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Contemporar y Research Topics
art & design 5&6
2010 / 11
Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Art & Design) is peer-reviewed and published annually in
November by Otago Polytechnic/Te Kura Matatini ki Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Scope (Art & Design) aims to engage discussion on contemporary research in the visual arts and design. It is
concerned with views and critical debates surrounding issues of practice, theory, history and their relationships
as manifested through the visual and related arts and activities, such as sound, performance, curation, tactile and
immersive environments, digital scapes and methodological considerations. With New Zealand and its Pacific
neighbours as a backdrop, but not its only stage, Scope (Art & Design) seeks to address the matters which concern
contemporary artists and arts enquirers in their environments of practice.
EBSCO Database: Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Art & Design) is catalogued on the EBSCO Database in
recognition of academic quality and alignment with international peer review processes.
Formats include: editorials, articles; perspectives; essays; artist and designer pages, logs and travel reports; reports
on and reviews of exhibitions, projects, residencies and publications; and moving, interactive works (to be negotiated
with the editors for the online version, with stills to appear in the hardcopy version). Other suggested formats will
also be considered; and special topics comprising submissions by various contributors may be tendered to the
editors. All material will be published both in hardcopy and online.
An online version of the journal is available free at; ISSN (for hardcopy version):
1177-5653; ISSN (for online version): 1177-5661.
© 2010/11 the authors; © illustrations, the artists or other copyright owners (all permissions the responsibility of
Images: For using images, written permissions from copyright holders, or citation of URL sites for Creative
Commons licensing details, or of URL sites for indication of images being in the public domain are expected from all
submitters. No contribution can be published without the relevant permission or clearance in written format. Full
captions and acknowledgements should accompany all images, except where they belong to the author. Examples
can be seen in previous issues.
Submissions for Scope (Art & Design) are invited from artists, designers, curators, writers, theorists and historians.
Submissions should be sent in hardcopy and electronic format by 30 April for review and potential inclusion in
the annual issue to Leoni Schmidt (Editor) at Otago Polytechnic/Te Kura Matatini Ki Otago, Private Bag 1910,
Dunedin, New Zealand and [email protected] with a copy to [email protected] Please consult the
information for contributors below and hardcopy or online versions for examples. Peer review forms will be sent
to all submitters in due course, with details concerning the possible reworking of documents where relevant. All
submitters will be allowed up to two subsequent resubmissions of documents for peer approval. All final decisions
concerning publication of submissions will reside with the Editor. Opinions published are those of the authors and
not necessarily subscribed to by the Editor or Otago Polytechnic.
Information for contributors: Submissions should engage with contemporary arts practices in ways which may
contribute to critical debate and new understandings. High standards of writing, proofreading and adherence to
consistency through the Chicago referencing style are expected. For more information, please refer to the Chicago
Manual of Style; and consult prior issues for examples. A short biography of no more than 50 words; as well as title;
details concerning institutional position and affiliation (where relevant); and contact information (postal, email and
Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
telephone number) should be provided on a cover sheet, with all such information withheld from the body of the
submission. Low resolution images with full captions should be inserted into texts to indicate where they would be
preferred; while tif, jpeg or eps image files with a resolution equivalent of at least 300dpi should be provided on a
clearly marked disc or usb accompanying the hardcopy submission. Enquiries about submission can be directed to
[email protected]
Design, Typesetting and Onlining: Simon Horner, newSplash, Otago Polytechnic/Te Kura Matatini ki Otago;
Printing: Dunedin Print Ltd.
Cover: Hannah Joynt, details from Big River Crossing, 2010, oil on canvas, 180 x 76 cm, see artist’s pages 74–81 in
this issue.
Editorial: Leoni Schmidt (Editor) and Alexandra Kennedy and Pam McKinlay (Dunedin School of Art, Otago
Polytechnic/ Te Kura Matatini ki Otago, Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand)
For peer review and editorial advice and comment, the editors rely on a range of appropriate reviewers, but in the
first instance on members of the Editorial Board:
• Dr David Bell, Dunedin College of Education, University of Otago
• Paul Cullen, Manukau School of Visual Arts, Manukau Institute of Technology
• Dr Kevin Fisher, Film & Media Studies and Visual Culture, University of Otago
• Mahomed Iqbal Dawood Jhazbhay, Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of South Africa
• Christine McCarthy, School of Design, Architecture and Design, Victoria University of Wellington
• Dr George Petelin, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
• Dr Khyla Russell, Kaitohutohu, Otago Polytechnic/Te Kura Matatini ki Otago
• Prof Carole Shepheard, Fine Arts, University of Auckland
• Prof Elizabeth Rankin, Art History Department, University of Auckland
• Henry Symonds, Whitecliffe College of Art & Design, Auckland
• Grant Thompson, Manukau School of Visual Arts, Manukau Institute of Technology
• Associate Professor Linda Tyler, Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery, National Institute of Creative
Arts and Industries, University of Auckland
• Associate Professor Soumitri Varadarajan, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Contemporar y Research Topics
Leoni Schmidt
Editorial: Visual Arts Practices
George Petelin
It’s Research, but Not as We Know It
Jane Venis
The Chindogu Gym: or Zen and the Art of Exercycle Maintenance
Jenni Lauwrens
Disciplining Images in Visual Culture Studies: Plotting a Course
Peter Stupples
Art and Aesthetics
Kura Puke
In Pursuit of Meaning: Mana and the Sgeulachd Ghaisge1: The
work of Warwick McLeod
Jane Davidson
Iconology in Secular Times: True Stories
David Green
Peter Belton
The Face in the Moon
Hannah Joynt
Painting on a Hunch: Image-making Informed by Intuition
Maxine Alterio
Memory Matters
Rachel Byars
Stories through Menus
Lily Hibberd
WindWells: A Subterranean History of Water in Queensland
Neil Emmerson
(I Must Confess …)
Rekha Rana Shailaj
My Metamorphosed Fashion Design Praxis
Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
art & design 5&6
2010 / 11
Michael Greaves
Smoke and Mirrors: Painting, Isolation and Tradition: Europe 2010
Kerry Ann Lee
Deconstructing Heaven: The Fabrication of Urban Utopias and
Anita DeSoto
Lost in Leipzig
Qassim Saad
Travelling to Post-war Iraq in 2010-11: Histories and Designs in
Peter Stupples
The Mikula and Volga Fireplace
Sudhir Kumar Duppati
Integrated Arts Curriculum at School Level: A Cultural
Kathryn Mitchell
The Museum as Holy Shop: the Church, the Mall, and the Factory
David Bell
A Great Day Out: Making the best of Your Museum Visit
Rebecca Hamid
Bring it On!: Scott Eady’s Rhetoric
Michele Beevors
Something Lost, Something Found in the Works of Scott Eady
Rebecca Hamid
What are We Looking At? Michael Parekowhai at the 2011
Venice Biennale
Rachel Gillies
Are You Experienced? A Review of Michael Parekowhai’s On First
Looking into Chapman’s Homer at the 54th Venice Biennale 2011
Christine Keller
Dismal Treatment of the Dismissed
Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Leoni Schmidt
This issue of Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Art & Design) demonstrates the wide range of ways in which
artists, writers and theorists engage with the visual in the Dunedin School of Art and its networks.
George Petelin explores practice-based research in the visual arts and questions assumptions about what may
constitute research as process rather than outcome. Jane Venis demonstrates research process through a practice
report focusing on a current public exhibition of her work. Jenni Lauwrens explains how visual arts practices have
challenged the boundaries of art history as a discipline and how visual culture studies have opened up new avenues
for teaching. Peter Stupples questions Eurocentric notions of aesthetics and argues for openness to other ways of
coding visual conventions.
A second set of contributions to the current issue involves responses to the visual arts practices of others. Kura
Puke writes about encounters with the work of Warwick McLeod; Jane Davidson responds to three particular
encounters with images of the female body; and David Green interacts with the images and words collected
through interviewing and filming the work of Mäori and Pasifika artists in Aotearoa.
A next group of items include practice perspectives contributed by artists Peter Belton and Hannah Joynt. Belton
responds to an image by William Hodges in which a Mäori figure is outlined against a landscape. The conventions
of anthropomorphism through shadow play find resonance in his own work. Joynt generously shares her studio
process with the reader, while thinking through the concerns which interest her in this process: the roles of intuition
and the unconscious.
Creative writing processes concern Maxine Alterio where she reflects on how her novels come into being and how
specific locations with their familiar visual imagery have played into this process. Narrative plays an important part
of her work as a writer, as it also does for Rachel Byars, who explains the format of the meal menu as a carrier of
narrative about location, ambience and culinary traditions.
A fifth set of contributions roams further afield. Lily Hibberd’s response to a project by Pat Hoffie and Stefan Purcell
explores the role of water and its representations within the histories of the Australian continent. Neil Emmerson
contextualises an image of torture at Abu Ghraib within the ‘pathos formula’ through which images of victims
become carriers of ecstatic martyrdom. Rekha Rana Shailaj explains how her art fashion practice harks back to
conventions of making and wearing in her first country, India.
Kerry Ann Lee considers travelling as an artist-in-residence from small cities in New Zealand to immensely large
Shanghai and responds to questions in an interview about what can be managed within the short timeframe of a
residency. Michael Greaves reports on his experience of travelling and seeing famous art works for the first time in
situ. Anita DeSoto shares her experiences of being an artist-in-residence in Leipzig.
Qassim Saad writes about his travel to his first country, Iraq, after the recent war there. His disorientation concerning
changes in design – for example to the architecture of family homes — shines through in the writing. Peter
Stupples’s article on early twentieth-century ceramics in Russia also transports the reader to other times and other
places; we can identify with the trials and tribulations of artists far away from our own zone.
Leoni Schmidt – Editorial – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
A sixth set of contributions consider teaching and learning within particular settings. Sudhir Kumar Dupatti argues
for an integrated curriculum in schools and points out how much this initiative can learn from arts practices in India
and Africa. Kathryn Mitchell explores the museum as a “holy shop” and shares her critical views of how the functions
of the museum and public gallery in New Zealand have shifted from education to consumerist concerns and a
struggle for financial survival. David Bell is more optimistic where he considers learning outside the classroom within
museum and public gallery spaces after research undertaken in New Zealand and in the United States of America.
The penultimate pair of contribution responds to the recent 54th Venice Biennale. Rebecca Hamid provides
information about the event and writes about highlights, concluding with critical questions regarding the New
Zealand exhibition featuring work by Michael Parekowhai. In contrast, Rachel Gillies lauds the work of this artist in
Venice and points out how her experience amongst his pieces extended her understanding.
A final pair of contributions focus on the work of sculptor Scott Eady. Michele Beevors provides perspectives on
his work from the point of view of a colleague who sees his work take shape directly next to her in the Dunedin
School of Art Sculpture Studio. Rebecca Hamid speaks from the position of a gallery owner who has presented the
work of Scott Eady in Nelson.
This issue of Scope (Art & Design) ends with a short contribution by Christine Keller. She writes about an application
for a visual arts position at an institution in Europe which shall remain unnamed. While still a member of the
Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic, Keller responded with a formal letter critiquing the ways in which
that – other – institution treats applicants for positions. The letter suggests that there are better ways to go about
relations with staff. This contribution forms part of institutional critique as recently evidenced in Keller’s writing.
Scope: Contemporary Research Topics (Art & Design) is likely to become themed in future. At present, the editorial
team for this issue hopes that readers will enjoy the far-ranging and eclectic content within the pages to follow. Many
practices, views and responses come forward within the context of an art school, with even more contributed by
colleagues within our networks. I hope that a vibrancy of ideas – some still partly in the making – shine through in
this issue.
Leoni Schmidt – Editorial – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
George Petelin
Although art practice as research is increasingly recognised in universities, what distinguishes its methodology
remains a vexed question. Publications such as Laurie Schneider-Adams’s The Methodologies of Art1 and, more
recently, What is Research in the Visual Arts?,2 edited by Michael Ann Holly, misleadingly deal with the methods of art
history and theory rather than of art itself. Writers such as Graeme Sullivan have argued, by recourse to the history
and analysis of art, that art is indeed research.3 But if art can be research (and surely it is not all research just as all
chemistry, or all of any other discipline, is not necessarily research), the principles of art practice itself should have
a role in determining this status. And, if methodological rigour rather than assertions is what characterises research,
surely procedures rather than artifacts should be the key consideration.
My own research into the perceptions of RHD candidates in visual art found that “the role of methodology was
fairly well understood for conventional research, but tended to remain transparent for studio practice,” in the sense
that it was left invisible and unexamined.4 Although ‘contextualising’ their own artworks has become commonplace
for artist researchers, critical examination of the studio method itself is still largely avoided, perhaps in the romantic
belief that understanding this mysterious process might somehow rob it of its effectiveness. Many candidates in
studio-based postgraduate research degrees informally confessed to just ‘scanning for images and knowledge’ in the
hope of finding something that attracted them. What I concluded to be urgently needed is a re-theorisation of art
from a point of view that can elevate practice rather than just critique its consumption and use or misuse, as does
cultural studies, or interpret its products and chart its biographies in relation to social change, as does art history.
In short, the art product has been overly theorised while its process remains relatively neglected. A study of the
methodologies of artmaking; the significance of strategic decisions within them; the psychological, aesthetic, political
and semiotic strategies available to artists for their own motivation and effective functioning, as contrasted with
those for analysis of the reception of their works, need to be updated from the days of Romanticism and Formalism.
What is significantly absent from the debates is a pragmatics of art based on reflective practice.
So what I set out to do is to explore the problem through practice and through direct reflection on that practice.
The strategy I adopted was informed by phenomenology to the extent that phenomenological method requires
one to examine experience as directly as possible, and by the social sciences in terms of my relation as a researcher
to my object of study. Although the methodology employed in the present case study is centred on practice, it
could be argued that it also has roots in the ethnographic tradition. It tries to overcome a major pitfall identified by
ethnography – that of observing and describing its subjects entirely in terms of the researcher’s own perspective
and values, i.e. (in most cases to do with art as research), that of the art historian.
My empirical study of research training at university art colleges borrowed from ethnomethodology to describe
how my subjects described themselves, and from symbolic interactionism in collecting data informally in order to
interpret more accurately its value to the participants in my study.5 The current strategy, however, is somewhat like
participant observation – acting as an artist, in order to convey as closely as possible how it feels to make art. And
its goal, like that of emancipatory ethnography, is to assist the class of subjects under study to interpret themselves
as equals within the research culture. My aim in this project is thus to assist artists to explain their methodology on
their own terms instead of pretending to entirely conform to conventional expectations of research drawn from
other disciplines.
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
These references to social science traditions clearly imply that, while I want to emancipate art practice from
marginalisation, I do not assume artmaking to be self-sufficient as research – but neither, I would contend, is any
other discipline. In fact, an amalgam of disciplinary traditions invariably brings about the richest insights. What I
am arguing is that studio practice should at least have a role in the definition of its own status as research. Allied
with these strategies is the aim to, as far as possible, develop a grounded theory – letting the research experience
determine the outcome rather than impose a predetermined theoretical perspective onto the data. In other words:
let artmaking experience provide the fundamental information, and only then relate it to theories derived from
other disciplines.
In the present study I therefore resolved to adopt a dual role, not unlike that required of students engaged in a
studio-based doctorate, operating both as a practitioner and an observer. This process is being conducted routinely
on several continents, but nowhere to my knowledge is it meta-analysed. Typically, candidates adopt a theoretical
rationale regarding the object of their practice or of their end product, rather than the practice itself. Where the
present research would differ from these is that the observation would be focused on understanding the artistic
process rather than its outcome.
Certain complications in this strategy have to be considered. As a descriptive case study, the present project
provides an account of a specific experience and may therefore be limited in its generalisability. It may be said, for
example, that my methodological tactics, as well as my interpretation of their significance, are to a large extent
determined by a specific personal disposition, cultural origins, educational background, and choice of medium.
However, this may be the very reason for repeating such studies. So, at least, the form of this investigation may
provide a basis for insights in further observation by others, in the spirit of empathic understanding referred to
within the social sciences as verstehen.
In contrast with Merleau Ponty’s famous account of the phenomenology of Cézanne’s working process based on
second-hand accounts of Cézanne’s life and on the analysis of Cézanne’s completed pictures, I set out to examine
the creative experience directly. Phenomenologists hold that what we principally ‘know’ is not the external world,
but our own experience of that world.Therefore, to confront that knowledge and to examine it rigorously, we need
to stand back from the experience – ‘bracket’ out prejudices and preconceptions for what phenomenology calls
eidetic reflection. However, I wish to emphasise that, to do this, I adopted a radically different stance from analysing
everyday subjective experience. If artmaking itself was to be used as a phenomenological enquiry, my noema,
the entity whose essence I am trying to grasp, was also to be my noesis, or the means by which it is investigated.
I inevitably constructed the conditions for my artistic experience according to preconceptions and hypotheses
formed from my recent research, as well as out of years of involvement in various roles related to the discipline.
Would this still allow for new insights? To triangulate this research path as much as possible away from a tautology,
I consciously adopted two different mindsets – modelled on the one hand on an artist whose starting goal is to
simply manipulate images for pleasure, and on the other the ‘scientific’ researcher.
I resolved that the first mindset or intention would be directed towards just making pictures; the second intention
would be to examine not the pictures or the decisions, but my rationale for any tactical decisions that emerged
during their making and their subsequent sequential development. A third analytical phase would adopt a stance
closer to the tradition of erklären, or explanation, in an attempt to identify some pattern that might typify a form
of artistic research and relate the artistic success or otherwise of tactical decisions to existing theories. Michael
Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention traces such tactical decision-making in Picasso’s Portrait of Kahnweiler and in other
artifacts such as the Forth Firth Bridge.6 However, Baxandall, like Merleau-Ponty, rather than directly observe bodily
experience, extrapolates his conclusions from a finished product.
My basic premise regarding the studio practice component of the present project, supported by logic and the
observation and comments of studio researchers previously interviewed, was that if practice were to merely
‘perform’ to a theoretical plan, it would not itself contribute any new knowledge. Therefore, the relation of art
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
practice to theory, for at least the beginning of the process, had to be ad hoc rather than systematic. I would not
preconceive an image, but allow the ideas to develop through play with images that attracted me. I would be
systematic only with regard to a general theme that emerged from the process – not from a pre-existing intention.
Note that this is contrary to the normal stance of many exegeses, in at least Australian studio-based higher degrees,
which usually adopt the conceit that the artist has pursued a theoretically coherent plan from the outset. As I
have observed elsewhere, in most universities in Australia “the written component need be neither the vehicle
nor evidence of reflective engagement, but simply a clarifier of what is already in the practice. This is still typically
accomplished by contextualising the images using art historical and cultural studies methods.”7
However, although adopted here solely to test a contribution of pure practice to studio-based research rather
than as a preconception of how art has to operate, the resolve to start with unplanned visual ‘experimentation’
coincidentally corresponds with the way that, in my experience, many visual art studio researchers report they
actually do operate.
These ad hoc explorations evolved in the following sequence:
1. ‘Playing’ with images appropriated from the Web using Photoshop.
2. ‘Playing’ with analogue snapshots I had taken in the past and scanned into my computer.
3. Taking new digital photographs to augment ideas derived from the previous play.
4. Manipulating and combining both self-photographed and appropriated images.
5. Producing new meanings that occurred to me during practice by imagining narrative connections among the visual
components being combined.
6. Generating single, more physically autonomous, images referring to the whole narrative.
After each stage I reflected on the process by which ideas occurred and the relation of the works to theory.
Finally, I prepared an overview suggesting possible theoretical explanations for the way that the process unfolded.
This is the phase that, in social science terms, moves away from verstehen towards the tradition of erklären.
I will describe here samples of each mode of visual experimentation from 1 to 6, with the reflection upon each, and
then conclude with a discussion of theoretical explanations that might support the experiential evidence.
Playing with the capabilities of Photoshop as a medium, without conscious decision, I found myself constantly
referring to existing art. My first experiment started from the simple discovery that Photoshop could run and drip
images. Practicing to control this technique, it seemed amusing to reverse Jackson Pollock’s effect on his medium.
Appropriating one of Hans Namuth’s Life magazine photographs of Pollock in his studio, I made the artist’s body
melt and drip onto his canvas. It became apparent that what an effect counted on was not its technical difficulty,
but the judiciousness of its application and its resonance with a context. This then suggested the title ‘Pollock’s Last
Painting’ and led to further ideas for imaginary last paintings by notable artists. Thus Australian artist John Nixon’s
obsessive use of a constructivist cross could be made to reach the ad absurdum limits of minimalist avant-gardism
through the capability of Photoshop to leach out all colour from one of his images and supplant it with an embossed
‘white on white’ effect. The opportunity to ‘take the piss’ out of Serrano by producing a row of lime, orange and
lemonade ‘Christs’ became irresistible. And framing Broodthaers’ candid diary entry about wanting to make a profit
out of artmaking in one of his home museum frames completed the ‘last painting’ series. These, however, struck
me as merely visual jokes, one-liners rather than art. My next set of experiments used images I had photographed
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 1. George Petelin,
Centrepoint 1.
Figure 2. George Petelin,
Centrepoint 2.
Figure 3. George Petelin,
Centrepoint 3.
Centrepoint 1 and 2 were analogue photographs I had taken of Sydney shrouded in fog or smog. Arguably already
somewhat artistic, they offered an opportunity to further explore whatever had prompted me to take them. I
scanned them into digital form and experimented further. Apocalyptic visions emerged in Centrepoint 3 as I played
with tone manipulation, inserted the faintest tints of complementary colour into the centre of each sunburst, and
smudged clouds into vague suggestions of hideous faces.This was no longer motivated by humour, but by the power
to magnify the aesthetic and emotive potential of captured reality by digitally ‘painting’ with it. I must also report that,
although drawing on a screen with a mouse seems at first remote from the directness of applying paint with a brush,
there emerged a curious sense of tactility, like a phantom limb, whose haptic feedback, however virtual, seemed to
guide my response as much as visual feedback. I felt a powerful urge to smudge and blur the precise ordering of
digital pixels. This bears out Merleau-Ponty’s contention that perception is a whole body experience.8 Whatever
coherent meaning these images gained clearly either emerged through this haptic intuition (and here I use the term
in its phenomenological sense as direct apprehension rather than as mystical premonition), or by chance, or as a
product of my unconscious.
Conscious reflection on the above experience, however, led to a more deliberate experiment. This time I thrust
an image associated with international terror onto a familiar local context, the Brisbane City Hall, and overlaid it
with artificial smoke or clouds. The scale and obscurity of the jetliner made it to my mind more a metaphor for
contemporary anxieties than a reality. This somehow seemed closer to being art.
However, the explicit theme of global terror and its attendant social issues still seemed too obvious, and, for no
conscious reason, seemed to me to need tempering with satire. I thus set out in my subsequent experiments
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
to merge my local context with the premonitions of
disaster that global anxiety generates. I photographed
the idyllic, crassly hedonistic and sometimes bizarre
culture of Surfers Paradise on the Queensland
Gold Coast and inflicted it with digitally generated
catastrophes – the rising tides of climate change,
nuclear devastation, aerial bombardment, toxic
pollution. And into each scenario I placed that iconic
media image of refugees: the overcrowded Tampa
lifeboat. Each image then suggested an unfolding
narrative, a continuing adventure of boatpeople
looking for Paradise; but maybe a futile quest as the
paradise crumbles before their eyes. To emphasise the
narrative quality and evoke the cinematic tradition of
disasters, I arranged the images into triptychs.
Figure 4. George Petelin, Fear of Flying.
Figure 5. George Petelin, Looking for Paradise 1.
Figure 6. George Petelin, Looking for Paradise 2.
Figure 7. George Petelin, Looking for Paradise 3.
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 8. George Petelin, Looking for Paradise 4.
Figure 9. George Petelin, Looking for Paradise 5.
Through largely unplanned association the images came to combine commentary on globalisation, the shallowness
of tourist culture, and the dangers of ecological neglect. In hindsight this is somewhat frightening, as these prophetic
images occurred to me long before the spate of ‘natural’ disasters we experienced in 2011.
I was pleased enough with the results to print them and submit one to the Gold Coast Regional Art Gallery for the
annual Schubert and Ulrik Award. Experiencing the physicality of large prints on various grades of paper impelled
me to return to single, more iconic, symmetrical, ‘metaphysical’ statements (figures 10 and 11) that seemed now to
gain coherence by referring back to the narratives that the earlier triptychs had constructed.
Figure 10. George Petelin, Dark Paradise.
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
How does my experience compare with that attributed to Cézanne by Merleau-Ponty and with that attributed
to Picasso by Baxandall? Merleau-Ponty has little to say about Cézanne’s imaginative process. Instead he explains
his painting in terms of a perceptual process that appears to be equally shared by all of us, but obscured by our
expectations of a ‘photographic’ realism and geometric perspective. Cézanne, according to Merleau-Ponty, paints
as we all actually see.
If one outlines the shape of an apple with a continuous line, one makes an object of the shape, whereas the
contour is rather the ideal limit toward which the sides of the apple recede in depth. Not to indicate any
shape would be to deprive the objects of their identity. To trace just a single outline sacrifices depth – that is,
the dimension in which the thing is presented not as spread out before us but as an inexhaustible reality full of
reserves. That is why Cézanne follows the swell of the object in modulated colors and indicates several outlines
in blue. Rebounding among these, one’s glance captures a shape that emerges from among them all, just as it does
in perception. captures a shape that emerges from among them all, just as it does in perception.
For Baxandall, Picasso similarly paints what he perceives, and not only in his subject but also on his canvas. Like
Cézanne, Baxandall notes, Picasso is concerned with how each new brushstroke sets up a new problem for him to
solve. Artmaking is concluded by Baxandall to be a series of problem-setting and problem-solving actions. What my
own experience suggests is that it may be more a series of opportunities prompted by preconscious and conscious
associations rather than problems. And it is curious that Baxandall, while acknowledging Picasso’s claim that an
artist’s role is not to ‘search’ but to ‘find,’ still chooses to privilege Kahnweiler’s problem-solving explanation of the
My third set of experiments clearly begins to
approach the status of art in a way of which the earlier
ones arguably fall somewhat short. This judgement is
supported by the fact that one of the triptychs, The
Boatpeople Look for Paradise, was accepted for the
annual Schubert and Ulrik Award exhibition at the
Gold Coast Regional Art Gallery in 2006 and that the
whole set was exhibited within a solo exhibition at the
Queensland Centre for Photography in 2008. What
then are the components that make it so, and what
processes enabled them to come about?
Four qualities seemed to me to characterise the
triptychs: humour, tragedy, occasional beauty of form,
but above all else an ambiguity of these. Whereas the
one-liners of Experiment 1 were clearly jokes, and the
terriblisms of Experiment 2 tended to rely on cheap
thrills, the triptychs could be read numerous ways:
Are the boatpeople arriving or escaping? Are they
behaving as refugees or tourists? Why are buildings still
being constructed as the waters rise? Which is slime
and which is fresh water? And which of the former
looks the more pictorially attractive?
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 11. George Petelin, Expulsion from Paradise.
In conventional research, a conclusion gains strength when one form of evidence confirms another. This is the
process of ‘triangulation’ – similar to identifying a location in surveying. In art, however, there is a tradition of
deferring certainty. Edmund Burke, for example, argues that the highest form of beauty, ‘the Sublime that dazzles
and overwhelms us,’ in fact has to remain somewhat ‘obscure.’10 And William Empson refers to the tropes that
characterise the poetic creation of meaning as ‘seven types of ambiguity.’11 As Formalist theorist Viktor Shklovsky
argues, the job of art is to prolong perception.12 This means making the familiar strange, setting puzzles and mysteries
in place – in other words, enabling multiple interpretations.
But while art seems to thrive on ambiguity, to constitute knowledge it must not do so at the cost of overall
coherence. There must still be a promise to make sense although each of its ‘triangulations’ involves some slippage,
so that an exact meaning remains uncertain and a level of mystery is never lost. Thus art could be considered to
employ an approximate triangulation of more than two vectors resulting in an area of knowledge rather than in
one precise point. Because mathematically an area contains an infinite number of points, the same artistic problem
can be said to have an infinite number of equally valid solutions. And a picture can thus have an infinite number of
meanings – but within circumscribed limits. Although ambiguity is desirable in art, it needs to remain within a coherent
ideological and ontological boundary. Maybe it is this that can qualify works as both research and art.
What does this imply for the procedures of making art as research? First, as I initially hypothesised, if the product
is not entirely pre-planned, it can potentially generate new knowledge that is intrinsically artistic – i.e., rich with a
coherent ambiguity. Second, to produce artistic knowledge, the process must both allow that ambiguity and restrict it.
Consequently, the practitioner is constantly torn between being too clear and being too directionless.
The literature on creative ‘thinking,’ deriving from HP Guilford’s ‘Structure of Intellect’ model, makes the distinction
between convergent and divergent operations.13 Guilford theorises that generating diverse alternatives, a ‘divergent’
operation constitutes a qualitatively different process from that of selecting and thus reducing alternatives in a
‘convergent’ way.
Guilford’s contention that creativity is highly dependent on divergent operations has led these to be popularly
identified with creativity. However, this is a dangerously reductive notion, for it could suggest that any novelty at
all equates with creativity. Undervaluing convergent thinking neglects the critical faculty by which creative persons
finally arrive at the most satisfying of alternative solutions, or at least reduce the alternatives to a circumscribed area.
But what research indicates is that the convergent processes should ideally not occur simultaneously with divergent
processes. As psychologist Alex Osborn first made clear, a premature application of convergent or critical thinking
necessarily inhibits the generation of alternative ideas – in effect becoming a censoring mechanism that prevents
new ideas from forming.14 And being able to generate a greater range of ideas from which to choose – even
unconsciously – increases the likelihood of subsequently selecting particularly apt ones. For this reason, the ability
to ‘defer judgement’ has been identified as both a key learnable skill and a personality trait conducive to creativity.
Incidentally, deferral of judgement is also a precept of the epoché – another term used by phenomenologists to
describe the process of bracketing or eidetic reduction. But would it be a mistake to assume thus an equivalence
between phenomenology’s goal of focussed apprehension and the divergent demands of artistic imagination? No
doubt some forms of art or stages of artmaking demand a similar kind of concentrated meditation and, by a
disciplined exclusion of the clichés, arrive at the most authentic insights. However, that may be something to
investigate in future research.
My current experience suggests that free experimentation plays a significant but ambivalent role in permitting
creativity at all stages. What artists term free experimentation can sometimes be an almost random process of
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
trial and error, without any clear definition beforehand of what constitutes error or success. My first stage of play
with the medium was like this, but as a set of random discoveries of the capabilities of Photoshop they would have
ultimately provided no sense of purpose or coherence. Putting these discoveries to use made them creative but
not necessarily artistic, for they soon evolved into a theoretically determined cliché. Originating out of practice, the
works of the ‘Last Paintings’ series had the potential to generate knowledge that was essentially artistic, but focusing
them narrowly made them too predictable. As one-line jokes they relied on an intersection of two vectors only.
The air disaster and the bomb-lit cityscape on the other hand reached for broader, less specific, resonances, but
without sufficient coherence. What proved most successful was the continued use of playful association together
with increasing, but nonetheless partial, constraints of deductive logic and theory as the project developed.
What I have labelled ‘artistic tactics’ are not necessarily irrational. Charles Sanders Peirce theorised what he called
‘abductive reasoning:’ the process of forming a hypothesis in circumstances that are too complex or where there
are insufficient proven premises to form a conclusion or insufficient instances to form an inductive principle.15 The
‘experimental guessing’ and association-forming that I began with can be explained in these terms.To me, they seem
to act as a deduction in reverse – reasoning from observable ‘effects‘ in order to find unanticipated associations,
rather than reasoning from known premises in order to make a predicted effect. Thus an artist might often work
backwards – first finding ‘a solution to which there is not yet a problem,’ or forming an image, or making a mark, and
then looking for ways it can be made more meaningful. And while critical processes and deductive problem-solving
are at some stage necessary for the creation of greater coherence, opportunistic abduction appears to remain
always indispensible.
Dr George Petelin is convener of Research Higher Degree studies at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith
University in Brisbane, Australia. He exhibits as a digital photographer and conducts research in critical theory,
contemporary indigenous art, and art as research. He has also operated a progressive commercial art gallery and
worked as an art critic for the Australian.
Laurie Adams, The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010).
What is Research in the Visual Arts?: Obsession, Archive, Encounter, ed. Michael Ann Holly (Williamstown Mass.; New Haven:
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, dist. Yale University Press, 2008).
Graeme Sullivan, Art Practice as Research: Inquiry in the Visual Arts (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2005).
George Petelin, ACUADS Research Training Benchmarking Project 2002-2003 (Perth: Australian Council of University Art and
Design Schools, 2005).
Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).
George Petelin, “Visual Art Doctorates: Practice-Led Research, Quasi-Research, or Research Per Se?,” Media International
Australia, incorporating Culture & Policy, 118 (February 2006), 25-33.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London; New York: Routledge, 1962).
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Cézanne’s Doubt,” in Sense and Non-sense, 3rd ed. (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1978).
Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (London: Chato & Windus, 1949).
Viktor Shklovsky, Knight’s Move (Champaign: Dalkey Archive Press, 2005),
HP Guilford, The Nature of Human Intelligence (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967).
Alex Osborn, Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
Charles Peirce, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).
George Petelin – Research – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Report
Jane Venis
Inherent in every chindogu is the spirit of anarchy. ‘Chindogu are man-made objects that have broken free from the
chains of usefulness. They represent freedom of thought and action: the freedom to challenge the suffocating historical
dominance of conservative utility; the freedom to be (almost) useless.’
Kenji Kawakami, Chindogu: 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions (New York: WW Norton, 1995), 4.
The above quote is Tenet Three of Kenji Kawakami’s Ten Tenets of Chindogu, “which in effect, form a manifesto for
makers and consumers of chindogu.”1 It is the starting point in the creation of Gymnauseum: Pimping of Body and
Machine, an interactive ‘gym’ which is open at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in New Zealand from October to
December 2011. In this project, I critique the usefulness of products which are designed and promoted to achieve
the impossible for most people – a perfectly toned body attained with a minimum of energy expended.
Chindogu is a Japanese art form for producing absurd and useless design objects. “It can be used as a useful lens
to critique the proliferation of an endless stream of consumer goods produced on a planet with diminishing
resources.”2 Some current gym equipment could already be given a reading as chindogu if placed in a different
context. Consider the exercycle as a bicycle that goes nowhere or the rowing machine placed on dry land. Many of
these machines, once purchased on a whim (or the good intention of a New Year’s resolution), become obsolete,
‘involuntary’ chindogu stored under the bed.
At a time when the baby boomer generation is aging, an obsession with fitness and weight loss has resulted in
a proliferation of machines designed to trim the body. Millions of people worldwide attend gymnasia in their
efforts to balance an over-extended diet with obsessive fitness regimes in the face of worldwide poverty in
developing countries. Makeover weight-loss programmes on television such as The Biggest Loser further encourage
this obsession by promoting dramatic weight loss and focus on violent exercise by very unfit people to create a
curiously compelling spectator sport.
Design solutions used in the manufacture of some home gym equipment result in machines that force the user into
a series of movements that are truly hilarious. The Ab Circle Pro, a machine whereby the rider swings their hips
from side to side with their buttocks raised in the air, is a current favourite of mine for this reason. It is yet another
machine which purports to solve the not-so-pressing problem of creating perfect abs in under five minutes a day.
More complex exercise machines are set up as part of professional gymnasiums and health clubs. While these don’t
offer such absurdly quick-fix solutions as home-gym machines, they are part of a system which offers technologies
for body transformation which create the desire for an increasingly distant goal of an ‘ideal’ toned and trim body – a
desire which, according to sports theorists Frew and McGillivray, “serves both to capitalize on and perpetuate cycles
of embodied dissatisfaction.”3
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Although the humour of chindogu is used to access the work on a direct level, there are darker issues of power
and control of the body that underpin this project. I am focusing on relevant theories from Bakhtin, Foucault and
Bourdieu to articulate this.
Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts surrounding the carnivalesque can be useful when discussing situations
in which taming the ‘grotesque body’4 is attempted. Bakhtin’s analysis of the carnival in the era from the late Middle
Ages to the early Renaissance is now famous. He used the picaresque writing of subversive French monk François
Rabelais (1494-1553) as a starting point to give a worm’s eye view of the world in which accepted social hierarchies
were suspended, parodied and upended.5 This inverted world-view or a World Upside Down (WUD) is at the very
heart of the concept of carnival.
Bringing Bakhtin’s thinking into the present, Pam Morris discusses his notion of grotesque realism and its central
image, the grotesque body.6 The grotesque body is a communal body, an exaggerated human form that emphasises
bodily protuberances, eating and excrement. This grotesque body is a vital limb of the communal carnivalesque
Looking at bodies engaged in activities within the latter-day gymnasium we see how social hierarchies are obliterated,
as all involved are brought low in their endeavour to make docile the grotesque body to lose weight. Even the
wealthy and the famous are in need of such exertions, and they are the ones who can afford going to the gym.
The gymnasium becomes its own hierarchy of the fit and the trim, subsuming other hierarchies within itself. Thus it
constitutes a carnivalesque context particular to our era.
Traditionally, carnival was a short time for the peasant population to let off steam before the deprivations of Lent
and then the return to their daily lives of long hours of hard work. In First World Western countries in the twentyfirst century it could be argued that we are now in a situation of perpetual carnival, indulging in excessive amounts
of alcohol, fattening food and constant entertainment. The traditional time frames of carnival appear to have been
reversed, and the period of Lent could be seen to correlate with shorter periods of strict dieting and hard exercise
programmes for the penitent in their endeavour to lose weight.
In gym programmes like “Only Six Weeks to a New You” and workplace initiatives such as “Spring 2 It” (offered in
my workplace at present), the status quo of the ‘ideal bodies’ forming a healthy, fit population is the message being
pushed by health officials, employers and governments as they fight the much touted ‘obesity epidemic.’ The media
hype regarding obesity has ensured that the fitness industry has a never-ending supply of grotesque bodies to be
made docile. The obese or overweight ‘underdog’ may briefly obtain physical capital by achieving an ‘ideal body’ in
the masochistic setting of the gym or on home gym equipment.8 However, the ‘ideal body’ is virtually impossible to
maintain when the lure of the ‘carnival’ is so pervasive and accessible and the return to the ‘carnival body’ is virtually
inevitable for many people.9
Another useful theoretical position in looking at how bodies are constructed and function within a gym setting
is Foucault’s concept of the ‘docile body.’10 Michel Foucault has alerted us to what Mark Jackson calls the crisis
of ‘governmentality’ or the disciplining of docile bodies.11 In “Docile Bodies”, Foucault discusses the connection
between the discipline of repetitive exercise and political control of the body. He discusses how the ideal soldier
was a machine that could be constructed to become an “automatism of habit.”12 The discipline of the repetitive
nature of a series of exercises is the basis for exercise prescriptions in the non-military setting of the gymnasium.
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Repetitive exercise prescriptions are also available on do-it-yourself home exercise on video with the help of
celebrity presenters, a lineage which started with Jane Fonda in the early 1980s.
Connections between the machine which works through a series of repetitive movements and the “automatism
of habit” of the docile body is the starting point for consideration of looking at the gym as a factory. Issues of
consumption and production arise again whereby the gym users are the raw material, the workers and the product
in a self-sustaining system. “Consumers displaying a lack of physical capital, who willingly locate themselves within the
health and fitness club, in repentant acknowledgement of their sins and dreaming of physical transformation, provide
the essential substance of physical capital.”13
In another discussion of power issues (related to surveillance in prisons), Foucault’s discussion of Bentham’s
panopticon prison system could also be applied to the contemporary gymnasium whereby the constant surveillance
by other gym users and personal trainers creates a self-regulating system of discipline.14 The ever-present mirrors
also increase the effect of a panopticon within the gym. The complex question of the gaze in the gym – who can
look at whom, when and for how long – is an issue being perpetually addressed by the users.
In Gymnauseum, the complexity of current gym equipment, bristling with digital screens that give up-to-the minute
performance and calorie-burning data, is critiqued by the creation of nonsensical chindogu-inspired fitness machines.
Ludicrous personal ‘data’ such as random BMI, weight readings and stomach contents is presented on screens
attached to some of the equipment. The finished sculptures are sleekly seductive by the use of chrome, shiny wetlook vinyl and mirrors. They are lustrous fetish objects that invite the gaze (echoing the hopes of their riders for an
equally buff appearance). The dark humour of a vicious spike-laden punch bag and weights echoes the notion of
self-flagellation and repentance in exercise.
Obsession is an ongoing focus within the studio research.This is reflected in both the compulsive need for repentant
exercise (sometimes to the point of physical illness; hence ‘gymnauseaum’) and in the ‘pimping’ of the equipment,
also to the point of obsession. In Gymnauseum, classic low-rider bikes have a makeover and become highly ‘pimped’
exercycles. These are gleaming fitness-machine equivalents of mid-life-crisis Harleys, inviting their overweight riders
to obtain the bodies of their lost youth.
The concept of ‘pimping’ low-rider bikes with numerous rear vision mirrors began in Southern California in the
early 1990s, reflecting an earlier craze developed by scooter-riding British ‘Mods’ in the 1960s. This was the visual
catalyst for having multiple mirrors on my exercycles. The mirrors can be focused on specific muscle groups, which
allows the rider a proscribed gaze on themselves and others while exercising and also references the panopticon
and issues of surveillance.
Exercising on the spot on treadmills, steppers and bikes going nowhere is a metaphor for perpetually trying to make
up for lost ground in the quest for physical capital. It is appropriate that the zen-like conundrum of trying to obtain
the unobtainable body of one’s youth is (un)solved by the use of chindogu. The intrinsic riddle of purpose versus
practicality inherent in chindogu makes it a suitable genre to critique products within a system that “has been freed
from the chains of usefulness.”15
Jane Venis is a multi-media installation and sound artist who has a growing studio practice that questions and
satirises popular culture. She is a senior lecturer in the School of Design at Otago Polytechnic. Jane holds an MFA
from the Dunedin School of Art and is a PhD candidate at Griffith University, where her research focus is on how
chindogu can be used to discuss the commodification of the body.
