what a diff’rence a day makes

one day sculpture
Auckland, Wellington, New Plymouth, Hawera, Opunake, Christchurch, Dunedin, New Zealand
June 2008 – June 2009

How can our experiences of public space be amplified to encourage more acute consideration of where and how we live? One Day Sculpture (ODS), an ambitious year-long series of temporary commissions around New Zealand navigates this terrain. Twenty-one projects across five regions involve twenty-nine artists including New Zealanders Kate Newby, Douglas Bagnall, Billy Apple and Michael Parekowhai, and international artists James Luna, Roman Ondák, Thomas Hirschhorn, Santiago Sierra and Rirkrit Tiravanija. At the time of writing approximately half the projects have been realised. Brain-child of British-based curator Claire Doherty, ODS developed from her 2006 curatorial residency at Wellington’s Massey University. Time and duration, context specificity and the public realm are overarching concerns. As only project director David Cross and photographer Stephen Rowe are likely to see all the works, significant weight is placed on documentation, from commissioned critical responses to public discussions, conversation and speculation. This is a massive project, an administrative and logistical minefield, with a raft of partners and supporters.

The first project, Maddie Leach’s Perigee #11 occupied two locations: a boat shed on Wellington’s South Coast and the weather page of The Dominion Post newspaper. In choosing her day, Leach sought counsel from a meteorologist who named 28 August as most probable for very bad weather. Battered by storms, many of these South Coast boat sheds are still functional, but the fleets of small fishing boats they once housed are no longer present. The building Leach chose was open from midnight as she emptied and set about selectively restoring its interior. Her new cedar panelling and window had a dual aesthetic and utilitarian intention, but avoided being a nostalgic act of gentrification. A short wave radio sporadically burst into life, its ship-to-shore communications bringing us back to the present and the pragmatic. In the end, the 28 August was a calm, sunny winter day, in direct contrast to the forecast, highlighting our sometimes farcical reliance on prediction and the potency of expectation.

Amy Howden-Chapman’s The Flood, My Chanting also looked towards the sea, establishing a temporary sound circuit of nineteen decommissioned maritime bells fitted to existing poles or suspended from wooden structures. The circuit traced the margin of central Wellington at risk from flooding through impending sea level rise. For two hours, two ringers ran urgently from harbour to city and back, each bell triggering the next. Their tolling provoked a range of responses including alarm, anxiety, bewilderment, and glee. Each bell had a minder who told enquirers: ‘There is a flood coming’. Responses included an elderly man blanching with fright, an irate office worker lamenting the interruption of her strategic planning session and a dystopic group of young women claiming they would be thrilled to see the city submerged, with diving boards out of office windows. The differently pitched bells cut through the wall of urban noise in a way that the electronic siren of a Civil Defence drill the previous day had failed to.

Further north, in the small Taranaki town of Hawera, Liz Allan mounted Came a Hot Sundae: A Ronald Hugh Morrieson Festival, commemorating a local writer and musician who died in 1972. A colourful character and a bit of a hell raiser, Morrieson’s often sinister stories drew on local vernacular and the goings-on of his community. The event’s title plays on one of his best-known books Came a Hot Friday and the fact that the family home where he was raised and worked had been demolished to make way for a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. Allan investigated Morrieson’s mixed legacy in Hawera, connecting with passionate locals, such as the farmer who saved the attic of the Morrieson residence, transporting it to a back paddock. Events included screenings of cinematic adaptations of Morrieson’s novels, readings of his works at the KFC, performances by bands of Morrieson’s vintage and a short story competition. Allan’s projects evolve from her chosen community, yet are not straightforward ‘public service’ events. Her work avoids judgment or indulgence, remaining complex, troubling, yet generative.

A more sombre memorial, Kah Bee Chow’s Golden Slumbers, took place in a backyard near 10 Haining Street, where in 1905 Lionel Terry shot dead Joe Kum Yung as a protest against Chinese immigration. Chow decorated a fallow space in what had been Wellington’s Chinatown with planter boxes of vegetables and herbs and a selection of Chinese plants. A white marquee contained a soup kitchen, its roof wrapped in billowing gold fabric, ‘a stylised evocation of Sum Gum Saan (new gold mountain) that the Otago goldfields represented to Chinese miners of the 19th century’.1 The work was part tribute to, part deferred wake for the elderly Joe Kum Yung. Tempting as it is to assert that this kind of random, brutal act would not happen today, Golden Slumbers reminds us that antagonism to ‘Asian immigration’ has long been a part of New Zealand society.

Ivan and Heather Morison’s Journée des Barricades employed tonnes of refuse—skeletons of cars, a bus, bicycles, abandoned oil drums—to barricade a street near Parliament. The aesthetically stacked blockade arrived unannounced early on a Sunday morning and was gone again by the start of business on Monday. The work played with the rhetoric of protest and civil action, while retaining a strong sense of artifice or theatre. While the site was politically charged (the street used to house the Ministry of Defence and is currently tenanted by Te Puni Kokiri/Ministry of Maori Development and the arts council) you got the sense that look and feel was more important than who the neighbours were. The work evaded specific engagement with local cultural conditions, but the shipped in, generic feel of the barricade was also its strength, incongruous in a culture more inclined to sign petitions, attend hui (meetings) or go on hikoi (protest marches). The work encouraged speculation about what we might build a barricade for, and how such an action, with or without Molotov cocktails, would play out in the capital’s streets.

Temporary works have historically been realised on a shoe string in Aotearoa. Assumptions around ‘value for money’ in relation to duration still apply when it comes to visual art (in contrast to theatre), which this series takes on directly. The complex and well-resourced ODS has received prominent mainstream media attention, for the most part engaged rather than dismissive. Projects have occasionally hit the headlines, most recently Paola Pivi’s I Wish I Am Fish was subject to the ‘artist takes the mickey’ school of journalism.2 Given the general conservatism of attitudes towards public art in New Zealand, it is surprising that there has not been more coverage of this tone. Perhaps the savvy branding of the series and efforts towards forging close relationships with key journalists and media outlets are contributing factors. While this approach has been productive, it has sometimes inferred a homogeneity which appears to tidy up ragged ends or more troubling aspects of works. These have been explored through artist’s talks and panel discussions, but as these sessions predominantly attract involved communities and art world insiders, more public consideration of the tensions and discomforts as well as the pleasures and curiosities present in these works would be valuable.

notes: 

1. Sanderson, Anna, Golden Slumbers, Kah Bee Chow, A Critical Response, www.onedaysculpture.org.nz

2. Leask, Anna, ‘Something fishy in the air—but is it art?’, Herald on Sunday, 15 March, 2009, p.3.