21 Jul 2017

Emerging artists explore housing, political, celebrity issues

2:07 pm on 21 July 2017

Art for more than just art's sake.


Theo Macdonald has filmed himself impersonating David Bowie.

Theo Macdonald has filmed himself impersonating David Bowie. Photo: Image: Supplied

A slab of concrete will soon be hung on a wall at Victoria University’s Adam Art Gallery. Inside is a deed of sale for a plot of land on the moon.

The artwork, along with pieces from more than 25 other artists, is on public display from tomorrow as part of The Tomorrow People exhibition. The artists are mostly recent art school graduates.

“This is a generation who will graduate in debt, who are faced with a precarious working life and a world threatened by political and environmental crises,” explains the gallery’s director, Christina Barton.

“It’s a generation who has access to so much information through social media, which also requires them to rethink their relationships to their surroundings and to each other.”

Barton and her co-curators Stephen Cleland and Simon Gennard have been installing the exhibition this week. I visited on Wednesday, when the gallery was still in a state of chaos.

Walking past the slab of concrete, titled Moon Deed, Barton describes it as a particularly powerful metaphor.

“Buying a plot of land is a legitimate thing you can do online, and once the Auckland artist, Wendelien Bakker, received this document, I think she realised how ludicrous it is,” she says.

“In the current climate of housing affordability, it’s a poignant metaphor for the impossibility of owning property. It’s a humble piece that contains a much deeper political argument.”

Curators Stephen Cleland, Simon Gennard and Christina Barton.

Curators Stephen Cleland, Simon Gennard and Christina Barton. Photo: The Wireless/Max Towle

Opposite Moon Deed, a short film plays featuring the voice of former Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson. The artist, Tim Wagg, has interviewed Richardson about her “Mother of all Budgets” that slashed welfare spending. Wagg was born in 1991 - the year of that budget and the name of his work.

His interview plays over images of her house and garden and a printer producing a 3D version of a weight - representing the New Zealand economy - the original of which she owns.

In the interview, Richardson talks about changing New Zealand from a protected, parochial state and investing in the individual, and the individual having to stand on their own two feet.

Metres away, recent Massey University grad Isabella Loudon is carefully positioning some stone plinths. A plate of glass and concrete bowls will soon be placed on top, she explains. The bowls will be filled with water.

“The idea is that I’ve asked the gallery’s staff to fill the bowls with a precise amount of water - too much or too little will cause them to fall and break. They’ll have to maintain that level during the exhibition as the water evaporates,” she says.

“I focus a lot on ideas of vulnerability, and the need for vulnerability in life to form relationships.”

The exhibition features video, sound, sculptures and text. Even the railings on a prominent staircase have been repositioned.

The artist, Hikalu Clarke, has moved them so they now jut out in odd angles, they are too high in places and too low in others. They narrow near the bottom so groups walking down the stairs have to split up and walk alone.

“I think this piece in some ways references the subtle methods of control that you might, for example, experience at a bank or at check-in at an airport,” says co-curator Stephen Cleland.

Downstairs, three short clips of artist Theo Macdonald acting like David Bowie play on small screens. His video piece titled, I Assume David Bowie Has Different Coloured Eyes, explores themes of celebrity imitation and self-reinvention.

One of photographer Xun Cao's otherworldly images.

One of photographer Xun Cao's otherworldly images. Photo: Image: Supplied

There are also six provocative photographs by Xun Cao that show figures wrapped in plastic or hidden beneath wigs. They are caught dancing or in mid-flight. The work plays on themes of shame and queerness.

The name of the exhibition, The Tomorrow People, is borrowed from a British sci-fi TV series that aired in the 1970s. It featured children who, during their adolescence, develop paranormal abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation.

“The main theme of the show is that these young people are charged with dealing with the problems of the world,” says Barton.

“We had this playful idea that what we might see in this exhibition will tell us something about our future and help us understand the conditions we’re currently in.”

Opening tomorrow, the exhibition runs until October. Other themes that play out include financial and job insecurity and the fragmented nature of society.

On election night, the gallery will host an event for anyone wanting to share their thoughts on what they want to see from the next Government.

When I visited on Wednesday, a few bright pink posters were being unpacked from a box. The posters, devised by indigenous digital art collective Fresh and Fruity, are made up of 99 points that serve as the group’s manifesto. “Fresh and Fruity is not a gallery,” is one.

“Their work plays on how they’re concerned that institutions need to be safe spaces and welcoming to people who don’t usually come into galleries,” explains Barton.

“They want to change galleries from being elitist, cold, unwelcoming places.”

More info on the exhibition can be found here.