Figure 1. Lower than Lowrider and a Sidecar named Desire
Close up view. Photographed by Simon Higgs.
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Foreground - Lower than Lowrider and a Sidecar named Desire, Materials, ‘Pimped out’ lowrider bike, chromed steel, and
fake fur. Side car named desire: Chromed steel, aluminium, 1960’s beehive salon hairdryer, fake fur and DVD infomercial.
Background: Low - Fat Lowrider, Materials ‘pimped out’ lowrider bike, polished aluminium, chromed steel, velvet and electronic
and computer components. Photographed by Simon Higgs.
Figure 3. Weightless Weights and Pumping iron, Materials, Aluminium, plastic, recycled steam irons and glass. Photographed by Jane Venis.
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 4. Live at the opening: Lucy Weston Taylor lifts the Weightless Weights.
Figure 5. Duo of punch bags Jab and Shiner, materials, Wet look vinyl, stainless steel spikes, chains and electronic components.
Photographed by Simon Higgs.
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Jane Venis, “Chindogu: Not So Useless after All,” The International Journal of the Arts in Society, 5:5 (2011), 189.
Ibid., 202.
Mathew Frew and David McGillivray, “Health Clubs and Body Politics: Aesthetics and the Quest for Physical Capital,” Leisure
Studies, 24:2 (2005), 161.
Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1984). Original ed., 1965.
The Bakhtin Reader, ed. Pam Morris (New York: Edward Arnold, 1994).
Susan Stewart, “The Imaginary Body,” in her On Longing, Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection
(Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993).
P Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).
The notion that the grotesque carnival body can be expressed as a binary opposite of the classical ‘ideal’ was proposed by
Featherstone in 1991. It is discussed in Frew and McGillivray’s article “Health Clubs and Body Politics,” in which they discuss
Bourdieu’s proposition that the classical ideal body is a form of physical capital. Matthew Frew and David McGillivray. “Health
Clubs and Body Politics: Aesthetics and the Quest for Physical Capital,” Leisure Studies, 24:2 (2005), 161-75.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1979).
Mark Jackson, “Ethics of Design,” paper presented at the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators Conference,
Dunedin, New Zealand, 2009.
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 135.
Frew and McGillivray, “Health Clubs and Body Politics.”
Foucault, Discipline and Punish. Frew and McGillivray, “Health Clubs and Body Politics.”
Kenji Kawakami, Chindogu: 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions (New York: WW Norton, 1995), 4.
Jane Venis – Chindogu Gym – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Jenni Lauwrens
In their recent publication, South African Visual Culture, Jeanne van Eeden and Amanda du Preez describe themselves
as “lapsed art historians”.1 They are referring to their experiences at the South African Association of Art Historians
(SAVAH) annual conference in 2002, where they found that their research interests were “slightly at odds with [the]
topics and emphases” of the other papers presented there.This label indicates their “close, yet awkward, relationship
to art history”, since their topics and methodologies somewhat “transgress[ed]” the traditional disciplinary protocols
of art history and the other topics addressed at the conference.2 Van Eeden and Du Preez are certainly not
alone in their transgressions. This example serves to show that, it is not only Euro-American art historians and art
educators that are adapting their teaching programs and research to include the wider sphere of visual culture,
but that transformations in the study of the visual are now occurring globally. Nicholas Mirzoeff, in his foreword to
South African Visual Culture, confirms that, with the publication of this anthology, there are now five continents “with
publications centered on the field of visual culture” (Figure 1).3
But, although visual culture is now recognised as an
important field of study globally, as the example above
shows, some anxiety still exists between art history
and the field of visual culture studies,4 resulting in
uncertainty about whether or not art history – which
has undoubtedly been the field that has traditionally
‘disciplined’ a selected group of images - has a future
at all. For, not only has art history’s turf – or, its objects
of study - been recognized as firmly positioned in
the territorial space of visual culture studies, but its
on-going commitment to the essentialist premises
on which the discipline was originally founded has, in
great part, led academics to this disjuncture.5 In light
of the curricular minefield in which art educators now
find themselves, the aim here is to briefly sketch an
overview of what has been proposed for the study
of the visual thus far. Thereafter, this research suggests
ways in which some of the conflicts that have already
arisen where attempts have been made to ‘discipline’
images – under the rubric of either art history or
visual culture studies - may be ironed out in the future.
I begin with a closer consideration of changes to the
disciplinary scope of art history over the last three
Figure 1. South African Visual Culture, book cover. (Courtesy
of Van Schaik Publishers, Pretoria.)
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
decades wrought by the emergence of visual culture discourse. Thereafter I consider how changes in the discipline
of art history filter into art education curricula.
While it is now thirteen years since Thomas Crow (1996) described art history as a “field of inquiry under siege”6
art history is arguably still at a crossroads due mainly to suspicions about the discipline that emerged in the last
decades of the twentieth century. These suspicions hinge on the following assumptions: that the discipline primarily
relies on connoisseurial judgments of value; that distinctions between high art and low art continue to govern the
inclusion and exclusion of works into the canon; that aesthetics remains associated with universalising judgments;
and that art history has failed to interrogate its own role in the construction of vision.7 Margaret Dikovitskaya
confirms that these suspicions are on-going when she argues that, despite the revisionist voices that attempted
to transform art history in the 1980s by adding a social dimension to its agenda, new art history (as the revised
discipline was termed) “has failed to revise the category of art – the foundation for the entire enterprise of art
history”.8 As Keith Moxey pointed out earlier it is particularly art history’s allegiance to some “natural notion of
cultural value” in determining its disciplinary parameters that visual culture studies challenges.9
Following on, in some ways, from James Elkins’ (2003) informative overview of the emergence and varied
constitutions of visual studies in Visual Studies: a Sceptical Introduction, Margaret Dikovitskaya provides an overview
of the development of visual culture (or visual culture studies, as I prefer to refer to it), in her book Visual Culture:
the Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn.10 In this publication Dikovitskaya lists a substantial range of books
and readers dealing with images, vision and visuality from the perspective of visual culture studies. Based on the
interviews she conducted with key thinkers in the field of contemporary visual inquiry, such as Michael Ann Holly,
Martin Jay, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Tom Mitchell and Janet Wolff, to name but a few, the book provides insight into key
debates in the field as well as the ways in which the study of visual culture has emerged in various academic
programs mainly in the United States of America (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.). While there are several
issues regarding the aims and protocols of visual culture studies as an academic endeavour that evade consensus
amongst its practitioners, from this overview, it is clear that the relationship between art history and visual culture
studies, in particular, remains tenuous. In short, as Deborah Cherry concludes, authors are specifically divided on the
topic of whether art history and visual culture studies are “distinct, antagonistic, or complementary enterprises”.11
In some respects, visual culture studies may indeed attend to problems that have plagued art history. For, while art
history continues to support a notion of art as mainly an object of significant cultural value and status, visual culture
studies takes its objects of study from a broad range of image production and reception. This has led Kevin Tavin
to suggest that, instead of preserving art history as the history of art, a democratic approach to images is required
according to which all images can be studied in terms of their cultural and ideological meanings instead of their
aesthetic value.12 In contrast, Mitchell emphatically argues that, while a course dealing with the history of images is
important, it is different from the history of art.13
Although the question of art history’s disciplinary justification has ultimately remained unresolved at a discursive
level, institutional curricula must nevertheless reflect the latest developments in critical theory. This has meant
that some art history classrooms across the globe have widened their perview to include the broader sphere of
visual culture, and as a result, less attention is assigned to art history in these programs. But is disintegration14 art
history’s only prognosis, and if so, how should courses in visual culture studies be constituted? In short, what are the
possibilities for art history/visual culture in the future?
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
A number of roads have tentatively been suggested for the future of the disciplined image. Whilst art historians and
theorists15 have specifically considered the relationship between the discipline of art history and visual culture studies,
and art educators have for some time now argued that art education should also deal with popular visual culture,
none have offered practical solutions to the disciplinary conflicts which beset such endeavours.16 The notable art
historian and theorist, Keith Moxey17 and Brent Wilson,18 who are internationally recognized for their research in art
education, have, however, attempted to resolve some of the disciplinary battles involved. In the following discussion
I examine each suggestion closely in order to flesh out the implications of each for our practice. Moxey suggests
that there are two paths for the study of images in the future. On the one hand, he proposes that an academic
field - visual studies - “could study the image-making capacity of human cultures in all of their manifestations . . . both
past and present . . . [including] digital and electronic imagery . . . comic strips and advertisements.”19 On the other
hand, Moxey argues in favour of a model in which “all images for which distinguished cultural value has been or is
being proposed” are analysed based on his assumption that “certain objects have been and are being given special
cultural significance.”20
Undoubtedly, the first option reveals Moxey’s concern over the past distinctions made in art history on the basis
of an object’s presumed quality and value. But he rightly admits that the first approach would lead to such a
vast spectrum of topics being studied that it may be impossible to determine the pedagogical agenda of such
an enterprise, let alone gauge the results. However, wouldn’t his second option simply reinstate precisely those
elitist assumptions concerning legitimate culture that must now urgently be challenged? For, who will decide what
sufficiently constitutes objects of “distinguished cultural value”?21 And whose culture will be valued in such an
exercise of selection and exclusion?
Wilson on the other hand, proposes four more possibilities for the future of the disciplined image and sketches
out the dilemma facing art educators in even more specific ways than Moxey has done. Therefore, I examine each
option more closely here. Firstly, Wilson suggests that curricula could simply maintain the status quo and art history
could continue to largely ignore contemporary art and popular culture, which, according to Wilson “many teachers
still think . . . is kitsch” and, therefore, “the enemy of high art”.22 This kind of thinking adheres to the assumption
that “worthwhile art education” is only that kind which supports art works that reflect presumed “timeless
aesthetic qualities”.23 That Ralph Smith24 supports this view is evident in his statement that “the development of an
appreciation of the excellences of outstanding works of art [ought] to be the core of art education ….”25 Critical
of popular culture, Smith suggests that the task of art history ought to be to “combat the hegemony of the merely
[italics added] contemporary and its constricting effects on mind and sensibility”.26 According to Smith the “major
monuments of Western culture . . . [provide] . . . the young . . . with important background knowledge for future
aesthetic experiences”.27
Is Smith arguing that aesthetic experiences do not reside in the realm of popular culture? If that were true then
why are we so easily seduced by the images that bombard us into adopting and perpetuating stereotypes of body
image, gender roles and racial identity? Is it not time to “deal with both the sensory reasons audiences are drawn to
[images], to understand their sensate appeal, their lure, and, at the same time, to confront the sometimes dubious
ideas they impart”28 as Paul Duncum points out? Surely this is necessary in post-industrial societies where the young
are continuously surrounded by a plethora of images that suggest how they should look, think and act? For we live
in the age of “hypervisuality”29 whereby the complex intersection of seeing and being seen characterises modern
life. This is quite aptly shown in the artist’s impression of how contemporary life is increasingly intertwined with
technologies (Figure 2). And precisely because of the new visual regimes that govern everyday life, art educators
ought to deal with the visual with a view to affording students opportunities to develop critical thinking skills about
their own interaction with the visual.30
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. An artist’s impression of the human interface with
technology. (Courtesy of The Bigger Picture/Reuters.)
Wilson’s second option is that we add a few images
from the wider domain of visual culture to the existing
canon of art history. Evidently, many art educators
have already employed this tactic in their programs
as argued by Mieke Bal who points out that this
may have occurred due to a widespread belief –
particularly by so-called “art-historians-turned-‘visualculture’-enthusiasts” – that art history urgently needs
“the connotation of innovation and cutting edge”.31
On the other hand, Steve Edwards argues that, in
many instances, it is merely a case of terminology
that has been amended.32 Edwards explains that the
words ideology, power or desire replaced words like
exquisite, delightful or genius when dealing primarily
with the same set of objects. Consequently, the
focus of many so-called revised courses is still on
the same individual artists, periods and institutions,
with the artwork as commodity fore-grounded in
determining its artistic status. In this way, the so-called
‘new’ art history merely offers “a modernized version
of traditional art history”, which Edwards points out,
“only develop[s] new ways of valuing and appreciating
the standard list of artists and objects”.33 Likewise,
Cherry maintains that this tactic amounts to “little
more than re-branding”.34
If it is neither feasible to maintain traditional art historical protocols, nor desirable to insert additional objects into
the traditional canon, should art history surrender entirely to visual culture studies? This would entail, according to
Wilson’s third option, that the curriculum be “destructure[d]” or “disordere[d]” to the extent that “teachers and
students become nomads . . . wandering about the newly emerging terrain of . . . visual culture”.35 Following Susan
Buck-Morss, who argued that art history cannot “sustain a separate existence, not as a practice, not as phenomenon,
not as an experience, [and] not as a discipline”36 within a visual culture discourse, this approach may well be what
is needed now. A strong case for the replacement of art history by visual culture studies in art education rests on
the assumption, as Kevin Tavin suggests, that “while art educators place art from the museum realm at the center of
their curricula, their students are piecing together their expectations and dreams through popular culture”.37 Kerry
Freedman reinforces the argument that visual culture must occupy an important space in art programs, stating that
art education must give “attention to the ways in which students engage with a range of mass media, computer
games, rock videos, and so on”.38 Although popular culture is not the only topic in visual culture studies it no doubt
holds much fascination for students, especially when held up against art history. Does this entail that the topics of
old art history may increasingly become “aligned with the Classics or Archaeology departments”39 as suggested by
James Elkins?
According to the articles and textbooks already circulating that deal with visual culture, visual culture studies
analyses all images, including art, in terms of their ideological implications – that is, in terms of how they construct
seeing and thereby construct identities. Mitchell phrases this somewhat differently by arguing that the object domain
of visual culture studies is “not just beyond the sphere of the ‘work of art’, but also beyond images and visual
objects to the visual practices, the ways of seeing and being seen, that make up the world of human visuality”.40
By critiquing the way of seeing constructed by art history, visual culture studies analyses and interprets images in
pursuit of distinctly different goals than traditionally undertaken by art history. Understood in this way, visual culture
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
studies is an “outside”41 to art history as the former lodges its critique against the latter. And, if art history and
visual culture studies have very distinct disciplinary protocols, how can visual culture studies completely replace art
history? On the other hand, if ‘visual culture studies’ is to be the discipline that critiques art history and points out
its shortcomings, what would be left for art history?
Wilson rightly admits that not one of the aforementioned ‘routes’ is entirely viable and, instead, proposes
a “pedagogical tactic” that allows students to “play with content”42 while the teacher is a negotiator between
conventional art, emerging art, and student-initiated content. Wilson imagines an art education that seeks not to
limit the terrain of visual media to be analysed, but rather to broaden the range of media by encouraging studentgenerated topics drawn from their own field of interests. By this account, Wilson argues that, while “teachers have
responsibility for presenting the structured and the conventional dimensions of the artworld”, students ought to be
challenged to “connect school art content to their own interests”.43 Wilson terms this space – between the school
curriculum and topics chosen by students according to their own interests – a “para-site alongside the main site”.44
He argues that in choosing topics from students’ own realm of interests – such as the comics that they create in
their own time – “students do much of the work on their own time,”45 thus solving the problem of too little time
for an extensive range of content.
It is useful to ask if Wilson’s “para-site”46 would result in the (mis)conception that only traditional art should be
examined in the structured teaching time, while visual culture is excluded from the intellectual framework of the
curriculum. If so, instead of producing a democratic and open relationship between art and visual culture, the
investigation in class time of the “structured and conventional dimensions of the artworld”47 may perpetuate existing
disciplinary divisions and hierarchies between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ art. At the same time, assessing the outcomes of
this type of broad analysis of student-initiated content would potentially be quite problematic. Perhaps we should
consider what we hope to achieve when we deal with images in the disciplined space of our curricula rather than
a compilation of a randomly chosen list of objects.
Having now considered six possible roads for art history, we still stand at the crossroads, contemplating how
to proceed. Of the options available, Wilson’s para-site seems the most viable; even so, that road is marred by
uncertainty and confusion. For we ought to ensure that visual culture studies does not become a “Mickey Mouse
project”48 and an easy and more interesting alternative to art history?49 My suggestion is not entirely different from
Wilson’s para-site, but aims to inject some direction in what risks becoming a superficial delving into popular culture.
For we cannot assume that when our students “play with content”50 they are critically engaging with the ways in
which that content constructs their own identities. As the October questionnaire (1996) pointed out, visual culture
studies as an alternative to art history may ultimately create adept consumers of popular culture rather than critical
investigators of its seductive agenda. Without solid methodological underpinning I fear that Van Eeden and Du
Preez’s concern over the possibility of a superficial analysis of images in visual culture may very well be the future
of the disciplined image.
Some time ago, Gayatri Spivak,51 suggested a somewhat different perspective on the topic which I suggest bears
revisiting, in a somewhat different way, now. She argues that what is necessary when constructing a course in the
visual is to allow “the questions that we ask [to] produce the field of enquiry and not some body of materials which
determines what questions need to be posed to it”52. This means that in visual culture courses we take a different
strategy to that taken by conventional art historical surveys. Instead of working from the chronological development
of art, courses could be structured around themes that would include the study of visual art and visual culture.
The following are some possibilities: representations of the body in visual culture; images of death in visual culture;
narrative in visual culture; shock and horror in visual culture; viewing visual culture; visual spaces/visual places; images
of power, to suggest only a few. Such an approach could prevent the pitfalls of delineating the field of enquiry
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
according to a particular object’s conformity to a closed concept of art, or even visual culture. At the same time, the
field will also not be completely open. Instead, in such an amorphous terrain of study, objects could be selected in
terms of the topics that are addressed in the exploration of focused questions. Based on the suggestions of Mitchell
and Irit Rogoff the following questions could direct such a course: what is an image?53 How do images communicate
and signify;54 what is the work of visual art;55 who do we see and who do we not see?56 What are the visual codes
by which some are allowed to look, others only to peek, and still others are forbidden to look altogether57 and
Mitchell’s now very familiar question: what do pictures really want?58 To this list I would add my own: how do
images lure us in; what is the relationship between art and visual culture; how has the category of art constructed
a particular way of seeing; what is being represented, why and to what effect; how does art/visual culture construct
the world through the operation of myths and ideologies; who has power/who is powerless in a particular visual
regime? These questions can be applied to a wide range of visual examples, including the buildings that operate as
signifiers of particular ideological positions in socio-cultural contexts such as the Voortrekker Monument in South
Africa (Figure 3). Finally, we must also investigate how images mean different things to different people and how the
meanings assigned to images can be transformed, as in this, now controversial South African monument.
Figure 3. Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria, South Africa, (photograph by the author).
In this way, the distinctions between images need not be erased, and the concept of ‘art’ as a category need not be
dissolved. What is, however, required is recognition of the diverse functions of images and a critique of how each
medium has constructed vision according to cultural and historical circumstances. In this kind of endeavour, there is
no difference between visual culture studies and art history. The only exception is that visual culture studies, rather
than art history, would appear to be a more suitable term to describe this approach.
Much debate surrounds the ‘proper’ terminology used to describe courses dealing with the visual.59 But, surely what
we do in our courses is more important than what we call them?60 Ultimately, our approach ought to be an analysis
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
of the economic, political, ideological and aesthetic functions of art and visual culture across various times and places
supported by an open and democratic approach to images. A combination of both the traditional art historical
methodologies, as well as new critical perspectives (such as the identity politics of gender and postcolonialism, for
example), should be the framework around which we structure our courses.
Ultimately, visual culture studies need not be regarded as a threat to art history – as is still heard in the corridors
of art departments – but as an enriching critical tool in the construction of knowledge about images and in our
experience of images. This would require both a critical analysis of the ideological functions of images, while at
the same time acknowledging that images affect us in deeply inexplicable ways. The collapse of long-established
scholarly assumptions not only about the aims and protocols of art history but also the meaning of aesthetics does
not indicate the disintegration of art or the disappearance of a history of art, but rather signals an opportunity to
question how (and why) we deal with both art and visual culture.
The questions suggested above are not intended to offer an entirely new approach to image analysis, nor did I
hope to resolve all of the conflicts explored earlier in the article. For, whilst some long-suffering art educators
continue to bemoan the ‘collapse’ of traditional art history into visual culture studies, the suggestions posed above
are far from ground-breaking to those who have already engaged with images in this way. After all, Norman Bryson,
as only one example, employed similar strategies in art history classrooms in the 1990s at Harvard University,
with many art schools throughout the Euro-American world following suit, using a variety of programme titles,
as already pointed out. Far from finding solutions to the awkward and tenuous relationship between art history
and visual culture studies, this article has indeed raised even more questions about the slippery ties between the
two fields. For example, further exploration on this topic could address whether or not we should aim to define
visual culture studies more specifically at all? Does the process of definition – read mapping – not also require a
type of colonisation of our field, whereby we impose a particular set of rules, attitudes and constraints, based on
ideological and discursive interests – in short, ‘discipline’ – onto images? On the other hand, if visual culture studies
does not define its aims and protocols more explicitly, how are ‘experts’ in this field to be distinguished from
specialists in fields such as media studies, anthropology, history, communication science and so on? In this scenario,
what is left for visual culture studies other than to lament its epistemic unsustainability? I suggest that the future
of the disciplined image – whether art or the broader image field – may hinge on the specific ways in which it is
conceived in its unique institutional location. What I am arguing is that visual culture researchers and educators
ought to define their analytical models from the outset in order to justify and validate their research findings within
the broader disciplinary arena on which their arguments are staged.This is not to deny Jean-François Lyotard’s61
significant critique of regimes of knowledges produced by modern foundationalism. For the postmodern critique of
the supposed stability and order created by the “meta-narrative” (of art history for example), exposes such ideals
as inherently flawed. Indeed, visual culture studies emerged in the 1970s as an interdisciplinary intellectual site in
response to the so-called “crisis of narratives”62 in academic organisation. But, if visual culture studies is to continue
as an ‘indisciplinary’63 project combined with its resistance to totalising narratives, then it will surely struggle to find
a home within institutional frameworks, where, presumably it may (or may not, according to Elkins’ provocative title
for the final Stone Summer Theory Institute seminar in the current series, Farewell to Visual Studies to be held in July
2011) very well now be taking centre stage. What this means is that our field needs ongoing conversation between
art historians, art educators and theorists in wide-ranging disciplines. When art can again become relevant in the
lives of the youth through an engagement with popular visual culture – arguably, the place from which students
derive an interest in images – it can become a dynamic, engaging, even controversial field without succumbing to
the limiting disciplinary constraints of so-called ‘straight’ art history, and also not slipping into a treacherous freefor-all. We should therefore continuously acknowledge the complexities of the visual field and the ways in which it
is interpreted, always encouraging new kinds of questions to be asked that cannot easily be raised in conventional
classes of traditional art history. Only then will the future of the ‘disciplined image’ no longer hang in the balance.
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Jenni Lauwrens teaches visual culture studies at the Department of Visual Arts, University of Pretoria, South Africa.
Her research interests include art education, practices of seeing, visuality beyond ocularcentrism, phenomenologies
of seeing, the sensory revolution and ecological art.
Jeanne van Eeden and Amanda du Preez (eds), South African Visual Culture (Pretoria: Van Schaik, 2005), 1.
Van Eeden presented a paper entitled “The Lost City: Gendered Space and the Consumption of Otherness” and Du
Preez presented “The machine is a woman: an analysis of how technology is sexed and gendered in selected South African
Van Eeden and Du Preez, South African Visual Culture, v.
The questions raised by the respondents to the notorious October (1996) questionnaire, concerning the disciplinary status of
visual culture studies and the future of art history, are very telling in this regard. Amongst others, see especially Thomas Crow,
“Untitled Response to Visual Culture Questionnaire”, October, 77, (1996), 34-36.
See for instance the following authors: Jonathan Harris, The New Art History: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2001);
Otto Karl Werckmeister, “Radical Art History”, Art Journal, 42, (1982), 284-291; Henri Zerner, “The Crisis in the Discipline”,
Art Journal, 42, (1982), 279; Donald Preziosi, Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science (London: Yale University Press,
1989); Christopher B. Steiner, “Can the Canon Burst?”, Art Bulletin, 58, (1996), 213-217.
Crow, “Untitled Response to Visual Culture Questionnaire,” 35.
See the following authors: Steiner, “Can the Canon Burst?”, 213-217; Jenni Lauwrens, “Do Good Fences Make Good
Neighbours: Reviewing Disciplinary Borders in Art History and Visual Culture Studies”, De Arte, 72, (2005), 49-57; Steve
Edwards, Art and its Histories: A Reader (London: Yale University Press, 1999); Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey (eds), Art
History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies (London: Yale University Press, 2001); William J. T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing” in Art History,
Aesthetics, Visual Studies, eds Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey (London:Yale University Press, 2002), 231-250; Keith Moxey,
“Animating Aesthetics”, October, 77, (1996), 56-59.
Margaret Dikovitskaya, Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), 67.
Moxey, “Animating Aesthetics”, 59.
Since the emergence of early manifestations of visual culture studies in the 1990s, several variations of terminology have
been used to designate similar kinds of discussions/courses. These include ‘critical studies’, ‘visual studies’, ‘visual culture’, ‘visual
culture studies’ and ‘visual and critical studies’. Following John Walker and Sarah Chaplin in Visual Culture: An Introduction
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997) I use ‘visual culture studies’ to refer to the discipline (although I acknowledge
that, as yet, visual culture studies is not a discipline in the traditional sense), and ‘visual culture’ to designate the object of study.
Deborah Cherry, “Art History Visual Culture”, Art History, 27(4), (2004), 479-493.
Kevin M. Tavin, “Wrestling with Angels, Searching for Ghosts: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Visual Culture”, Studies in Art
Education, 44, (2003), 197-213.
Mitchell, “Showing Seeing”, 231-250.
I am referring to the fact that many course managers have opted to replace the title of a course that previously dealt with
the history of art with some variation of visual culture studies supposedly because history is now a contested term. While
the courses still deal with the history of art, to a greater or lesser extent, the eradication of a name might be understood as
the ‘disintegration’ of the discipline.
See the following authors: Mitchell, “What is Visual Culture?” in Meaning in the Visual Arts: Views from the Outside, ed. Irwin Lavin
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 207-217; David Carrier, “Current Issues in Art History, Aesthetics, and Visual
Studies” in Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies, eds Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey (London: Yale University Press, 2002),
251-259; Stephen Melville, “Theory, Discipline and Institution” in Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies, eds Michael Ann Holly
and Keith Moxey (London: Yale University Press, 2002), 203-213; David Peters Corbett, “Visual Culture and the History of
Art” in Dealing with the Visual: Art History, Aesthetics and Visual Culture, eds Caroline van Eck and David Winters (Burlington:
Ashgate Publishing, 2005), 17-36.
See the following authors: Paul Duncum, “Visual Culture: Developments, Definitions and Directions for Art Education”, Studies
in Art Education, 42, (2001), 101-112; Paul Duncum, “Visual Culture Art Education: Why, What and How”, Journal of Art and
Design Education, 21, (2002), 14-23; Kerry Freedman, Teaching Visual Culture: Curriculum, Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art
(New York: Teachers College Press, 2003); Tavin, “Wrestling with Angels, Searching for Ghosts: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of
Visual Culture,” 197-213.
Moxey, “Animating Aesthetics,” 56-59.
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Brent Wilson, “Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content
of Art Education”, Studies in Art Education, 44, (2003), 214-229.
Moxey, “Animating Aesthetics,” 57.
Wilson, “Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art
Education,” 224.
Ralph Smith, “Building a Sense of Art in Today’s World”, Studies in Art Education, 33, (1992), 75.
I acknowledge that this reference to Smith is not current; however, I argue his view is not outdated. Some art historians and
art educators remain sceptical of the integration of popular visual culture into curricular activities based on their uncertainty
as to the educational worth of such forms of cultural expression. See Haanstra, Nagel and Ganzeboom, “A Preliminary
Assessment of a New Arts Education Programme in Dutch Secondary Schools”, Jade, 21, (2002), 164-172 for more recent
research dealing with teachers’ and students’ attitudes to a more liberal arts education programme in Dutch secondary
Smith, “Building a Sense of Art in Today’s World,” 77.
Paul Duncum, “Holding Aesthetics and Ideology in Tension”, Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research, 49(2),
(2008), 122.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, (ed.) The Visual Culture Reader, (London: Routledge, 1998), 4.
Lauwrens, “Sightseeing in art and visual culture”, Image and Text: A Journal for Design, 14, (2008), 18-28.
Mieke Bal, “Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture”, Journal of Visual Culture, 2, (2003), 11.
Edwards, Art and its Histories: A Reader.
Cherry, “Art History Visual Culture,” 479.
Wilson, “Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art
Education,” 225.
Susan Buck-Morss, “Untitled Response to Visual Culture Questionnaire”, October, 77, (1996), 29.
Tavin, “Wrestling with Angels, Searching for Ghosts: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Visual Culture,” 197.
Freedman, Teaching Visual Culture: Curriculum, Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art, 134.
Elkins, Visual Studies: A Sceptical Introduction, 23.
Mitchell, “Interdisciplinarity and Visual Culture”, Art Bulletin, 77, (1996), 542.
Wilson, “Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art
Education,” 225.
Ibid., 227.
Ibid., 225.
Ibid., 226.
Ibid., 225.
Ibid., 227.
Van Eeden and Du Preez, South African, vi.
Elkins, Visual Studies, 63.
Wilson, “Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art
Education,” 225.
Irit Rogoff, “Studying Visual Culture” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Mirzoeff (London: Routledge, 1998), 16.
Mitchell, “What is Visual Culture?” 210
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Mitchell, “What Do Pictures Really Want?”, October, 77, (1996).
Mitchell, “What is Visual Culture?” 211
Rogoff, “Studying Visual Culture” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Mirzoeff (London: Routledge, 1998). 15
Mitchell, “What Do Pictures Really Want?”.
In the department where I teach – the Department of Visual Arts - at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, we have had
long discussions about what precisely we should call our course which is no longer only about the history of art, and also
not about the entire realm of visual culture. For visual culture is also dealt with in other Departments at the University, (for
example, the Department of Journalism and the Department of Language, Culture and Communication). We have had to
ascertain what it is about our dealings with the visual that set it apart from other approaches to images, such as from the
point of view of media studies and communication science, for instance.
This fact has become very clear in Secondary School art education in South Africa, where the term art history has been
eliminated from the curriculum in favour of visual culture studies. However, a closer study of what is being taught in the
classroom is not visual culture studies understood in the sense described above, but rather, art history as usual.
Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi
(Manchester: University Press, 1984).
Lyotard: 1984, xxiii.
Mitchell,”Interdisciplinarity and Visual Culture”, Art Bulletin 77(4),(1995), 540-544.
Jenni Lauwrens – Disciplining Images – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Peter Stupples
From the beginning the question of aesthetics is always a non-dialogue between those who subscribe to the conditioned
world order and those who stand to gain from a reconstructed forum.
Clyde Taylor, “Black Cinema in a Post-Aesthetic Era,” in Questions of Third Cinema, eds Jim Pines and Paul Williams (London:
British Film Institute, 1989), 90.
In the beginning of the twenty-first century we live in a globalised and increasingly globalising world. Assumptions
about the universal application of the Western traditions in fields of intellectual endeavour are making room for
the claims of other epistemologies, histories, points of view. It is perhaps a mark of the strength of the Western
Enlightenment project that this ‘making way,’ in part, comes out of Western challenges to its own intellectual
hegemony, out of the very fecundity of its own thinking by way of forms of Marxism, feminism, postcolonial theory
and revisionist histories. Western theories, histories, and the intellectual foundations upon which visual art is assessed,
judged and evaluated have been vigorously challenged.1
In the Western tradition a well documented and elaborated history has been built up around the notion of
aesthetics – the way we understand, feel about, judge, appreciate and apprehend works of art, particularly the socalled Fine Arts as taught in the academies, those institutions teaching art practice and assuming guardianship over
the economy of taste.
This ‘making way’ has also been forced upon the Western tradition through the fast-moving social changes of the
past hundred years. Many parts of the world are now multicultural, having populations that have come together for
various reasons from different intellectual traditions. Other formerly colonised, or politically dominated, societies are
asserting their own values and traditions. The social history of our times is dynamic, fluid, even explosive as political
and intellectual tensions arise on the borders of cultural conflict.
In the comparatively quieter waters of art history and theory it may well be time in the West to reconstruct our
thinking about aesthetics, to take into account changing ideas about global history, multicultural complexities, to
examine the games we play with language when making statements about the arts in a multicultural world.2
As William McEvilley pointed out as long ago as 1985 in Artforum:
We no longer live in a separate world. Our tribal view of art history as primarily or exclusively European or
Eurocentric will become increasingly harmful as it cuts us off from the emerging Third World and isolates us from
the global culture which is already in its early stages. We must have values that can include the rest of the world
when the moment comes – and the moment is upon us.3
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Notions of taste often differentiate a dominant, authenticating élite from the disenfranchised masses, one culture
from another – in the crudest terms, the West from the non-West. Gadamer claims that “what is valid in a society,
what taste dominates it, characterises the community of social life. Such a society chooses and knows what belongs
to it and what does not. Even the possession of artistic interests is not random and universal in its ideas, but what
artists create and what society values belong together in the unity of a style of life and ideal of taste.”4 There is a
dynamic history of cultural combativeness – one set of social forces now dominant, only to be replaced in time by
another, itself temporarily more successful in controlling the way reality is perceived. All societies are driven by the
desire for power, to control others through economic and cultural domination, wielding the clubs of ideological
aggression. One aspect of that ideological aggression is the imposition of rules of taste and notions of aesthetic
Part of the West’s ideological armoury is its adoption of the idea of a universal aesthetic, that “no longer permit[s] any
criterion of content and dissolv[es] the connection of the work of art with its world.”6 The strength of this position
lies in its total lack of definiteness. Gadamer goes on to point out that in these circumstances “the connection of the
work of art with its world is no longer of any importance to it but, on the contrary, the aesthetic consciousness is
the experiencing centre from which everything considered to be art is measured.”7
Processes such as these, creating aesthetic, and therefore, social differentiation, exist both in the West and the nonWest, in various cultures and times, usually for the purpose of claiming superiority for systems, both in time and
place, of evaluating ‘works of art.’ These systems are socially constructed. In claiming a monopoly over questions of
taste by a mobile feeling for quality, through a dominating aesthetic system, élites exclude from their purview the
products and practices of ‘Others’ and develop what Kaja Silverman calls “dominant fictions.”8 They are driven by
the desire, often unconscious because it is regarded as self-evident, for ideological and political hegemonic authority,
rather than a sense of egalitarian pluralism.
With ideas of universalising ‘aesthetic differentiation’ now spreading from the West to the culturally colonised world,
the artist, both in the West and in the non-Western world, is changing the sense of volition and vocation formerly
embedded in the customs and traditions of local art histories, and is tempted to function by competing for a place
amongst the galaxy of those chosen for favour by the gate-keepers of a still-Western-dominated international
aesthetic consciousness.
At this time in history, we may feel the need to rethink our position as historians of the visual arts, to shift out of our
aesthetic comfort zone and move into the wider world’s pluralism, both ideologically egalitarian and simultaneously
and experientially biased to fashion and the market, and start by exploring the ground for a theory of culturally
inclusive aesthetics, rather than re-adapting Kant and Hegel to an inappropriate present.
Artworks are socially valued objects in the world. They serve a range of cultural purposes relevant to the society in
which they are produced, function and have value.Those functions and values change within the specific histories of
artistic traditions and the wider processes of world history, those traditions and processes themselves being subject
to the reflexive push and pull of cultural conditions.
Some of the values accruing to artworks may be described as ‘aesthetic.’ This is an adjective, sometimes used
ideologically, but generally with a range of unspecified meanings. It is deeply etched into the Western history of
art, into discussions about the qualities of artworks and the ‘aesthetic disposition’ of the viewer (consumer), about
‘aesthetic experience,’9 responses and judgements. It can be used, amongst other things, to mean ‘having good taste,’
‘beautiful’ (often related to ‘good’), ‘worthy of appreciation.’10 ‘Taste,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘worthy,’ are themselves multivalent,
having meanings produced by the context of their use. Those ‘meanings’ may disguise other, often complex, values:
for example, ‘beautiful’ might contain within it symbolic values, such as being ‘culturally prestigious,’ ‘culturally
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
appropriate,’11 ‘effective in ritual,’ ‘ordered,’ ‘harmonious,’ ‘at peace,’ even having ‘a shimmering brilliance.’12 Above all
we need to examine “the occasions on which [such words as ‘beautiful’] are said – on the enormously complicated
situation in which the aesthetic expression has a place, in which the expression itself has almost a negligible place.”13
Aesthetic values are relative, subjective and fugitive,14 yet they are often strong markers of social groupings – those
experiencing the sensation of an art object’s effects in the body; those with, as opposed to those without, taste;
those educated in the norms of the cultural élites; those with a knowledge of the philosophies of aesthetics; those
subscribing to aesthetic ideologies, either Western or local.
‘Aesthetic’ can be used as a term of approbation, for example confirming ‘aesthetic validity.’ Those with sufficient
intellectual capital or social standing to give access to an aesthetic disposition, to aesthetic judgements, often regard
themselves, and are regarded by others, as in a privileged position, as charismatic compared with those too insecure
in their social standing to make pronouncements of taste. It is the élites who grant or preserve prestige, elaborate the
criteria of aesthetic mediation.15 “The very complicated competition and collaboration between ‘experts’ from the
artworld, dealers, producers, scholars, and consumers is part of the economy of taste in the contemporary West.”16
In other words ‘aesthetic’ and ‘aesthetics’ are terms often used as weapons in sites of social contestation, as emblems
to mark social distinctions. For Wittgenstein that contestation is marked by the language games of aesthetics, those
games being played within specific socially embedded contexts.17 Those who play the game successfully dominate
the kingdom of aesthetic judgements: those who cannot grasp the language or the rules well enough to dominate
accept the values of their intellectual masters.
Part of the intellectual armoury of the West is the assumption of a universal aesthetic that, as Gadamer says,
“dissolves the connection of the work of art with its world.”18 The Western “aesthetic consciousness is the
experiencing centre from which everything considered to be art is measured.”19 Yet all attitudes, ideological, political,
value-laden, are socially constructed within particular cultural configurations of history for specific, but essentially
transient, local purposes. The exercise of aesthetic judgements, the expression of feelings and opinions, are related
to current dominant cultural fictions. Just as there are period-specific aesthetic, ethical and ontological codes, so
too are there culture-specific aesthetics, of which the West’s is only one. These codes have their own histories, are
in constant flux, change their character and their social bases of construction, influence one another, merge, are
replaced by the codes of others and so on.
Aesthetic theories, such as those of Kant,20 are themselves the product of intellectual endeavour within a specific
historical and social matrix.21 Bürger argues persuasively that the process of the autonomy of art in the West, and
the concomitant process of the developing concept of aesthetic pleasure, began in the early fifteenth century in
Italy: “the works in which the aesthetic offers itself for the first time as a special object of pleasure may well have
been connected in their genesis with the aura emanating from those that rule, but that does not change the fact
that in the course of further historical development, they not only made possible a certain kind of pleasure (the
aesthetic) but contributed toward the creation of the sphere we [in the West] call art.”22 Certainly since the late
eighteenth century art in the West became more and more assigned to an autonomous field of production calling
for a purely aesthetic disposition, provided with a theoretical framework, and institutionalised in the museum or art
gallery. That disposition was, and is, dependent upon a certain cultural competence. That competence is acquired,
and endlessly re-produced, through education. It enables its possessor to identify, among all the candidates for
appreciation offered to the gaze, the distinctive features of an ‘artwork,’ as Pierre Bourdieu points out,
by referring [it], consciously or unconsciously, to the universe of possible alternatives. This mastery is, for the
most part, acquired simply by contact with works of art – that is, through an implicit learning analogous to that
which makes it possible to recognise familiar faces without explicit rules or criteria – and it generally remains at
a practical level; it is what makes it possible to identify styles, i.e. modes of expression characteristic of a period, a
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
civilisation or a school, without having to distinguish clearly, or state explicitly, the features which constitute their
It is the aesthetic point of view that makes the aesthetic object.24
The omnipotence of the Western aesthetic gaze is made manifest in choosing, on occasion, to describe ethnographic
objects from dominated societies as the stuff of ‘material culture’ or, often under pressure from the flux of ideas
and politics, to raise certain of these objects to the status of ‘works of art.’ This arrogation of judgement to Western
aesthetics was highlighted by the controversies surrounding the exhibition “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity
of the Tribal and the Modern” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984.25
The ‘pure’ gaze in the act of Kantian judgment implies an aesthetic disposition for its own sake, an elective distance, a
disinterestedness, a moral agnosticism, what Arthur Danto mischievously calls a “narcoleptic pleasure,” quite distinct
from the types of looking utilised in the day-to-day social world.26
The aesthetic disposition which tends to bracket off the nature and function of the object represented and to
exclude any ‘naïve’ reaction – horror at the horrible, desire for the desirable, pious reverence for the sacred –
along with all purely ethical responses, in order to concentrate solely upon the mode of representation, the style,
perceived and appreciated by comparison with other styles, is one dimension of a total relation to the world and
to others, a life-style, in which the effects of particular conditions of existence are expressed in a ‘misrecognisable’
Bourdieu goes on to distinguish between this pure, élite gaze and the popular reception of art.28 For the élite it
is the form of the artwork that has precedence over any obvious function, the representation rather than the
thing represented – art is separate from life, the aesthetic is autonomous and seemingly unencumbered by either
ideological or political considerations.29 For the masses, however, the work must have some functional value, even if
only as a sign – there must be continuity between art and life. In addition art has about it – and this seems to bear
on the fact that for the élite it has ‘aesthetic’ value – some relationship to the Good. ‘Aesthetic,’ in this context, tends
to bear an ethical value.
