considerable personal courage.

We've recently returned from a few days' holiday in Queensland, which was definitely of the latter variety. Not much culture, but plenty of sandy shut-eye. And importantly: no earthquakes. (Or Combis.)

Although we didn't travel in search of culture, culture found us in the most unexpected places. Here is Queensland's favourite Crocodile Hunting family and their pets immortalised in several tonnes of bronze at Australia Zoo.

I like how everyone's smiling in this photo.

A painting of the Crocodile Hunter sent to the Zoo by a fan. The eyes in particular capture a certain something.

There's definitely something of Ronnie van Hout's robot teeth about this squeaky pufferfish.

We have those ridiculous new "No Cruising" signs in the central city in Christchurch now. But in Queensland, they don't beat about the bush: there they call it by its proper Antipodean name. I find Australians on the whole very congenial: they're like New Zealanders with assertiveness training. "Anti-Hooning Initiative" would be an excellent name for something or other, perhaps a novel or an exhibition or a band.

At Australia Zoo's very impressive Crocoseum, I was intrigued by the presenter's description of crocodiles as the 'Apex Predator'. Inevitably my mind turned to wondering which member of the New Zealand artworld might be described accordingly, and thus another pleasant five minutes passed.

Some people might consider this ad for a Queensland realtor to be in poor taste.

A receipt for some cultural merch.

The second artwork we found commemorating the Crocodile Hunter, this time in Queensland marble. (There are no doubt many more, which would make an interesting photoessay sometime, although then the holiday would be in grave danger of segueing into the 'cultural' category given the research and inconvenient travel involved.) Again, the eyes have it.

The grass is worn away around the base by visitors' feet.

And at the end of the trip, half a day in Brisbane at GOMA. The work above is Scott Redford's 10-metre-high The High / Perpetual Xmas, No Abstractions, which refers to the pop culture icons of the Gold Coast's glorious past (though is influenced in its design by a sign he saw in Yukon, Oklahoma). Apparently it has confused many tourists, who have enquired of GOMA staff where the motel is.

Back home now in Shaky Town, where, I read, the aftershocks might conceivably go on for up to a year. A Combi might well start to look like a good option.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fairly unacceptable

I came across this important document the other day: the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards' Guide to the Acceptability of Words on Television and Radio, 2010 [PDF].* It's an interesting index to the cultural changes in New Zealand society over the past decade, if you go in for that sort of thing. Or if you simply appreciate long lists of rude words published by a government body.

Comparison with a similar list issued by the BBC in 2006 is instructive: Britons and New Zealanders agree on the rudest word of all, but otherwise there are considerable cultural differences, most notably as regards the relative offensiveness of 'wanker', the taking of the Lord's name in vain (far more shocking in New Zealand), and the various Britishisms ('sodding', 'shag', 'spastic' etc) which don't merit a mention on the antipodean list. While saying 'bollocks' is still quite rude in England, apparently, it's no problem at all in New Zealand: the respondents to the NZ BSA's survey believe 'bullshit' to be far ruder than 'bollocks', and 'bastard' considerably ruder than both of them.

There's probably a thesis topic to be developed in an analysis of the social changes reflected by the unacceptability of words over time, or in an international comparison of the valence of unacceptable words: a kind of Big Mac Index to cultural vulgarity. I'm a bit busy at the moment, but I'd love to read it.

The trend is definitely downwards, however: what offended New Zealanders in 1999 hardly ruffles a feather today. Which begs the question, once again: if swearing is increasingly socially acceptable, and everyone's doing it, where's the fun in it?

*via Sacha Dylan.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Way We Lived Then

The golden kakapo from Canterbury Museum, detail from an installation by Ronnie Van Hout at the Robert McDougall Gallery, 2009, from the Snare/Mahanga exhibition

When we moved back here nearly four years ago, I found Christchurch like a ghost town. It wasn't so much that the city was dead, but more that it was UnDead, to me at least: after fifteen years away I encountered the ghosts of my former life around every corner.

I'd drop the small guy off at gymnastics out at QEII, and bump into my teenage self staggering out of the turnstiles after Sweetwaters South in 1984. I'd go for a checkup and recall that the Greek-pedimented medical rooms were built on the site where the Victorian Coffee Lounge—one of the only two establishments in Christchurch in the early 1980s that was (a) open at night and (b) not a pub, complete with greasy red gingham table-cloths and candles in Chianti bottles—once stood. I'd see the green substation box on Wairarapa Terrace and remember the 'Fendalton Graffiti Club' sign that was once written on the front of it. I'd drive past the casino on Durham Street and suddenly be spilling out of the Gladstone at closing time after seeing The Bats or The Verlaines, checking my watch for the time of the last bus home.