The élite may elect to confer on some object of popular culture its aesthetic approbation:“nothing is more distinctive,
more distinguished, than the capacity to confer aesthetic status on objects that are banal or even ‘common’ (because
the ‘common’ people make them their own, especially for aesthetic purposes).”30 This act itself confirms the power
of the élite to determine values operative in the culture as a whole. Bourdieu maintains that even “the definition of
art, and through it the art of living, is an object of struggle among the classes.”31 Western “legitimate” aesthetics has
been constructed “by an immense repression.”32
“The easiest, and so the most frequent and most spectacular way to ‘shock (épater) the bourgeois’ by proving the
extent of one’s power to confer aesthetic status is to transgress ever more radically the ethical censorships … which
the other classes accept even within an area which the dominant defines as aesthetic.”33 As Pop Art demonstrated,
it was even possible (in terms of language games) to have an aesthetic that was anti-aesthetic: “The style is happily
retrograde and thrillingly insensitive … It is too much to endure, like a steel fist pressing in the face.”34
In the West, within the confines of art galleries and museums, and in the popular press, spectators and readers
(consumers) are expected not only to follow the lead of the ‘experts’ in terms of the hierarchies of approbation,
but also to have a rudimentary grasp of the history of artistic periods, the biographies of artists, some words with
which to ‘appreciate’ artworks. In other words, spectators are expected to collude with the socially consecrated
illusions of aesthetic value of the élite.35
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
This aesthetic disposition is almost exclusively discussed in terms of Western art. Culturally complex theories of
aesthetics exist in other cultures – in China36 and Japan,37 in Islamic calligraphy and architecture,38 for example, with
elaborated languages and literatures, used not only to mark the educated élites, but also, more widely, to distinguish
types of artistic practice and qualities of value (not unlike ‘connoisseurship’). Here too there are changing histories of
taste, of class differences between art-for-art’s sake and art functioning within spheres of specific social behaviours.
It would be an error to claim that every culture has a similarly elaborated ideational system of aesthetic judgement
comparable to those in the West, India, China and Japan and the Islamic world. Nevertheless in all societies
judgements, conscious and unconscious, from simple reactions to complex, reasoned and nuanced explanations,
are made about objects of ritual, of symbolic value, about artworks. Though there may be no word corresponding
to ‘aesthetic,’ aesthetic principles (or something like them) are mobilised in the course of social interactions within
the parameters of particular social relationships, of local language and customs, predicated on systems of values and
governed by rules that are culturally specific and historically determined. Only the most insensitive intellectual hubris
would lead anyone to claim that this is not the way Western aesthetics also operates.
In non-Western societies objects are often judged on their effectiveness, not only in terms of magic, or as totems,
emblems, but also as substitutes for other symbolic objects. For example the Ancient Greeks made art objects
as offerings to the gods, as records of piety, being at first a substitute for an actual sacrifice. The third century BC
carving in bas-relief of a bucranion (the skull of a bovine) on one side, and the skull of a wild boar on the lateral faces,
of a stele from Thespiae, as an offering to Zeus Karaios, was a substitute for the real head of a bovine or a boar.39
Anthony Shelton has described the offerings, the symbolic mats, arrows and votive bowls, made by the Huichol of
northwest Mexico, to procure rains, to bring the sun, to celebrate marriage.40
In these examples art is commemorative, connecting the celebrants with their history (their collective memory),
their customs, their belief systems, their cultural identity. Image and function are interdependent: art is used to
commemorate the relationship, the contract, between human beings and the supernatural powers to which they
are in thrall. Art as ritual offering was, and is, widespread in non-Western societies. In these circumstances aesthetic
value is related to appropriateness, how well the rules are followed, how effective the substitute, how acceptable
the object is to the gods.
In all societies ‘beauty’ exists as a significant commendation of art, however that word is used within different
cultural contexts. We are familiar with its use in Western aesthetics, even if we are unsure of its meaning outside
of a particular context. Other aesthetic codes also commend ‘beauty,’ but using their own metaphorical terms for
this elusive concept. For example, Biebuyck points out that the Lega of Zaire explain their sense of ‘the beautiful’
by reference to forms in the natural world, bongo antelopes, white bubulcus birds and white kinsamba mushrooms,
objects that possess the colours and glossy textures associated by the Lega with ‘beauty.’41
Other artworks – heirloom shell valuables among the Lelet peoples of New Ireland in the Pacific, for example –
enter into the psychological realms of the forbidden, the taboo. Heirlooms are dangerous and must be kept away
from children. Yet their possession confers a sense of identity, of solidarity with those sharing a cultural history. They
even project their owner’s identity into the future. They are called ‘the bones of the clan.’ Their manufacture, out
of commonly found things like spiders’ webs, vines from the banyan tree, shells, is not associated with skill. Their
aesthetic arises entirely from the histories their owners have woven about them, often narratives of settlement and
migration. They become most obviously fetishes. “Like the clan or lineage itself, these valuables should ideally remain
seated and immobile. Should they be lost, the clan and lineage are considered to be without a place to sit.”42 The
revelation of particular wealth in heirlooms is a mark of power, just as in the West the revelation of the extent and
significance of a private collection of art, in terms of the aesthetic criteria of experts, in a mark of wealth, of social
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Those objects that have power (charge or eloquence), that have elaborated histories – stories attached to them
– are designated ‘sacred,’ and become models of aesthetic approbation. They assist a culture to make available,
even visible, often in symbolic form, the invisible, the supernatural. Medieval Christian images acted in this manner
in Europe.43 The cultural context also supplies the criteria for their evaluation. “Aesthetics as a discourse [may] not
exist, but aesthetics as an ethical codification of the use, significance, and purpose behind sacred and ritual arts
pervades metaphysics and ontology.”44 Value is based on occult rather than visible criteria: but isn’t this similar to the
conferment of aesthetic approbation in the West? “Beauty is a form of revelation which explicates what is implicit
and reveals that which is occult.”45
In non-Western societies there is often less distinction between signified and signifier: art is not so much a
representation of invisible powers but a manifestation of them. Signification becomes actualisation. (The wine
is the blood of Christ.) We may generalise Shelton’s remarks about the Huichol to cover a wide range of nonWestern cultural uses of aesthetics: “Aesthetics is not concerned with passive reflection, but with an active attitude
to maintain or adjust a system of ethics, inherited from … ancestral deities, which organises the world and defines
appropriate activities and relations within it.”46
Aesthetic codes are often divided in the West between aspects of essentialist thinking – ‘beauty,’ ‘form,’ ‘truth to
materials’ and so on – and institutional theories, such as those elaborated in the 1960s by Arthur Danto and George
Dickie.47 Social theories of art treat these avenues of enquiry as just two prosects in a wider landscape of art making,
use (consumption), evaluation and appreciation. Art and identity is another aspect of the subject, related to art and
psychology. None are as all-embracing as art and culture, which itself includes the way art’s concepts operate for
the individual mind, within the group, in the wider society and multi-culturally, both dynamically over time and space.
The word ‘aesthetic,’ used as a noun, has come to stand for a style, or a point of special approbation, “a view of the
beautiful (the good) from a special-interest point of vantage”, “a particular type of approbation radically different
from the theory and history of Western aesthetics.” Often ‘an aesthetic’ is undefined, its sense comprehensible only
through immersion in a sub-culture in which that particular ‘aesthetic’ becomes clear through experience or through
the close study of special-interest literature.48
For example a Black Aesthetic is associated with Afro-Americans. At its most intense, this explores notions of the
beautiful (the good) through an unequivocal, an uncompromised association of the art of West Africa and of the
descendents of slaves in the North American continent, marking off European and white American influences,
rendering them extraneous and Other. The Black Aesthetic is characterised by the 1960s slogan ‘Black is Beautiful.’
Kobena Mercer takes a more nuanced approach, naming this a neo-African aesthetic among those of African
descent, however recent or remote in time, in cultural diaspora in both North America and Europe.
The patterns and practices of aesthetic stylisation developed by black cultures in First World societies may be
seen as modalities of cultural practices inscribed in critical engagement with the dominant white culture and at the
same time expressive of a neo-African approach to the pleasures of beauty at the level of everyday life.
Black practices of aesthetic stylisation are intelligible at one ‘functional’ level as dialogic responses to the racism of
the dominant culture, but at another level involve acts of appropriation from that same ‘master’ culture through
which ‘syncretic’ forms of diasporean culture have evolved.49
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The Black Aesthetic has its own history, moving from the aesthetic of negation – where it was characterised as ‘notEuropean’ – to an aesthetic of de-negation, seeking its own cultural criteria of value.
A similar history can be traced for a feminist aesthetic.
There are aesthetics of liberation, aesthetics of nature (as opposed to artifice). Teshome Gabriel has theorised a
nomadic aesthetic, the values given to artworks in nomadic cultures. She characterises the aesthetic as having two
essential social functions, to consolidate a community through ritual and performance, and through its collective
participation in the production and reception of art.50 Above all it stresses the transience of life and art, and the
social necessity of creating ephemeral, or at their most permanent, mobiliary (that which can be habitually carried
from site to site) artworks.
There is even a ‘consumption aesthetic.’51
Essentialist aesthetic qualities, such as beauty, purity, clean lines, truth to nature, truth to materials, are evoked as
ethical virtues in the politics of art movements, of art histories, of social change, of urban renewal, making over what
is now regarded as redundant into the currently useful or even simply fashionable.
Aesthetic delight or pleasure is also a psychological quality related to cultural experience, including that of the
dominant ideology of a culture ingested through parental models, the home, the extended family, the local
community, through schooling and educational institutions, through reading and seeing, through listening to wise
women and men with an elevated social status acting as mentors, as spiritual guides, as cultural gatekeepers, as
tastemakers. The experience of aesthetic pleasure, aesthetic delight is generated within us, but what is within is
constructed by our cultural experience.
Artworks themselves are inert. It would be a fundamental conceptual error to ascribe any intrinsic attractiveness to
an object, such as an artwork. We may fetishise the object ‘in itself,’ focussing attention on the emblem itself, rather
than what it is emblematic of. We may use it to sublimate our primary desires. In Barthes’s dramatic metaphor: “The
text [image] is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me. The text [image] chooses me.”52
Apart from our genetic inheritance we are structured by the world, including the art of our particular culture and
time. Artworks have a dynamic, a reflexive influence over our ways of seeing, our view of the world, our actions.
To some extent they structure us, determine us.53 We turn Barthes’s bland ‘readerly’ experience into the creative
‘writerly,’ driven by our desires and the cultural matrix in which those desires are free to express themselves.
Even though Freud and Lacan explored the intimate psychological underpinnings of our individual personalities,
those ‘underpinnings’ are created within social parameters. The images of art may remind us of what we have lost.
They may give us a sense of recovering what we cherish and desire. They may resonate with our longing, with the
inchoate material residing in our unconscious.The systems by which these acute desires are activated in the self, the
very pleasures of desiring, often provide the material with which psychoanalysis works, but the shape and strength
of our desires relate to infancy, to childhood, to places and relationships, which are themselves embedded in social
Social realities operate in the production of art in all societies, Western and non-Western. The artist is embedded
in a social order, but psychological motivations play a part in the constant recasting of that order. For example,
Marion Wenzel has shown how house decoration in Nubia followed certain prescriptions laid down in tradition, but
that individual artists were free to play with, to extend the canon according to their own aesthetic impulses. They
could even develop quite new styles, such as those created by Ahmad Batoul from the 1920s. Nevertheless the
Nubian artist’s aesthetic freedom was constrained by the need to receive regular work as a plasterer and decorator
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
attached to a building team. 55 This tension between aesthetic striving and tradition, between creativity and paid
labour, is a dynamic process changing within time across differing social spaces. This is not unlike similar tensions
existing between artist and patron in Italy in the Renaissance.
In all cultures things other than art – objects, movements and events, such as the world of nature or performance
in sport – call into play aesthetic sensibilities and aesthetic judgements. It is possible, and indeed some would prefer,
to talk about aesthetics quite separately from art altogether.56
The triple registration of the work of art in the realms of the real, the imaginary and the symbolic, as Ellen Spitz puts
it, “comes into being at the intersection of the reflex arc of (sexual/scoptophilic) satisfaction; attenuated experience
marked by frustration, delay, and disguise; and the values, expectations, and beliefs imposed by a culture.”57
In order to secure a place for ourselves within a social group we may identify with its collective sense of taste, its
language of aesthetic pleasure, its systems of valorisation. We may be eager to honour the customs of our forebears,
to slot into tradition. We may tailor the expression of our desires, of our aesthetic pleasures to the dominant fictions
in the groups to which we seek to belong. In that collective process we may shift the parameters of those fictions,
in ways often difficult to detect. At times we may even join those seeking to undermine the dominant in order to
replace it with one to which we aspire.
The task of the social historian of art is to restore to the art object its cultural significance, to recognise it as
a context-specific signifier. This does not mean to ignore its aesthetic effects, quite the contrary, but rather to
understand their cultural roots and trace their transformation through the processes of history. Aesthetics are of
central concern to the social historian, whose role it is to co-opt the dynamic history of aesthetic effects into social
history, to examine, as the young Clement Greenberg wrote, “the relationship between aesthetic experience as met
by the specific – not the generalised – individual, and the social and historical contexts in which that experience
takes place.”58 In other words, to focus on the social ontology of art, including aesthetics.59
Peter Stupples is senior lecturer in Art History and Theory at the Dunedin School of Art, Otago Polytechnic.
He was formerly associate professor and head of the Department of Art History and Theory at the University of
Otago between 1990 and 1998.
He has written widely about Russian visual culture, his research speciality, and the social history of art, publishing six
books and numerous journal articles. Stupples has also curated art exhibitions at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery
including “Sites for the Eyes: European Landscape in the Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery” (April 2006–
July 2007). He gave the Abbey College Prestige Lecture for 2011 on “Australian Aboriginal Art as ‘Art’” and the
William Mathew Hodgkins Lecture at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in August 2011 on “Kikerino and Russian Art
Nouveau Architectural Ceramics.”
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Both challenged and confirmed in Homi K. Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994).
Ludwig Wittgenstein in his “Lectures on Aesthetics” discusses the ‘language games’ used to make judgements in particular
cultural circumstances. See L. Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril
Barrett (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966), 5-6.
Thomas McEvilley, “I Think Therefore I Art,” Artforum, 23:10 (Summer 1985), 74–84.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London, 1975), 76.
The word ‘rules’ is used here, not unlike Ludwig Wittgenstein in his “Lectures on Aesthetics,” to mean the underlying particular
historical system, the ‘language games,’ used to make judgements in particular cultural circumstances. Wittgenstein, Lectures
and Conversations on Aesthetics, 5-6.
Gadamer, Truth and Method, 76.
Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York, 1992), Chapter 1. ‘Dominant fiction’ is the phrase used by Kaja
Silverman to “retheorise the operation of what most often passes ideologically as ‘reality.’ ” Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the
Visible World (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), 239 n. 13.
Peter Bürger claims that “aesthetic experience is the positive side of that process [within Western Modernism] by which
the social subsystem ‘art’ defines itself as a distinct sphere. Its negative side is the artist’s loss of any social function.” It rebels
against the praxis of life. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 33-4. See
also Noël Carroll, “Art and Aesthetic Experience,” in his Philosophy of Art (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 156-204.
As Wittgenstein pointed out: “It is not only difficult to describe what appreciation consists in, but impossible.To describe what
it consists in we would have to describe the whole environment.” Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, 7.
See, for example, Alfred Gell’s discussion of ‘beauty’ in relation to codes of dress among the Muria Gonds. “Newcomers to
the World of Goods: Consumption among the Muria Gonds,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective,
ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 120.
Robert Layton, The Anthropology of Art, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991), 13, 16, 98, 197; and Howard
Morphy, “From Dull to Brilliant: The Aesthetics of Spiritual Power among the Yolngu,” in Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, eds
Jeremy Coote and Anthony Shelton (Oxford, 1992), 181-208.
Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, 2.
Some philosophers have even wondered whether ‘aesthetics’ has any basic subject matter. See Stuart Hampshire, “Logic and
Appreciation” (1952), in Art and Philosophy, ed. WE Kennick (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1979), 651-7.
“Aesthetic codes operate as mediating influences between ideology and particular works of art by interposing themselves as
sets of rules and conventions which shape cultural products and which must be used by artists and cultural producers.” Janet
Wolff, The Social Production of Art, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1993), 64-5.
Appadurai, The Social Life of Things, 45.
Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, 8. Wittgenstein: “What belongs to a language game is a whole culture.”
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed and Ward, 1975), 76.
Such as outlined in Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987). This paper treats Kant’s ideas as
exemplars of the Western tradition. The complexity and significance of Kant’s thinking, in all three of his Critiques, is not the
subject of this paper.
For example, Kant’s work lies on the intellectual frontier of a change in the central focus of Western aesthetics. Before Kant,
philosophical aesthetics was focussed on questions of beauty and sublimity in nature; after Kant, the emphasis is refocussed
on works of art.
Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 39.
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 4.
Ibid., 29.
In particular the article by Thomas McEvilley, “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: Primitivism in 20th-Century Art at the Museum of
Modern Art,” Artforum, 23:3 (November 1984), 54-61.
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Arthur Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York and Chichester: Columbia University Press, 1986), 11.
See also Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 41-5. Martha Rosler also talks about “a hedonic-aesthetic respite from instrumental
‘reality.’ ” Martha Rosler, “Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment,” The Block Reader in Visual Culture (London and New York:
Routledge, 1996), 259.
Bourdieu, Distinction, 54.
Bourdieu relates the pure gaze to a bourgeoisie able to enjoy ‘leisure.’ Ibid., 55-6.
For an amusing, but perceptive, take on this position see Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, 12. Peter Bürger
has demonstrated the historical process of that separation, led by the avant-garde, eventuating in the crisis in Western art
after the First World War, with some artists seeking to re-engage with social life and others intent on pursuing the autonomy
of their production. Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde.
Bourdieu, Distinction.
Ibid., 48.
Ibid., 485.
Ibid., 47.
Ivan Karp, “Anti-Sensibility Painting,” Artforum, September 1963, 26.
Pierre Bourdieu, “The Production of Belief,” Media, Culture and Society, 2 (July 1980), 261-93.
Such as Hsieh Ho’s Six Principles of Chinese Painting (c. 550 BCE).
As an example, the following titles give a sense of the depth of scholarship in Japanese art: Kuki Shüzö, Reflections on Japanese
Taste: The Structure of Iki (1930), trans. John Clark (Sydney: Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1997); Söetsu Yanagi, The Unknown
Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty (Tokyo, New York, London: Kodansha International, 1972); Itö Teiji, Tanaka Itö and
Sesoko Tsune, Wabi, Sabi, Suki: The Essence of Japanese Beauty (Hiroshima: Mazda Motor Company, 1993); Japanese Aesthetics
and Culture: A Reader, ed. Nancy Hume (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995); Leslie Pincus, Authenticating Culture: Kuki Shüzö and the
Rise of National Aesthetics (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1996).
Oliver Leaman, Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 2004).
The stele is now in the museum in Thebes. K Demakopoulou and D Konsola, Guide to the Archaeological Museum of Thebes
(Athens, 1981), no. 154.
Anthony Shelton, “Predicates of Aesthetic Judgement: Ontology and Value in Huichol Material Representations,” in Coote and
Shelton, Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, 209-44.
D Biebuyck, The Lega: Art, Initiation and Moral Philosophy (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1973), 178-9.
Richard Eves, The Magic Body: Power, Fame and Meaning in a Melanesian Society (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers,
1998), 142-7.
See, for example, Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986).
Coote and Shelton, Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, 235.
Ibid., 236.
Ibid., 241.
Arthur Danto, “The Artworld,” Journal of Philosophy, 61 (October 1964), 571-84; George Dickie, “Defining Art,” American
Philosophical Quarterly, 6:3 (July 1969), 253-6, Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis (Ithaca and New York: Cornell
University Press, 1974) and Art Circle: A Theory of Art (Chicago: Spectrum Press, 1997).
Wittgenstein frequently highlights the need to be vigilant with our use of words. ‘Aesthetic’ is such a word calling for care. See
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, trans. Peter Winch, ed. GH von Wright and Heikki Nyman (Oxford: Basil Blackwell,
1980), and Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics.
Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” in Out There: Marginalisation and Contemporary Cultures, eds Russell Ferguson et al.
(Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 1990), 257.
Teshome Gabriel, “Nomadic Aesthetics and the Black Independent Cinema,” ibid., 396.
See, for example, Alladi Venkatesh and Laurie Meamber, “The Aesthetics of Consumption and the Consumer as an Aesthetic
Subject,” Consumption Markets and Culture, 2:1 (2008), 45-70.
Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), 27.
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Peter Stupples, “Neuroscience and the Artist’s Mind,” South African Journal of Art History, 25:3 (2010), 43-55.
These ideas owe a lot to reading the work of Kaja Silverman, for example, The Subject of Semiotics (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1983).
Marion Wenzel, House Decoration in Nubia (London: Gerard Duckworth, 1972).
For example, Jacques Marquet, Introduction to Aesthetic Anthropology, 2nd ed. (Malibu, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1979), 45,
and The Aesthetic Experience: An Anthropologist Looks at the Visual Arts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 33; Nick
Zangwill, “Aesthetics and Art,” British Journal of Aesthetics, 26:3 (1986), 257-69; TJ Diffey, “The Idea of Aesthetic Experience,”
in Possibility of the Aesthetic Experience, ed. Michael Mitias (Dordrecht: Nijhoff, 1986), 3-12; Stefan Morawski, Inquiries into the
Fundamentals of Aesthetics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1974); Coote and Shelton, Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, 245-8.
Ellen Handler Spitz, Image and Insight (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 14.
Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 1, ed. John
O’Brian (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 6.
See John Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995) and Making the Social World: The Structure of
Human Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
Peter Stupples – Art and Aesthetics – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Response
Kura Puke
Pakaitore, stretched between Whanganui’s hill and the awa below, still retained, in the year 2000, its salience, as
another seven years would pass before its return to iwi ownership in 2007. The habitation of Pakaitore in 1995
not only set the path for iwi consolidation by the mana whenua, Te Ati Hau Nui a Paparangi, but it created an
opportunity for wider Whanganui to begin to build a stronger cultural identity. Pakaitore marked a decade when
awareness of Pakeha and Maori worldviews became discussed increasingly, with many in the Aotearoa community
engaging in meaningful dialogue, with an often brutal honesty. It was a time of self-reflection; a heady time for the
focus of cultural awareness and the refashioning of a bicultural identity – marked by, along with Pakaitore, such
maturing events as the construction of Te Papa, literature such as Michael King’s Pakeha: The Quest for Identity in New
Zealand, and the films Jane Campion’s Piano and Lee Tamahori’s Once were Warriors. Out of this dialogue came an
enhanced recognition of the colonial plight of all, but also the importance of dignity, of roots, of turangawaewae: of
acknowledgement of the vast ancestral lines attached to any individual.
Figure 1. Warwick McLeod, Sons of Leod (2005, detail).
Aratoi Wairarapa Mueum of
Art and History, Masterton.
Figure 2. Warwick McLeod, The Prophet and the Birdman
(2000). Sargeant Gallery, Whanganui.
Kura Puke – Warwick McLeod – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
As vividly as other events in Whanganui at that time, I remember an exhibition on the hill above Pakaitore. In the
year 2000 Warwick Mcleod’s installation The Prophet and the Birdman featured in the central dome of the Sargeant
Gallery, while Sons of Leod occupied the same gallery’s north hall. This latter installation kept watch with giant
wooden toes digging into and over large rocks, and leathery bull-kelp hands and heads presented on booms above
them; while beneath the dome the Prophet’s arms hung from a 6-metre-high washing line, as sleek suspended strips
of brass terminating in open-palm hands. On the periphery loomed the Birdman, a tall but grounded figure standing
vigil like a votive authority.
These installations were visual storytelling; ballads in the rhythms and tones of lost languages. They were tribal,
organic and raw; looser notions tied up with intricate and refined elements of visual contemplation, constantly
sprouting unfurling iterations and deviations of characters, events and situations.
McLeod was born in New Zealand, with descent tracing back to the mid-nineteenth-century settlement at Waipu
by the followers of Reverend Norman McLeod: Gaelic people who had been the kelp-gatherers of the Hebrides
before their crisscrossing of the Americas and the Pacific.
Figure 3. Warwick McLeod, Sons of Leod (2000, detail). Sargeant Gallery, Whanganui.
Like the Greek Odyssey or the tales of the Fianns from the Gaelic Fenian cycle, McLeod’s works are poems that
delve into the psychology or the inner spaces of this epic journey and its characters.
McLeod is a student of medieval Celtic literature, but these installations are not literal narratives; rather the elements
of epic or heroic sensibilities resonate within the work. McLeod brings an embodiment of that psychology to life, in
the understanding of its ways, intent, intuition and genetic drive to realise a need.
Kura Puke – Warwick McLeod – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 4. Warwick McLeod, Knot (2005). Aratoi Wairarapa
Museum of Art and History, Masterton.
Figure 5. Warwick McLeod, Knot (2005, detail). Aratoi
Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton.
McLeod’s 2005 installations, at Lopdell House Gallery and Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, featured
sculptural works such as the bull-kelp whare Knot, the kelp, wood, and stone Sons of Leod, and Be Ye A Brazen Wall.
Be Ye A Brazen Wall is a grand brass sculpture, made up of a series of sleek cupboards opening into vistas or cavities
of prophetic lands and perhaps dreamlike states, of varying perspectives and scale. Doors open into both intimate
and panoramic situations, some featuring mechanically driven figurative movements and musical tunes. The figures
move smoothly, whisking through at varying pace, compounding multidimensional time and space. These works are
powerfully absorbing and experiential – reminiscent of the doors of the remarkable medieval Hildesheim Cathedral
in Germany.
Figure 6. Warwick McLeod, Be Ye A Brazen Wall (2005).
Aratoi Wairarapa Mueum of Art and History, Masterton.
Figure 7. Warwick McLeod, Be Ye A Brazen Wall (2005, detail).
Aratoi Wairarapa Mueum of Art and History, Masterton.
I have seen earlier cycles in the journey of McLeod’s characters in exhibitions of his paintings and etchings at Gallery
Fifty2 in 2006, and at WHMilbank Gallery and Chaffers Gallery in 2008. In July 2011 McLeod exhibited their most
recent cycle, with his first New York solo show at InRivers Gallery in Williamsburg.
The paintings are luminous; spacious, but thickly atmospheric, with figures asserting form and weight. Soft, densely
mixed planes delineated by minimal, refined marks create intriguing canvases.The characters are somehow ludicrous,
almost caricatures of the strong but maimed, troubled, and incomplete – what McLeod calls ‘vestiges of people,’ their
remnants as heads, hands and feet. They have tasks to perform. To fulfil their tasks they reassemble themselves, or
reassemble each other. One character must make a hearth; another must make a washing line; another character
has his hands tied to the end of a bandage wrapped around his head and ankles.
Kura Puke – Warwick McLeod – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The figures are poignant, reminding me foremost
of narratives surrounding some Maori prophets, in
their stages of initial realisation: characters uniting a
disparate group, alienated together as they, alone, must
accept their fate; heeding the signs and accomplishing
their tasks.
McLeod conveys this through the main character’s
physical solidness, moving within the spacious but
psychologically visceral canvas plane. The figurative
solidity feels like a great weight, heavy with the
responsibility of the knowledge, and with the challenge
of the journey. The journey is as much a mental
discipline and a psychological exertion as it is physical
action. These actions require the collective – and it is
in the devising of their strategies that they will shift
their outcome to forward their situation. But it is in
the performance of the tasks that the creative cultural
meanings spring out: and hence the light, rich hues,
clean spaces and finishing highlights. These are visual
narratives of the process of complex projects, through
journeys filled with strife and insight, problems and
The characters become more intriguing, but still both
odd and familiar. They tell me a little about myself as I
observe them, studying the performance of their tasks,
finding a new angle. They pay for the consequences
of their actions and then move on, meditative, dutiful,
familiar, always ready with an eye to maneuver a
Figure 8. Warwick McLeod, Murder (2006), oil on tin.
Figure 9. Warwick McLeod, Rider (2008), oil on canvas.
What is the situation? My imagination flits between
images of the bleak, rocky, northern Scottish isles and
the migration out, some landing here in Aotearoa,
where perhaps for European immigrants the
forgotten genealogy is held mutely in the repositories
of mannerisms, or tactics, or aesthetics, but never
explicitly addressed. In line with the odysseys of
Homer and ancient Ireland, the main character must
return to his rightful land and people, accompanied
by the constant resurrection of the ancestors: their
names, their deeds, their land.
In these paintings, Iron Age and postmodernism
meet in a multiplicity of signs and genres from today’s
vocabulary. In witness of our current situation, termed
‘technoculture,’ we are involved in the shaping of
relationships between humans and technology,
forming a vast and interconnected global network,
Kura Puke – Warwick McLeod – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 10. Warwick McLeod, Mervin and the Pig (2011),
oil on canvas.
with a majority of us immersed in this disembodying
virtual reality. To me, engaging in McLeod’s work at
first feels like remembering a pre-digital era, where
ancestor remembrance seems to be at odds with the
emergent technoculture. McLeod is a consummate
artist and journeying poet. Very quickly, I realise how
easily I take for granted my tribal connections that
hold me firmly to the land, to whichever part of the
land that life takes us.
There is little surety we can really have for ourselves,
except that of where you have come from. It is the
resilience of the remembering of a vast lineage that
ensures global kinship, sustainability, and respect, no
matter how noisy or crowded our data-filled world.
The implication of knowing your genealogy is that you
have mana and therefore must act accordingly.
Figure 11. Warwick McLeod, Burial (2011), oil on canvas.
Kura Puke Te Ati Awa and Ngati Pakeha, is an artist and educator. He is a lecturer at the College of Creative Arts
at Massey University in Wellington. Kura has worked with paint and glass with a focus on light transmission, colour
and matauranga Maori. Since 2005, he has worked primarily with light-emitting diodes, fibre optics and software,
with a strong conceptual content pertaining to Indigenous visual culture. Recent exhibitions include “Muramura,”
first shown in the Pataka Museum of Art and Culture in Porirua (2008) and subsequently at Puke Ariki in New
Plymouth (2009) and Te Manawa in Palmerston North (2009-10).
Kura is actively involved in two research groups: ‘WATT,’ which recently hosted the Wellington Lux symposium, and
SuRe Sustainability research network. Kura participates in the Nga Aho Network of Maori Design Professionals and
Te Atinga: Contemporary Visual Arts network.
Warwick McLeod is a senior lecturer in the School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington. He read
Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, and Painting at Krakow Academy of Fine Art, at Massachusetts College
of Art and at Yale University.
‘Sgeulachd ghaisge’ translates as ‘legends of heroes’ or ‘heroic tales’.
Kura Puke – Warwick McLeod – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Jane Davidson
iconology: noun. The branch of art history that studies visual images and their symbolic meaning (especially in social or
political terms).
Webster’s online dictionary,
As a practising artist and writer living within an incrementally pervasive graphic art environment – a commerciallydriven media culture bombarding the world with ever-increasing reach – I am interested in some of the resonances
around the intersections that occur between professional visual art and mainstream pop culture. In an era dominated
by discourse on postcolonialism, post-feminism and even post-humanism, real-life issues around the creation of and
respons/ibility for image-making prove complex, problematic and enduring.
This small collection of writings includes a story involving iconography versus ethical advertising; an illustration of the
punctum within the photograph from a personal perspective; and a review of iconography from recent Anita De
Soto paintings. Coincidentally, all three pieces deal with imagery of the female body and the relationship between
image and viewer. With the spirit of Hannah Höch (s)nipping at my heels, this montage is hopefully intended to
inform, stimulate, entertain.
Picture this: a newspaper ad in the centre of your mid-weekly, Dunedin-produced D-Scene magazine, issue 18,
February 2009. A 13 x 21 cm colour reproduction, in a two-page advertising feature directly targeting the newly
inducted Otago University student market over Orientation Week. An advertisement for a commercial dining
establishment designed for family patronage. Featuring an oval-shaped photograph of a naked and very pale-skinned,
lank-haired blonde woman posing limply against a garish yellow background, holding two larger-than-life, almost
glaring red, raw beef-steaks in front of her own bare breasts.1 She does not look very happy to me.
“HUNTSMAN STEAKHOUSE …” it proclaims,
“Under new ownership
Talk to your parents about our great pre-pay Steak a Week and Steak a Month Deal!!!
An image of a naked woman advertising meat? Well almost; a steakhouse (not a butchery, as I had first thought)
advertising women? Women advertising wot? My brain attempted to unscramble the mixed messages (not to
mention bad puns) inherent in this text-and-image storm in a d-cup! The text suggests parental guidance might be
Jane Davidson – Iconology – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
necessary to facilitate decision-making at the same time as it invites gastronomical colonialisation: Steak that claim!?
What territories ARE we taking here? Whose fantasy is this, I wonder? Why aren’t those students not insulted?
By now, feeling creeped and disturbed by this strange horror vision, it wasn’t until several weeks later that I
remembered to try and track the original image down. Strangely, the Huntsman advertisement seemed to have
disappeared – it had only been seen once, and was rumoured to have been pulled out of circulation after public
complaints were made. I locate the D-Scene’s local office, and find a copy of the ad in the last issue at the bottom
of the stack of the archive stand.
I talked to the staff and discovered that the Huntsman Steakhouse had in fact just that day lost an objection case
that was won through an Advertising Standards Authority appeal instigated by individuals from the local community,
effectively shutting the ad down. The warning story for the press turned up several weeks after the initial ad was
published, in the Monday 25 May 2009 issue of the Southland Times and on Channel 3 news.2 The results of the
Advertising Standards Authority’s investigation – Complaint 09/106 vs Huntsman Steakhouse – were also published
in their entirety on the ASA website on 20 May 2009.3
The ASA Complaints Board is a media authority put in place to act as a mediating forum between advertising media
and the general community. Their Code for People in Advertising is concerned with meeting standards of public
acceptability.The areas the board covers and crosses include the ethics of offensiveness (decency) and human rights
Objections to “offensive and socially unacceptable” standards in the Huntsman advertisement formed the basic
dialogue for this case.4 The ASA ruled that “the image in the advertisement of a topless woman holding pieces of
steak in front of her breasts used sexual appeal to draw attention to an unrelated product and degraded women
in general, thereby breaching Basic Principle 5….”5 Taking into account “the product, audience, context and medium
and in particular, the association of the image of the woman and meat products,” the majority of the board “was of
the view that the advertisement crossed the threshold to be likely to cause serious offence….”6 The ad was rejected
on both a Code of Advertising to People principle and a Code of Ethics rule.
This story is a current example of both the potency and dilemma posed by an image, expressly in this case a
photographic image of a naked female, here multiplied by the mass media for general delivery, and some of
the reactions and mechanisms engaged in this debate. Deep issues of female representation (self-determinism),
consumerism (marketing), and fetishism (desire) intersect at the crossroads of sexuality and advertising.
Manly meat or meaty mammaries? According to one objector, “It is clearly sexualizing meat.”This complainant seems
confused: If anything, I had thought the ad was mostly about over-objectifying and commercialising women’s bodies.7
The steakhouse owner not only mistakes ‘his’ mammary glands for meat, he also tries to demonise and belittle his
detractors by calling them “a small group of activists.”8 Taking responsibility for image-mongering is a serious issue.
This cautionary tale ends with a sad curly tail. In the ASA trancript, the Huntsman Steakhouse business owner
steadfastly upholds his version of the moral majority, never apologises and partially lays the responsibility at his
business team’s door. The D-Scene publisher apologises to the public, deflects some of the heat onto the general
manager of the parent publishing company, Fairfax, and attempts to diffuse the issue by pointing in the direction of
its own in-house advertising production team. Fairfax’s general manager even publicly assures us that the ad has
since been deleted from the archive files of The Southland Times!9
So even though justice is seen to be done, I wonder. ”Not only is this ad degrading to women but it further
entrenches the heterosexist notions circulating within society.” This was the final quote from one objector.10 It
refers to a view that is so entrenched that by putting two such basic images together (even sans text), the message
is: women are meat (dead or live). I find it sad that Mr Huntsman and Co. find this attitude so acceptable and
Jane Davidson – Iconology – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Endnote: As a self-volunteering operator in this charade, the female restaurant floor manager was both co-designer
of the concept behind the photograph and the consenting naked model in the ad.11 I doubt she is aware of the
multiple jeopardies of appearing in this way. Not only has this female employee put herself in a vulnerable position
(professionally, let alone physically), she is also posing as ‘every (white) woman,’ a fairly crude concept to start with.
There is an additional conflict of interests inherent in the situation for, although full consent is implied, the work
context for this agent (without cover) is complex. Resolutely mute and nameless, her (personal) agency is implicit,
but simultaneously seriously undermines her own intent.12
This restaurant manager has multiple agency: a) in her role as instigator of the enactment, as acting manager providing
a service. She is also an active agent: b) as a worker on the floor, consenting to put her body forth as a metaphor for
an item of product display that happens to be meat. The over-identification and consumption of woman in service,
and woman-as-commodity (to be in turn re-consumed) is a multiple abuse of power. The conflicting statuses of her
roles are unequal and, as perpetrator, she has in fact colluded in her own demise twice over.
In our time, crude metaphors linking women-flesh and meat-flesh are no longer socially acceptable or ethically
responsible, as the active (image-consuming) community has indicated. I wonder if the model gets an apology? I
wonder if she got to apologise to herself? I wonder if she’s OK?
An introduction: My new client, a small elderly woman, wise, brown eyes owl-enlarged by large-lensed specs. In
command of her own kitchen; inquisitress, giving me the third degree; friendly, feisty and large with humour.
Where do you come from?
I live out of town …
O do you know …?
I know a friend, a hospital work colleague of hers. Dunedin is so small … gaining trust by proxy; I’m in with a grin …
Quiet cul-de-sac, immaculate house, sunny kitchen. I am employed as domestic help; there is not much to do … a
retirement life circumscribed by diminishing returns. A raspy cough, the ubiquitous cigarette, a way to pass the time
and muse on memories …
This charge is active, alive, but compromised. A lifetime of smoking, a wrestle with lung-disease. Tally: one lung
down, but alive to tell the tale. A spotless house; my task, with damp cloth, to keep control of invisible dust and fluff
disastrous to a body with one lung. … Not to mention, have another cigarette …
Another round with Aunty Death, this time a breast, a near miss, an operation, a severance. Confidentiality and
Come over here. Have a look at this …
Before I know it, I’m seduced by the invitation, hooked, lined and sunk. Produced from inside a handy nearby kitchentable pile of books, papers, cigarette packs, asthmatic nebuliser, she matter-of-factly hands me a glossy A4 full-colour
photographic print. A near life-size breast, half-severed from the chest. A slash, a gash, brutal and mid-operation:
full-bleed print. Resolutely honest, opened-up, exposing layers of fatty tissue, lobules and ducts. In all its gory glory,
an unidentifiable scrambled necrotic mess. A matter-of fact, semi-detatched, pragmatic throwaway observation:
Look, it looks like creamed corn …
My horror. Too late. A split-second glance, I try to look away; too late. My hand tries to shield my eye. I can’t undo
what’s already done. A document, an event, a moment: taken in. This image now becomes my memory too.
Jane Davidson – Iconology – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Why did you do that (to me)?
I want to ask. Her modus operandi, her status: an in-house request. For momento or a fascination with the macabre?
A confession, an exhibition of intimacy? Selective; a privileged status, mine? Document or evidence? Proof of lives
lived, a dice with death: survivorship. She tells me she wanted evidence, to show her friends and family. Proof, for
herself as well, I think. Over-identification with personal trauma, I wonder? A picture of a scar would suffice surely. I
want it stitched up, contained, a neat or ragged zip (she has that too):
You wicked thing, I say.
She laughs. She tells me she is without vanity. The doctors still give her a hard time about her smoky habit. She says
she is concerned at the rate young ones are still taking it up, her teenaged granddaughter included. She tells me they
give the younger family member a hard time whenever she lights up:
Woops, there goes a lung … there goes another breast …!
Speaking from experience … she can.
Still impressed, metonymically, by this photographic event I cannot forget, I think about the intention, acquisition, the
collection and presentation of this image. Not a family album picture. This is an unusually commissioned institutional
document obtained for private consumption. Not a revelation (sharing) or revealing (intimacy) of one’s glory days.
More a lasting legacy, a war-wound. A trophy, perhaps. Momento of a battle fought and won.
Barthes, memory and disruption …
Figure 1. Anita DeSoto, War Widow (2008), oil
on canvas, 214 x 167 cm.
Figure 2. Anita DeSoto, A Jesus of Your Own
(2008), oil on canvas, 103 x 76 cm.13
Jane Davidson – Iconology – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Anita DeSoto is an accomplished local Dunedin painter engaged in a personal iconography containing myth and
metaphor, with an autobiographical narrative told through a post-feminist lens.
Many of her photographically detailed visions focus on strong figurative symbolism, with references to fifteenthand sixteenth-century religious iconography as well as surrealist-influenced styles. Frequently employing self, family
and friends in naked or semi-clothed poses, persona and body are used as a metaphor for larger themes in life.
Forming semi-realistic tableaux rendered with an idealising ‘smoothed-out’ painterly trademark style, Anita’s subjects
frequently inhabit a space situated between cruelty and seduction, transcendence and sublimation.
Although I am not a photographic practitioner (as most of my ‘community of practice’ referents are), a recent
painting of Anita’s, War Widow, seen in the “Art in Law” group exhibition in the Law Faculty building, Otago University,
August- September 2009, engaged me on several levels. As an example of a contemporary, feminist, and semi-nude
portrait, also employing Dadaesque strategies of survival (for example, layers, inversions, and juxtapositions of both
form and theme), an unresolvedness within an otherwise technically assured composition lets me know this is an
invitation to query, that a dialogue is being opened …
War Widow features a three-quarter-sized woman’s half-clothed and half-exposed figure, suspended upside-down
in space. The inverted pose alerts us to things being not what they seem. The woman hangs in mid-air, gloved arms
outstretched in a reversed crucifixion pose, her naked body both revealed and concealed by a wedding dress falling
downward.14 The skirt covers her torso and face, but reveals her naked lower half, her feet encircled, caught in a
beribboned funerary wreath.
The entwined greenery, with the inverted skirt, refers to the burden of shame and grief (veiled) and speaks for the
plight of the war-bride victims of the Anzac wars. Trapped, feet bound, caught in a dilemma not of her own making,
this war widow represents the martyred plight that war brought to the womenfolk left behind. Without men – in
some instances a whole generation of young men was annihilated – the young war bride is condemned to a solitary
fate, thwarted in her prime.
Initially a kind of shocking icon, this upside-down travesty is painted in Anita’s seductively beautiful ‘airbrushed’
style. I was interested in the feedback this image may have generated for the artist. Given that Anita frequently
represents her self/own body in her paintings, I wondered if she had encountered any negative feedback on this
image, especially as it overtly links symbols of national war iconography with a naked female form (complete with
bridal accessories), transgressively combined with a religious pose – the placement and juxtaposition revealing a
female-centric critique of the futility and tragedy of enforced patriotism.
In conversation with the artist, in front of the painting displayed in the hallway of the Law Faculty at Otago University,
Anita revealed something surprising – contrary to expectation, this large and iconographically complex painting had
survived without incurring a backlash. Instead, it was the smaller neighbouring painting of hers, A Jesus of Your Own,
featuring a eurocentric version of Christ portrayed with naturalistic, long, slightly straggly hair, engaging in a direct
and possibly suggestive gaze with the viewer, naked torso situated beneath a bell-jar, hands in supplication mode,
pushing out against the opaque wall of confinement that had caused a reaction.
In fact, between the hanging of the work and the official public opening event, a formal complaint had been made
to the dean of Law, about A Jesus, from a senior law student who appeared to be disturbed by the anti-religious
sentiments perceived through the formal reading and interpretation of the title of the painting. The dean, to his
credit, had initiated a meeting between the artist and the unhappy viewer.
Jane Davidson – Iconology – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
A Jesus of Your Own refers to the Depeche Mode song “Personal Jesus” (the version covered by Johnny Cash). The
lyrics include the lines:
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares …
I’ll make you a believer
Take second best
Put me to the test …
I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Your own, personal, Jesus … 15
It seems a home-grown version of Christ still proves too disquieting a dilemma for a twenty-first century audience –
but maybe we are mature enough to accept the awkward inversion an alternative tale of the sanctity of war reveals.
These three tales look at some of the issues involved in the interpretation and functions of visual art. Private viewing
versus public ownership – both aesthetic arenas arrive with questions unavoidably entangled with politics. As with
these real-life samples, a study of the complex interpretations of the underlying iconography within its contextual
setting can reveal the practice of art to be an ongoing cultural discussion.
Jane Davidson has had a varied art career including over 20 years of art training, practice, exhibition, and event
and gallery work. In 2011 she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Visual Arts at the Dunedin School of Art, these
examples from her writing incorporate themes relevant to the ongoing issues of viewpoint and self-representation
from a feminist perspective.
On a second look, the yellow foreground surrounds the model, providing an underlying uneasiness by suggesting a key-hole,
‘peeping-tom’ viewpoint.
2 [accessed 23 May 2009]. Channel 3 is D-Scene’s Fairfax-owned parent company.
Advertising Standards Authority pdf, “Decision: Complaint: 09/106” (2009), 4, accessed 25 May 2009.
Ibid., 5.
Deductible from ibid., 2.
Ibid., 3.
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 2.
According to several statements made by the owner of the ad.
This woman’s name, words or opinions were not identified, expressed or defended once in the entire saga.
Photographs reproduced with kind permission of Alan Dove.
Thanks to conversation with the artist on 10 September 2009, I have been alerted to a more detailed symbology of the
upside-down posture: the inverted crucifixion as a symbol of martyrdom was traditionally represented by the Christian
disciple and apostle Saint Peter, who was crucified upside-down at his own request (hence the Cross of St. Peter), as he did
not feel worthy to die in the same way as Jesus.
“Personal Jesus” was originally a dance-floor electronic pop hit written by Depeche Mode, UK, 1990.
Jane Davidson – Iconology – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
David Green
paraphasia, n.
The ‘Pacific’ ocean was so named by Ferdinand
Magellan around 1519 in one of a series of remarkable
errors made during his ever-diminishing crew’s
relentless westward voyage round the earth by
mistake via the southern oceans. He called this ocean
‘peaceful’ because, in an uncharacteristic spate of
good luck, the weather systems he encountered while
on it happened to be unusually friendly. He himself
was far less agreeable. In the course of this hostile
peregrination Magellan’s life was cut short, having
fallen prey to a cultural weakness for the ceaseless
bullying of indigenous peoples. In the end, with very
few crew having managed to survive the insane
ordeal, it took years to firmly establish the fact that a
circumnavigation had actually occurred at all.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈfeɪzɪə/ , /ˌparəˈfeɪʒə/ , U.S. /
ˌpɛrəˈfeɪʒ(i)ə/ , /ˌpɛrəˈfeɪziə/
Etymology: < para- prefix1 + ancient Greek ϕάσις speech,
utterance ( < ϕάναι to say (see ...Med.
Disordered speech characterized by unintentional substitution
of incorrect words or syllables; an instance of this.
paralogism, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /pəˈralədʒɪz(ə)m/ , U.S. /
Forms: 15–16 paralogisme, 16– paralogism.
Etymology: < Middle French, French paralogisme (1380) <
post-classical Latin paralogismus
1. A piece of false or erroneous reasoning, esp. one which the
reasoner is unconscious of or believes to be logical (as distinct
from a sophism, which is intended to deceive); an illogical
argument, a fallacy.
2. False or erroneous reasoning; illogicality.
parable, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparəbl/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəb(ə)l/
Forms: ME pable , ME parabele, ME parabil, ME parabol, ME
parabole, ME–15 parabyl...
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Old French parable...
“When your knowledge has been taken and … because
it’s got a different name … written at the bottom of it and
that person ‘owns’ that knowledge, you know, someone
who is not of your culture reads that and then teaches
that back to you, I mean that’s been my experience …
and it’s really dislocating and quite confusing ….”
Bridget Inder
1. An allegorical or metaphorical saying or narrative; an allegory,
a fable, an apologue; a comparison, a similitude. Also: a proverb,
a maxim; an enigmatic or mystical saying (now arch.).
parasitic, adj. and n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈsɪtɪk/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈsɪdɪk/
Forms: 16 parasiticke, 16–17 parasitick, 16– parasitic.
Etymology: < classical Latin parasīticus...
A. adj.
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Words can sometimes coalesce out of an experience.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a parasite (parasite n. 1a);
having the nature of a parasite, sycophantic; feeding on or
exploiting others.
This one emerged during the process of compiling
interviews with six Maori and Pasifika artists on digital
parasite, n.
Just as little souls hover above the meticulously
distorted corpses on display in the ‘animal attic’ at the
Otago Museum, a word coalesced in my mind’s eye.
Like a thoroughly modern Madam Blavatsky, I saw it
emanate from the cold textual corpse of the mythic
‘Polynesia’ …
parrasite, 15– parasite.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparəsʌɪt/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌsaɪt/
Forms: 15 parasyte, 15 paresite, 15–16 parasit, 15–16
In this time of postcolonial transmogrification, how is
that cold composite useful or relevant? …Where in
the world did it come from?
In the video document, as a selection of artists speak
about their lives and practices, it becomes evident
that the content of their works and thoughts reflect
an insoluble interweaving of Tangata Whenua and
a. A person who lives at the expense of another, or of
society in general; esp. (in early use) a person who obtains
the hospitality or patronage of the wealthy or powerful by
obsequiousness and flattery; (in later use, influenced by sense
2a) a person whose behaviour resembles that of a plant or
animal parasite; a sponger. Occas. also in extended use (of
things). Chiefly derogatory.
a. Biol. An organism that lives on, in, or with an organism of
another species, obtaining food, shelter, or other benefit; (now)
spec. one that obtains nutrients at the expense of the host
organism, which it may directly or indirectly harm.The term
parasite originally included (and is still sometimes used for)
animals and plants that are now considered to be commensals,
mutualists, epiphytes, or saprophytes, as well as birds or other
animals that habitually steal food from, or use the nests of,
other species.
I used to direct and film TV commercials. Now shiny
stuff tastes saccharine, foamy and pink.
parabiosis, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəbʌɪˈəʊsɪs/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈbaɪəsəs/
Etymology: < para- prefix1 + -biosis comb. form. In sense
In August of 2010 Peter Stupples and I travelled
from Dunedin to Auckland to gather treasures from
a number of Pasifika and Maori artists towards
compiling a web-delivered course around the history
of art in the Pacific. I had a camera and a tripod. Peter
had a two-page list of questions starting with “Why
are you an artist?”
1 after French parabiose...
I was quietly prepared for defenestration.
parody, n.2
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparədi/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrədi/
Peter was born in London and I was born in Detroit.
Peter is as white as a lab rat, and if you came upon
me wandering around the foot of Mt Sinai you would
likely ask me directions.
So we took the 6.50 a.m. from Dunedin and headed
north to go a-gathering, shy only a pith helmet and a
I am alien. I am unwitting orientalist.
Etymology: < classical Latin parasītus (also parasīta...
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
1. Entomol. and Ecol. An association between two species of
ants in which they share the same nest without mingling.
2. Biol. The joining of a pair of animals, esp. as an experimental
surgical procedure, usually so as to create a common vascular
system; the state of being so joined.
Forms: 16 parode, 16 parodie, 16– parody.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin parodia...
a. A literary composition modelled on and imitating another
work, esp. a composition in which the characteristic style and
themes of a particular author or genre are satirized by being
applied to inappropriate or unlikely subjects, or are otherwise
exaggerated for comic effect. In later use extended to similar
imitations in other artistic fields, as music, painting, film, etc..
amnesia, n.
In Aotearoa I am a spectator. Having arrived here
22 years ago at the advanced age of 31 (or perhaps
because at the age of nine I fell from a galloping horse
onto my head), I will undoubtedly speak my last word
with the brogue of the Virus as disseminated by such
virions as Paris Hilton and Donald Trump.
Pronunciation: /æmˈniːsɪə/ /-zɪə/
Etymology: modern Latin, < Greek ἀμνησία forgetfulness.
Loss of memory.
parasymbiosis, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəsɪmbʌɪˈəʊsɪs/ , /
ˌparəsɪmbɪˈəʊsɪs/ , U.S. /ˈˌpɛrəˌsɪmbaɪˈoʊsəs/ , /
Etymology: < para- prefix1 + symbiosis n., after German
Parasymbiose (W. Zopf 1897, in Ber. der Deutsch. Bot. Ges. 15
90).(Show Less)
“I see it like this, like my mother is Samoa and my
stepmother is New Zealand and I love them both.”
Originally: a relationship in which a lichen supports another
lichen or fungal species growing in close association with
it, without apparent disadvantage. Later more widely: a
commensal or other association short of full mutualistic
parallax, n.
Shigeyuki Kihara
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparəlaks/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌlæks/
Though I have been a citizen of Aotearoa (and the
Queen’s loyal subject) since 1994, I acknowledge and
accept that I have no ticket to the national discourse.
First things first …
“… but you can see where it comes from because we’re
colonized, so we have to deal with the different levels of
thinking and the different levels of perception and the
different frameworks … that’s what I’m really learning
about … is language framing who you are? … but it’s
not who you are, it’s how you are being framed ….”
Tracey Tawhaio
Forms: 15 paralex, 15–16 paralax, 15– parallax, 16
paralaxe, 16 parallaxe.
Etymology: Partly < Middle French, French parallaxe...
a. Difference or change in the apparent position or direction
of an object as seen from two different points; (Astron.) such
a difference or change in the position of a celestial object
as seen from different points on the earth’s surface or from
opposite points in the earth’s orbit around the sun. Also:
(half of) the angular amount of such a difference or change;
(Astron.) the angle subtended at a celestial object by the
radius of the earth’s orbit, giving a measure of its distance
from the earth; any of various similar measures of distance
calculated by methods incorporating the motion of the sun
relative to the local region of the galaxy, the proper motion of
the observed body, the motions of a cluster of bodies having
similar distances and speeds, etc.
b. fig. and in figurative contexts. Distortion; the fact of seeing
wrongly or in a distorted way.
† 2. A change, an alteration. Obs. rare—1.
3. Photogr. A defect in a photographic image caused by
differences in the positions of parts of the camera; spec.
incorrect framing of an image due to the differing positions of
the viewfinder and the lens.
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
parapraxis, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈpraksɪs/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈpræksəs/
Inflections: Plural parapraxes.
Etymology: < para- prefix1 + praxis n. Compare earlier
parapraxia n.
A minor error in speech or action, (supposedly) representing
the fulfilment of an unconscious wish; a Freudian slip.
“If you’d asked somebody 20 years ago … whether we
would be even be discussing … whether New Zealand
was a Pacific Nation, or saw itself as a Pacific Nation, I
mean … they would have looked at you as if you were off
your rocker … maybe 20 years ago … but it’s the reality
now… and certainly where I live out in South Auckland,
where you’ve got a huge population under 20 of
Polynesian descent and mixed heritage … it’s massive…
it’s a reality and it’s going to continue to be a reality.”
parataxis, n.
Giles Peterson
parablepsis, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈblɛpsɪs/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈblɛpsəs/
Words can slip out by mistake on purpose. Words can
be blunt instruments. Words can be sharp and laserlike. Words can be mushroom clouds …
‘Polynesia’ is a dull thud of a Greek epithet.
‘Poly’ is license not to have to consider. It is the thin
mental lasso you rope round a maelstrom. It is the
concrete you barrow into rip, .... or bust boxing when
there’s complicated terrain and you can’t be bothered
quantifying the details. It is ‘terra incognita’ minus the
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈtaksɪs/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈtæksəs/
Etymology: < ancient Greek παράταξις a placing side by
side < παρα-para- prefix1 + τάξις...Grammar
The placing of propositions or clauses one after another,
without indicating by connecting words the relation (of
coordination or subordination) between them, as in Tell me,
how are you?.
Etymology: < Hellenistic Greek παράβλεψις looking
askance at < ancient Greek παρα-... (Show More)
Thesaurus »
Categories »
†1. Med. False or abnormal vision. Obs. rare—0.
parability, n.
Forms: 15 parabilitie, 16 parability.
Etymology: < parable adj. + -ity suffix; compare -bility
The quality of being easily procured or prepared.
paraphilia, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈfɪlɪə/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈfɪljə/ , /
‘Nesia’ is the plural form of Nesos, it means ‘islands.’
Etymology: < para- prefix1 + -philia comb. form.
Together they form a threadbare colonial artifact in a
White Settlers Museum languishing under dusty glass
in an old oak cabinet right next to stinky ‘Terra Nullius.’
The word/concept ‘Polynesia’ was synthesised in
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Psychol. and Psychiatry.
Sexual desires regarded as perverted or irregular; spec.
attraction to unusual or abnormal sexual objects or practices;
an instance of this.
1756 by Charles de Brosses, a French writer with
praeternatural visions of strip-mining antipodean El
Dorados. He was very keen to foment European
‘exploration’ of the earth’s nether region, inventing
a term to encompass every island in the southern
‘Pacific’ Ocean – even though he himself never
ventured further south than Italy.
(It is not surprising that Charles De Brosses is equally
famous for distilling the spiritual out of the word
‘fetishism,’ discarding it, and leaving behind a rich
modern signifier as useful to Freud as it was Marx.)
In an 1831 lecture to the Geographical Society of
Paris, Jules Dumont d’Urville improvised a Greek
etymological flip-flop gate to draft off a more
aspirational ‘Polynesia’ from other islands of the ‘Pacific,’
thus segregating the largely Black neighborhood
(‘Melanesia:’ Melas = black) and the mainly Filipino
’hood comprised of thousands of little islands
(‘Micronesia:’ Micro = small) from the dusky maiden.
(Science, Empire and the European Exploration of the
Pacific, ed Tony Ballantyne (Aldershot, Hants, and
Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004). De Brosses, pp. 262-3;
d’Urville, pp. 308-14.)
Paratonnerre, n.
Pa`ra`ton`nerre”\, n. [F., fr. parer to parry + tonnerre
thunderbolt.] A conductor of lightning; a lightning rod.
paracosm, n.
A prolonged fantasy world invented by children; can have a
definite geography and language and history.
paradox, n. and adj.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparədɒks/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌdɑks/
Forms: 15–16 paradoxe, 15– paradox.
Etymology: < Middle French, French paradoxe (1495 as
noun; 1372–4 in plural paradoxes... (Show More)
A. n.
a. A statement or tenet contrary to received opinion or belief,
esp. one that is difficult to believe. Obs. Sometimes used with
unfavourable connotation, as being discordant with what is
held to be established truth, and hence absurd or fantastic;
sometimes with favourable connotation, as a correction of a
common error.
b. Rhetoric. A figure of speech consisting of a conclusion
or apodosis contrary to what the audience has been led to
expect. Obs. rare.
‘Polynesia’ is the perfect appellation to procure
and fetishise nearly one sixth of the planet while
remaining deaf to its voice; to systematically destroy
or appropriate its indigenous biota (while adding a
select few of your own to do a clean-up operation
on any survivors).
Later when you feel like giving something back, it is
a word you can nuke the .... out of in order to prove
Empirically (if not scientifically) that God is dead.
It is the nineteenth-century utopian promotions
and London-drafted land allotments parceling tidal
swamps and cliff faces into neat rectilinear plots. It is
the antipodean buildings architecturally doomed to
face the South Pole.
a. An apparently absurd or self-contradictory statement
or proposition, or a strongly counter-intuitive one, which
investigation, analysis, or explanation may nevertheless prove
to be well-founded or true. Twin paradox.
b. A proposition or statement that is (taken to be) actually
self-contradictory, absurd, or intrinsically unreasonable. Some
scholars have denied statements to be paradoxes when
they can be proved after all to be true, or have called them
‘apparent paradoxes’ when they are paradoxes in sense.
c. Logic. More fully logical paradox. An argument, based on
(apparently) acceptable premises and using (apparently) valid
reasoning, which leads to a conclusion that is against sense,
logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory; the conclusion
of such an argument. Freq. with a descriptive or eponymous
name.Grelling’s, prediction, Russell’s paradox: see the first
element. paradox of the liar:
4. A composition in prose or verse expounding a paradox.
Now rare.
Here the words of the artists in concert with ‘para’ words
take over the argument:
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
5. A person or thing whose life or behaviour is characterized
by paradox; a paradoxical phenomenon or occurrence,
spec. one that exhibits some contradiction or conflict with
preconceived notions of what is reasonable or possible.
hydrostatic, Olbers’ paradox: see the first element.
parallel, n., adj., and adv.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparəlɛl/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌlɛl/
Forms: 15 paraleles , 15 paralizes , 15 parellell, 15
poralel , 15–16 paralell...
“The Maori cultural aspects in my life are … my Marae,
my grandparents … any language courses I have had
to take … in a specifically Maori way … ’cause we are
living in a European society now and when you talk about
tradition, it’s talked about as something in the past …
it’s gone … and when you are creating, everything is in
the present … and so it’s beautiful when you are in the
present to have this sort of pool of … missing aspects
in your life to draw in now and have it now, and not
be separated from it and for it not to be gone, and for
tradition to be existing now …”
Tracey Tawhaio
Etymology: < Middle French parallèle...
A. n.
I. Physical uses.
a. Each of a set of imaginary circles of constant latitude on
the earth’s surface, or corresponding lines drawn on a map
or globe; also with reference to other bodies. Also more fully
parallel of latitude.
2. Freq. in pl. More generally: a (usually straight) line that
runs side by side with and equidistant from another. Also in
extended use, applied to things running side by side in this way,
or pointing in the same direction.
3. Mil. In a siege: a trench (usually one of three) that lies
alongside and equidistant to the face of the fortification under
siege, providing protection and a means of communication for
the besieging forces. Also fig. Now chiefly hist.
†4. The state of being parallel; parallel position. Obs.
5. Printing. A pair of parallel vertical lines (ǁ) used as a
reference mark for footnotes, etc.
7. a. Close correspondence or analogy; a point of comparison
or similarity between two people or things. Hence also: an
act of drawing such correspondence or analogy; the placing
of things side by side mentally or descriptively so as to show
their similarity. Freq. to draw a parallel .
“There is a different aesthetic between Maori and
Polynesian art practitioners in New Zealand and Pakeha
or European that live here in New Zealand. But there’s
also a difference between Pacific and Maori artists who
practice in New Zealand and ones who are born and
raised in Australia ….”
Parachromatism, n.
Lonnie Hutchinson
Partial color blindness.
b. A person who or thing which corresponds to another
in such a way; that which is equivalent in essential features,
function, role, etc.;
paracusis, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəˈkuːsɪs/ , U.S. /ˌpɛrəˈkusɪs/
Forms: 16 18 paracousis, 17– paracusis.
Etymology: < Hellenistic Greek παράκουσις defect of
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
hearing (Galen) < ancient Greek παρα-... Med.
Disturbance or impairment of hearing; spec. †(a) (in early
use) tinnitus (obs.); (b) (more fully paracusis of Willis) an
apparent improvement in the ability to hear conversation
in the presence of loud background noise, thought to be
characteristic of certain types of conductive hearing loss, esp.
paramnesia, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌparəmˈniːzɪə/ , /ˌparəmˈniːʒə/ , U.S. /
ˌpɛræmˈniʒ(i)ə/ , /ˌpɛræmˈniziə/
“I am an artist of Samoan and Pakeha heritage … My
artwork is about where those two cultures meet … about
that in-between space … the belonging to both but not
quite belonging to either….”
Bridget Inder
Inflections: Plural paramnesiae, paramnesias.
Etymology: < para- prefix1 + amnesia n. Compare French
paramnesie (J. Lordat 1843, in ...
Chiefly Psychol.
Memory that is unreal, illusory, or distorted; spec. the
phenomenon of déjà vu; an instance of this. Also: loss of
memory for the meaning of words (disused rare—0).
paraenesis | parenesis, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /pəˈrɛnᵻsɪs/ , /pəˈriːnᵻsɪs/ , U.S. /
pəˈrɛnəsəs/ , /pəˈrinəsəs/
Forms: 15– paraenesis, 16 paranaesis, 17– parenesis.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin paraenesis... (Show More)
Chiefly Rhetoric.
Exhortation, advice, counsel; a text or speech composed in
order to give exhortation or advice.
“… the Patersons are actually a line of priests and on my
Maori side I’m from a line of tohunga too … so it’s a …
[smiles] ‘Spooky Magic’….”
paragram, n.
Reuben Paterson
Etymology: < Hellenistic Greek παράγραμμα play on
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparəgram/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌgræm/
words, pun (as a Greek word in Cicero ...
A play on words in which a letter or group of letters in a word
is altered so as to produce or suggest another word.
para, n.3
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparə/ , U.S. /ˈpɑrə/ , N.Z. /ˈpʌrʌ/
Forms: 18 pura , 18– para.
Etymology: < Maori para.
A large evergreen tropical fern, Marattia fraxinea (family
“You know, I’m an artist … and … and my ... ancestry
… my descent … is Maori/Samoan … and English …
and a bit of Scottish … as well, and I’m sure they come
through a bit as well in my work.”
Marattiaceae); (also) its swollen rhizome, formerly used by
Maoris as food. Also called horseshoe fern, king fern.
parawai, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparəwʌɪ/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌwaɪ/ , N.Z. /
Lonnie Hutchinson
ˈpʌrʌwʌi/ , /ˈpʌrəwai/
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Etymology: < Maori parawai.
A traditional Maori flax cloak or mat of superior quality. Cf.
korowai n., kaitaka n.
paradise, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈparədʌɪs/ , U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌdaɪs/ , /
Forms: ... (Show More)
Etymology: In α forms < post-classical Latin paradisus,
paradysus... (Show More)
“I think the system in place in New Zealand today doesn’t
allow a platform for diverse voices to be heard. It all has
to do with money and the management of resources that
contribute to the alienation or exclusion of … of … of
voices of community … that are at times powerless …
and ignored.”
I.Theological uses.
The abode of Adam and Eve before the Fall in the biblical
account of the Creation; the Garden of Eden.
Note: With the exception of ‘parachromatism’ and ‘paracosm,’
all of the above definitions come from the Oxford English
Dictionary, 3rd ed., June 2005; online version, March
Shigeyuki Kihara
Most of the definitions in the Paracloud graphic are taken from
I’ve been trying to learn Maori for years … but to learn
your native tongue as your second language … at an
older age … is like … it’s … it’s … it’s like doing a
body twist that’s impossible to do … it’s really difficult
… and … I feel almost like … things have grown in a
certain way in me that I can’t even … achieve that …
it’s depressing … but I am happy that I have my art to
express that part of myself, and I’ve got poetry that …
can … deliver my thoughts better than just writing in
a normal structured English sentence. … Poetry is my
Maori language in English.”
Tracey Tawhaio
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
“… when you are learning about your own culture in
your school, which would be a little odd anyway … you
are being taught by people who are not of your culture
and could … I’ve heard stories of someone … correcting
pronunciation … it’s just … well, surprise! You’ve got
Polynesian students dropping out.”
Bridget Inder
It is time to pull off the old nappy ’cause it was
saturated with .... when they pinned it on.
Here is a boom to absorb the churning iridescence of
‘Pacific’ colonisation past and present:
It’s New! New! New! Custom-built to describe the
postcolonial paradox formerly framed as ‘Polynesia.’
(I have no right to name.)
‘Paranesia’ is more than a word; it’s a word cloud.
Sure it’s Greek. But it’s Maori too:
Photograph by Phil Bendle
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The para or tawhiti para (also called the king fern) was
an important food source for pre-European Maori:
Ptisana salicina is a species of fern native to New
Zealand and the South Pacific. Large and robust
with a distinctive tropical appearance, it has fronds
up to 5 metres tall that arise from a starchy base that
was a traditional food for the Maori. … King fern is
in serious decline, seriously threatened throughout
its range by feral and domestic cattle, wild pigs and
goats. Large plants no longer exist except in areas
where there has been rigorous control of animals.
nz-ferns/king-fern.html [accessed 25 May 2011].
Here’s the amazing part: The sori of the para look like
waka tïwai – one leaf contains a whole fleet of them
travelling in tight formation!
Photograph by Phil Bendle
Photograph by Phil Bendle
Is this the mesh onto which these motu are woven?
‘Paranesia’ is post-coconut: It’s the fruit salad served
up in the coconut.
‘Paranesia’ is post-kumara: It’s the whole Sunday Roast.
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
We inhabit a hyperobject* least well described by a
chauvinistic eighteenth-century word that signaled
bad news from its conception. By perpetuating the
‘Polynesia’ tag, not only do we passively participate
in forsaking what was, we actively negate what has
Artists work at the coalface of the zeitgeist. They
contribute most valuably as our cultural critics, whose
life experience runs on a continuum with their arts
practices. It makes perfect sense that their voices
and their works have agency in both identifying and
reflecting this vibrant cultural landscape.
Can we be located where we actually are?
For me, ‘Paranesia’ simply emerges from a word cloud.
On reflection, I have to admit it is very nearly as bad
as the incumbent.
It goes without saying that this complex consanguinity
holds the inalienable right to name itself.
So I mark this wall in semiotic protest and await the
*Hyperobject is a term created by Tim Morton, author
of Ecology without Nature, (2007).
Note: This publication references the 70-minute digital
video document called Paranesia created by the
author with Peter Stupples.
David Green is a lecturer in Electronic Arts in the
Dunedin School of Art and a collaborative filmmaker.
David Green – Paranesia – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Perspective
Peter Belton
There are images which cause us to do a double take and look again because shapes and spaces in their construction
suggest something ‘other.’ The ambiguities of representation arising – an ‘in-betweenness’ of meaning and metaphor
– invite conversations between the artist and viewers. These can provoke questions about procedures and their
effects, about motivations and contexts, and we might look further for explanation of these associations. This essay
looks at the effects of visual ambiguities which take anthropomorphic and zoomorphic form and, in doing so, it takes
a phenomenological position familiar to readers of Merleau-Ponty and Maldiney.
My project started with the discovery of a reproduction of a watercolour study by William Hodges for his Maori
Before a Waterfall, Dusky Sound (1773) – a reproduction with faded colour values, yet enough tonal contrast to
make a rather startling effect. In this study, Hodges had made a careful drawing of a Maori warrior standing on a
rock, holding a curiously large double-ended taiaha. The subject was presented as a noble savage, seen in a classical
contraposto pose. What was much more evident in this study, compared with the four oil painting studies that
followed, is the curiously anthropomorphic treatment of rocks, cliff face and forest in the composition.
Figure 1. Peter Belton, analytical sketch showing anthropomorphic effects. From William Hodges, Maori Before a Waterfall, Dusky
Sound (1773). Artist’s 2010 Journal (1).
Peter Belton – Face in the Moon – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
My first illustration is of my analytical sketch rendering from the Hodges study. There is suggestion of silhouettes in
the shadow play in the photograph from which the sketch was generated. Not only did skiagraphic (shadow) theory
of the origin of painting find credence amongst the artists and scholars of Hodges’s world, but the shadow-tracing
technique was being practiced on a vast scale to meet the demand for the new fad for silhouette portraiture.
With this in mind, the reduction of information to representative silhouettes is an act of sympathetic interpretation,
and the point from which the viewer may begin to make connections to a suggested ‘other.’ Indeed, when we
are cognizant of the process of ‘filing’ images, we say that we see; we interpret and, in so doing, we construct
understanding from the perspective of what we think we know.
If, then, the lens of our seeing is a construct, representations come to us through those filters of culture affected
by time, the significance of place and events, and the production of beliefs, fears and desires. If representation is a
conscious act which entails selection and the consequent privileging of some ways of seeing over others, then this
process entails procedures about how we depict; it appears to be purposeful. From this position, we might ask the
question as to how artists proceed. Are effects in imagery, which might be described variously as automatisms or
intuitions, really produced without decision? If the artist recognises happenstance associations of image with an idea,
the decision may be made to leave such effects when they are seen to be an effective means to representation.
On the subject of skiagraphics, Alberti quoted the opinion of the Roman Quintilian that the earliest painters simply
traced the outlines of shadows cast by the light of the sun. It seems to me that Michaelangelo’s development of the
foreshortened image and its distortion on flat and curved plane surfaces in the Sistine Chapel was suggested by
his practice of using torchlight at close range – the result of his need to work on scaffolding. He would have seen
how the proximity of torch- or candle-light to his own person would cast shadows on the wall which registered
optical distortions which might, at various times, stretch, compress and bend his shadow shapes into expressive and
suggestive silhouettes. It is easy to see how a suggestion of depth in a limb projected toward the viewer, for example,
is achieved by enlarging a foot or hand as it comes ‘forward’ and reducing its relative size when it is depicted as
being ‘behind.’ And, the effect of such decisions, premised on a discovery arising from shadow play is, in this instance,
expressive; an enhanced sense of the drama of an action which reaches out to the viewer.
Michelangelo’s contemporary, Leonardo Da Vinci, in
his Treatise on Painting, exhorted students (and here I
paraphrase) to look at walls splashed with a number
of stains of various mixed colours. This is when you
may find there some resemblances to a number of
landscapes, adorned in various ways with mountains,
rivers, trees, plains, valleys and hills. Moreover, you can
see various battles, and figures in rapid action – and
that these happenstance stains invite being read into
and elaborated.1
Figure 2. Peter Belton, Dotard (2010), zoomorphic sketch
from a photograph of an ancient beech tree. From S
Schama, Landscape and Memory (London: Fontana, 1996),
531. Artist’s 2010 Journal (1).
Peter Belton – Face in the Moon – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 3. Peter Belton, Iron in the Forest (2010), coloured drawing, mixed oil media on board, 100 x120 cm.
Iron in the Forest is one of five painted drawings produced for the “Seaward Bush” exhibition, shown in the Eastern
Southland Art Gallery, Gore, in September 2011. This exhibition is premised on Paul Star’s doctoral thesis on the
history of the loss of indigenous forest on the plains of Southland and represents the work of seven artists. My
other titles signal a similar imaging: Spectres, The Wind Remembers the Trees, Habitués and Iron over the Forest. My
idea with Iron in the Forest is to suggest the incongruous and invasive presence of iron amongst the wood of the
forest, signaling a culture/nature dichotomy. The ambiguity of its appearance and my ambivalence over the idea of
an ironic reflection on and response to the subject is given shape through the representation of the iron objects as
allusions to medieval armour (helmets) and, at the same time, recognisably common objects from the colonists’ daily
existence: a ventilator cone, a coal bucket and a spherical weight on top of a squashed kettle.
One of the images for the wood came from a photograph in Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory, and the
other images are drawn from my own sketches, photographs and silhouette impressions of trees in the remnant of
Seaward Bush, the Orokonui Forest near Dunedin and other sites. My other images in this exhibition include four
carbonised planks presented in a row, each with the image of a spectral white beech tree trunk and each with a
gaping dark maw in which the ghost of a kaumatua figure is just discernable. For this figure I used Rodin’s iconic
Peter Belton – Face in the Moon – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
statue of Balzac, in various rotations, as my model. Another image is of the spiraling energy of wind and blown
sand seen, in the absence of trees, to configure a tree-shape through a moment of remembering. In each of these
compositions there is a hint of animistic reference and, perhaps, in the case of the illustrated example, an allusion to
totemism inasmuch as inanimate things have been suggested as dynamic agents of change.
In The Problem of Form in the Figurative Arts, Adolf von Hildebrandt challenged the ideals of scientific naturalism
as an explanation for the phenonemon of art by appeal to the psychology of perception.2 It is from reading
Hildebrandt, a sculptor who celebrated physical practice as much as he was a theoriser, that I can make a link to
the phenomenological positioning of Merleau-Ponty and Maldiney. What does this mean for us and our search for
a connection between the happenstance of looking at and the act of seeing?
The whole idea of imitation of nature, of idealisation or that of abstraction rests upon the assumption that what
comes first are sense impressions that are subsequently elaborated, distorted and generalised. We have what
psychologists call an ego which tests reality and shapes impulses from the id. And so we can remain in control
while we half surrender to counterfeit coins, to symbols and substitutes. Our twin nature, poised between
animality and rationality, finds expression in that twin world of symbolism with its willing suspension of disbelief.
One example can suffice. It can be argued that we respond with particular readiness to certain configurations of
biological significance for our animal survival. The recognition of the human face, on this argument, is not wholly
learned. It is based on some kind of inborn disposition. Whenever anything remotely face-like enters our field of
vision we are alerted and respond. We know the feeling when fever or fatigue has loosened the trigger of our
reactions and a pattern on the wallpaper suddenly appears to look and leer at us … 3
The human face would seem to be the archetypal model for demonstrating schemata. The first comprehensible
drawings by children are almost always schematic faces. No matter how basic, the wobbly circle with its two dots
and a slash is instantly recognised as a signifier which tells us ‘face.’ The child’s schema is not, however, the product
of a deliberate process of abstraction, of a tendency to select and simplify. Rather, it signals an exploration through
approximation, a loose association with an idea which translates into a sign for something remembered.
The illustration reproduced below is, however, an
example of an artist working an idea from a schema
into the particulars of a caricature. We might ask, is
it the drawing of a pear which reminds us of King
Louis Phillipe, or is it the image of King Louis Phillipe
which reminds us of a pear? In New Zealand it is
not uncommon to hear an impractical intellectual
type described as an ‘egghead.’ In nineteenth-century
France one pejorative term for an idiot was ‘pear;’
perhaps the closest English equivalent is ‘fathead.’
Through the illustration, the artist shows a progressive
metamorphosis from royal physiognomy to fruit – as,
indeed, today we also describe somebody who is silly
as a ‘fruit.’ These images first appeared in the satirical
paper Le Charivari in 1832 and earned the publisher,
Charles Philipon, a spell in prison for libel.
Figure 4. Honoré Daumier, Les Poires (1832), caricature
of King Louis-Phillipe of France. Illustration, Le Charivari,
ed. Charles Philipon. From EH Gombrich, Art and Illusion
(London: Phaidon, 1960), 291.
Peter Belton – Face in the Moon – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In Ronald Bogue’s study, Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, he says:
The ‘face-landscape’ forms part of a visual ‘gridding’ that Deleuze labels ‘faciality.’ … The human face Deleuze sees
as an important constituent of every social configuration of language practices and power relations, and [just] as
composers deterritorialize refrains, so painters deterritorialize the facialized ‘grids’ whereby bodies and landscapes
are structured by the gaze. In every society, discursive and nondiscursive power relations are organized according
to a ‘regime of signs,’ within which the face functions as an active visual component. A general ‘visibility,’ or mode
of organizing the visible, emerges from each regime of signs, extending from the face to bodies and finally to
the world at large. … The task of painters is to disrupt the patterns of faciality and disengage the forces that are
regulated and controlled by the prevailing regime of signs. When painters succeed in this task, they capture and
render visible the invisible metaphoric forces that play through faces, bodies, and landscapes, thereby inducing
transverse becomings that allow the emergence of something new.4
To summarise key points made by Bogue on Deleuze. Elsewhere he says that the face is a ‘component of a discursive
practice,’ meaning that it can be found, often when unlooked for, in the fields of tactile and visual encounter. It is
essentially present in discourse about the experienced world, yet seems irreducible to language. ‘The face’ is a
gestural, expressive, visual surface that accompanies verbal enunciations and interacts with them in ways that, in
the search for order and identity, reinforce power relations. In our everyday speech, we invoke such terms as ‘facet,’
‘interface’ and figures of speech such as ‘on the face of things.’ In addition, we can turn the relationship between
signified and signifier in another direction when we see the face as a topographic domain with swellings/hills,
eyes/pools and ponds, nostrils/lairs/caves, mouths/maws/caldrons, ears/cirques/quarries. “Recognition of a face is a
component of discursive practice which leads us to widen this apprehension by noting the existence of similarly
gestural, expressive visual appearances of the body that resonate with the facial surface and create an echo effect
with [the] face’s nondiscursive encodings.”5
Insofar as the visual can be recognised as having any potential for reflecting rational order, its truth becomes
subsumed in the process of textualisation, of being codified. Its truth is realised in the ‘event’ of its fall, or dissembling,
a product of the accident of seeing; what Bogue calls a ‘sliding into error.’ Bogue claims that the ‘event’ opens up
space and time in such a way that the order of past, present and future is disengaged. The space of the event is
also disturbed by the organised dimensionality of (Merleau-Ponty’s model of) the phenomenologically constructed
‘lived body’ and, in its stead, discloses a dimension of ‘disorganised visibility,’ what Lyotard calls ‘figural space.’ MerleauPonty’s analysis of the ‘lived body’s’ initial experience of space also suggests a realm below consciousness, but sees
this space as the theatre for recognition and the organisation of the co-ordinates of sensory information.6
In his essay The Theory of Rhythm and its Relation to Form (1971), Henri Maldiney identifies a connection between
sense experience and aesthetic outcomes which are phenomenologically premised.7 Here sense experience and
movement are inseparable, as both are joined in the temporal moment of the ‘event.’The outcome is more than just
seeing; it becomes making visible the invisible, so that the image’s essential function is not to imitate but to appear.
Or, to paraphrase Paul Klee: the function of art is not to show the visible but to render visible. And, it follows through
the unfolding of patterns which may present as analogies that we are brought to recognise a dynamic realisation
of forms as signifiers.
Bogue tells us that the aesthetic has its origin in motivation from a moment of dislocation, in an unexpected moment
when we are challenged by a world in which presumed temporal and spatial markers do not seem to cohere.This is
what Cézanne called ‘a moment of germination’ in the ‘irridescent chaos.’8 At this point it is appropriate to recognise
Bogue’s notion of the diagram as a visual synthesis of thought; a system of represented sensations and impressions,
which works through the presentation of an analogy. We understand that this is not a reconstruction, but rather
an approximation to ‘that’ – an appearance signifying ‘that.’ The instruments used to present visual analogies include
Peter Belton – Face in the Moon – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
spatial co-ordinates, planes, bodies and colour. These in turn, depending on how depiction is fashioned, produce
effects which can be seen as signifiers which, in turn, given temporal location in culture(s), can be construed as signs.
To this end, we can on occasion recognise zoomorphic and anthropomorphic ambiguities as signifiers of and for
cognitive repositioning.
In What is Philosophy? (1996) Deleuze and Guattari argue that becoming, or coming into being, is the act through
which something or someone ceaselessly becomes ‘other,’ and that this alterity can be read as ‘expression’ and its
signals understood when we unpack the process of its coming into being.9 It is well known that when a physically or
emotionally exhausted body enters that liminal zone on the edge of sleep, the mind goes into a freefall. When we
enter the liminal zone of impressions, we are freed from the constraints of logical associations and structured place.
It is here we encounter phantasms and the invisible is rendered visible.
There is possibly some physiological explanation, too, which can be found in the symmetry of our own physical
bodies which must necessarily function through reciprocation and balance. Extended through time, this need for
symmetry manifests in the phenomenon of cycles. On a macrocosmic scale we recognise, with regard to all living
phenomena, genesis, maturation, reproduction and death as states of being. Perhaps the human tendency to be
drawn to find anthropomorphic and zoomorphic spectres, or to impose facialised pattern, is a product of these
off-guard moments of apprehension? And is it also, as I suspect in the case of Hodges, an unconscious reversion to
the security of a habit learned in the training of mind and hand?
On his return to London from New Zealand, William Hodges worked in his studio on at least three paintings of
Maori Before a Waterfall. These were generated from his primary source material of studies of Maori and from
landscape field notes. When it came to making the landscape settings for the several paintings of Maori Before a
Waterfall, Hodges appears to have ad-libbed from these notes and slipped into an error of habit.
Indeed we might ask, were those slips of anthropomorhism, those discernible bits of body and face, a conditioned
and unconscious response we might recognise in the return to the safe habit of ‘correct drawing,’ instilled from
studying antique sculpture at the Royal Academy? We might ask to what extent does the event, in this case the
conditioning of the artist through his training, load preconceived furniture into his perceptions. Any subsequent
conception, development and representation of form and content will, in all probability, hold close the ghosts of
perception and memory. And for us, the readers, the liminal furniture of dreams may reveal not just the how but also
fashion the what of that which we think we see.
Peter Belton is a graduate of the University of Canterbury and holds an MFA from RMIT University, Melbourne.
He has a background in teaching, teacher education and has curated exhibitions at the Southland Museum & Art
Gallery. Peter is currently teaching at the Southern Institute of Technology. An exhibiting artist, Peter also works as a
designer for Daniel Belton & Good Company, producers of contemporary dance performances and films.
EH Gombrich, Art and Illusion (London: Phaidon, 1960), 159.