Bill Hammond, Watching for Buller, 1994

Smells would do it, too. I don't notice it at all now, but for some months the university library's characteristic smell—equal parts dust and sweat and sweet floor polish—took me back instantly to Orientation Week 1985: black basketball boots, black sunglasses, black tights, black Cleopatra hair. Christchurch Gothic. The ghost of my former self.

Tony de Lautour, Operation Overload, 2006, Ray Hughes Gallery

For some time after I came back to Christchurch I went about reeling with the Freudian uncanny of it all. Every experience, every view, was overlaid with the memory of another time in the same place. It was like old fashioned offset printing, the picture slightly out of register, or perhaps a badly-tuned TV leaving ghostly trails behind the actors. I seemed to have forgotten everything, but my life was being replayed in jerky fits and starts. Any walk or trip in the car would trigger the back story. It was exhausting. It was relentless. I think when I left town in the early 1990s I pulled the door closed behind me. I never expected to be back.

Detail of serpents on a park bench in the Botanic Gardens

We live a few hundred metres away from the site of my old family home, long since demolished. The suburb is so changed that it's hard to remember what it was like, back then; but sometimes when I catch the light a certain way the Tuscan McMansions with clipped box gardens like Legoland Hidcotes disappear and the old white-painted weatherboard villas my school friends lived in rise again, shaded by hundred-year-old rhododendrons and dense shrubberies of camellias.

Even now, of course, the Freudian unheimlich, or unhomely, is never far away here in the England of the South Seas.

Reconstruction of predation by Haast’s Eagle (Harpagornis moorei) on South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus). Image by Ray Jacobs, Canterbury Museum.

On our way to school we pass the house where Allen Curnow lived in the 1940s. I told the children about this one day when we were standing outside, waiting to cross the road. "A very famous poet used to live here. There should be a plaque, really. He wrote a great poem about the giant moa skeleton in the museum." Then a little white terrier ran through the garden and jumped up on his hind legs against the low brick wall behind a laurel hedge. "We could call him Allen," said the small guy.

Having been here for four years we are beginning to put down some roots. A while ago the small guy and I wrote down all the dogs whose names we know and whom we see on their morning rounds while we're walking through the park to school. There's Bebe the gigantic Newfoundland; Duke the poodle; Teddy, and Charlie, low-slung plumy tailers of uncertain parentage and cheerful disposition; Bertie and Bunty the spaniels; Milo the chocolate labrador. There's one big white one we call the Polar Bear, and the Barker Brothers. You start to feel at home in a neighbourhood when you know the names of its dogs.


I wrote this post, on the difficulties of being at home again in Christchurch, before the earthquake. Since then many things have changed, along with the streetscape of the inner city and the skyline of our street: one of the oddest after-effects of the quake, for me at least, has been to finally make Christchurch feel like home.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dispatches from an earthquake zone

Some post-earthquake photographs I've taken in and around the city over the past couple of days.

I took the first series through the car window, driving past the old brick Methodist church on the corner of Rugby Street and Papanui Road in Merivale on Saturday morning. The crane is lifting off the spire.

Notice on the door of our favourite Christchurch cafe, C1 Espresso in High Street.

The historic facade of the McKenzie and Willis building, built in Venetian Gothic style. You can see the red 'unsafe' sticker at lower left. While we watched, a man in fluoros and a hard hat appeared briefly in an upper window. He was welding a steel support structure in place. Above the corbels on the second storey, you can see the metal bracing which has been temporarily installed in the hope that this building, one of the architectural treasures of Christchurch, may be saved.

The army guard Tuam Street, a no-go area. In the background behind the bike shop is the 132-year-old Odeon Cinema, the last surviving historic picture palace in the central city. (Of course, it wasn't the earthquake that knocked down the others, but short-sighted development.) Originally built as a theatre, I think for vaudeville, the 700-seater Odeon closed as a cinema in 1983 (the last movie I saw there was Time Bandits), but has been remarkably well-preserved. There have been moves to reinvent it as an arts venue, but I'd rather see it returned to its glory as a movie theatre: it could be Christchurch's version of the Embassy or the Civic.

Meanwhile may I recommend a new blog, written by my friend the musician/academic Ed Muzik/James Dann: Rebuilding Christchurch.