Adolf von Hildebrandt, The Problem of Form in the Figurative Arts (1893), cited in Gombrich, Art and Illusion, 13.
Ibid., 87.
R Bogue, Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts (NewYork: Routledge, 2003), 5.
Ibid., 92-5.
Ibid., 113.
H Maldiney, The Theory of Rhythm and Form (Lyon, 1968). Cf. Bogue, Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, 113.
Bogue, Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, 135.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (New York: Colombia University Press, 1996). Cf. Bogue, Deleuze on
Music, Painting, and the Arts, 116-21.
Peter Belton – Face in the Moon – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Perspective
Hannah Joynt
In this report I will describe my painting process and discuss the role of intuition and memory. During the making
of a painting I don’t always know what I am doing or why. I am in a sense ‘painting on a hunch.’ In a bid to articulate
and make sense of the origins of my recent body of work I decided to undertake a self-review. I discovered that I
use my intuition as a tool to select fragments of memory, both conscious and unconscious, which I then paint into
visual narratives. (I use the term intuition like instinct, to describe knowing without ‘knowing.’) The reflective process
brought to light things on the edge of my awareness.
Figure 1. Hannah Joynt, Landscape with Flyers (2010), oil on canvas, 180 x 76 cm.
In July 2010 I had an exhibition at the Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA) in Christchurch. “Never Trust Your
Cape” was a series of eight oil paintings. The content depicted childhood-like adventures and the phenomena of
flying dreams. In Landscape With Flyers (2010) and Big River Crossing (2010), perspective and panoramic formatting
were used to create a sense of endless open space and to include the viewer in the work. In both of these large
diptychs, the figures I painted embodied the freedom and spontaneity that naturally comes with being a kid; I
wanted to provoke the viewer to remember this feeling. Six smaller works were more like windows looking into
snippets of fantasy-type memories. Individual characters have a surreal awareness about themselves, evident in their
expressions. Though they are clearly children, they seem to possess qualities that only age bestows.
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Hannah Joynt, Big River Crossing (2010), oil on canvas, 180 x 76 cm.
My mildly naïve aesthetic reflects my content, as does the very act of painting. Lighthearted tragedy seems to bleed
from the works, which echo my inner child and fragments of memory that speak of loss. I paint nostalgically. Painting
for me is playful and feels young.
There was a time when I could fly, a time when there was no sense of danger or real understanding of gravity. No
self-doubt. The part of my brain that exercised caution had not yet developed. I could go anywhere I could imagine
and with enough thought and the right equipment I could even fly. But, at some point I realized the truth; I couldn’t
fly and I wasn’t ever going to.There was a great sadness about this knowing. Reality seemed somewhat dull. I wanted
to hold onto my colourful fantasy but I could no longer pretend that I didn’t know what the truth was.1
Although sadly it is impossible to fly unassisted, most
of us have a perception of what it would feel like.
Dream flight is ageless and notably a favorite dream
experience. Memories of my childhood are ones
in which imagination and lived experience were
enmeshed. “Never Trust Your Cape” was about both
celebrating and grieving the loss of the perceptions of
a young mind.
Rather than directly illustrating my past times, I
constructed paintings from fragments of found images
that expressed my left-over feelings. It was during the
making that the themes emerged and upon reflection
that I saw myself mirrored in the works. The whole
process is hinged on intuition, a tool I repeatedly use.
Intuition is how I get away from conscious reasoning,
to become more in tune with deeper, hidden aspects
of my personal narrative. My painting process also
serves as a method of enquiry into things such as
perception, consciousness and memory.
Figure 3. Hannah Joynt, Flying with my Favourite Table Cloth
(2010), oil on board, 58 x 58 cm.
Figure 4. Hannah Joynt, The Flying Dream (2010), oil on
board, 58 x 58 cm.
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
My process is a repetitive cycle that doesn’t largely change. There are four main phases: collecting images, painting,
exhibition and reflection. These phases don’t always occur in a linear fashion – in fact they are often happening all at
the same time, though the exhibition is a sure marker of the cycle ending. I will discuss each phase of the cycle as it
relates to the main discussion about intuition.
The collection phase has three components: the act of collecting, the collection itself, and selecting the images
to be used for painting. I collect images obsessively, regardless of time and place, photocopying, photographing,
downloading, borrowing and sometimes stealing. If I see a picture that grabs my attention I have to have it. At the
time, I have little or no insight into what I am collecting. Insight comes later. I don’t know what I am looking for but
when I see it I know that I have found it.
The small ‘caught-my-eye’ moment represents something far greater than it appears. I see many images every day,
most of which are not that stimulating, but occasionally one is. In a split second, the image that ‘caught my eye’ has
triggered a rapid, unconscious response2 – and for a moment I feel somehow displaced, caught out, exposed. This
feeling is usually accompanied by some short internal dialogue such as “Ooh” or “Hmm?,” or “now that’s interesting
… .” Like a baby or an animal, this reaction is instinctive and I have no control over it. “It operates – at least at first –
entirely below the surface of consciousness. It sends messages through weirdly indirect channels … It’s a system in
which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that its reaching conclusions.”3 Knowing but not
knowing; working in this way is most enjoyable – maybe one of the key ingredients of creativity.
To insist on the priority of cognitive reason over other forms of knowing and feeling is to make human reason the
ultimate measure of things and thus to leave out a vast range of human experience … this then is why subjectivity
is in crisis today, and why many of us seem to have lost touch with any deep centre of self. 4
I have been collecting images in this way for
approximately eight years. Over this time I have
accumulated hundreds if not thousands of images.
Like some sort of torturous initiation, the fresh
images coming along spend a mandatory month or
two pinned to the studio wall before getting filed into
scrapbooks. I want to study them and remember them
so they become ingrained in my memory, ready for
recall at any moment. Like my set of paintbrushes my
image collection is another tool. It shows me where
I have been and, due to the continual arrival of new
imagery, where I am going. In one sense I will never get
to where I am going because the destination is always
changing. And in another I am already there, because
the thing that drives the process is constant: intuition.
I flirt with the edges of consciousness, trying to reveal
my own hidden mysteries. It is a somewhat vulnerable
Figure 5. Hannah Joynt, Never Trust Your Cape (2010), oil on
board, 58 x 58 cm.
way to work. Unsure about what may be uncovered,
I put my subjectivity on display. (I question the drive
behind this somewhat exhibitionist need, though my suspicion is that it comes from a deep out-of-awareness need
to be seen.) Even though I deliberately welcome a lack of control in the studio, it has made me question; if I am not
thinking about what I am doing, then am I always looking for the same thing? On the surface it appears not – though
from a Freudian perspective, perhaps I am always seeking an underlying sameness. Unconscious pathological ways
of thinking and behaving due to childhood experiences reverberate in the adult mind.5
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The idea that we have conscious control is a bit of a hoax. It is generally underestimated the power unconscious
influences have.6 We tend to think of our brains as processing information from the environment in a dualistic way:
I am here and the world is there, as separate entities. But the vast majority of the input in our heads comes from
what is already inside the brain.7 Our experience is informed by perception and memories (both conscious and
unconscious) and perception and memories are built out of experiences. “What we see resonates in the memory
of what we have seen; new experience always percolates through the old, leaving a hint of its flavour as it passes. We
live, in this sense, in a ‘remembered present.’ ”8 This brings clarity to the déjà vu-like9 feeling in my painting that I may
be simply telling the same old stories again and again, but with different characters, colours and formats.
In a way, we are in a continuous state of fiction – reality is a construction of consciousness. Cozolino (2010)
writes about of the illusions of consciousness through which we construct reality in his book The Neuroscience of
Psychotherapy. He outlines three misconceptions of consciousness: the first is that consciousness comes together
in one place in the brain.10 Of the four main areas of the brain (brainstem, diencephalon, limbic system and
neocortex), it is in the neocortex that most of the components consciousness appears to consist of are located,
such as personality, goal-setting, decision-making, concrete and abstract thought, organising and self-monitoring, as
well as all aspects of cognitive memory – facts, figures, faces, names, dates, songs, phone numbers, etc.11 It is likely that
‘consciousness’ is not actually housed anywhere, but is the result of the coming together of many parts and functions
in the brain.12 And the idea that specific parts of the brain are singularly responsible for particular functions is very
controversial. The current understanding of the human brain is still largely primitive.13
The second misconception is that we are able to be in the present moment. In fact we are always half a second
behind. It takes 50 milliseconds for the brain to react to a stimulus (be it internal or external), but it takes 500
Figure 6. Hannah Joynt, The Great Flying Fox In the Sky (2010), oil on canvas, 90 x 76 cm.
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
milliseconds to become consciously aware of it .14
In the delay, the stimulus is being processed in ways
that we are completely unaware of. The information
is processed according to a neurological system
of pathways, which is automatic and unconscious.
Therefore, the third misconception is that we have
conscious control over our thoughts and behaviours.15
As I seek to gain insight into the origins of these
‘intuitive’ paintings, it is of importance to be aware
that consciousness itself is full of illusions. But also that
having consciousness does not necessarily mean that
one has awareness. In the intuitive moment, realistically
it is not ‘the image caught my eye,’ but rather my ‘I’
caught an image. My abandonment of conscious
cognitive ways of making is rather justified.
Figure 7. Hannah Joynt, Prayer (2010), oil on board,
The final part to the collection phase is choosing
58 x 58 cm.
which images I will actually paint – taking the most
potent images, the ones that irritate me the most, the
ones that resonate the most. The whole first phase of the cycle is very much a process of distilling, through my
intuition filter, which sets the boundaries. It gives a flavour to the body of work and helps to locate it.
The painting phase comes next. I generally paint the entire body of work at the same time. With all the paintings
on the go, I can better see the threads of narrative and recurring themes and how they inform each other visually.
It is difficult to anticipate how the paintings will turn out, as they don’t start to reveal themselves until they are near
completion. Delayed gratification can be both rewarding and frustrating.
Beginning with a blank canvas or board I will paint the
entire surface with one colour using a large brush. I
first look for composition and form within the colour
field and imagine my selected images in it, locating
them amongst the brushstrokes. Then, following my
insight, I map the figures and forms in with a thin layer
of paint. Layering, revealing, refining, removing, the
figures come to life over the duration of the making.
My relationship is different with each work. Some
works I struggle with until the very end, and others
seem to just paint themselves.
Figure 8. Hannah Joynt, The Girl and The Man are Both
Anticipating the Same Thing (2010), oil on board,
58 x 58 cm.
The less I try to control the painting process the
better it turns out. I generally focus more on aesthetic
qualities rather than the implications or symbolic
meaning of the content. Simply looking, painting, and
intuitively making decisions, I endeavor to set up for
graphic surprise. Graphic surprise is when something
happens in the painting that was unintended and
unexpected. This phenomenon, according to Schön
(1983), is the first stage of reflection.
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In their book Learning Through Storytelling in Higher Education: Using Reflection and Experience to Improve Learning,
McDrury and Alterio write about the three key stages of reflection. The first stage of reflection arises when there
is a difference between what is known and what is happening16 or, as Schön (1991) describes it, the experience of
surprise or a feeling of inner discomfort. For me this occurs as moments of frustration, when I know that something
is not quite how I want it to be, and as graphic surprise. “We often cannot say what it is that we know. When we try
to describe it we find ourselves at a loss, or we produce descriptions that are obviously inappropriate.”17
Sometimes when I’m feeling really frustrated with a painting I will sit in front of it, with one of my scrapbooks, and
flick through until I find the thing that is missing. It’s like I am looking for friends of the painting. Looking for a match,
an ingredient. The intuitive way of working permeates through all areas.
About three quarters of the way through the painting phase, I begin to transition into the second stage of reflection:
processes of critical analysis of feeling and knowledge.18 It is about this time that I am able to see the connections
between what I have painted and the significance it has for the links between my past experiences and recent or
present experiences. The back-story unfolds, thus confirming my hypothesis that, through the intuitive process, I
reveal not only my stories that have been (or are starting to become) lost, but also bringing to light my subjectivity.
This work is totally autobiographical. When I leave the studio, I set up the paintings so when I walk in the door the
next visit they are the first things I see. Catching myself by surprise, to cultivate reflective practice.
As I make the decision that the work is complete, write my artist statement, as I pick up my paintings from the
framers, as I wrap the works carefully with newsprint and bubblewrap, as I make the five-hour trip to the gallery
in Christchurch with my car loaded with paintings, reflection is inevitable. I paint autobiographically, with intense
attachment, and these steps are a ritualistic part of letting go, and moving to the third stage of reflection: the
emergence of a new perspective on the situation.19
The notion of reflecting on one’s life as an ongoing autobiographical narrative? …while personal meanings constantly
shift because they are contingent on context and oneself and others.20
I get to the end of the cycle, having been through self-reflection and reflection on my practice. Back in my now
empty studio, sitting on my couch, I think, “Gee, what should I do? Well, I could always paint something.” Then I start
to look through my scrapbooks.
Hannah Joynt moved to Dunedin in 2003 to enrol for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in the Dunedin School of Art.
Since graduating in 2006, she has been teaching drawing and painting part-time in the School of Design at Otago
Polytechnic. Hannah has had two solo shows at COCA Gallery in Christchurch (“An Alien Snuck into Class and No
One Noticed,” 2009, and “Never Trust Your Cape,” 2010) and two solo shows at the Temple Gallery in Dunedin
(“Grieving Over A Dead Fish; Secret Men’s Business,” 2011, and “A Small Act or Something,” 2011). In addition, she
regularly enters competitions and has contributed to numerous group shows.
Hannah Joynt, Never Trust Your Cape, artist statement (Christchurch: COCA Gallery, 2010).
Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (London: Penguin, 2005), 10-17.
Veronica Brady, “The Sway of Language and its Furtherings: The Question of Subjectivity,” Australian and New Zealand Journal
of Art, ‘Subjectivity’, 1:1 (2000), 7-14.
Marcia Cavell, Becoming a Subject: Reflections in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 10.
Shelley E Taylor and Jonathon D Brown, “Illusion and Well-Being: A Social Psychological Perspective on Mental Health,”
Psychological Bulletin, 103 (1988), quoted in Louis Cozolino, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton,
2010), 135.
James J Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), quoted in Cozolino, The
Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, 135.
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Adam Zeman, Consciousness: A User’s Guide (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2002), quoted in Cavell, Becoming a Subject, 10.
Déjà vu occurs when a fragment of a memory is activated by a present situation but cannot be remembered explicitly, so
what is happening for the first time seems to be happening ‘again.’ Daniel Schacter, Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind,
and the Past (New York: Basic Books, 1996), quoted in Cavell, Becoming a Subject, 14.
An idea first articulated by Descartes as the Cartesian Theatre. See The Cartesian Theater,
Cartesian_theater, accessed 1 Nov 2010.
David Ziegler, Traumatic Experience and the Brain (Phoenix, Az.: Acacia Publishing, 2002), 12-14.
Cozolino, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, 135.
Ziegler, Traumatic Experience, 14.
Jaak Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (New York: Oxford University Press,
1998), quoted in Cozolino, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, 135.
JA Bargh and TL Chartrand, “The Chameleon Effect:The Perception-Behavior Link and Social Interaction,” Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 76 (1999), 893-910, quoted in Cozolino, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, 135.
Janice McDrury and Maxine Alterio, Learning Through Storytelling in Higher Education: Using Reflection and Experience to Improve
Learning (London: Kogan Page, 2003), 24.
Donald A Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 49.
McDrury and Alterio, Learning through Storytelling, 24.
Hannah Joynt – Painting – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Perspective
Maxine Alterio
As long as we are alive, our memories remain wonderfully volatile. In their mercurial mirror, we see ourselves.
Jonah Lehrer, Proust Was a Neuroscientist (Melbourne: Text, 2007), 95.
Throughout childhood, I kept a notebook for ‘Ideas.’ My jottings contained fantasies about flying unencumbered by
machinery – I poked feathers into my jumpers, ate birdseed and studied the habits of birds prior to launching myself
off the henhouse roof – through to writing circus scripts that stipulated I had to ride the much-coveted unicycle
belonging to the boy next door.
I was also a voracious reader, and I harboured a secret. I wanted to be a writer. However, I had no idea how to
go about it. Writers were not visible in Invercargill where I grew up. Readers were though. My parents filled our
home with books. At bedtime, my father often deviated from an original story to make it more exciting, scary and
Imaginative play and creative storytelling were part of my life. So were physical adventures, many of which took
place in Arrowtown, where, along with my siblings and cousins, I was free to roam the hills, river and gorge as long
as I was home by dark. I particularly relished the occasions we congregated in the remnants of the abandoned
Chinese Settlement. Our most daring activities took place in Ah Lum’s dilapidated and deserted store, where we
locked ourselves in the gold room and made up murderous goldfield tales.
Maxine Alterio – Memory Matters – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
My fascination with Chinese sojourners deepened when at the age of twelve I attended a New Year’s party with
my parents. While eavesdropping on an adult conversation, I overheard one man tell another, “Well, when they laid
out that Chinese miner, they discovered he was a she.” This tantalising fragment was the genesis for my first novel,
Ribbons of Grace (Penguin NZ, 2007), which I wrote 40 years later.
Prior to publishing this novel, I put together a short story collection,
Live News and Other Stories (Steele Roberts, 2005) and co-authored an
academic text entitled Learning through Storytelling in Higher Education:
Using Reflection and Experience to Improve Learning (RoutledgeFalmer UK
and US, 2003). Working with story, in fiction and non-fiction contexts,
strengthened my understanding of what it means to develop an empathic
understanding of human behaviour. Invariably I strive to make meaning of
experiences from other people’s perspectives as well as my own and to
learn from the reflective process because, as Welty1 notes, “Each of us is
moving, changing with respect to others. As we discover, we remember,
remembering, we discover …”
Ideas for my fictional work also come from multiple sources: experience,
observation, imagination, eavesdropping, dreams, historical events and
snippets from newspapers and magazines. For example, after reading an
article on embalming in the Otago Daily Times, I wrote a short story called
“Stories Bodies Tell,” which Radio New Zealand National broadcast in
two parts. I cannot always explain why particular topics, themes or ideas
capture my attention but I have learned to trust the creative process, to
go with what ‘feels right.’
Early in my writing career, an astute reviewer observed that I wrote about “love, loss and letting go, and sensual
power,”2 which, on reflection, is accurate, although I was not aware of it at the time. I suspect three states of
consciousness are at work when I write – the conscious (what I already know and want to explore), the subconscious
(what I hook into without fully understanding), and the unconscious (aspects that may or may not become overt
after the work is finished). The degree to which I am aware of these states depends on the project.
For instance, I did not fully appreciate, at the onset of writing my new novel, Lives We Leave Behind (for publication,
Penguin NZ, 2012), that family connections had in part guided me to this work. Initially I believed the sole driver
was a story a friend told me of a troopship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 23 October 1915, in the
Aegean Sea, resulting in the loss of ten New Zealand nurses. However, while writing a preface – a bridging narrative
between my novel (creative component) and my thesis (critical component) for a PhD in creative writing3 – I was
able to ‘see’ that several ancestors who had links either to nursing or to the First World War had been nudging me
along too.
Mostly I write because an inner ‘unexplained’ force compels me to make sense of experience, history, ideas and
human behaviour through story. A day without writing, reading or storytelling feels to me as though it has not been
well lived.
Maxine Alterio is a short story writer and a novelist with an interest in narrative-based learning, teaching and
research methodologies. She lives in Dunedin, where she works as a staff developer and principal lecturer at Otago
Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 102.
Mark Peters, Dominion Post, 5 February 2005.
I am undertaking this PhD at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.
Maxine Alterio – Memory Matters – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Perspective
Rachel Byars
Menus play an integral part in the design and communication of food and beverage businesses. Menus have been
described as being similar to a programme at a play, indicating what the customer can expect from the restaurant.1
Thus the menu is a reflection of the image, design, cuisine and characteristics of the surroundings, providing a friendly
conversation point and tool for connoisseurship regarding the setting and personality of the restaurant.
Menus may be considered works of art, artifacts which tell stories through a variety of narrative forms or can be
left to the imagination of the viewer. These stories may be retold through words, images or improvisation, and
are often embellished to educate, enlighten, amuse and engage the audience. The author has used the theme
of storytelling through menus in her teaching practice, sharing her experiences and information on restaurants,
gastronomy, ‘servicescapes’ and customer experience. It is not just the story, but how the story is told that matters,
and the emotional connection that is made through the menu. Experiences must be created so that there is an
intimate connection between the menu, restaurant and the customer, so that the latter will want to return.
For many customers, the dining experience involves seeking an experience of indulgence and pleasure, and this aim
will be assisted through the design of a menu. The menu may be viewed as the starting point for a performance, a
visual artform which is later depicted by the culinary dish itself and is experienced directly by the customer. More
often than not, the menu tells a story about the restaurant, the chef de patron and the food itself.
Sundbo and Hagedorn-Rasmussen’s definition of a customer experience shows that the customer must be actively
involved in some way. According to them, a customer experience is a mental journey that leaves the diner with
memories of having been part of something special, having learned something, or simply had fun.2 The dining
experience is viewed as a social and cultural act in a context that reflects the consumer’s aspirations and lifestyle,
and one where people look for the fulfillment of certain desires and the expectation that certain moods will be
The menu is integral to the servicescape of the restaurant – one among a multitude of factors that might entice the
customer to enter and participate in the dining experience.4 The menu provides a snapshot of the dining experience
and serves as the first impression for any customer.The imagery, atmosphere and sense of prestige of the restaurant
are conveyed subtly in the design of the menu, which is not only used to define the product range of the food and
beverage operation, but provides an opportunity for the promotion and sale of items on the menu.
The menu acts as a ‘lens’ on the dining experience that is about to be enjoyed. The creation of the menu is inspired
by the chief ‘artist’ at the venue – the chef, who may be viewed as the gifted producer of an ‘original work,’ or as an
‘artisan,’ crafting handmade products that will later be consumed. The inspiration that chefs are able to draw from
their craft is paramount, ensuring the authenticity of the food produced; the challenge is in the way it is promoted
to the customer.
Rachel Byars – Menus – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Thus a menu can be used to persuade and tempt
customers, and each one tells its own story through a
range of visual elements such as the artistry employed,
the culinary language used, accolades and awards
listed, through to simple descriptions of the delicacies
and delights on offer. Each menu will tell a story that
can be unraveled by the customer, whether through
interpretation, imagery or direct enquiry.
Within my own teaching practice, I have had the
opportunity to share my work and life experiences
with students in a number of different ways, especially
through storytelling. This method offers a means of
recounting and expressing experiences, emotions and
ideas in different forms and is advocated as a teaching
tool by reflective practitioners and researchers.5 It is
not just the story, but also how the story is told that
matters. Menus may be used as catalysts to elicit a
range of stories and are an ideal method of ensuring
student participation.
Figure 1. The Le Gavroche logo.
Stories provide an opportunity for collaborative discussion and reflection within a group of learners. While perusing
an eatery’s menus, taking in its style, students may consider such topics as menu engineering and design, but it is the
stories behind them that often intrigue them most. Three menus, along with their illustrations, have been chosen for
discussion from restaurants in the United States and the United Kingdom. The stories elicited from each menu are
the author’s personal interpretations, and of course may differ from person to person.
The first story I want to present relates to the highly respected and influential two-star Michelin restaurant Le
Gavroche, situated in the heart of Mayfair in London. It is viewed as a culinary institution in the United Kingdom.
The restaurant is named after the fictional character Gavroche, from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. The image
is of a scruffy boy or ‘gamin’ (a young homeless boy who roams the streets), also aptly referred to as an ‘urchin.’
This image of the gamin is poles apart from the elegance and style espoused in the surroundings of Le Gavroche.
Nevertheless, it illustrates the humble beginnings of a celebrated restaurant which has influenced the British culinary
scene since 1967.
The menu cover depicts the totality of the experience of Le Gavroche, foregrounding the chef de patron, Michel
Roux Jnr, with his father, Albert Roux, founder of the restaurant along with his brother Michel Roux, peeping out of
the tableau in the background. A feast of food and wine surrounds the portrait of Michel Roux Jnr, set above the
golden lettering of the words ‘Le Gavroche.’
The story told on the menu cover is one of pedigree and heritage; it conveys the strong impression that the
restaurant is an iconic gastronomic institution, one which has produced many prominent chefs. For the appreciation
of art lovers, the restaurant walls are adorned with original works by Picasso, Dali and Chagall, which aspire to feed
the mind as effectively as the artists within the kitchen feed the appetite. Table settings are crisp, some remarkable
sculptures provide an effective talking point for guests, while the flawless service is designed to impress.
Rachel Byars – Menus – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Le Gavroche Menu Cover.
Rachel Byars – Menus – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 3. A Voce Menu.
The design scheme of this New York Italian restaurant reflects the clean lines and minimalistic approach of Italian
designers Armani, Ferrari and Lamborghini. The menu is likewise simple and minimalistic in design, and matches the
layout and sophisticated urban setting of the restaurant. Inspiration for the culinary fare is drawn from the regions
of Italy, along with the freshest ingredients that are in season. Rustic undertones ensure that the simple pleasures
of Italian cooking blend into the sophisticated modern ambience of A Voce. A sense of authenticity is suggested by
some of the menu descriptions: ‘country style,’ ‘My Grandmother’s,’ and ‘Paul’s.’ This culinary language gives the diner
an impression of homeliness and familiarity, a feeling which aims to both gratify and delight.
The chef encourages the use of words like ‘yummy,’ asserting that customers should feel good about their dining
experience. He would rather have a diner say, “Wow, that was delicious,” than “Wow, that was interesting.”
Sparks Steak House has a worldwide reputation for its steak and wine list. Opened by brothers Pat and Mike Cetta
in 1966 as Sparks Pub, 11 years later they changed the name to Sparks Steak House. The restaurant achieves a
delicate balance between tradition and big-city chic, although many regulars prefer the term ‘old school.’
The interior is spacious yet cosy, elegant but informal.The term ‘classic’ comes to mind when considering the woodpanelled interior, the grand carpets under foot and the chandeliers overhead. From the moment you are greeted,
you know that dining here is going to be a memorable experience.
The oversized menu, the extensive wine list and the ‘mobster’ ambience – referring to the assassination in 1985 of
mafia boss Paul Castellano on the orders of John Gotti as he entered the premises – all make Sparks a restaurant
to remember. A copy of the menu itself costs US$80, along with authentic splashes of meat juices and wine!
The sharing of stories like these allows students to gain from their culinary experiences and also provides the
opportunity for them to bring their menus into the classroom and share the interesting stories that lie behind the
printed words. This exercise cements the connections that have been created through the imagery of the menu
and the overall dining experience
Rachel Byars – Menus – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 4. Sparks Steak House Main Menu.
Rachel Byars is a principal lecturer in the School of
Applied Business at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin.
LH Kotschevar and MR Escoffier, Management by Menu
(New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994).
J Sundbo and P Hagedorn-Rasmussen, “The Backstaging
of Experience Production,” in Creating Experience in
the Experience Economy, eds J Sundbo and P Darmer
(Cheltenham: Elgar, 2008).
I Gustafsson, A Ostrom, J Johansson and L Mossberg,
“The Five Aspects Meal Model: A Tool for Developing
Meal Services in Restaurants,” Journal of Foodservice, 17
(2006), 84-93.
MJ Bitner, “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical
Surroundings on Customers and Employees,” Journal of
Marketing, 56 (1992), 51-71.
J McDrury and MG Alterio, Learning through Storytelling
in Higher Education: Using Reflection and Experience to
Improve Learning (London: Kogan Page/RoutledgeFalmer,
Figure 5. Sparks Steak House Dessert Menu.
Rachel Byars – Menus – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Response
Lily Hibberd
Suspended between myth and history, Pat Hoffie and Stefan Purcell’s WindWells: Channelling & Divining1 proposes a
new yet contingent relation to the interpretation of the past. It is a re-telling of the story of water, and an attempt
to differentiate the narrative from rationalist notions of water as a constant and reliable resource that is nonetheless
unmanageable. Fierce disputation surrounds the use and supply of water in Australia, yet as a continuous history
water is a singular narrative of colonisation. For this country’s non-indigenous population, the ongoing failure to
understand this substance is Australia’s least popular historical concept. From the first moment of European contact
with the Australian landscape, securing this resource for commercial and governmental purposes has been a major
priority. To this day, state and federal squabbling covers up the overwhelming negligence of these operations.
WindWells demonstrates the crucial role of art in the
revision of culturally represented collective memory,
for it questions the politics of history-making while
showing a delight for the self-made as reminder of the
motivating force of progress in early Australian settler
culture. Firmly situated in nineteenth-century southern
Queensland, this artwork examines a period during
the state’s rural adaptation from localised subsistence
cultivation to large-scale mechanised agribusiness.
Until that time, the legend of the pioneer prevailed in
public imagination; a legend based on an individualised
conception in which European exiles and migrants
struggled to make livelihood in a foreign land. At
the end of the 1900s, however, this autonomy was
wrested away by the commercialisation of agricultural
Figure 1. Professor Pepper the Scientist. “Analyst and
Rainmaker Professor J H Pepper.” John Oxley Library, State
Library of Queensland (image number 110743).
Figure 2. Pat Hoffie and Stefan Purcell, Windwells: Channelling
and Divining (detail) (2010), mixed media installation
involving video projections and sculptural objects. State
Library of Queensland Gallery.
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The exhibition calls up the story of water in Queensland, retrieving three fantastic tales about the contrivance of
water in the region from the John Oxley Library archives at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ), including the
invention and fabrication of the legendary Australian Southern Cross windmill; the coming of the celebrated British
sideshow magician and chemist Professor John Henry Pepper to Brisbane in the 1870s; and the renowned work of
the successful Toowoomba water diviner Joseph Gordon Palethorpe in the late 1800s. Presenting their work in the
SLQ exhibition space, Hoffie and Purcell employ devices of illumination to create an installation that melds myth
with history in order to differentiate what is tangible from what is fabulous in the narrative of water, as it has been
told since the start of European colonisation of Australia.
The lighting is low in the gallery. Shadows fall over the floor, cast from spots behind the looming structure of a fullscale Aussie windmill. On the far side of the space, the windmill’s turning blades rotate over a massive projection
of stock footage showing factory workers in an industrious mode, churning out metal parts one after the other.
According to the exhibition catalogue, this film documents the production of machinery parts in the town of
Toowoomba, Southern Queensland, where in fact the Griffith Brothers first invented and developed their windmills
in 1876.2 In front of the windmill, two large cylinders bear an obvious resemblance to corrugated iron water tanks,
even though they are made of hundreds of books removed from their covers, with their pages splayed outward. A
network of ultramarine blue pipes runs from the windmill across the floor, up the walls and into the tanks, while, on
the right-hand wall of the entry, two electromagnetic devices continually charge and release concentrated electrical
zaps in their small glass chambers. Right next to these, a large circular projection shows thundering storm clouds.
Passing around the tanks, a large plate window is visible, jammed into an alcove in the far right-hand corner of the
space. An apparition projected on the angled glass comprises part of a scene that resembles a magician’s set, with
a chair and a table covered with a Persian rug. In this apparition a top-hatted and suited man repeatedly walks on
and off the stage. He motions with the conjuring gestures of a magician without producing any resulting spectacle.
A recreation of Pepper’s Ghost, this world-renowned cinematographic contrivance was invented by Pepper in the
1860s and quickly embraced by countless European and American magicians, illusionists and filmmakers. With its
stagy aesthetics announcing a theatrical ploy, WindWells is redolent of sideshows and nineteenth-century vaudeville,
genres that are recognisable for their rough but decorative appliqués of bright colour and glitter, makeshift
proscenium arch constructions of flimsy plywood, and featuring bodies that are often strangely out of proportion.
Hoffie and Purcell use the term ‘steampunk’ to describe this aesthetic, thus making an oblique reference to the
material and visual impact of the industrial age on vaudeville in Britain, an aesthetic that was crucial to the travelling
shows that Pepper brought to Queensland in the 1870s.3 Highly popular across America, England and in Australia, in
these shows the presentation of science was embraced as an extravaganza, a spectacle suitably conveyed through
the vernacular of stage magic (recently exemplified in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 fantasy film, The Imaginarium of Doctor
After the initial enjoyment of its carnival aesthetics, other components of the installation become apparent.Twanging
guitar chords, emanating from the tanks and out of a glammed-up gramophone horn attached to the end of
one of the pipes, make groans from the belly of the earth, piping up by the windmill or perhaps channelled by
Professor Pepper. As we close in by the water tanks, the text of the coverless books is almost legible. As diverse
in their languages as Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Farsi, they form an ironic Tower of Babel, emptied out
like the aridity of monolinguistic and anglocentric Australian attitudes.4 Yet these books are as rich as the ethnically
heterogeneous stories that make up contemporary Australian society. Countless indigenous and migrant cultures
offer alternative notions and experiences of survival in this land that are not part of popular Australian history. For
example, we only hear fragmentary tales of desert Afghanis and their camels in the 1850s; or mythic accounts of
Indian trader caravans selling bolts of cloth and buttons to isolated farming women in the early twenty-first century;
or the occasional acknowledgment of the numerous aboriginal guides who helped European explorers to read the
land for signs of water.
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 3. Pat Hoffie and Stefan Purcell, Windwells: Channelling and Divining (detail) (2010), mixed media installation involving video
projections and sculptural objects. State Library of Queensland Gallery.
Yet it remains possible to defy this forgetting. Photographic reproductions in the installation recover memories
of the deeply anxious search for the mysterious wellsprings of Queensland water. On a series of small turntables,
alongside one of the water tanks, images of men undertaking water divining are adhered to small upright pieces
of cracked mirror, spinning eccentrically. These are prints from Palethorpe’s 1903 booklet, Water Finding by Means
of Magnetism and the Divining Rod. WindWells reveals the extraordinary Australian quest for subterranean water,
‘channelling and divining’ other material held in the SLQ including archives on early local windmill development and
the material on Professor Pepper, whose time in Queensland was documented in the Journal of the Royal Historical
Society of Queensland in 1974-75.5
How often do we recount heroic tales of the ‘acquisition’ of territories by European settlers and conflate it with
their search for water. But, what if these pasts are spectral and restless like Pepper’s Ghost? Or phantasmagoric, as
WindWells suggests? For none of this exhibition is static, and the constant activity of the fantastic blue windmill, the
old footage of factory lines in action and the conjuring of Pepper’s Ghost are an allegory of the endeavour for water.
In a contingency of fact and fiction, this installation channels histories from deep beneath our surface consciousness.
Being dispersed, displaced or subverted, the strange juxtaposition of mythology and memory in a project like
WindWells prompts a curious interrogation and revision of seemingly immutable conceptions of the past. It poses a
challenge to the Australian conceptualisation of water as a representation of European thought.
Where water is usually emblematic of the logic of human management of the uncontrollable aspects of Australian
nature – which for the British is conceived of as being one of the most confronting of all colonial frontiers – in a
peculiar conflation of images of water divining, windmill, industry and magic, Hoffie and Purcell expose a host of
contradictions. Early attempts to survive on the Australian continent are usually told in terms of the failure of the
Australian environment to provide for human life, rather than the settlers’ lack of ability to interpret the land and its
secrets, even if this was not for want of pioneering imagination or paucity of desire to uncover its mysteries.
Coincidentally, at the same time as WindWells was on display, the adjacent Queensland Museum presented “The
Last Days of Burke and Wills.” The story of the duo’s hopeless and tragic search for a north-south continental
crossing is familiar to most Australians, although not everyone concurs with it. In 2009, Australian historian Michael
Cathcart offered a critical questioning of the mythology surrounding these accounts of water in Australia in his book,
The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of our Dry Continent. Cathcart examines the impact of settlers’ visions
of a water-rich land and the aspiration to make their dream a reality. Most of us see this dream realised today in
the massive irrigation and hydro-engineering schemes in the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania, which continue to
devastate many Australian river systems. All the while, the heroic tragedy of Burke and Wills maintains a claim over
the Australian imagination, even though, as Cathcart asserts, their supposed mission to locate the great inland sea
is yet another untenable myth.
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
WindWells takes on the challenge of this contested history by making it a productive and playful questioning of the
construction of history within the institution itself. The State of Library Queensland is bursting with exhaustive and
rich archives. It is sandwiched between the Gallery of Modern Art and the Queensland Art Gallery, not far from The
Museum of Queensland, so that WindWells is located at the physical and conceptual crossing point of contemporary
art, state archives and historical and curatorial analysis. Once the sole domain of the scholar, Australian artists are
being called upon by state institutions to take up fellowships; recent examples are Tom Nicholson and Tony Birch’s
work with the State Library of Victoria to create the Camp Pell Lectures, presented in 2010 at Artspace, Sydney, or
the creation of exhibitions within state library exhibition spaces like WindWells. Hoffie and Purcell’s work confidently
participates in a dialogue with its host institution, generating a dynamic interpretation of history that has the capacity
to call up some of the secrets that scholarly or archival practices tend to bury away within their own inherently
categorising processes.
Contrary to popular conception, history is not a static entity. It is in a continual state of indeterminacy, a flux that
gives rise to consternation and backlash from affected social and governmental forces. This is because collective
cultural consensus notably forms around the ‘positive,’ ‘useful’ or ‘truthful’ aspects of the past, a consensus that is
geared to suit the prevailing interests of the privileged or ascendant members of that society. All of this plays out
in the form of radical forgetting because inconvenient truths are always too close by. Such is the basis of German
philosopher Walter Benjamin’s contention in his Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), where he propounds
that amnesia operates at the service of ‘historicism,’ maintaining a set of coherent views that preclude any challenge
to its official narrative.6 Writing on the eve of the Nazi devastation of Europe, in this essay Benjamin foretells a
warning that he claimed would come as a flash in a moment of danger. He warned that this apparition would
take the form of the spectre of a suppressed past which was about to be raised from the dead (namely Fascism).
Nowhere is ‘historicism’ more apparent than in Australia, a nation that holds to the same ideology that came with
the British explorers who were sent to claim the great southern continent as a yet unmapped, unpopulated and
timeless territory. We would do well to pay heed to Benjamin’s warning, for the global spectre of amnesia is all the
more dangerous today for being concealed within pantomime campaigns with no-names like the ‘War on Terror,’ the
ubiquitous ‘Peacekeeping Mission’, and, in Australia, the ongoing ‘Northern Territory Intervention’, and mistreatment
of asylum seekers.
Water is caught up in the triumvirate mythologies of progress, self-subsistence, and the notion that it is a controllable
and stable resource that can be tapped into at any time. It is therefore a central character in the narrative of our
behaviour towards the land. The story of water represents the paradox of Australia’s imagining of itself, in the
contradiction of an impossible conception of a nation laid over a very different reality. It is the one substance that
has refused to compromise to ideological impositions from the first moment of attempted European inhabitation
until today.Yet the settler myth prevails, while capitalism has taken over the mega-management of resources, so that
the greatest access to and most unregulated use of water – our most uncontrollable and critical resource – is in the
hands of private corporations, agribusiness and irrigation companies. The futility is unrelenting in the ongoing liberal
access to water given to mining companies and large-scale farming operations of non-essential but highly profitable
yet water-sapping crops such as cotton and rice. The ownership of Australia’s water has very recently become a
widespread concern because of substantial increases in foreign investment in water rights; the sale of these rights
totals millions of litres, according to Deborah Snow and Debra Jopson in their 2010 Sydney Morning Herald article,
“Thirsty Foreigners Soak up Scarce Water Rights.” The privatisation of water supply is yet another area where
commercial interests have dominated, so that since 2001 an estimated 25 percent of Australia’s drinking water has
been owned and controlled by foreign multinationals.7
The extent of the problem is hard to fathom, except when it is related to us in narrative form. The tale of one of
Professor Pepper’s failed feats of artifice is, for instance, an account of the impracticability of the European mindset
in Australian conditions. According to documents located in the SLQ archives, in 1882 Pepper staged a spectacular
rainmaking demonstration at the Eagle Farm raceway, Brisbane. It was an ostentatious event, held during a period
of extreme drought, making an explicit link between water conjuring and magic arts. But, despite fanfare and
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 4. Professor Pepper the showman. “Illustration featuring Professor J H Pepper in the centre.” John Oxley Library, State
Library of Queensland (image number 110744).
explosive fireworks, Pepper failed to produce a single drop of rain, hopelessly raising the crowd’s excitement only
to let them down.
Even though attempts to subject the flow of water to all kinds of practical strategies have seen short-term benefits
for civil usages of waterways through extensive management in the form of dams, weirs, locks and barricades, these
manipulations are known to have had disastrous and irreversible effects on the complex ecologies of the vast
systems that cover millions of hectares of what was once much more arable land. The absurdity of such practices
still seems to escape Australians, evident in the language of the media and in everyday discourse, where the ebb
and flow of water is often described in rational terms as a ‘resource’ to be managed or contained. This mindset
repudiates any notion of water’s true complexity, and denotes a refusal to consider how as a nation we might be
subject to water’s continual adaptation and the fact of our total dependence on change itself.
According to Georges Bataille in The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, our ongoing disregard for the
material basis of life causes us to err in our understanding of the forces that drive life itself.8 Bataille claims that in
our exploitation of resources we only acknowledge the earth’s forces in so far as they are useful to us, and yet
every “living organism … ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life.”9 Life as an excessive,
unknowable and transforming process is treated with the same apprehension, and again it is the fixity of the sciences
of epistemology and knowledge production that censure the unknown. In the Accursed Share, Bataille proposes that
the generative excess of the cosmos is greatly feared by the human race and that this fear gives rise to humanity’s
destructive impulses.This corresponds with Charles Darwin’s evolutionary paradox, based on the process of natural
selection, which Elizabeth Grosz has argued shows us how life hinges on a practice of overcoming itself to evolve
into something completely unforeseen, unknowable and different. 10 Water is an utterly evolutionary substance and
is equally indomitable – so what better means to understand the effacement of what we know to exist yet refuse
to see than to seek out the mysterious existence of subterranean water on the Australian continent?
The 1919 picture of “Mr Tilney and son water divining,” reproduced in the WindWells catalogue, illustrates the mix
of resourcefulness and mythology invested in the search for water by European pioneers.11 The whole scene is
oddly staged, like a magic show. Fashioned in the style of its time, the backdrop and shallow setting contribute to its
theatricality.The strangest feature of all is the most obvious: the two men have cast their gaze to the studio floor and
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
are looking intently at a pile of dirt that has been placed
there, staring at nothing but dust. By doing this they
show that divining water is not simply about locating
underground wells, but that water can be called up
from the deep. Tilney and his son demonstrate how
the search for water might be a reciprocal process in
which the land is listened to, and a spiritual practice to
which the diviner applies faith. European empiricism
is evidently immaterial to the practice, not because
the diviners were spiritualised by finding water in this
way but because they tapped directly into a watery
consciousness of that particular place.
Anyone who has ever attempted to map continental
water in the past has discovered first of all that
nothing is constant. Its underground lakes and wells
constitute a byzantine system of interlocking, porous
and fluid networks and channels. On the other hand,
the dependence of European settlers on surface
apparitions of water that came and went subsequently
formed an increasingly unproductive story of fixed
catchments and controls of waterways that denied
the greater flow of water beneath the surface. Again,
the behaviour of successive Australian governments
portrays a political premise that comprises a prima
facie Imperial narrative of the continent of Australia.
Two powerful ideologies continue to emanate
from this story: first is the denial of the unknown
in ourselves, and second is the maintenance of an
ordered idea of nature.
Figure 5. The never-ending search for water. “Mr Tilney and
son water divining” (1919). John Oxley Library, State Library
of Queensland (image number 38204).
Paul Carter tackles the predicament of the Australian desire to order and deny our relationship to the environment
in a 2008 article called “Dry Thinking, on Praying for Rain.”12 In this article, Carter contends that water in this country
does not behave according to the Eurocentric notion of constantly flowing rivers and full reservoirs. He adds that
this false imaginary alienates us from a metaphysical experience of our continent, with its constantly fluctuating and
irregular but rhythmic cycles of wet and dry, which arrive in uncontrollable and seemingly useless extremes. What
Carter proposes is that we should cease trying to change the way water works and start acknowledging how we
might be changed by the behaviour of water and how we are adapting to this change.To reiterate the politics of the
situation, ‘dry thinking’ is Carter’s way of describing an authoritative and imposing attitude to inhabitation and our
avoidance of a necessarily contingent, responsive and reciprocal relationship to place. This shift in mentality would,
in Carter’s words, “call on us to relocate our thinking in the environments that have inspired it,” to arrive at a new
metaphysics of belonging that encompasses water’s contrary nature.13
In contending with such concerns, Hoffie and Purcell’s installation fortunately avoids truisms or superficial answers in
relation to water. Over and above issues of climate change and sustainability, WindWells makes a far more significant
point by questioning the primacy of the institution of knowledge itself. Water and its lack of reliability are central to
the Australian psyche today and WindWells raises an allegory of our repressed desire for water. Everything in the
gallery is dry, the writhing blue pipes are hollow, and the tanks are empty, while the turning windmill and the images
of water-seekers and water-makers create a sense of yearning for the elusive liquid.The interpretation of the history
of Queensland’s water in this project highlights the unspeakable aspects of the dilemma, which underpin the ongoing
contested relationship that non-indigenous Australia has to this continent.
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
When unitary histories are offered up one of the most important questions to ask is, why were other versions left
out of the picture? In the case of a mythical imagining of water in Queensland, it is clear that state government can ill
afford aberrant artesian stories mingling with the meta-management water plan.Yet the elision of these irreconcilable
truths reveals that such acts are not only about forging a one-dimensional national identity, they constitute an
erasure of a political kind. This assertion might seem like a stretch, but the constraint of individual autonomy in
Australian society is more widespread than ever, and the practice of a self-sustaining search for subterranean water
is a lawless activity, just as it was for pioneers. While an attitude persists that nineteenth-century practices like
water divining are incompatible with contemporary Australian environmental wisdom, and the pioneering ethic is
for the most part insupportable today, there is much that we might learn from their techniques. Further scrutiny
reveals that the politics of water governance is scarcely more progressive today, with the prevailing notion that the
Australian continent should act as a giant aquifer or a non-porous container for water.This ‘catchment’ ideology was
established in the early 1900s, with massive damming projects like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme
and the Ross River Dam. And catchment thinking still drives policy today, evident in the recent commissions such as
the enlarged Cotter Dam in the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales’s latest project at Tillegra. Floods,
nonetheless, pose as great a problem as droughts, not only because of the immediate havoc they wreak but also
because water managers have no idea of what to do with all that ‘useless’ water afterwards.
In its alternative, somewhat anarchic historicisation, WindWells aligns icons of the industrial age with mythic
histories of water. Rolling rainclouds gather force, machinery parts are forged, while the windmill turns without
wind. Professor Pepper’s ghost endlessly returns in his top hat, cane and waistcoat to call up a forgotten period
of popular European culture in which the inexplicability of the sciences were gleefully elucidated by illusionist
arts and where magic was thought of as easily interchangeable with logic. Coming at the end of the first hundred
years of Australian colonisation, the magic show was popularised during the mid-late nineteenth century alongside
the birth of photography, which was widely imagined
as yet another manifestation of the supernatural in a
material form.14 Other conceptions of photography
existed at the time but, with an emphasis on the
staged imagery of Tilney the water diviner and the
carnivalesque Pepper, Hoffie and Purcell chose the
psycho-spiritual incarnation of photography over its
rational or empiricist lineage.
Situating the search for and production of water at
the juncture of three powerful forms of conjuring
– the windmill, the magician and early photography
– Hoffie and Purcell have not shied from presenting
Figure 6. Pat Hoffie and Stefan Purcell, Windwells: Channelling
their ideas as illusionism. Although sympathy for magic
and Divining (detail) (2010), mixed media installation
has a profound place in the project, as viewers, the
involving video projections and sculptural objects. State
Library of Queensland Gallery.
main job we have is to recognise how the icons of
illusionism are embedded in the continuum of history.
Already lodged in our consciousness, the windmill, for example, is an icon of pioneering endeavour, yet Hoffie and
Purcell reconceptualise the legend by reinscribing the machine as a ‘windwell.’ And, technically speaking, the common
moniker is inaccurate, because a windmill’s primary purpose is to sluice water to power a mill to grind down grains
into various kinds of flour, while the Australian version is a glorified pump. Still, in collective Australian imagination,
the windmill is both ubiquitous and enigmatic, its rusty cries an unforgettable reverberation for anyone who has
ever visited the countryside.
The windwell is inseparable from its practical purpose of plumbing the groundwater, but this is a fiction because its
blades turn without any wind and the well is dry. We know this because the blue pipes in the SLQ Gallery have been
perforated with thousands of tiny holes, each one emitting a beam of light, creating an array of twinkling stars instead
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
of spouting water. Yet the pipes wend their way through the gallery, in and out of the walls, feeding subterranean
wisdom into the empty tanks via its magic plumbing system.
Our relationship to the Australian environment is not so different: in dry country you never know the next source
of water. Survival depends on a constant search for a new supply. Except, during the last two centuries of colonial
habitation in Australia, such contingency has been difficult to conceive. The imaginary European vision of constantly
manageable supplies of water, of flowing rivers, consistent rainfalls, temperate seasons and full reservoirs was a
fiction from the start. We now face a time in which a new awareness of the land constitutes the best prospect of
sustainable habitation. If the underground waters could be heard, as they are in the pipes and tanks in WindWells,
they would intone to us that instinct should be our guide. But, like the coming of new languages to a country,
the diversity, underworldliness, inaccessibility and irrationality of intuition is like a thousand babbling tongues: we
understand nothing. That is where Palethorpe and Pepper’s practical magic reminds us how we can be resourceful
with knowledge, to know how to intuit a future that is more in tune with the metaphysics of the land.
Pat Hoffie is a professor at the research focus group SECAP at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University
in Brisbane Australia. She is a practicing artist of long standing and also currently the UNESCO Orbicom Chair in
Communications at Griffith University.
Stefan Purcell works as an artist, designer and 3D modeller and has been involved in fabrication, manufacturing
and production engineering for over fifteen years. He is currently the Director of rapid concept designs, a design
firm specialising in 3D modelling, manufacturing and prototyping in Australia.
Dr Lily Hibberd is an artist and writer. She is founding editor of un Magazine and lectures in the Faculty of Art
& Design, Monash University.
Pat Hoffie and Stefan Purcell, WindWells: channelling & divining, 26 July-17 October 2010. State Library of Queensland Gallery.
State Library of Queensland curator Trudy Bennett describes these windmills in her essay, “Watery Treasures from the John
Oxley Library”, reproduced in the WindWells exhibition catalogue, Ross Woodrow, Louise Denoon and Trudy Bennett,
WindWells: Channelling + Divining (Brisbane: State Library of Queensland, 2010).
See the interview with the artists by Gavin Sawford in the exhibition catalogue.
Exacerbated by the fact that the mostly foreign-language books in the installation had recently been de-accessioned from the
SLQ collection.
Concisely presented in a small secondary room, with a wall of framed documents including Palethorpe’s handbook and details
of Professor Pepper’s work in Queensland.
Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (Fontana:
London, 1973), 245-55.
“Future Ownership of Australia’s Water”, Media release on Kellie Tranter’s webpage, 30 January 2007, http://www. [accessed 22 Sept 2010].
Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1988), 21.
Elizabeth Grosz, Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power (Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2005).
Woodrow et al., WindWells, 11.
“Dry Thinking and Human Futures” was originally published in German in December 2008, in the Lettre Internationale; on
29 April 2010, Carter delivered an English-language version of the paper at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North
Melbourne. See www
Institute of Postcolonial Studies Newsletter, 30 (July 2010), [accessed 22 Sept
See Clement Cheroux et al., The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005).
Lily Hibberd – WindWells – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Neil Emmerson
Neil Emmerson – Confess – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In 2005, I had been at once shocked and intrigued by the amateur photographic images coming out of Abu Ghraib
Prison in Iraq of the torture and humiliation performed on Iraqi prisoners by American defense force workers. One
of these images – of a cloaked and hooded man perched precariously on a flimsy box, arms spread with hands
connected by wire to the wall behind him, his body slumped in constraint, shame and supplication – drew on a
repertoire of well-known visual tropes. This particular image I saw as loaded with historical references from both
the fine arts and popular culture.
In The Abu Ghraib Effect (2007), Stephen F Eisenman outlines what is called the ‘pathos formula,’ whereby the willing
victim of physical anguish and torture has been depicted throughout the history of the Western visual arts as a
figure of glorious suffering; this trope begins in the Classical period and is turned by Christian visual culture into
an equally sensuous and ecstatic martyrdom. These images and their effects, Eisenman argues, have served across
the years “as an instrument of imperialist self-justification and racist violence.”1 Ironically, many examples of such
paintings and sculptures employ sensuous, nude, muscular male bodies as the vehicles of their depictions of divine
chastisement and punishment. It might be interesting to note at this point the range of homosexual acts that
prisoners of Abu Ghraib were forced to enact in order to humiliate and shame them.
In the not-so-distant past, images of or based on Classical and Christian art in printed publications offered one of the
few opportunities where some homosexual men might be able to identify their desire. Gazing at these pictures of
either naked or semi-naked men in the throes of an ecstatic agony could be passed off as an interest in the history
of art, in certain other Grecian or Christian ideals, or even in health and body-building.
In Confessions of a Mask (1949), Yukio Mishima describes the effect of the recognition of his homosexual desire
on his first viewing of a reproduction of Guido Reni’s Saint Sebastian: “That day, the instant I looked upon the
picture, my entire being trembled with some pagan joy.”2 In Iconology and Perversion (1988), Allen S Weiss considers
the possibility of “a ‘hermeneutics of misreading’ where the effects of libidinal oscillations are factored into the
interpretive scheme as the feature of its very indeterminacy.”3 He points out that it was the affective power of the
image rather than its particular semiotic intent that raised Mishima’s passions. Mishima consequently posed for a
famous photographic parody of Guido’s St Sebastian and, in so doing, produced a “perverse inversion of the roles
of iconographic features and incidental details within the picture,” by playing up such incidental details as the “white,
matchless nudity” of the martyr, and with his pose or attitude alluding more to beauty and pleasure rather than to
pain or suffering.
What sort of ‘pagan joy’ might be ignited by the viewing of this picture from Abu Ghraib, laced as it is with pathos,
and how might it be reconciled with the guilt of implication in an acknowledgement of the desires operating in the
correspondence between victim and perpetrator, or the politics operating between a poetics of sadomasochism
and ‘imperialist self-justification?’ A ‘hermeneutics of misreading’ here might invert the direction of this rupturing of
the public realm via the secret whereby the affective power of this public image penetrates back into the private,
subconscious zone of the viewer, giving form to its secrets and lighting up places seldom revealed.
Working on from a series of projects that involved the use of found images of anonymous, hooded, male figures
sporting outfits worn in the contexts of chemical warfare, camouflage and capture, I began a project by constructing
garments with the aim of hybridising elements of these designs with elements of garments from the psych ward
(straightjackets), the penitentiary (stenciled jumpsuits), the religious (sacramental robes) and body bags – outfits
associated with the institutions that, presently and historically, have played a role in labeling, controlling and eliminating
homosexuality. As if the terror of torture, or for that matter the anguish of the closet, has ever really gone out of
Neil Emmerson – Confess – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figures 1-5. From a set of 20 AV digital and screen prints on Velin Arches paper. 105 x 75cm.
Neil Emmerson – Confess – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
fashion. Labeled G O D (gay on demand) exclusive outfits for espionage and terror, this range of hybridised uniforms
was initially installed as the glass closet in 2009. Under the sign of international haute couture, it imitated an upmarket fashion boutique on the main shopping street of Dunedin in New Zealand.
Presented here are a series of photographs of one of these costumes, out of the closet, and now inhabited by a young,
male model. Through the use of transparent and semi-transparent fabrics the sensuous nude is discernable. Across
a series of ‘poses,’ supplication is traded for confession; resignation; seduction; and, finally, ecstatic transcendence.
In regard to the use of the artist’s model, I draw on Moe Meyer in his book The Politics and Poetics of Camp (1994),
where he refers to various figures in Oscar Wilde’s writing: “The artist’s model … signals what appears to be his
use of the ‘pose’ as an organizing metaphor through which to codify the surfaces of the Other’s body.”4 (Can this
‘organizing metaphor’ be seen at work in the modeling of prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Surely not consciously, although
the choreographed interactions of prisoners indicates a planned and collaborative management of this situation.)
According to Meyer, considering Wilde’s construction of the artist’s model and the pose, we discover a remarkable
phenomenon: “The model as pastiche, divorced from his own interiority, offered up his body surfaces and made
them available for inscription by the artist. The artist, in turn, used them to signify his own inner state. The effect
achieved by the model was the construction of a ‘neutral’ surface, a tabula rasa, acting as an objectified site of the
artist’s desire.”5
Wilde considered art to be primarily the conjunction of desire and vision. Meyer uses Jonathan Dollimore’s term
‘transgressive reinscription’ and quotes him again “to indicate a subversive, resistant and destabilizing maneuver in
which identification with, and desire for, may coexist with parodic subversion of.’ ”6
Through his experiments with this theory, Wilde was attempting to construct a public homosexual identity in an
historical situation where one didn’t yet exist. Yukio Mishima may not be doing exactly the same thing, but the
methodology is similar if not the same. He realises his desire by recognising it projected onto the portrait of St
Sebastian, and then later appropriates that desire back onto the surfaces of his own body. Does he become at
once both desiring subject and desired object? This relational movement between inside and outside, between the
private and the public, secrecy and disclosure, provides a schematic model for the operations of the closet. Wilde
might have gone some way towards creating a physical presence for the public recognition of a homosexual interior
identity, but inadvertently he also helped to create the reign of the ‘telling secret.’ His trial and incarceration operate
as a public emblem for both the announcement of the modern homosexual and simultaneously the “exactions, …
deformations, … disempowerment and sheer pain” of the closet.7
In 2008, a report appeared in the world news media that MI5 in Britain was seeking the help of the gay lobby
Stonewall to recruit ‘out’ homosexual spies. It seems that, with the rapid growth of the intelligence service since the
London bombings of 2005, a certain turnabout had occurred in a situation where, until relatively recently, gays were
barred entry into top jobs in the spy business due to the perception that they were more prone to blackmail than
their straight counterparts. Should I contemplate a change of occupation, I asked myself?
How might self-identified, ‘out’ homosexual spies be of particular help in this ‘war on terror,’ considering that it is
directed towards the more fundamentalist elements of the Muslim world? Surely in the places where homosexuality
is outlawed – indeed heavily sanctioned, with dreadful punishments – it would be an enormous disadvantage for
precisely the same reasons that it was officially avoided in the British intelligence services some years ago? The idea
seemed absurd. Why would MI5 engage ‘out’ gay men in a situation that would require them to go back into the
closet and compromise them so gravely?
Neil Emmerson – Confess – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Then again, maybe it is precisely the closet that MI5 is interested in. I wondered about whether there was a kind
of transnational, homosexual underground operating in the Middle East. Clandestine connections between private
individuals, groups and communities have certainly been developed before on the basis of a commonly oppressed
homosexual desire and can connect people from disparate backgrounds both locally and beyond the intolerant,
indeed hostile, worlds in which they live. Discrete relations between homosexual men seeking connections,
community and sex with other men these days can be effectively facilitated by the internet. The skills derived
from living a double life would not go astray in the spy business, I would imagine. Could these networks, with their
clustered communities that operate below the radar, appear to be functioning somewhat like terrorist cells? Or
might they not be fertile recruiting grounds, where those whose freedom of sexual choice is being denied might
become sympathetic collaborators in this war on terror?
Here, a professional investment in secrecy could further complicate its function as “the subjective practice in which
the oppositions of private /public, inside/outside, subject/object, are established, and the sanctity of the first term
kept inviolate. And the phenomenon of the ‘open secret’ does not, as one might think, bring about a collapse of
those binarisms and their ideological effects, but rather attests to their fantasmatic recovery.”8
As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick points out in Epistemology of the Closet (1990): “There are risks in making salient the
continuity and centrality of the closet, in an historical narrative that does not have as a fulcrum a saving vision –
whether located in past or future – of its apocalyptic rupture.”9 She identifies the risk of glamorising the closet and
by default rendering it inevitable or, in some manner, of value.
By switching the terms of what is valued in regard to the sexuality of its spies, does MI5 then risk glamorising the
closet as well as capitalising on it at the same time?
Sue-Ellen Case is critical of refashioning queer culture into the dominant culture’s discursive metaphors. “The
danger incurred in moving gay politics into such heterosexual contexts is in slowly discovering that the strategies
and perspectives of homosexual realities and discourse may be locked inside a homophobic ‘concentration camp’.”10
Neil Emmerson is an Australian artist living and working in New Zealand. He coordinates the Print Studio in the
Dunedin School of Art at the Otago Polytechnic.
Stephen F Eisenman, The Abu Ghraib Effect (London: Reaktion Books, 2007).
Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask, trans. Meredith Weatherby (New York: New Directions, 1949/1958.
Allen S Weiss, Iconology and Perversion (Melbourne: Art & Text Publications, 1988).
Moe Meyer, The Politics and Poetics of Camp (New York: Routledge, 1994), 88.
Ibid., 83.
Ibid., 78.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1990), 68.
Sedgwick quoting DA Millar, ibid., 67.
Sedgwick, ibid., 68.
Sue-Ellen Case, quoted in Meyer, The Politics and Poetics of Camp, 113.
Neil Emmerson – Confess – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Report
Rekha Rana Shailaj
This report explores the ever-changing identity of fashion which is constructed through various subjectivities that
determine dressed bodies. Designers are now working with not just the commercial realities of the fashion world,
they are also questioning its role and how it can educate both the designer and the consumer. While fashion
participates in the pursuit of bringing new ‘looks’ seasons after seasons, it also exhibits itself as an object of desire
and criticism. In her article “Slow + Fashion – an Oxymoron – or a Promise for the Future…?,” Hazel Clark subjects
the fashion system to a new critique. She argues that “in this refocusing, ‘fashion’ is presented as an individual creative
choice rather than as a group mandate. Slow + Fashion refocuses our attention on earlier definitions of the term
‘fashion’ to do [with?] making – clothes and identities, rather than only with looking.”1 She presents the debate
around the slow approach to fashion, where clothing demands a considered, thoughtful, meaningful and sustainable
It is the art of making rather than the designing of consumption that is drawing the attention of many creative
endeavours. Many designers are finding their practice at the interface of art and design. It is this relationship between
fashion and art that has found relevance in my practice of fashion design. It is informed by childhood memories
of my mother working with creative media such as painting, sculpture, dressmaking and embroidery. These media
in conjunction suggest that my work often finds a place between fine art and applied design. My approach to my
work is strongly contextualised by my personal background and hence reflects an individualised aesthetic. This
combination is evident in my work – the fine arts component resides in my approach to creating clothing that
brings past and present, known and unknown, my culture and memories from the past into context; the applied
design aspect is evident in challenging conventional methods and using unconventional methods to create designs
for fashion.
‘Art-fashion togetherness’ is being celebrated by the avant-garde designers who are now questioning the role of
fashion. Rei Kawakubo’s first show in Paris in 1981 conceptualised fashion as more than a social construction of
‘woman’ as the beautiful, graceful gender. Barbara Vinken elaborates on Rei Kawakubo’s collection as an artist’s
response to the old “monopoly of [the?] French in matters of elegance, and the expertise of French couture.”
With her Lace Collection, Rei Kawakubo pushed the boundaries and conventions of fashion and rapidly entered
into the realm of art. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London now houses this famous collection. According to
Vinken, “her aesthetic is, in the end, not an aesthetic of poverty, even if much of the provocative effect of her work
comes from this direction. Rather it is a negative aesthetic, based in a contestation of the idea of fashion itself.”2 The
International Herald Tribune’s fashion journalist said of her work: “[her?] show was the first that made a big impact in
Paris; when the clothes were destroyed, when there were sweaters with big holes in them …. The whole idea that
there could be beauty in the unfinished was very extraordinary.”3
Many other designers are seeing sense in how Rei Kawakubo works with her creative vision to give clothing its
long-desired freedom. As photographer Paolo Roversi puts it: “I consider Rei Kawakubo to be an artist. Because
she always bets everything in [on?] the outcome, and she always follows her own instincts, imagination and spirit.
And all the rest is made to contribute to her own free creativity. She continues to defend at all price the liberty and
independence that oppose the commercial aspects of the fashion industry … and she does that in order to defend
her artistic spirit. And that should be the first priority within an artist’s work.”4
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Rei Kawakubo is a prime example of a designer who embodies visual artistic references in their clothing designs.
Martin Margiela could be considered another fashion designer who exhibits his work in the sphere of art. Martin
Margiela explains that, besides direct references, the designer’s approach to their practice can embody artistic
qualities: “the more individualistic the approach in relation to the current climate of the overall aesthetic referred to
as ‘in fashion,’ the more that approach may be linked to art.”5
For many designers, the fashion process comes in contact with the subjectivities of the designer and is born out
of an intangible resource of personal experiences particular to their cultural bank of memories and emotions. As
a designer, I have been working with elements of clothing that I have experienced through my Indian culture. An
example is paijama – a kind of trouser made from a bias bag or a tube with fabric walls that stretches with the
movement of the body, commonly worn as a component of an Indian ensemble. The seams creating the bias bag
appear in different areas of the garment, with the designer having only partial control over their placement. It brings
into play the known fit with the unknown placement of the seams in a garment, as shown in Figure 1. Here the dress
is created using the constructed bias bag.
This technique uses elements of sculpture to create forms for which fabric is the main material. Sometimes it is hard
to predict the true form of the sculpture before its completion. Working with a known body form, but also with
the unknown sculptural elements of fabric has been explored in the garment shown in Figure 2. While the bodice is
fitted on the body, the flow of the garment around the abdomen and legs creates concealment of the actual form
within the layers of fabric of the bias bag.
Figure 1. Rekha Rana, The Purple Dress, made from bias bag;
the seams appear in unanticipated areas of the dress, 2007.
Figure 2. Rekha Rana, The Purple Dress, layers of fabric
around the skirt area formed with a bias bag, 2007.
Living in Western cultures over a number of years, my Indian cultural identity has encountered an acculturation
process. Fashion springs from the pluralities that characterise postmodernist society. My practice is based on a
reflective studio practice engaged in fashion-creation around the plurality surrounding the relationships between
dress and wearer, wearer and society, the signifier and the signified. Elements such as memories, cultures and
identities can be contextualised and materialised through clothing signifiers. While similar contexts become the
basis for interaction, differences in contexts facilitate dynamic negotiations between relationships. In line with this
idea, my studio work is actuated in a multicultural environment which mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar, the past
with the present, the known with the unknown. My work is born out of lived differences examined and expressed
through a narrative of identity.
While clothing elements can construct cultural meanings, they can also constitute fashion when they signify a
sufficient level of change as sought after by fashionistas. However, in my practice this quest for significant appreciation
by fashionistas has given way to an exploration of identity created through the dialogue between internal and
external worlds. This dialogue involves both differences and similarities, as both are important to our being – this is
what is significant, central and essential to my artwork practice.This process of decentering as an artistic technique of
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
postmodern culture has been included in the discourse of many analysts. According to Marcia Morgado, decentering
is a “technique [that] involves reconfiguring relationships within and beyond a work, so as to devalue what has
previously been central, to call attention to what has been ignored, and to force reconsideration of the place and
significance of previously marginalized elements.”6 Ethnographic clothing is a part of my fragmented, postmodern
experience and hence essential to my study. An appreciation for clothing signifiers originates from the intangible
design process which involves our past memories and emotions as embedded in our cultures and identities. These
go deeper into one’s being than might be imagined by the uninitiated, as they elicit fashion statements that speak of
innate values and not just of the desire for a beautified appearance.
The Indian fashion context embraces key elements such as drape, jewellery, embellishment and embroideries, and
these have influenced my fashion practice as well. Embroideries have lived with me since childhood and, more
recently, as past memories have surfaced again in my present practice. The embroidery in Figure 3 was created with
herringbone stitch. The linear pattern is worked in a specific way on sheer fabric and forms the boundary of the
design on one side of the fabric, and a criss-cross pattern on the other side.The sheer fabric allows the crossed yarn
to show through on the surface as its shadow. In an Indian context, this type of stitch is termed ‘shadow work.’ In
this piece, the stitches travel between the inward and outward curved lines, expanding and contracting to fit them,
reflecting the crossing over of various journeys I have taken so far in my life. Even though each ‘journey’ has been
bordered between the curved lines, the entire piece is not seeking any borders or boundaries. Its trajectories are
fluid, feeding into each other and changing with no finality of interpretation.
Vilém Flusser describes human beings as more restless than other animals, and explains that “not only are they
constantly on the move, but they gather and transmit experience.”7 The longest curve, that passes through all the
other curves in the embroidered work, evokes the first 27 years of my life lived in India, when I was single.
Figure 3. Rekha Rana, Journey of Life, synthetic screen mesh, embroidered with off-white pearle yarn using
herringbone shadow work, 116 x 16.5 cm.
This was the time when I felt most rooted and settled. Since then I have not felt settled, as I have been on the move,
like a restless animal. Maurice Merleau Ponty described his own early experience:
It is at the present time that I realise that the first twenty-five years of my life were a prolonged childhood,
destined to be followed by a painful break leading eventually to independence. If I take myself back to those years
as I actually lived them and as I carry them within me, my happiness at that time cannot be explained in terms of
the sheltered atmosphere of the parental home; the world itself was more beautiful, things were fascinating, and
I can never be sure of reaching a fuller understanding of my past than it had of itself at the time I lived through it,
nor of silencing its protest. Tomorrow, with more experience and insight, I shall possibly understand it differently,
and consequently reconstruct my past in a different way.8
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
I understand this process as a mixing of contexts which can lead to expressions of creativity as contexts collide.
In my embroideries and embellished work, situated within a palimpsest of cultural encounters, neutral colours have
replaced bright colours. There is now a strangeness I feel in using colour as it has become exotic, the other, in my
current cultural context, living with mostly European people in New Zealand. What colour brings out, black and
white diffuse and soften.The use of neutral colours has provided me with the possibility to explore the form, shape,
shadows and the occupied space of the embroideries without being distracted by colour. As my work progressed,
the word ‘shadow’ started to appear to an increasing extent, as well as in my thinking. While shadow needs a physical
form – object, person, form – to cast it, I wanted to ‘cast’ shadows of my past memories and experiences, thereby
materialising them. The kurta (Figures 4 and 5) has been in the repertoire of Indian clothing for a long time, and I
recreated its form as a flat drawing using a soldering iron to burn holes where embroidery had once been. This
process has given visibility to the garments which I wore growing up in India.
Figure 4. Rekha Rana, Memories of the Past Rooted in Today, beige
crepe wool, burnt-out holes using soldering iron, 90 x 23 cm.
Figure 5. Rekha Rana, Memories of the Past Rooted in Today, beige
crepe wool, burnt-out holes using soldering iron, 90 x 23 cm.
These miniature embellished pieces were transposed onto a huge scale by being projected onto walls. Their
presence was materialised through the play of light passing through the transparent fabrics and holes created in the
fabrics. These images were then projected digitally. The narrative of a past interacting with a present was shaped
further as my daughter moved with these projections and I recorded her movements through digital video captures
(Figure 6).
Figure 6. Rekha Rana, projections of embroideries with artist’s daughter interacting with them.
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
My metaphorical shadows question the historical iconographic status of shadows elaborated by Nancy Forgione
as merely ephemeral, fragile and secondary to the light source.9 For my work, the relative permanency of these
captured shadows suggest the endurance of past memories that live in the subconscious, shifting between transient
and stable frames of mind. Memories are embedded in associations; they are reminders, awakening our subconscious
mind, triggering access to our inner subjectivities. Shadows offer a means of making past memories of creation more
visible for me. The embroideries here are not used to embellish the garment. Instead, the garments with their
projected embroideries are worn by the performer to allow for a dialogue between the body of the wearer and
the history of the signifiers of garment, embroidery and shadow.
In the process of connecting with like-minded designers, it is important for me to understand how design is born
within their own particular contexts. Yohji Yamamoto’s designs often embody human elements that are important
to me. Vinken provides a marvellous account of his work:
Yamamoto’s clothing seems to be based on a poetics of memory that has remained untouched by the shocks
and traumas of the modern period. His work mutely collects and registers the affective traces which make up
the individual. What is important is the individualised sum of experiences which are collected in its course. For
him, the ideal look is that of the vagabonds, the gypsies, the travellers, those who carry their life on their back,
everything that they possess, their memories, their treasures, their secrets.10
Much lies in the process and how it connects with your inner self. Reflecting back in time, I can recollect how my
mother would stitch garments for us during summer vacations. She worked straight on the fabric, marking key
vertical and horizontal measurements for fit, and her scissors never experienced any doubts concerning their track.
I would watch with amazement, trying to understand the art of making. These experiences are part of who I am
today. As a designer, I want to start with a clean slate for making sculptural clothing objects. However, the acquired
knowledge underpinning the making of these objects will always inform the results, and most of the time my
method of working takes into account the impulses inherited from my early memories. My garments are made not
just to clothe a body, but also to communicate a world of experience materialised through them. Again, the design
of the garment in Figure 7 has been informed by the process of marking and cutting openings for neck and arms,
as used by my mother in the past.
Figure 7. Rekha Rana, The Red Dress. This garment transforms and moves with the wearer. 2008.
Figures 8 and 9 show how the tube is drafted by stitching the two parallel sides of the rectangle marked as ‘B,’ and
how the circles and oblongs are cut from the tube for neck and arm insertion.The body then passes though the long
tube, creating excess folds in the fabric for movement.The garments shown in Figures 7 and 11 have been designed
using this technique. Such a garment transforms as the body moves and interacts with it, bringing out the mood of
the wearer. These garments (and the one discussed previously) are ‘historical’ in the sense that they contain traces
of my past experiences.They create a fluid space that allows the wearers to express themselves through movement.
As a designer, I have been working with elements of clothing experienced through my Indian culture. I have gone
back to my home address D–73 where I grew up, and gained the lived experiences of clothing myself in Indian
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 9. Rekha Rana, fabric tube made using
pattern as in Figure 8, 2008.
Figure 8. Rekha Rana, pattern for a garment
made out of fabric tube, stitched to a level
indicated by dashed line B, 2008.
Figure 10. Rekha Rana, The Purple Dress, This garment transforms and moves with the wearer. 2008.
garments. The kurta,11 dhoti salwar,12 churidar paijama,13
angarkha14 and abho15 (some of the traditional
garments worn in India) that I wore have come back
to me as garments that seek to find visibility in the
Western context.
My lived experiences have accumulated, manifesting
as the depth and variety represented in my clothing
designs. Today, articles of clothing such as trousers,
jackets, blouses, vests and pants which can be
categorised as Western form the repertoire of my
design. At the same time, clothing articles from an
Eastern aesthetic such as kimonos, kurtas and abhos
Figure 11. Rekha Rana, The Charcoal Dress, with back and
front pouch. This garment transforms and moves with the
wearer. 2008.
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
are part of who I am as a consumer and a producer of design. I have interpreted these Western and Eastern
aesthetics in a collection of six outfits entitled “D–73: Homeward Bound”. This was shown at the 2010 fashion show
at the School of Fashion, Otago Polytechnic, and then exhibited at the Dunedin School of Art Gallery. In this body
of work, Eastern and Western identities have come together as a harmonious entity. The collection is based on a
number of key concepts: hidden structures, multiple identities, body and shadow, different positions and the kurta
as a monumental piece. Fabrics such as leather and fur, which are not traditionally used in India, have been mixed
with Indian silk and organza fabrics. The collection is characterised by a bricolage of unusual fabrics and different
aesthetic codes. Minimal, simple, clean and sharp cuts have been used with overindulgent, rich fabrics, hence bringing
minimalism and opulence together in a dialogue. Handcrafted, layered, ethnographic garments have been compiled
into feminine shapes, providing a subtle realisation of the body inside the garments.
Within the spectrum of minimalism and opulence, West and East, fitted and loose, geometric and draped, fashion
has the strength to manifest subjectivities and create multiple identities in various contexts. My collection has
resulted from a study of such varied spectrums, bringing the past into the present. According to Susan Kaiser, Richard
Nagasawa and Sandra Hutton, “postmodern culture offers new opportunities for individuals to ‘construct an identity’
and ‘invest’ (their lives) with meaning and that postmodern culture holds out the possibility of greater acceptance of
others, based on cross-cultural exchange and appreciation of others’ material artefacts.”16 Having confidence in this
aspect of postmodern culture, I want to work between art and design to explore the potential of presenting and
perpetuating culturally diverse experiences for my audience.The collapse of the distinctions between élite, mass, and
street fashion (as stated by Morgado) has opened new possibilities for a scholarly critique of fashion which I want to
term ‘postfashion’ (a term coined by Barbra Vinken): raising awareness of fashion beyond consumerism.
Figure 12. Rekha Rana, The Bubble Dress, 100% wool, 2010.
Photographed by Simon Swale. Modelled by, Eva Duncan at
Ali McD modelling agency.
Figure 13. Rekha Rana, The Pleated Dress, The Abho and
Kimono Jacket Outfit, 2010. Photographed by Simon Swale.
Modelled by from left Georgia Ferguson, and Eva Duncan at
Ali McD modelling agency.
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The Bubble Dress shown in Figure 12 conceals its structure which is based around a fitted garment called a choli
combined with a kurta which lends sensuality to the body. These hidden structures also operate in other garments
in the collection. The Pleated Dress in Figure 13 is another adaptation of the kurta, where horizontal seams have been
hidden in the constructions of pleats.
It has been vital for me to explore alternative methods of creating garments, challenging the methods that I have
learnt while studying for the Bachelor of Design (Fashion) in order to extend the boundaries of my knowledge
outside its comfort zone. Using unconventional pattern shapes brings an element of interest and a twist to what can
be produced as a garment. This is a process which trusts the designer’s understanding of body, form and fit. Many
Indian garments – and, broadly speaking, many Eastern garments – originate from geometric shapes.The assembly of
different rectangular patterns to form a kurta is the method used in the construction of the leather jacket in Figure
14. In the exhibition space, this monumental piece hung like a relief sculpture, becoming the interface between
fashion and art, construction and sculpture. The visual seam lines have been emphasised with topstitching to draw
the viewer’s attention to the angularity of its rigid form. Suspending the garment and stripping the body from it also
brought out the strong sculptural elements.
Figure 14. Rekha Rana, The Leather Jacket. The seams echo the structure of a kurta, 2010.
Photographed by Ted Whitaker.
The exhibition “D–73: Homeward Bound” sums up the several processes that have informed the making of these
garments. There is a space between the making, wearing, exhibiting and viewing of the garment which needs to find
visibility. While the garment on a body has movement, once exhibited it becomes a sculpted object. Its complexity
can be deciphered by means of a closer view.
The exhibition space was divided into seven sections:
• a row of four outfits with spotlights
a long kurta dress against a backdrop of a kurta pattern image
a leather jacket
a sheer top hung from the ceiling, projecting shadows on a wall
a video of projected embroideries
projections of modelled outfits
a window with image and text.
The collection of four outfits exhibited in a row in the gallery space had previously been shown on the catwalk
(Figure 15), and now found visibility as sculptural pieces in their own right. These pieces have movement when
modelled on the catwalk and, as sculptural pieces, they feed the interest of the viewer, who can now focus on the
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
details within the material selection and construction,
and on the surfaces and construction of the pieces.
Displaying them in a row formalised them into
an order which the viewer unravelled through an
inquisitive engagement with materiality and detail.
These dressed body forms were lit up to cast shadows
behind them, thereby echoing multiple identities
(Figures 16 and 17).
The long kurta dress stood alone by itself. It had as
a backdrop a large pattern drawing of a kurta. It is
usually worn knee or calf length; however, this garment
touches the floor. This particular garment shows my
ethnographic context very clearly, and hence its
placement within the gallery space needed isolated
attention. In a sense, it provided a key to the reading of
the other garments in which the flow of Indian dress
mutates under the influence of Western elements and
overtones. The opaque fur with sheer panels shows
hints of a body inside, like a shadow (figure 18).
While the leather jacket is rigid and not open
to distortion with movement, its opposite in the
exhibition was the drift of the sheer shirt, which has
hidden parts in its construction. These were made
visible with the play of light. This garment blurs its
origins as a shirt, kurta, kimono or abho, as all are
interpreted in it as an expression of multiple identities.
The garment cast its shadow on the wall as one, a
shadow which changed as it moved in a circular track
on its own axis.
While the shadow of the drifting sheer shirt
highlighted the details within the shirt, the shadows
of the embroideries captured in the video next to it
embraced my childhood memories of dress within
my practice. The embellishment which is crucial to
Figure 15. Rekha Rana, D–73 Homeward Bound, shown at
School of Fashion, Otago Polytechnic
2010 fashion show.
Figure 16. Rekha Rana, D–73 Homeward Bound Exhibition
shown at The Dunedin School of Art Gallery, 2010.
Photographed by Ted Whitaker.
Figure 17. Rekha Rana, D–73 Homeward Bound Exhibition
shown at The Dunedin School of Art Gallery, 2010, showing
shadows of garments worn by body forms.
Photographed by Ted Whitaker.
Figure 18. Rekha Rana, D – 73 Homeward Bound Exhibition,
The Fur Kurta Dress with side panels in sheer fabric, 2010.
Photographed by Ted Whitaker
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
the Eastern aesthetic had been captured in a video of
projected embroideries (Figure 20).These embroideries
had a journey starting with real embroidered samplers,
magnified through projections and then deconstructed
into other forms of surface embellishments such as
knitted bubbles, pleats and slashes.
These garments are now shown as sculptural pieces.
However, they need to be worn in future to further
maximise their aesthetic and functional aspects. Their
use on the model is made visible through ensembles
shown through projections (Figure 21). The scale of
these digital projections had a substantial presence in
the exhibition, and this reflected the dynamic effect of
the work as seen on the catwalk.
Figure 19. Rekha Rana, D – 73 Homeward Bound Exhibition,
The Sheer Shirt, 2010. Photographed by Ted Whitaker.
Figure 20. Rekha Rana, D – 73 Homeward Bound Exhibition,
embroideries projected on the wall, 2010.
Photographed by Ted Whitaker.
Figure 21. Rekha Rana, D – 73 Homeward Bound Exhibition,
model wearing The Bubble Dress and Kimono Jacket
projected on the centre wall, 2010.
Photographed by Ted Whitaker.
Fashion has its own journey, which I have tried to
understand through observation and scholarly activity.
Vinken talks about the era of ‘postfashion,’ which has
arrived after the completion of the ‘hundred-year
fashion’ era – where designers, instead of inventing
and reinventing woman, are now deconstructing
‘woman.’17 Such a deconstruction seems also to be
critical of a previously unitary notion of Western
fashion. My own work challenges this notion as it
deconstructs it through the inclusion of elements
from my own non-Western past, elements signifying
cultural difference, albeit now incorporated into
my current hybridised culture. Through my work I
am deconstructing a woman who is a narrative of
my own being, created from lived differences and
commonalities. I understand that my two worlds
cannot always be reconciled, nor do I want them to,
but their encounters can be innovatively presented
through creative attempts. Cornel West claims that
“a new kind of cultural worker is in the making,
associated with a new politics of difference …. The
new cultural politics of difference consists of creative
responses to the precise circumstances of our present
moment.”18 My studio work will be challenging, and
also be challenged by, the multiple positions presented
through my circumstances.
For me, the ‘postfashion’ era defines a time where
designers are conscious of a new space, wherein
fashion is not just for the mere gratification of physical
appearance, but for evoking and connecting to the
inner self and its cultural values, emotions, memories
and experiences. The postfashion era validates the
complex design processes through which I want to
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
establish a bond between the garment, body and space. While I can say that fashion design has allowed me to
express my social and aesthetic needs, it has also made me explore new methodologies of work which are going
beyond consumerism and questioning the very notion of fashion design. In response to this, my exhibition D–73:
Homeward Bound has been presented within a visual arts context. This is a new form of empowerment that needs
to be tapped into in order to bring change to contemporary culture and contribute to the discourses of fashion,
clothing and art.
Figure 22. Rekha Rana, D – 73 Homeward Bound Exhibition, Panoramic View. Photographed by Emily Hlavac Green.
Rekha Rana Shailaj graduated with a Diploma in Design (Fashion) in 1997 from Otago Polytechnic. In 2004
she translated the diploma into a degree with a research paper on embroideries from the western region of India.
In 2011, she completed her Masters of Fine Arts (Design) at Otago Polytechnic. As a conceptual designer, Rekha’s
research is situated in a diverse multicultural environment where social enquiry is tolerant of social differences,
ambiguity and conflicts in the creation of identities. Presenting her work regularly at national and international
conferences and in exhibition spaces has allowed her to contribute to current debates on fashion.
H Clark, “Slow + Fashion – an Oxymoron – or a Promise for the Future …?,” Fashion Theory, 12:4 (2008), 445-54.
B Vinken, “Yohji Yamamoto: The Secret Sewn In,” in her Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System (New York: Berg,
2005), 110.
“Revolution,” in Unlimited: Comme Des Garçons, eds S Shimizu and ‘NHK’ (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2005).
“Body,” in Unlimited: Comme Des Garçons, eds S Shimizu and ‘NHK’ (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2005).
The Fashion Business: Theory, Practice, Image, eds N White and I Griffiths (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2000), 82-3.
MA Morgado, “Coming to Terms with Postmodern:Theories and Concepts of Contemporary Culture and their Implications for
Apparel Scholars,” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 14:1 (1996), 41-53.
V Flusser, The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism, trans. Kenneth Kronenberg (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press,
2003), 25.
M Merleau-Ponty, “Other Selves and the Human World,” in his Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 1962), 405-25.
N Forgione, “The Shadow Only: Shadow and Silhouette in Late Nineteenth-century Paris,” Art Bulletin, 81:3 (September 1999),
Vinken, “Yohji Yamamoto: The Secret Sewn In,” 110.
Ritu Kumar explains that “Kurtas are made up of straight panels of fabric stitched together at the selvedge to form a tunic to
which wide sleeves are attached at right angles.” R Kumar, “Women’s Garments,” in her Costumes and Textiles of Royal India
(London: Christie’s Books, 1999), 246.
The dhoti, an uncut draped garment (menswear in India), has been converted into a stitched trouser called salwar.
Churidar paijamas are trousers fitted around the lower legs and loose around the waist, tied with a draw string. They were
traditionally worn in Mughul courts.
The angarkha can be broadly defined as a long-sleeved gown or coat.The key distinguishing feature of the angarkha is the roundedged, sometimes triangular opening and the inner panel known as the purdah, which is inserted into the cut-out portion of the
yoke to cover the chest.
The abho is a variation of the kurta that appears like a dress which is gathered into the waist.
Morgado, “Coming to Terms with Postmodern.”
B Vinken, “What Fashion Strictly Divided,” in in her Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System (New York: Berg,
2005), 3-36.
S Seidman, The Postmodern Turn (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 65.
Rekha Rana Shailaj – Design Praxis – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Travel Report
Michael Greaves
Figure 1. Michael Greaves, Monumental Hoxton (2010), oil on canvas, 74.6 x 71.6 cm.
In the cold month of July 2010 I boarded a small aircraft early in the morning at Dunedin Airport, embarking on
what one might liken to a contemporary version of the ‘Grand Tour,’ part of the cultural ‘lore’ of New Zealanders’
right of passage or ‘OE.’ I had a huge sense of anticipation. Every aspect of the trip had been considered and planned,
but in that all-too-virtual way where the interface between accounts from friends, images, ideas, collections of words
seem somewhat magnificent and inadequate at the same time. All of this, all the planning fades in a millisecond like
the illusion of smoke and mirrors at a cheap magic show when you are confronted with the actual experience.
As the now much larger plane descended to land at Frankfurt International Airport some time early in the morning
of Wednesday 14 July 2010, I saw my first European monument. It was a defining structure of the power of the
twentieth century. It seemed to be breathing, belching actually. Vapour rose under power, in a very unnatural way,
from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant some 200 metres to my left; the red and white checkers of a
geometrically challenged building attached to this gigantic thrown pot seemed most alien to me, just the tip of the
blurring sensation of history I would encounter in the next six weeks.
Michael Greaves – Europe 2010 – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
What impressed me most about this introduction
to Europe, reflected in its people and in its art, was
exposed right then in a strange way. In this case a
nuclear reactor, which would ignite historical tropes
of devotion and remembrance encountered in less
industrial corners of Europe. This fascinated me.
This very public and civic monument, both utilitarian
and invisibly threatening, expressing a gargantuan form
of fear, really reflected some of the histories of the
continent. Upon reflection, I have never encountered
so many expressions of implicit and explicit violence as
in the galleries of Europe, and here I was considering
the imposing threat of a ‘thrown pot.’ These
contradictions engaged me more than I expected and
became real considerations in the work I was going to
make in Europe for a show titled “Smoke and Mirrors:
Painting, Isolation and Tradition” planned for my return.
Following this short introduction to Germany in
transit, I began my ‘Grand Tour’ in London; first stop
was the National Gallery.
At the National Gallery I made an effort to find
The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca. I had
never seen a painting made by the godfather of
perspective and I was eagerly anticipating my first
Figure 2. Michael Greaves, What Now? What Next? (2010),
watercolour on paper, unframed, 20 x 12 cm.
The painting didn’t disappoint, but it was so unlike
what I had expected. It was hidden away in a dimly
lit room, curated into a mini show that included the
The Arnolfini Portrait, another incredible moment. To
see these works as they are, without text, out of the
page of a book, is a strangely surreal experience. The
surfaces were seductive, unlike the reproductions.
The painter’s ‘hand’ was visible, even in the deft
brushstrokes of the van Eyck. This was and is an
important part of my engagement with painting, one
that I find challenged in much New Zealand painting
where the surfaces are almost ‘too’ pure.
Figure 3. Michael Greaves, “Smoke and Mirrors,” installation,
September 2010.
Piero’s work was much larger than I imagined, even
though I knew and had measured out the dimensions
many times, 168 x 116 cm, tempera on panel … .
It seemed so collaged, so constructed, so unnatural.
I understood Piero’s method, his mathematical
numerations on proportion; I just expected these to be
more fluid. The real surprise of this painting, however,
was constructed from Piero’s over-rationalisation
of the painting’s application and scale. There was
monumentality in this painting, an architectural order
Michael Greaves – Europe 2010 – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
and an iconographic status. Regardless of my geographical environment – London, Paris, Dresden, Leipzig, Prague or
Berlin – the elements of Piero’s painting were revisited over and over in all that I saw.
I began to see this painting reflected everywhere, in the city environs of Europe, in the spaghetti-like arterial routes
entering Prague. The way Paris was ordered post-Hausmann. The way that everything is seemingly rational and
proportional, based upon some invisible rule. In life, the monuments, reflecting civic ideals, are also in proportion to
their place, but not to the public who observe them.There is a disproportionate scaling in the civic architecture and
art objects of Europe, either greatly enlarged or small and minutely detailed. As in painting, these objects/monuments
project a kind of imaginative space, contained in connectivity with narrative, history and a visual discourse. The
narrative, though, is ever-changing with the interpretations and interactions the viewing public/tourists bring and
reinvent daily. These spaces are both contained and reflected, in terms of what comes before in relation to what
is added after, as the city space changes and shifts through time, a layering of present sensibility and devotional
formulations of space. I found a connection here between the geometry of Piero and the intention of these public
monuments – the connection being a collaging of elements, ordered by a rational plan, but altered in physical space
that was legitimised in the imagination.
The gold and bronze architecture was static, while
an ever-changing cultural and colourful collection of
people somehow managed to navigate, maneuvering
without seemingly even noticing or acknowledging
it. The monumental, static sculptural elements of the
city acted as ambivalent traffic lights and geographical
place markers. Touchstones like the statues that span
the Charles Bridge in Prague, the elephants at the
entrance to the Berlin Zoo, and of course the Albert
Memorial in London – all of which created crossing
zones of cultural significance to me in my wanderings.
The work that I made for a show to be held in the
Dunedin School of Art Gallery upon my return in
September, was made either in response to Piero’s
work or in a projection of some other kind of space
that I was encountering in both the painted image or
the European terra firma. A strange kind of geometric
space began to realise itself. There was less of a
concern with the relationships and proportionalities
of the objects that I was considering in the work, more
of an overpainting of a kind of geometry, a connective
intangible element associated with painting and
painting’s history. It was apparent to me after seeing
Piero’s work up close that his painting was a nexus
of problems that on graph paper may be rationalised
and pure, but in fact are far from pure – much like
painting in general.
Figure 4. Michael Greaves, The world around here is made of
gold, graphite and glitter on paper, unframed, 20 x 12 cm.
Impurities realised in seeing the Piero up close – scale, mistake in application or line, problematic colour value
or disproportionate importance of object – became for me the most important considerations, above anything
else. I set about painting/drawing/erasing every day, either in situ or upon reflection. I did not make preparatory
studies; whatever was made during the day was important. The work existed as a single act, both a reflection and
a construction, using simple and quick materials on simple and cheap media. I was concerned primarily with the
Michael Greaves – Europe 2010 – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
relationship between the value of what I was making to that of what I was observing.The cheapness of the souvenirs
I had brought back with me and the decorative embellishments that I could propose were important, while at the
same time trying to render an idea of ‘impossibility’ in the painted works.
These works are a record of my relationships with the valued and constructed masters of Europe isolated from
their tradition – a mere apparition of smoke in my view.
“Smoke and Mirrors: Painting, Isolation and Tradition” is only a beginning, a first entrance into the impurities of
painting for me, illustrating the ruse inherent in the monumentality of the medium.
Figure 5. Michael Greaves, “Smoke and Mirrors,” installation, September 2010.
Michael Greaves is a painter and lecturer in Painting at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic / Te Kura
Matatini ki Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand. His own work and research is driven by the seemingly contradictory
world of the maker and the object, isolation and irrelevance, common memories and collective histories, failed
utopias and relationships between seemingly uncooperative imagery. Michael holds a BA in Art History and Theory,
a BFA in Painting and a postgraduate degree in teaching.
Michael Greaves – Europe 2010 – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Kerry Ann Lee
Figure 1. Kerry Ann Lee, Electric Warrior (2009), raw wire sculptures on overhead projectors. Photograph: John Lake.
“Da Shi Jie/ The Great World: Shanghai Works 2009-2010” [大世界:2009-2010 创作于上海] was an exhibition by
Kerry Ann Lee held at Toi Pöneke Gallery in Wellington. This was the first presentation in New Zealand of works
created as an artist-in-residence and solo exhibiting artist in Shanghai. From 29 April to 20 May 2011, the gallery
was transformed into a ‘deconstruction site’ – incorporating visual and material meditations on culture, scale and
monument, where big dreams are built on top of shifting terrain.
The following excerpt is taken from a public discussion held at Toi Pöneke Gallery, on Thursday 19 May 2011, at
the opening of “Da Shi Jie/ The Great World.” A conversation about cityscapes and cultural production in flux in
Kerry Ann Lee – Urban Utopias – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Shanghai and Wellington was had between the artist, Kerry Ann Lee, and guest speakers Sophie Jerram (curator,
Letting Space), Dr Luo Hui (lecturer, School of Languages and Cultures, Victoria University of Wellington, and
director of the Confucius Institute) and David Cross (associate professor, Massey School of Fine Arts).
David Cross: The first area of discussion that Kerry Ann floated to me was of the city as a dynamic site for
memory, mythology and identity formation. I wanted to begin by putting something to all three of you to pick up
and respond to it as you choose to, and it’s about this idea of the city and what we might mean by that: What do
you understand by the notion of the city in our contemporary context, and is it possible to connect Wellington
and Shanghai in any meaningful way beyond the putative identification that they are both ‘cities?’ Wellington, in
contrast, seems like a small town; you could nearly blink and miss it – but at the same time, unlike Shanghai, it has
the international cachet of being a capital city. There is little swirling multiplicity that I’d associate Wellington with
Shanghai, but then I haven’t been to Shanghai.
Kerry Ann Lee: For me, the understanding of the city as a site for possibility and change is really important. A city
can mean different things for different people. Like how Wellington is a big city for some people, and we can take
that for granted if we’ve grown up or lived here long enough to feel it’s more like a village. Shanghai has a different
sense of scale and identity as a ‘dynamic future city,’ that it wants to be a model for a future notion of the city. It’s
interesting, because I felt in Shanghai a noticeable difference between Eastern and Western understandings of the
Luo Hui: It never occurred to me to compare Wellington to Shanghai. It’s quite a stretch of the geography and of
the imagination because in terms of scale, as Kerry Ann mentioned, they are vastly different. One’s a smallish city and
the other’s a big supercity. As for similarities, they’re both port cities. Although Shanghai’s not on the ocean, it has that
culture associated with it – that it’s some kind of hub, and that really is one of the major factors in the formation of
a Shanghai identity: that it is a portal, China’s connection to the world.
Kerry Ann, you play a lot with the sense of scale in your work. How much of it has to do with a visceral reaction,
moving from a smaller country, smaller city to a huge country, huge city? Artistic concerns aside, how much of it is
a desire to control your own environment?
KAL: One of the key concepts in the show is the interface with what I felt was a very alien space, in that I felt
like somewhat of an alien there. There were these strange disconnects with being in China. I’m of Chinese descent,
but my sense of Chinese space is very different moving from Wellington, doing work and looking at Chinese
identity in New Zealand to going overseas and looking at Chinatowns – like in Manhattan, where I was based
doing a residency.1 So from Chinatowns to ‘Chinaland’ things shift quite a bit. The mythology – what you read and
understand and what you formulate about these places – is totally blown out of the water when you are actually
there. When you ask about a visceral experience of Shanghai, it was very much a sense of trying to locate myself in
such a big, huge, swirling, vibrant, shifting city. For example, the wire works in the show, Electric Warrior, was the first
body of work that I did, and it was a conscious shift in materials where I built my own armoury to protect myself
in the city. It’s a collection of 1:1 scale-size objects I made and it was sort of tongue-in-cheek, talking about the
difficulties of working and using things in this new environment I found myself in – whereas the more immediate
pieces, the photomontages, are projecting aspects of the New Zealand landscape tradition onto some of the
futuristic building forms I was encountering.2 These were really amazing spectacles. Structures felt like they were
constantly collapsing and moving around me in Shanghai.
Sophie Jerram: In response to your question, David, about what cities might be, I think of cities as a commons, and
that’s the reason we don’t all want to hang out in the suburbs – because we don’t share memory in the suburbs, we
share memory in the city. I’m really intrigued to know, Kerry Ann, if shared memories are possible in a city the size
of Shanghai. I imagine there are pockets within Shanghai that you can locate other people within, but I’m interested
to know as a whole: is it possible to do that?
Kerry Ann Lee – Urban Utopias – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Left to right: Luo Hui, Kerry Ann Lee, Sophie Jerram and David Cross in
conversation. Toi Pöneke Gallery, Wellington, 2011. (Image courtesy of the artist.)
Figures 3 and 4. Kerry Ann Lee, Lilliput (2010) and The Diamond Republic (2010), digital montage, 48 x 68 cm. From the “AM
Park” series. (Image courtesy of the artist.)
KAL: It’s like asking whether or not you can get the helicopter out of the scene to try and make sense of that space.
For me, the idea of collective memory or collective stories is what I was trying to make sense of through a heavy
process of reflection during and after the residency. I was over there for four months and the first month I found
a real extreme hit, and I was spending a lot of time on my own exploring the city and getting lost, riding buses and
having these really amazing ‘lost in translation’ moments getting purposefully culture-shocked, which was one of my
Kerry Ann Lee – Urban Utopias – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
intentions for going over there. What I brought back and what I’ve been synthesising since then have been from
my own experiences, so I’ve been trying to touch on other stories, memories and narratives in the city. Things like
me capturing events outside the bus window on the way back home to the studio villa from downtown Shanghai
at night. I found my experiences were very fleeting and precious. That’s probably why I try and take care in creating
work that responds to those moments.
DC: One of the things I find really curious about the idea of the residency, especially a place like Shanghai, is how
you’re forced to orientate yourself very quickly, but there’s so much chance kicks in, like where you stay, who you
meet, what time of year it is. What I’m interested to hear more about are your processes for engaging with the
residency in a place like Shanghai where you have marginal context, and how you approach that engagement with
the city. Do you plan intensively, do you go on Google Maps and suss out week after week where things are, or do
you just turn up and let chance take effect? A place like Shanghai only exists in my imagination. I am really curious
about that sense of orientation and the strategies you put in place, negotiated over that period of four months. Can
you maybe talk a little bit about your method to deal with Shanghai as a city?
KAL: Orientating myself in Shanghai for the first time involved intensive strategic military planning each night in
preparation to travel around the city to get materials and to attend scheduled meetings. island6 Arts Centre, who
were overseeing my residency in 2009,3 were really good in making sure I got to meet the necessary people in
the Shanghai arts scene (gallerists, critics and other artists) to get a sense of what was going on. Also, I had the
help of an assistant, who helped me with translation and would sometimes accompany me on my trips. One of
the interesting facts about Chen, my assistant and friend, was that he didn’t know much English, and I didn’t know
much Chinese. He taught me some of the local ways, like how to catch the buses and the subway lines. I really
loved getting underground and going through the subway systems and geeking out on maps and visual diagrams. I
also attempted to keep up some level of conversational Mandarin Chinese, so I took it upon myself to visit a good
Chinese tutor once a week and practice some basic Chinese. Each night I would map out my routes, where I’d need
to go and how I’d get there, any particular phrases or conversational terms I’d need to be prepared for in case of
any strange encounters. As much preparation as I did, each time I’d go out on any of my missions there would always
be chance. This would either make or break or help or hinder what I had to do, and that was part of the thrill. I had
some amazing times and some really unexpected encounters. I don’t think there’s any straight methodology with it.
DC: In the art world we’re becoming increasingly concerned about people turning up and making superficial
statements about cities, knocking out an artwork then buggering off again, to put it in a colloquial way. Over a
four-month period there are only very finite things you can ever pick up, and I’m interested in that aspect of the
residency in terms of place responsiveness. Did you identify some particular themes or ideas that were pertinent to
your practice that you focused on, or was it very much ‘turn up let it soak in,’ come back and respond to it?
KAL: I always imagined it to be this unfinished piece, because it’s quite a personal line of interrogation – ideas
around identity formation and notions of authenticity were themes that came out, and again, I mentioned about
scale.That was probably more pertinent when I got there and was experiencing the city. Language is also interesting
for me, and not just spoken language but visual language and looking at print media, with my background in graphic
art. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat the whole cake. One of the most important things I wanted from it was to
get a sense of putting myself in that city and learning about how it works through my own positioning. It’s a unique
privileged position being an artist in residence. There are expectations that you’d go over there and have that time,
create some work, seal it up in a box and put it on a shelf – but these experiences, when you let them get under
your skin, they’re a bit harder to shake off.
SJ: You’re talking about identity there and I’m curious to know broadly whether you felt, as a New Zealandborn Chinese person, you had more of a sense of mandate, towards utopia, towards these new cityscapes you
constructed. The idea of utopia or aspiring towards what a possible future city could look like – you’ve clearly
imagined and spent some time considering. Did you feel your view was largely different to, say, that of Chen about
Kerry Ann Lee – Urban Utopias – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
your ability to effect change? I guess I’m asking about your sense of agency. Did you think that as a New Zealander
you had more of that elbowroom conceptually?
KAL: I think the sense of agency is a very good area to discuss as a visiting artist, and how much freedom you
have to express or expand your wings. My residency in Shanghai was at a time right before the 2010 World Expo.4
The Expo’s motto was ‘Better City, Better Life,’ and all those kind of utopian messages, translated in Chinese and
in English, were freckled around the city through media and was really part of that world that I dropped into in
Shanghai in 2009. I think it’s a very pure vision – the idea of the city as being great, but it could be better, and here
are some ways of making it better, and here are some sketches. I felt like I was tuning into that dream.The aspirations
and feelings about it, outside of the actual realities, are coming from a people-focused place. As someone coming
from New Zealand, the conceptual space you occupy can sometimes feel a bit wider.
Figure 5 and 6. Kerry Ann Lee, Ladyface/Almond Sugar (2009) (detail), paper cutting on digital print, found window frame, glass
and plastic adhesive, 80 x 37 x 3.4 cm. From Chinese Relatives 2. (Image courtesy of the artist.)
LH: I wanted to say I really like the show, congratulations. There’s a lot going on. There’s playfulness, as how you’ve
handled the landmarks, icons and the signature buildings of Shanghai. There is this nihilistic gleefulness that I like and
there’s tenderness, with the picture frames salvaged from demolished buildings, the posters on the walls and your
playing with the Chinese characters.5 There’s also intimacy and eroticism, seduction with the miniature sculptures
and the screen, and in the video6 I see the gritty side of the work and city as well, so I think it’s a really very rich
exhibition. Like how it’s put together: there are different bodies of work to create one whole. I think there’s an
underlying narrative, but it’s not spelt out – it’s implicit and it’s up to the viewer to make the story out of it. Certainly
I have my version of the story, but back to Shanghai as the subject of your work.
I’ve visited Shanghai several times and I feel that it’s a world of its own and is a very insular kind of city. You can
feel incredibly lonely in that bustling, exciting city. And being Chinese, I feel that. Interestingly, paradoxically, part
of that has to do with language. Because we’re not just talking about the Chinese characters, the written form
Kerry Ann Lee – Urban Utopias – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
of the language, also spoken language. Shanghainese people speak Shanghainese Dialect and it’s very difficult to
understand, perhaps more difficult than Cantonese for me. It’s really a foreign language if you’re not brought up in
that language environment – so being an outsider, being non-Shanghainese, people can always tell that you’re not
from Shanghai. It doesn’t matter how you dress, how you behave. Even with your best friends in Shanghai it’s very
funny. They all speak very good Mandarin Chinese, which is the standard language spoken in all the major cities and
official media across China, but as soon as they talk amongst themselves, they switch back to Shanghainese as if it’s
some kind of exclusive club membership you’re not part of. So it’s quite frustrating.
I was thinking of how Kerry Ann might have experienced that kind of alienation on a different level. I remember
reading an interview somewhere with you saying, “I don’t speak Chinese, I’m Kiwi Chinese, I can get away with
playing with the characters.” But the question is how much do you think you can get away with? I really like the
creative way you construct grammatically incorrect Chinese sentences, and yet they’re comprehensible to me as
someone who understands both Chinese and English. I actually quite like them because it reflects who you are, and
visually they’re beautiful. But my only little problem was when I was reading the flyer where you provided English
translations to those sentences – you provided very fluent, smooth English sentences so I wonder, because I’m a
real stickler to translation as I do literary translation myself, if you’d actually have to create English sentences that
were just as awkward to really reflect that dilemma or in-between position you found yourself in – maybe that the
translation part reflects your own linguistic relationship with the culture.
Kerry Ann Lee is a visual artist, designer and educator from Wellington, based in Dunedin as senior lecturer at
the Otago Polytechnic School of Design. Lee has exhibited internationally and is also known for her self-published
fanzines with titles such as Help, My Snowman’s Burning, Celebretard and Permanent Vacation enjoying international
exposure and readership over the past 13 years.
Artist in residence at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Summer Residency Program, June 2009.
A series of large-scale photomontage prints by Kerry Ann Lee were exhibited at “AM Park,” a solo exhibition at am art space,
Shanghai, in June 2010.
Wellington Asia Residency Exchange (WARE) residency 2009, supported by Asia New Zealand Foundation, Wellington City
Council and island6 Arts Centre.
The 2010 World Expo was an international exposition aimed at a domestic Asian market. The organisers anticipated 70
million visitors to Shanghai over the period of the expo, which ran from May until October 2010.
Chinese Relatives series (2009).
Electric Warrior (2009), Geometricity (2011) and video clips taken from bus windows (2009).
Kerry Ann Lee – Urban Utopias – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Residency Report
Anita DeSoto
Figure 1. Anita DeSoto, Other Wordly (2011), oil on canvas, 183 x 137 cm.
‘Lost in Leipzig’ sums up my three-month artist’s residency experience in 2010 at Leipzig International Art Residency
programme. Located in the continent’s largest former cotton mill, the Spinnerei is now dedicated to art-related
businesses and artists’ studios.
Leipzig is an East German city of around half a million people, and is still in the process of realising the reunification
of Germany. The enormous cultural impact of this political upheaval has given rise to an impressive new school of
painters over the last 20 years. Of particular interest to me was the work of Neo Rauch (b. 1960), hailed by some
as Germany’s greatest living painter, his wife Rosa Loy (b. 1958) and friend Tilo Baumgartel (b. 1972).
Anita DeSoto – Leipzig – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Anita DeSoto, Coming Home (2011), oil on canvas,
183 x 137 cm.
All three are natives of Saxony and feature the human
figure extensively in their work. Their formal artistic
training in the GDR laid a highly skilled technical
foundation for their now abstracted and surreal
figurative scenes combined with strong narrative
elements reflecting GDR history. These artists had
their studios neighbouring mine and, while I had little
contact with them, the Spinnerei celebrated their
work with much enthusiasim, and the influence of
their work was everywhere.
I became engrossed in absorbing the recent and
ancient history of that part of the world, and this had
an immediate impact on my ideas.
When I began this residency, I had anticipated what
I was going to paint there. How could I have been
so wrong? Instead, I experienced an artistic crisis that
had me thinking I would never paint another figure.
Ironically, I had flown across the world to the most
exciting location for figure painting. It has taken many
months for me to translate all that inspired me into a
context relevant for me, and embrace figure painting
The critique offered by visiting artists to the residency
programme was challenging and valuable, and mostly
relevant. The approach offered by the Leipzig School
of painters has encouraged me to work towards the
creation of a mood in a work, rather than the use of
symbol to create a narrative; using the uncanny, the
heimlich and the unheimlich.
Figure 3. Anita DeSoto, Primal Wound (2011), oil on canvas,
90 x 123 cm.
Figure 4. Anita DeSoto, Portrait of Abigail (2011), oil on
canvas, 50 x 60 cm.
Anita DeSoto – Leipzig – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 5. Anita DeSoto, Mater, (2011), oil on canvas, 76 x 200 cm.
Anita DeSoto is a lecturer in drawing in the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic. She has been exhibiting
nationally for the last 11 years. Located within the Neo-Romantic style, DeSoto’s paintings point to a recurring
theme of perception coloured by desire – nothing is quite what it might first seem. There is an evocation of the
uncanny in her work, a continual playing off between the heimlich and the unheimlich. Her life-size figures are
often engaged in, or subject to, inexplicable activities. Oils on canvas, her paintings use classical Renaissance brush
techniques. Anita Desoto is also inspired by the surrealist tradition, her work invoking the romantic surrealism of
artists such as Leonora Fini.
Anita DeSoto – Leipzig – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Travel Report
Qassim Saad
Since I left Iraq in 1991, I have made only two trips back to visit family; politics, uncertain situations and instability
are the main reasons keeping me in exile (ghurba or manfa in Arabic). I made the first trip back to Iraq at the end
of December 2003 and early January 2004. This timing was repeated for the second trip, at the end of December
2010 and early January 2011. On both trips I stayed in the family home in Fallujah.1
Figure 1. Flight path to Baghdad; the total flying time from Dunedin to Baghdad is 24 hours one way.
The period between the two trips was associated with great tragedy for us as a family, as well as for the entire
population of Fallujah, resulting from the first and second battles fought by the US army in the city during mid-to-late
2004. On 3 April 2004, a few days before Fallujah was plunged into the first battle, my family and I experienced a
massive loss when our mother passed away; her death reflected the absence in Iraq of basic health services, which
she needed to treat her diabetes.
Then shortly after, during November and December 2004, the entire civilian population of Fallujah was forced to
leave the city before the second battle took place, one since described as the “bloodiest battle of the Iraq War.”2
After two months in exile, my family returned to Fallujah to find the family home destroyed by fire, while the
building housing our factory which produced domestic furniture had been bombed. For more than a year during
these tragedies, I had no way of communicating with my family.
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. The Saad family home in Fallujah; the main entrance following the 2004 battle.
In this paper, I will consider my experience as a designer – thinking of design within its wider contexts – in postwar Iraq, discussing issues and presenting examples collected during my most recent trip to Iraq with the aim of
articulating this travel experience from my position as a person “out of place.”3
My memories of the design of our home were disrupted during this last trip. After my family had returned from
their period of exile in 2005, the first job they did was to rebuild the family home, as well as their business. Because
of the large size of our extended family, the original structure of our old family home was restored after the fire to
accommodate my younger brothers’ families. A new house was built on a section created by joining a small part of
the original family home with land taken from its ‘front garden.’ This new house now accommodates the family of
my third younger brother, as well as my three sisters, and is again known as the ‘family home.’
My hardest task during my last trip was to familiarise myself with this ‘new’ family home. I kept asking where this
and that was, and walking between the two houses in order to retrieve memories associated with specific spots,
designs and material objects from the previous home. My memories of our earlier home keep my strongest
emotions anchored there. I had personally designed and crafted all the joinery for it, as well as most of the indoor
furniture, which had long remained a model of style and quality workmanship. Unfortunately, none of these objects
had survived, except for a few pieces that were located on the second storey. “When our home is destroyed, or
irrevocably changed, or is inaccessible to us (after emigration, for example), it can seem as if we ourselves are no
longer whole, or are suffering bereavement.”4
The designs of newly built domestic houses in Iraq as I saw them during my last trip were totally different from
the styles that were dominant from the 1950s to the 1980s. During these decades, Iraqis lived in an atmosphere
of modernisation and the implementation of energetic state policies for economic development, activity reflected
in their transformed lifestyles, especially in urban areas.5 New architectural styles were created to fill the massive
demand for modern constructions in both public buildings and private houses. Certainly, local technical skills were
stretched during this modification process, resulting in hybrid styles of modern architecture influencing the design
of domestic houses — throughout the Middle East and in Iraq especially.
Iraqi families are used to living collectively. Because they comprise large extended families (my family, for example,
has 12 members: two grandparents, two parents, and eight brothers and sisters), the traditional design of Iraqi
houses provided creative solutions to the problem of accommodating large numbers of people living together. One
solution was the ‘open courtyard’ (houshe in Arabic), designed to provide the family with a central meeting place
during the day.6 This area was surrounded by utility rooms and bedrooms, and had effective links to the hospitality
section of the house, to ensure privacy for the family and hospitality for their guests.The design of houses built since
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 3. Hybrid styles of modern architecture influenced the design of domestic houses in Iraq during the 1950s-1980s.
the 1950s has not coped well with the traditional lifestyle of Iraqi families, especially regarding their collective way
of living – despite the many studies undertaken by respected Iraqi architects (such as Rfiat al-chadirjy) to create
unique designs for domestic houses in Iraq.
In place of the ‘open courtyard’ of traditional designs, architects of modern houses introduced a ‘living area’ created
by joining the kitchen, dining and family sitting room together. However, from the point of view of practicality, in many
houses this ‘living area’ failed to fully accommodate Iraqi customs and traditional ways of living – a subject addressed
in numerous architectural and anthropological studies of the living practices of Iraqi families. Although these modern
houses provided sound, durable structures, improved utility rooms and many modern conveniences, they failed to
meet the needs of family members for appropriate interaction.
In design terms, these modern houses were functionally structured, mainly built from flat-planed walls clad in cement
and brick or stone, with steel-framed glass windows on the exterior. In average-sized houses (3-4 bedrooms), the
interior spaces were divided between two storeys; the first floor was dedicated to living and hospitality areas
which covered 30-50 percent of this part of the building. Families sought to provide the best-quality furniture and
accessories suitable for the hospitality activities of sitting and dining. The bedrooms were divided between the two
However, the new designs of domestic houses in some Iraqi cities and towns that I saw on my visits home have
totally changed from my memories of previous architectural styles. The exterior façades of these new buildings
Entrance to courtyard
The open courtyard
Figure 4. Some traditional designs of domestic houses in Iraq during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
display a style of heterogeneous architectural composition obtained by borrowing and modifying – with reference
to local tastes and construction techniques – classical elements from ancient Western architectural styles mixed
with traditional Iraqi ornamental elements. One popular current design features two long columns dominating the
house entrance associated with both flat and curved walls, the whole edifice rising to two storeys and exhibiting a
spontaneous mix of natural and synthetic construction materials such as marble, ceramic tiles, cement and wood,
with large aluminium windows and lots of ready-made accessories. The interior design shows an attempt to restore
the concept of the ‘open courtyard’ – although the open space in the contemporary version lies between the two
wings of the house and is covered by a flat or dome-shaped roof. At the same time, these new houses maintain old
traditions by dedicating an even larger proportion of the site for hospitality purposes than their predecessors, areas
furnished extensively with accessories in a mix of styles.
There is no doubt that the contemporary design of houses in Iraq is addressing local experience – but in the sense
that experience “is not something that is exclusively internal to the individual but is affected by the environment.”7
By attending to their inhabitants’ collective ways of living, these new designs offer a way of adapting individuality
to the living environment. The rebirth of tradition in the design of Iraqi houses exemplifies Dewey’s dictum: “every
experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of
those which come after.”8
Nevertheless, from a design perspective, many
contemporary buildings are disfigured by the use
of fakes and poor imitations, reflecting the country’s
profound, long-term deprivation and isolation,
weakening its continuity and connection with the
past. Essentially, political and administrative corruption
in Iraq is hindering progress towards developing
policies and building codes based on consultation with
professional designers with a view to accommodating
the country’s current needs and lifestyles.
Figure 5. An example of the contemporary design of
domestic houses in Iraq.
The process by which humans give value to products is a fascinating subject. The sophisticated philosophical
arguments that fuel the constant debate on this subject in design studies circles are aimed at very practical solutions
– to help manufacturers produce quality products and allow designers continued recourse to classical solutions
through modifying the product’s physical characteristics of form, function, materials and production methods, with
the ultimate aim of producing consumer satisfaction.9 However, the principles of human-centred design (HCD) are
introducing designers to the new phenomenon of ‘user experience.’ This approach offers specific design methods
for designers to enhance the relationship between objects and people. The concept of experience, according to
Margolin, is about “the Human interaction with products – material or immaterial things that are conceived and
planned. This interaction has two dimensions: Operative and Reflective. The operative refers to the way we make
use of products for our activities. The reflective addresses the way we think or feel about a product and give it
At this point I would like to present an interesting example that helps us reflect on the subject of user experience.
My example relates to the potential of a consumerist lifestyle which now faces Iraqis. The realities of war and
economic sanctions greatly limited the importation of new products, and Iraqis managed to sustain themselves very
well with what was available in their homes — especially ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘quality branded’ consumer products.
However, since 2003, a massive flood of cheap and imitation-brand products has suddenly appeared and continues
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
to fill the markets, forcing Iraqis to change their buying
habits in the direction of a voracious consumerism.
During my stay at home I noticed a brand-new water
cooler in the house; my family clearly appreciated it
very much, and had even covered it with a nice handstitched cloth. They told me that this was the best
brand of the many available in the local market, and
then my sister said:
“Qassim, have you noticed?”
I said, “Noticed what?”
“Your laptop [a MacBook] has the same logo that’s
on our water cooler!”
Figure 6. The brand-new water cooler! The Saad family home
in Fallujah, 2011.
During my stay in Iraq, I received some unexpected and unwelcome news regarding the future of art education in
the higher Iraqi arts institutions. Here is the news as I heard it on the radio, and cited as commentary from bloggers:
The Iraqi Ministry of Education has banned theater and music classes in Baghdad’s Fine Arts Institute, and ordered
the removal of statues showcased at the entrance of the institute. No explanation was given for the move.
Some students consider religious reasons to be the real motive.
“Prohibiting theatre and music in the institute for its so called ‘violation’ of religion is only an individual opinion
touted by some people hailing from religious parties, but it is contradictory to the opinion of most religious clerics
and scholars,” writer and politician Dhaya al-Shakarchi told
Students also fear that the ban will extend to include other arts such as photography, directing, sculpting, and
Living in modern Iraq means being prepared to face all the problems that may arise from the absence of basic
services, including security and safety for oneself and one’s family. Or, to put it another way, one must always be ready
to accept the worst possible scenario, any time and anywhere.This is the reality of life for the majority of Iraqis today.
However, at the time of my last visit I was temporarily ‘in place’ – a departure from my almost permanent situation
of being ‘out of place.’ My peculiar circumstances caused me to spontaneously retrieve my previous memories in
order to evaluate and deal with issues that arose while I was there.
However, this news of the banning of specific disciplines from being taught in Baghdad’s Fine Arts Institute probably
did not mean a great deal to many Iraqis. For them, it is only one tiny issue amidst a mountain of contradictions. In
fact, I failed to detect a serious reaction even from Iraqi artists to this move by the Ministry of Education. Irrespective
of the criticism directed by some at the extensive role played by turbaned mullahs in the present process of
overhauling education and rethinking educational philosophy in Iraq, their participation is part of a larger project
aimed at rebuilding the education system.This project is sponsored by USAID and began following the occupation of
the country in 2003. It also has the support of UNESCO, which directed participants at an international conference
held in 2008 “to turn the education system around, reclaiming education’s capacity to reconstruct the intellectual,
cultural and social quality of Iraq society.”12 What, I wonder, will be the shape of such a future?
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
There was a time, which I and many Iraqis still
remember, when Baghdad was a famous capital in
the region, well known for its vibrant cultural life and
particularly for the numbers of large-scale statues
scattered throughout its urban fabric. In fact, Iraqis
are still proud of their ‘liberty’ statue, situated in the
biggest square at the busiest intersection in Baghdad.
Sculpted by Jawad Salem, founder of the first sculpture
Figure 7. Jawad Salem, Liberty Monument 1961, Nusub
programme in the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts, the
Al-Hurreya-in Arabic, Baghdad.
statue tells the story of the ‘epic of liberty’ from ancient Iraq. I used to pass it every day, driving from my home to
the Academy of Fine Arts to study and then to work during the 1980s. I also drove past the building housing the
Fine Arts Institute, the country’s first modern art school, established in 1941 and teaching the disciplines of painting,
sculpture and music with the aim of supplying schools with fine arts teachers.The institute, which is the cornerstone
of the contemporary art movement in Iraq, still plays a unique role in promoting the arts in the region. I remember
the pleasure I often felt just looking at the building, which was surrounded by large trees and had many statues from
student projects displayed in and around it.13
My visit home in 2010 -11 was pleasant and enjoyable; I loved seeing my home after a long period of exile, and
enjoyed staying with my family and meeting new generations of adults and children – ‘new’ members of my family
whom I had never seen before, even though they all know me through photos and phone calls. Also during this
trip, I met up with many of my friends; they are all older than the images I have of them in my memory. Here again,
I found myself in places I had left behind for decades. Some of these places now seem very different and even
gloomy – in fact, I felt very sad being ‘in place’ in particular locations, especially when I visited the industrial design
studios in my old college.
Design specialist Richard Buchanan has coined the term ‘wicked problems’ in an attempt to address the massive
contradictions facing contemporary social systems. According to Rittel (cited by Buchanan), these meta-problems
constitute “a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where
there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole
system are thoroughly confusing.”14 Furthermore, in his analysis of the types of problems impeding efforts to
improve these systems, Banathy shows how these obstacles form a “system of problems rather than a collection of
problems.”15 Peccie went further in analysing the nature of these problems or, as he termed it, ‘problematique,’ and
was cited by Banathy: “Within the problematique, it is difficult to pinpoint individual problems and propose individual
solutions. Each problem is related to every other problem; each apparent solution to a problem may aggravate
or interfere with others; and none of these problems or their combinations can be tackled using the linear and
sequential methods of the past.”16 One of the tasks of design studies is to propose new methods and practices that
can help facilitate other disciplines’ efforts to achieve a better understanding of the problems aligned against the
development of social systems.
In my current doctoral studies in industrial design, my research is focused on creating new design methods and
adapting existing methods to help solve these complex and seemingly intractable kinds of problems embedded
in social systems – specifically for the benefit of Iraqis. The interdisciplinary nature of my research is directing me
to the importance of human development studies and the theory of the “capability approach.” According to Sen,
this theory “is a broad normative framework for the evaluation and assessment of individual well-being and social
arrangements … The core characteristic of the capability approach is its focus on what people are effectively able
to do and to be; that is, on their capabilities.”17
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In conclusion, I remain optimistic and look forward
to the day when Iraqis will redirect their energies to
find their way out of the dark tunnel they are living
in right now. This time of darkness is not new for
Iraqis; historical narratives from ancient times to the
present tell of the many dark times through which
Iraq has passed – a history of suffering reflected most
poignantly in their love of sad songs.
Figure 8. The shape of the electricity grid in Iraq – the
linesman’s view.
Qassim Saad is a senior lecturer and academic leader
in the Bachelor in Design (Product) programme in the
School of Design at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin.
He is also a PhD candidate in Industrial Design at the
School of Architecture and Design, Royal Melbourne
Institute of Technology–RMIT University, Melbourne.
“Fallujah (Arabic: ‫ةجولفلا‬‎‎) is a city in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar, located roughly 69 kilometers (43 miles) west of Baghdad
on the Euphrates. Fallujah dates from Babylonian times and was host to important Jewish academies for many centuries.” A
small town in 1947, the city grew to a pre-war population of about 425,774 in 2003; in 2006 the population was estimated
at 250,000-300,000. Within Iraq, it is known as the “city of mosques” for the more than 200 mosques found in the city and
surrounding villages. Source:
2 (accessed 24 Jan 2011).
Edward Said, Out of Place: A Memoir (London: Granta Books, 1999).
Elizabeth Teather, “Introduction: Geographies of Personal Discovery,” in Embodied Geographies: Spaces, Bodies, and Rites of
Passage, ed. EK Teather (London and New York: Routledge, 1999). Cited in Rose McLeod, “Te Waka me te Haerenga: An
Artist’s Journey to Te Waipounamu,” Scope: Art 3 (2008), 32-41.
Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (London: Faber and Faber, 2005).
Elizabeth Fernea, Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village (New York: Anchor Books, 1989).
Victor Margolin, The Politics of the Artificial: Essays on Design and Design Studies (Chicago and London: University of Chicago
Press, 2002).
Ibid., 40-41.
Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict (London: Verso, 2002).
Margolin, The Politics of the Artificial, 41-2.
11 (accessed 20 Jan 2011). See also http://www.bassamsebti.
com/2010/12/new-islamic-republic-of-iraq.html#more (accessed 20 Jan 2011).
UNESCO, “Stop Jeopardizing the Future of Iraq,” International Conference on the Right to Education in Crisis-Affected Countries
(Paris, 2008), 4.
Stop press 2010: the new minister of education (from the opposition party) has cancelled the former minster’s resolution on
the banning of the teaching of specific disciplines in the Baghdad Fine Arts Institute.
Richard Buchanan, “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking,” in The Idea of Design, eds Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan
(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), 14.
Bela Banathy, Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (New York and London: Plenum Press, 1996), 29.
Ingrid Robeyns, “The Capability Approach: A Theoretical Survey,” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 6:1 (2005),
93-117 at 94.
Qassim Saad – Post-War Iraq – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Peter Stupples
In 1870 the Russian railway tycoon, music-lover and patron of the arts, Savva Mamontov, bought ‘Abramtsevo,’ a
culturally significant but rundown estate north-east of Moscow, situated on the banks of the lazy river Vorya amid
rolling wooded countryside. Now Abramtsevo is on the edge of the fast-growing metropolis.
Mamontov, like many Russians of the merchant classes at the time, was both proudly self-conscious of his Russianness
and fatally attracted both to the arts of ‘civilised’ Western Europe and the economic drive of industrial capitalism.
He gathered around him artists, composers and writers all equally riven by these two antithetical passions. Part of
the reason for buying ‘Abramtsevo’ was to focus on the Russianness, to revive the arts based upon the icon and the
folktale, the romance of Russia’s past, but ever conscious of the fashions and achievements of the present. Ironically
Mamontov’s fortune was in part based upon driving a railway across the wastes of Northern Russia, bringing
industrial development and commerce to a region celebrated by the artists associated with ‘Abramtsevo’ for its
myths and folktales, remote monasteries and mystical ascetics.
In 1876 the painter Ilya Repin wrote to a Russian friend from Paris that “everyone was busy with ceramics,” meaning
painting on blank plates and dishes, giving durability to the image after firing. Painting on ceramics, Repin claimed,
would make possible a greater use of coloured images and decoration on the exterior of buildings where it could
replace mosaics. “Imagine a whole frieze painted in this way! … The method is quick and easy, like fresco painting,
and for that reason is not an expensive method.”1
Repin, who frequently visited ‘Abramtsevo’ after his return to Russia, was particularly enamoured of the ceramics
of Joseph-Théodore Deck with its enamel polychrome faience surface, appealing to the Russian traditional taste
for bright colours, high gloss and vivid surfaces, from icons to frescoes, including architectural detailing and what for
some Western visitors was the garish Russian version of mid-seventeenth century Baroque.
In 1880 the artist and designer Elena Polenova, a member of Mamontov’s circle, travelled in Western Europe to
study the applied arts with a view to bringing knowledge back to Russia in order to revive craft skills that seemed in
danger of being lost. She visited Deck’s studio. She also studied limoges enamel glazes with Paul Seifert. In 1888 she
instituted ‘ceramic Thursdays’ at ‘Abramtsevo,’ when visiting artists were invited to decorate plate blanks and other
objects with overglaze paints. Mamontov also dabbled in modelling from clay, as, more significantly, did the Russian
artist Vrubel when he stayed at ‘Abramtsevo.’ Some of all this work was in Moscow.
In the early nineteenth century a kiln at ‘Abramtsevo’ had been used to make decorated majolica tiles in the longestablished tradition of central Russia. When Mamontov bought the estate the kiln was in ruins, but some of the
old tiles still existed and were added to the museum of Russian folk art he established on the estate. Probably as
a result of the enthusiasm for ceramics brought about by the ‘Thursdays,’ the kiln was restored in 1889, becoming
operational in 1890.
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The painter Mikhail Vrubel was appointed artistic director of the ceramics studio with assistance from a technically
trained ceramicist, Piotr Vaulin.
Vaulin was born into a peasant family in the remote Urals in 1870. In 1888 he was awarded a scholarship to study
at the Krasnoufimsk Agricultural Technical College. In addition to the basic course Vaulin studied ceramics, where
he immediately displayed both skill and talent, qualifying as a ceramicist in 1890. On graduation he was invited to
establish a workshop in heat-resistant and chemico-resistant ceramics in an as-yet-to-be-built technical institute in
Chukhloma, a branch of the Technical College in Kostroma. In preparation for his appointment, Vaulin was funded
to make a study of the contemporary ceramic industry in Russia and Finland and also to practice his craft in the
newly restored ceramic workshop at ‘Abramtsevo.’ Due to the unexpected and sudden death of the director of the
Kostroma Technical College, the Chukhloma appointment was not confirmed and Savva Mamontov invited Vaulin
to stay on at ‘Abramtsevo’ to work as technical assistant to Vrubel.2
Soon Vrubel and Vaulin were making pottery responsive to ‘an intimate national music,’ a distinctive Russian style.3
Confident in his technical background, Vaulin ‘re-discovered’ Russian majolica, low-fired tin-glazed pottery and, like
other artists working at ‘Abramtsevo,’ was encouraged to add his own creative ideas to traditional forms and
Majolica-ware4 had a long history in the Russian applied arts, reaching a peak of national expressiveness in the tiles
produced in the seventeenth century to face the exterior walls and window surrounds of palaces and churches,
interior walls, stoves and stove-benches.Though majolica-ware was produced in the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries in Russia, the style and manner of working was deeply influenced by Central and Western European
prototypes. Vaulin proudly wrote: “I set myself the task of reviving Russian majolica in all the distinctive beauty of its
Russian exotic character, of being a pioneer in this type of work.”5
Natalia Polenova recalled that “the master craftsman Vaulin turned out to be talented and well-informed. The
atmosphere of creativity that we all experienced [at ‘Abramtsevo’] embraced him as well, and he was drawn to the
whole variety of artistic moods. He began to contribute his own colourful glazes from his knowledge of chemistry
and ceramics.The success of his innovations in this specialised field brought him the attention of artists … he began
to feel not simply a master craftsman, but a participating member of the artistic world, giving himself up completely
to this interesting task.”6
Both Mamontov and Vrubel began to model in clay before Vaulin’s arrival, but lacked the skills necessary to glaze
and fire their work. After his arrival, Vaulin and Vrubel began working together on projects for the ‘Abramtsevo’
estate – tiles for stoves and decorative friezes. From the very beginning their partnership was a joint venture in
design, decoration, tile-making, bas-relief modelling, glaze technology and experimentation, but always based upon
the heritage of Russian majolica from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In 1890 they created two
Russian stoves, including the famous ‘stove-couch’ that is still to be seen at ‘Abramtsevo.’
Natalia Polenova again: “He [Vrubel] was closely associated with Vaulin in his work, shared his creative daydreams
with him, sketched these ideas for him with watercolour, which excited him and which he wanted to realise in some
actual form. Technically Vaulin tried to obtain the desired tones and in a practical way assist Vrubel to realise his
fantastic dreams.”7
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In the stove-couch, the room-facing plane of the raised
‘pillow’ has the form of the head of a crouching lioness in a
blue glaze to pick up the same colour in the tiles and column
heads and feet of the round Russian arches that decorate
the stove chimney façade. Mamontov placed versions of the
lion’s head (1891) on the gate of his Moscow house at 6
Sadovo-Spasskaia Street. The eclectic elements of the stovecouch make it seem like something older than its years, as if
it were put back together carelessly during renovation, or of
something that has grown over time, history being held in the
accident, the asymmetry.This is certainly Vrubel’s contribution,
but the brilliance of both the smooth and faceted, glazed
surfaces belongs to Vaulin.
It is interesting that in the literature Vrubel get almost all
the credit. The technical potter is seldom mentioned. This
reflects the lowly position of the ceramicist in the community
– Vaulin is never present in the many photographs of the
artists gatherings at ‘Abramtsevo’ – and became a cause of his
later departure. Soviet sources also seldom mention Vaulin
as he later became a victim of Stalin’s displeasure: it is ironic
that the worker, the practical man, was not treated to the
romantic adulation of the eccentric painter.
Figure 1. Mikhail Vrubel and Piotr Vaulin, the
stove-couch, ‘Abramtsevo’ (1890).
When the reconstruction of the fireplaces and stoves had been completed at ‘Abramtsevo,’ and the fashion for
Vaulin to fire and glaze small pieces by other artists had run its course, in 1896 Mamontov shifted the ceramics
workshop to larger premises in Moscow which was known as ‘Abramtsevo at the Butyrsky Gates.’
Immediately, the new workshop began to produce majolica figurines to designs and models by Vrubel based upon
characters in operas produced under the patronage of Savva Mamontov, particularly those on Russian themes by
Rimsky-Korsakov. Products from the workshop were sold in Moscow and St Petersburg. At the same time Vrubel
produced canvas wall-friezes, easel paintings and designs for ceramic vessels of a greater intensity of colouration
and intricacy of design, almost disguising the subject mater under the weight of detail, enamel-like colour and the
near fusion of subject and ground.
In 1896 Mamontov obtained a commission for Vrubel to decorate two semicircular walls at either end of a central
hall dividing two galleries in which the Art Section would be displayed at the All-Russian Exhibition in NizhnyNovgorod.8 One of these panels was based upon a sketch Vrubel had made the previous year of the subject of
Mikula Selianinovich.
Figure 2. Mikhail Vrubel, Mikula Selianinovich (1896), sketch,
watercolour and white over graphite on grey cardboard, 12.1
x 41.3 cm, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow (inv. 3551).
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The story of Mikula is based upon an ancient skazka,
an oral folk tale, first written down in the fifteenth
century. The peasant Mikula is resting from ploughing
to talk with a warrior on horseback, Prince Volga
Sviatoslavovich, together with a band of henchmen.
Mikula represents the link between the strong peasant,
the soul of Russia, and the earth. His plough, made of
gold, silver and maple, is so heavy no one else can lift
it. In one version of the tale he marries ‘Mother Russia,’ a rich
widow. In another version he is the son of Moist Mother Earth.
The independent spirit of the peasant farmer is opposed by
the arrogant desire to dominate by the warrior-sorcerer. A
trial of strength takes place in which Mikula proves his worth
and, as a reward, is given the office of tribute-collector by
the prince.
There are at least six extant preparatory sketches for the final
panel, which was, however, rejected by the commissioners of
the fair and then exhibited separately nearby by an irate and
slighted Mamontov.
Vrubel fused many of the visual aspects of Prince Volga in
his 1898 panel depicting a Russian Mythical Knight (Bogatyr)
astride a Russian war-horse (bitiug). The work is related to
the right half of the sketch in the Tretiakov Gallery, but differs
markedly by its almost comic monumentality and static
Figure 3. Mikhail Vrubel, Russian Mythical Knight (Bogatyr)
(1898), oil on canvas, 32.15 x 22.2 cm (top triangular).
Russian Museum, St Petersburg (inv. Zh-1837). The
original canvas was made to fit an arch in the house of
M.V. Malich, the first owner of the painting.
The All-Russian Fair in Nizhny-Novgorod served as an ideas platform for the Russian pavilion at the Exposition
Universelle in Paris in 1900. The government decided to take a national theme, to design the pavilion as a fairy-tale
Russian kremlin/monastery complex from the seventeenth century and to display Neo-Russian arts and crafts – the
very objects made and promoted by those associated with ‘Abramtsevo’ and the ceramic workshop at the Butyrsky
In 1899 Vrubel designed a fireplace surround depicting
the legend of Mikul and Volga. On the left he depicted
a massive sun-studded peasant standing four-square
behind the horse-drawn plough, whilst on the right
Volga sat astride his long-maned bitiug. Both bogatyri,
folk heroes, glare silently at one another, gods of the
land and water of ancient Rus, earth-loving ploughman
and haughty warrior, both magic tricksters. On either
side of the central arch of the surround perch winged
female figures, the sirins of Russian legends, the angels
or mother-gods of an even older northern Euro-Asian
Figure 4. Russian Pavilion, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1900.
The design richly wove the figures into a complex
whole dominated by strong patches of contrasting
colour and swirling forms to create a feast of
textured surfaces where the apprehension of realistic
representations was obscured by the sensual richness
and delight of colour and facture.
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Instead of using rectangular tiles in the ceramic version,
Vaulin created individual pieces to fit the contours of
the figures and elements of the ground. They were
fired using the method of local reduction. The fettled
seams (grouting) acted like lines in a drawing and this
graphic dimension was accentuated by the creation of
false fissures in the wet clay. This method of ceramic
composition is known in Russian as ‘false mosaics’
(lozhnaiamozaika).Vaulin was also able to use a new
range of lustre glazes he had only successfully fired for
the first time in October 1899.
The fire surround, following Vrubel’s original drawing,
used a range of Russian sixteenth and seventeenth–
century decorative forms including the central pendant
(girka) and eyebrow arches, the surround itself resting
on decorated short columns that in later versions
Vaulin makes more reminiscent of dynki (melons), the
ornamental swellings found on columns decorating
window frames or doors in Russian architecture of
the same period.
Figure 5. Mikhail Vrubel, Mikula Selianinovich and Volga (18991900), sketch for fireplace, watercolour on paper, 25.3 x 31
cm. Russian Museum, St Petersburg (inv. R-2436).
This original fire surround was lauded as a masterpiece
of the Neo-Russian/Byzantine style and earned Vrubel
a gold medal at the Exposition. Vaulin was awarded a
Diploma of Honour for his developments in majolica
technology. The Paris fire surround was sold from the
Exposition and remains in France.
A second fire surround was also made in 1899-1900 for
a Moscow mansion at 14 Sadovaia-Samotechnaiaulitsa.
This was not an exhibition piece but made for use.
It was attached to the walls with metal wire and
concrete. There was a firebox and other fireplace
furniture. In the 1960s the building was turned into
an embassy. During the renovations the fireplace was
broken up and hastily removed. The fragments were
given to the Tretiakov Gallery. It was not until 1986
that the Grabar Centre for Artistic Restoration was
commissioned to put the fireplace back together. It
took ten years for the team, led by V I Cheremkhin, to
clean each fragment, remove traces of soot and the
rusted metal fastenings, and, like completing a complex
jigsaw, gradually reassemble the fireplace. In 1994 the
surround was finally restored. It took a further two
years to redesign and remake the firebox and fire
irons from the evidence of the single photograph that
still existed of the original fire surround in situ.10
Figure 6. Mikula Selianinovich and Volga (1900), fire surround,
photographed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Figure 7. Mikhail Vrubel and Piotr Vaulin, Mikula Selianinovich
and Volga (1899-1900), majolica, 225 x 275 cm. Tretiakov
Gallery, Moscow.
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 8. Mikhail Vrubel and Piotr Vaulin, Mikula Selianinovich
and Volga, Kolomenskoe Museum version.
Figure 9. Novikov apartment house, 11 Kolokol’naia Street,
St Petersburg.
Three other versions seem to have been made in 1899-1900. One, in a dismantled state, is now in the Russian
Museum, St Petersburg (acquired in 1957); a second is in the All-Russian Museum of Russian Decorative-Applied
and Folk Art in Moscow (transferred from the collection of the Sergei Morozov Museum of Folk Art in 2003, where
it had been acquired from ‘Abramtsevo’ in 1910); and a third is at the Kolomenskoe Museum, also in Moscow
(transferred from the State Ceramic Museum in 1934).
Vaulin resigned his position at ‘Abramtsevo at the Butrysky Gates’ in October 1903 as a result of growing
disagreements with the somewhat overbearing Mamontov and a desire to work more independently. He then took
up a teaching position, running a studio-workshop at the Gogol Art and Industry College in Mirgorod, where he
stayed for two and a half years, from October 1903 until June 1906.
One of his commissions at Mirgorod was to make the ceramic decoration for the Neo-Byzantine apartment block
of the architect Nikolai Nikonov in St Petersburg (Kolokol’naiaulitsa 11). The result was a triumph of Vaulin’s talents,
every recess in the façade being decorated with multi-coloured ceramic panels, false mosaics and decorative dynki
columns. It was through this commission that Vaulin’s talents became widely known and appreciated in the capital,
particularly among other architects working on town mansions in the Neo-Russian style for rich merchants.
Vaulin left Mirgorod in 1906 to go into partnership with Otto Geldvein, establishing a commercial ceramic studioworkshop in the village of Kikerino on the Baltic railway line to the south-west of St Petersburg. Vaulin’s studio
was soon overwhelmed with orders to decorate the interior and exterior of apartment blocks, offices, churches,
cathedrals and mansions, some, like the Novikov building, in the Neo-Russian style, others in the style of art nouveau.
In 1908 the Kikerinoworkshop made a further version of the Mikula fireplace for the reception room of a mansion
built (1907-09) for the merchant Filadel’f Bazhanov at 72 ulitsa Marata (formerly Nikolaevskaiaulitsa) in St Petersburg,
where it complemented a ‘northern art nouveau’ Bogatyrsky (Mythical Knight) frieze by Nikolai Roerich, a painter
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 8. Mikhail Vrubel and Piotr Vaulin, Mikula Selianinovich
and Volga, Kolomenskoe Museum version.
Figure 9. Novikov apartment house, 11 Kolokol’naia Street,
St Petersburg.
who had worked previously with Vaulin.11
In addition to the surround Vaulin also designed the cast-iron trivet, fire irons and fire bars, as well as the brass
serpents on the firebox, all in a combination Neo-Russian/art nouveau style. It seemed entirely appropriate as a
complement to the Legendary Knight frieze decorating the reception room.
Apart from the Bazhanov and Tretiakov fireplaces, both of which had been at one time regularly used, all other
variants were made as ‘exhibition pieces.’
The Mikula fire surrounds are the highest achievement of co-operation between an artist-designer (Vrubel) and
ceramic artist (Vaulin) in Russian pre-revolutionary art. They both access the spirit of Russian ancient folk tales,
seventeenth-century architectural decoration and majolica, glaze – particularly lustre – technology, the innovative
assemblage of ceramic pieces (false mosaic) and their placement in Neo-Russian architecture. Their rediscovery
and partial restoration are entirely in keeping with the intense interest in pre-revolutionary art and architecture in
Russia in the twenty-first century.
Peter Stupples is senior lecturer in Art History and Theory in the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic
He was formerly associate professor and head of the Department of Art History and Theory at the University of
Otago between 1990 and 1998. He has written widely about Russian visual culture, his research speciality, and the
social history of art, publishing six books (including Pavel Kuznetsov: His Life and Art, Cambridge University Press,
1989) and numerous journal articles. Stupples has also curated art exhibitions at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery
including “RAINZ: Russian Art in New Zealand” (June–September 2009). He has been invited to give the William
Mathew Hodgkins Lecture at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in August 2011 on “Kikerino and Russian Art Nouveau
Architectural Ceramics.”
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Vasilii Dmitrievich Polenov: Elena Dmitrievna Polenova: Khronika semi khudozhnikov (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1964), 728 n. 57.
Alison Hilton, Russian Folk Art (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 325 n. 50.
Vrubel in a letter to his sister, summer 1891. Vrubel’: Perepiska, vospomonaniia o khudozhnike, eds EP Gomberg-Verzhbinskaia
et al. (Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1976), 56-7.
Clay is pressed into plaster of Paris moulds, fired to biscuit at 1100 degrees, then covered with an opaque tin/lead glaze,
decorated with coloured metal oxide glazes, then fired a second time at 750 degrees.
Mark Kopshitser, Savva Mamontov (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1972), 133.
Natalia Polenova, Abramtsevo: Vospominaniia (Moscow: Izd. M. and S. Sabashnikov, 1922), 81.
Ibid., 82.
A summary of the history of Vrubel’s panels at the All-Russian exhibition is to be found in VI Lapshin, “Vrubel’ na Vserossiiiskoi
vystavke 1896 goda,” Iz istorii russkogo iskusstva vtoroi poloviny XIX-nachala XX veka (Moscow, 1978), 78-91. See also the
chapter on the 1896 All-Russian Fair in Kirsten Harkness, “The Phantom of Inspiration: Elena Polenova, Mariia Iakunchikova
and the Emergence of Modern Art in Russia,” Unpub. PhD dissertation (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), 248-52.
See Piotr Suzdalev, Vrubel’ (Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1991), 304-5.
For a fuller version of the restoration of the Tretiakov version of the fireplace, see
The frieze consisted of seven large canvases and 12 of a smaller size that are now in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg. In
addition to the Mikula fire surround, Vaulin’s studio-workshop supplied the Bazhanov house with six majolica corner stoves
and four centre-wall fireplaces to designs by the architect Pavel F Aleshin.
Peter Stupples – Mikula Volga – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Sudhir Kumar Duppati
This paper attempts to examine New Zealand arts education programmes, beginning with the primary through the
secondary school curriculum, to search for the possibility of integrating the independent arts disciplines currently
existing in the schools. A learner-centred interactive interdisciplinary pedagogy is intended to draw a paradigm for
arts education that has two similar, yet different, integrating points of inception. One is rooted in the indigenous
concept of the art form embedded in cultures like those of Africa and Asia, while the other is identified in the
modern educational psychoanalytical theory of multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardener. Parallel
kinds of integration are found in these two approaches – either between the disciplines or within an individual’s
intellectual development. Interestingly, it is clear that these two approaches, integrated into a curriculum, would
enable a discipline-based arts practice with an interdisciplinary outcome.
Figure 1. Women performing a waiata during the hui in Ruatoria to award the Victoria Cross to Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu,
October 1943. Apirana Ngata is in the foreground. Courtesy: Alexander Turnbull Library.
The current New Zealand Ministry of Education arts strategy states that: “The Arts develop the artistic and
aesthetic dimensions of human experience. They contribute to our intellectual ability and to our social, cultural and
spiritual understandings. They are an essential element of daily living and of lifelong learning.”1 On the one hand, the
curriculum operates with the four disciplines of dance, drama, music and the visual arts. Each of these disciplines
offers learners unique opportunities to develop creativity, understand cultural and traditional issues, and experience
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Kapa haka. Courtesy, Gisborne Boys High School.
emotional and cognitive growth. On the other hand, many arts activities also integrate across the curriculum into
language arts, social studies, and life skills and values education. Examples are mime, role-play and dramatisation,
craft work with puppets, shadow figures, and masks, drawing and painting; working with patterns and design, and
spaces and shapes in mathematics; the use of waste materials in environmental studies; dance and mime in physical
education, and so on.
Considering Aotearoa/New Zealand’s bicultural context, where values differ across and even within cultures, will
integrating the arts ever be possible? Indigenous Maori performances embody a concept of integrated arts akin
to the American Indian, African and Asian context. The waiata (Figure 1), kapa haka (Figure 2) and poi are similar
to other indigenous arts, where performances are integral to a culture (Figures 3, 4). To what extent can this be
considered as an educational model? Do art forms from one culture apply to another culture? Or does a culture
need to understand or accommodate other cultural art forms? Integrated inquiry and learning have the potential for
making learning at school more relevant and engaging, but what are the risks of losing discipline-based knowledge,
and does it matter? Many schools are working hard to engage their communities, but does the wider community
want to be involved in education? What opportunities does the community have to engage with future-focused
ideas about education, and whose responsibility is this? These are a few questions I will engage with in this article.
Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences is another intervention in making possible an integrated
arts curriculum. In his book, Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, Gardner expands the
conventional definition of intelligence.2 Essentially, intelligence is the ability to solve problems or create products that
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 3. Burratha Katha dancers are minstrels who tour villages in Andhra, typically in groups of three or four, singing and relating
stories from the ancient epics. The art is passed on from generation to generation and the couple on the right, Gandiah and
Veeramma Sadula relate a tale from the Mahabharata – wherein queen Draupadi is publicly disrobed. The man on the left is their
son Bhikshapati. A conch shell hangs around his neck – and its blowing is the first sound that opens this scene. Burra Katha is now
a dying art, rapidly being replaced by TV. The couple’s sons have taken to construction jobs to make ends meet.
Figure 4. An Eritrean Ethnic Dance. Photograph: Sudhir Duppati.
are valuable in one or more cultural setting. He believes that people are not born with all the intelligence they will
eventually have – we are able to keep on learning and improve our intelligence throughout our lives. This theory
dovetails with my vision of information-literate students as lifelong learners.
When interpreting the world in terms of perceptions and concepts, the arts become a learning tool through
which learners can experience, reflect upon, express and communicate their thoughts creatively and holistically,
while challenging their imagination and fostering reflective thinking. These competencies are essential to all learning
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Gardener’s multiple intelligences distinguish between several different types of intelligence or strengths in learning.
The body-kinaesthetic the visual-spatial the musical and the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences are of
special interest for arts education, which integrates visual art, music, drama and dance at primary school level.
These intelligences can be developed systematically through planning a learning process that enriches children’s
art “languages.” Each expressive form has its own language, which must be learned for conscious integration to be
Figure 5. A flow chart illustrating the
renewal of thinking about and integration
of the arts in the European context.
Courtesy Dr Roger Antwerp.
Figure 6. The spiral pathway reflecting
Balkin’s Theory of Integration and Howard
Gardener’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Courtesy: Eritrean Arts Education
Curriculum Development Panel.
This theory is significant and applicable in addressing individual student performance, which is basically assessed via
a set of discipline-oriented tasks in drawing/painting, music and drama. Figure 5 depicts how an integrated model
can combine various elements of the arts to form a new whole. This integrated whole is further extended to interrelate disciplines at various times within a course curriculum, which is depicted in the spiral diagram in Figure 6. At
planned intervals during the year, each discipline contributes its own fundamental course which will be applicable
to the final project. This final project involves learners integrating concepts, and is thus a holistic learning situation.
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In their appreciation of the arts, children have encountered many kinds of artistic, musical and dramatic events
and activities long before they enter school, and have begun to form their own opinions about them. These early
experiences need to be used and expanded on in school. Responses to artworks need to be placed in a broader
social context so that children can understand that there are many approaches to art and cultural appreciation.
Cultures are not static. They have histories and contexts, and they change, especially when they come in contact
with other cultures. Interaction between different cultures should play an important role in arts education, so that
learners recognise the value of their own culture and arts as well as that of others. Art education has to operate in
a curriculum which reflects the social, political and, if appropriate, religious background of learners. These conditions
have always affected how artworks are made, what forms they take, and how they are interpreted and used. Thus,
the process of identifying the conditions which are considered essential to forming and maintaining a given culture,
and appreciating the artistic forms existing in a particular society, becomes a significant aspect of artistic practice,
which reflects social conditions while at the same time stimulating learning activity. For example, we can compare
songs sung by children to those recorded by popular singers, pictorial symbols made by a child to patterns produced
by a designer, or role-plays within the family to situations depicted on TV shows.
The transition of fine arts to visual arts in education and practice not only reflects an expansion of terminology
but also a new conceptual inclusiveness in the arts. Social and pedagogical changes in the European concept of
Figure 7. Flow Chart depicting Design
and Technology paradigm reflecting
integration of Arts and Crafts. Courtesy
Dr Roger Antwerp.
Figure 8. Model of Balkins’ creative
learning process suggesting collaborating
individual discipline-based activities into a
single-end performance outcome.
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
the arts during the twentieth century challenged the traditional paradigm of education whereby the fine arts were
mostly the preserve of the upper and middle classes from which they originated.3 The new skill-based approach
to the arts was popularised in order to establish greater equity in education while, on the other hand, crafts were
defined as a lower-class form of manual production (Figure 7). The European model presupposes the separation of
art forms and emphasises three major traditional paradigms: the aesthetic paradigm, dealing with teacher-directed
formal learning of the separate art forms; the skill paradigm as a learning mode, either teacher-directed or teacherfacilitated; and the developmental paradigm whereby learners express themselves freely and become competent in
the use of art forms, media and skills through teacher facilitation.
On the one hand, art education models commonly arise out of the diversified streaming of disciplines with little
or no interrelation (the European model), while on the other hand we have contemporary art practices which
reflect interdisciplinary art concepts that are rooted in both indigenous and popular cultures. A major challenge in
the current educational system is developing a curriculum, which addresses contemporary issues in art and culture
while incorporating it into art education. However, despite the persistence of a few conventionally separate art
forms, there has been a major shift to integrated art forms both in the experimental arts, mass media and the
popular arts such as film, music, performance art, happenings, installations, multidisciplinary arts, comics, graphic
novels, environmental art, music videos, and computer graphics.
It is important to note at this point that industrialisation – as the most historically significant movement of modern
times – has given way to technological advances in which design has emerged as essential to a sustainable future.
This phenomenon has been identified as a fusion of art and function in technology, ergonomics and commerce,
providing the potential for some systems to shift their focus from “the arts” to art, design and technology/craft.
Integrated art concepts are being processed using efficient technology. This meeting of art, design and technology
is regarded as the product of a change of paradigm in technology and technical applications. The traditional skills
and processes required in the past to produce a finished product using varied materials and media have now been
replaced with technology. The weaver, quilter, designer, artist or architect has been freed from the need to produce
complex technical drawings and need only sketch their ideas and enter them into a computer to see an emerging
finished product. “In these approaches it is not only the integration of skills and forms which is characteristic, but
also the emphasis on creativity through processing skills of idea-design-modelling-testing-production, and cognitive
skills of analysis, evaluation and decision-making.”4 This is the design and technology paradigm which reflects the
integration of arts and crafts using a process approach, developing cognitive, affective, technical, aesthetic and social
skills (Figure 7).
Roger Antwerp has drawn attention to the ways in which the inclusion of crafts (traditionally a lower-class skill)
in African and Asian art practices culminates in “artistic” performances and drama. According to him, the closest
African expression for the arts – which for them is totally different from the European concept – is the term
ngoma, which integrates story, song, music, drama, mask and costume into a single performance. This phenomenon
exemplifies the African influence in the renewal and integration of the arts in the European context. Namibia, South
Africa, Eritrea and other African nations have redefined their arts curriculum to include “the arts in culture” or “art
and culture” (Figure 8).5
Within the Asian context, this development can be compared to Indian dramatology where, in the Natyashastra,
an ancient treatise on the Sanskrit drama (200BC to 200AD), the author Bharata explains performance as the
culmination of all art forms. He discusses every aspect of the theory and practice of drama, which for him is a
composite art. He laid down some key aesthetic concepts and conceived the art of the actor according to a fourfold
scheme – vachik (speech), angik (bodily movement), aharya (costume, makeup and scenic design) and sattivika
(psychic states), see Figure 9.6 Despite this, arts education in India is yet to revise its curriculum to make sense of its
traditional culture, as it still follows the British colonial model of discipline-oriented curricula at school level.
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 9. Kathakali, a traditional Kerala dance – one of the oldest forms of theatre performance in the world. The dancers take
various roles in performances traditionally based on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (stories from Hindu mythology). Photo
Credit: S Chris Chopp source: and Rahul Sadagopan.source:
In 2005 Dr David Best, Professor of Philosophy, University of Wales, Swansea, in his draft curriculum on arts
education in New Zealand stated that “the important point is that there can be no general rule here: the value of
a multi-media performance, or combined arts activity, will always relate to a particular case. It will depend ultimately
upon the informed, imaginative judgement of teachers as to whether combining the relevant art forms is likely
to produce a worthwhile result.” He advocates interdisciplinary learning (learning transfer) but not integration, as
applying concepts proper to one culture to other cultures can generate semiotic disparities through the use of
terminology. What constitute distinct art forms in Western cultures may not do so in other cultures.
In New Zealand, a team of researchers from Waikato University experimented with an interdisciplinary and
integrated curriculum model at school level by assigning undergraduate student teachers to art classes, a tactic
which proved that a concrete approach can foster arts skills, knowledge and concepts while deepening ideas (Figure
3).7 The study found that the “spiral pathway” form of the idea development paradigm is workable and replicable;
the “re” factor, as embedded in Balkin’s creative process (re-flect, re-do, re-fine), could be applied for further
refinement (Figure 4).8 This approach suggests an amalgamation of activities pertaining to individual disciplines
(drawing/painting/sculpture, music and drama) into a single end performance. At each stage of the learning process,
these disciplines are introduced as a collaborative component into the main task, which contributes to the end
project. This kind of integrated arts model risks jeopardising the integrity of independent disciplines.9 Collaboration
in the creative process, performance and teaching strategy demanded time from students and teachers alike for
planning and reflection. Research has shown that few teachers are equipped to teach beyond an initial skirmish with
this approach in any arts discipline. Hence, a new course structure is needed to train New Zealand teachers to
become competent in teaching all four arts disciplines in an integrated way from Years 1-10.10
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
If concepts and ideas make art forms, the various media tend to become modes of expression. Within such
multidisciplinary artistic activity, process takes precedence over the finished form. “For the purposes of the course,
integration was defined as the bringing together of elements or parts to form a new whole. Within this paradigm,
boundaries are not evident between the parts, and these may well be subsumed within the whole.”11
In my understanding, the process of art lies in making a mark on a surface with a tool = event/performance. (Making
= process, application, performance, act –time. Mark = objects, images, pictures, sensations (like feelings, emotions,
taste, touch and smell), illusions, imagination – virtual and physical. Surface = space and anything contained by it. Tool
= that which can make a mark – from a whisper to anything that can be contained or animated.) In 1954 British
conceptual artist John Latham said of his use of a spray gun filled with black paint: “The instant mark is created by
a spray-gun; it signifies an ‘event’ which represents a form of inherent energy, while the surface on which it is made
represents space in time. The result of this is not a static object, but the trace of an event, or several events made
at different times.”12 The concept of a contemporary multi-disciplinary art practice, together with this expanded
notion of a contemporary art “form,” comes close to the indigenous African and Indian concepts of the art form. In
a way, what is proposed here as an integration of art forms and disciplines is already present in our cultural practices.
The above considerations all point to a paradigm for art in the curriculum which results in an integrated arts/
crafts model given an important place, where painting, drawing, music, dance, drama, craft, design and technology
are combined using a process approach, developing cognitive, affective, technical, aesthetic and social skills. This
revolution includes a learner-centred education model with an education-for-all policy which could be identified as
either “arts in culture” or “arts and culture” (Figure 8).
An arts education which enhances concentration, self-awareness and self-confidence prepares the learner for life
– both for living and lifelong learning – placing a key emphasis on cooperation, problem-solving and inventiveness.
This will be an essential and significant contribution to education and society as a whole, as it keeps alive the spirit
of adventure in learning.
Sudhir Kumar Duppati is a painting, installation and performance artist with qualifications in Painting (BFA) with
a University Gold Medal from JNTU, Hyderabad, and Art Criticism and History (MFA) from M S University, Baroda
in India. He has been a practicing artist since 1995 with over 45 national and international solo and group exhibitions
to his credit. He taught Visual Art and Art History in India and Africa since 1996 before joining the Dunedin School
of Art at Otago Polytechnic as a lecturer in Painting and Drawing from 2006-2009.
New Zealand Ministry of Education, Arts Curriculum Document (Wellington: Learning Media, 2003).
H Gardner, Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century (New York: Basic Books, 1999).
Educational consultant Dr Roger Antwerp from Denmark has developed a flow chart depicting social and pedagogical
changes which he used to analyse various European and Non-European paradigms. See Figure 1.
Roger Antwerp, Proposal for Integrated Arts Education (2004). Eritrea.
Ajit Hari Sahu, Performance Tradition: Aesthetics and Practice, 29 August 2005, K. Krishnamoorthy, Aestheticians - Cultural Leaders of India, (The Director, publications division,
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GOVT. of India. 1990)
J Burton, R Horowitz and H Abeles, “Learning in and Through the Arts: Curriculum Implications,” in Champions of Change: The
Impact of the Arts on Learning, ed. EB Fiske (Washington, DC: The Arts Education Partnership and The President’s Committee
on the Arts and the Humanities, 1999), 35-46.
A Balkin, “What is creativity? What is not?,” Music Educators Journal, 76:9 (1990), 29-32.
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
P Dunn, “Integrating the Arts: Renaissance and Reformation in Arts Education,” Arts Education Policy Review, 96:4 (March/
April 1995); J Lovano-Kerr and N Roucher, “Can the Arts Maintain Integrity in Interdisciplinary Learning?” Arts Education Policy
Review, 96:4 (March/April 1995).
Clare Henderson, Graham Price and Viv Aitken, “Interdisciplinary Arts: Old Wine in New Bottles,” The International Journal
of the Humanities, 3:6 (2001), The project was based on experiments with student teachers and
model classes. The analysis reveals significant findings about the Integrated and Interdisciplinary Arts Curriculum. Henderson
explains that, in a pressured curriculum, the four compulsory disciplines in the arts are competing with each other, resulting in
a reduced amount of time available. In these circumstances, the integrated curriculum could accommodate multiple disciplines
based on a final performance outcome, thus reflecting arts practices found in real-world activities such as formal and informal
multimedia presentations. Such integration would reflect the postmodern approach to the NZ arts curriculum with its
tolerance of multiple perspectives, and also acknowledge that engagement and empowerment can be heightened when
learning is embedded in one’s personal life-world and cultural ways of knowing. On these last points, see A Efland, Art and
Cognition: Integrating the Visual Arts in the Curriculum (New York: Teachers College Press, 2002); R Bishop and A Hall, “Teacher
Ethics, Professionalism and Cultural Diversity,” paper presented to the First Conference of the Teacher Education Forum of
New Zealand, Christchurch, 2000.
J Beane, Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997); R Irwin
and J Reynolds, “Integration as a Strategy for Teaching the Arts as Disciplines,” Arts Education Policy Review, 96:4 (March/April
John Latham: Art after Physics, exhibition catalogue (Oxford: Museum of Modern Art and Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie, 1991).
Sudhir Kumar Dupatti – Integrated Arts Curriculum – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Kathryn Mitchell
Figure 1. Holy Shop, acrylic on mirror, 2005. Kathryn Mitchell. Collection of the Forrester Gallery, Oamaru
Having worked in the gallery sector over the past ten years, I have become interested in the way art galleries and
museums in New Zealand are evolving, from both a public and a ‘grassroots’ vantage point. The discussion that
follows considers the role of the regional public museum in relation to my own painting practice, focusing on the
contradictions inherent in the desire to create a spiritual space of contemplation and education, as against the issues
surrounding the funding and management of such publicly accountable facilities. Underpinning my thinking about
the museum as ‘holy shop’ is an attempt to understand the “interaction between what is displayed and how it is
In this article I attempt to analyse the contemporary public art museum as church, mall and factory, and speak to the
way in which museums knowingly or unwittingly embody such contexts. I propose that the resulting amalgamation
of contexts positions the museum as a ‘Holy Shop.’
This shifting or dislocation of context is examined in reference to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction, in an attempt to refer to the museum’s adoption of attributes associated with the mall
and the factory, for example, while simultaneously attempting to retain a sense of the sacred. In essence, I propose
that the reproduction of such contexts within the contemporary museum environment contributes to its loss of
authenticity or its ‘aura.’
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Self Portrait 2008, acrylic on mirror, 2008. Kathryn Mitchell. Collection of the Eastern Southland Gallery, Gore.
Although I refer here to both public art galleries and museums, the terminology adopted refers to cultural
institutions generally rather than specifically, as the lines or boundaries between the two are fluid rather than rigid,
and these institutional definitions have also been considered and applied in a myriad of ways in various regional
contexts. In terms of the public art museum, I draw predominantly from my experience as manager/curator of
the Ashburton Public Art Gallery over a six-year period. The Ashburton Public Art Gallery opened in 1995 in the
partially converted former county council building and serves the Ashburton district community, a population of
around 30,000.
In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin reflects on Marx’s critique of the capitalist
mode and examines the impact of the reproduction on art-making. The reproduction, he proposes, even if well
executed, dislocates the work from its original context – its time and place – thereby eliminating its ‘aura.’2 So
what is an artwork’s aura, and how does Benjamin’s argument relate to this discussion on public art museums as
‘holy shops’? An artwork’s ‘aura’ relates to its particular place in time – involving the history, traditions, practices
and processes which drove its production. This “original” artwork, Benjamin proposes, is “authentic,” and therefore
what is affected by the reproduction is the work’s authority. The authentic artwork is not, according to Benjamin,
According to Benjamin, the introduction of photography made a work accessible by enabling a displacement of
time and space: “The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art ….”3 While such
situations of displacement lack any physical contact with the original, authentic, work, they nevertheless bear a
trace or presence which is nevertheless “always depreciated.” It is noteworthy that Benjamin addresses the issues
surrounding reproduction not just in art-making, but appropriately links them to the technique of reproduction as a
process which “detaches” the reproduced from the bodies of knowledge and tradition which drove their creation.
A “unique existence” is substituted by something else, and this “tradition-shattering” is delivered in such accessible
forms as photography and film which effectively present a trace, ghost or illusion of the authentic to the masses
on a daily basis.
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Benjamin points to a cultural change in perception as
being responsible for the “decay of the aura” – the
desire to shift experience to a place or space where
one is able to gain a sense of having “been there.”
This is offered in the form of a like-ness, creating an
“adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses
to reality.”4 Since the ‘aura’ of the artwork is inseparable
from its history, it has foundations in ritualistic and
religious practices; however, “for the first time in world
history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the
work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”5
This discussion dates back to my earlier work,
beginning perhaps with the painting Holy Shop (2005),
acrylic on mirror. I stumbled across the Holy Shop, a
small art deco building in Oamaru, after a visit to St
Patrick’s Basilica which is located directly opposite. I
was looking at the architecture of churches in respect
to their relationship to public art museums. After
leaving the church I was immediately attracted to this
small, humble, slightly worn building, sign-written with
the words ‘Holy Shop.’ I was so intrigued by the name
and the extreme contrast between the overwhelming
grandeur of the Catholic church and this modest
structure with big aspirations, that I was compelled to
Figure 3. Whatever it takes, acrylic on mirror, 2008. Kathryn
Mitchell. Collection of the Ashburton Art Gallery.
What could one expect to find in a ‘Holy Shop,’ I thought to myself – perhaps ‘holiness’ could be purchased in rural
New Zealand? Little could be seen of the interior as I peered through the glass of the door, my view obstructed
by venetian blinds; however the sign on the door indicated that it was open for business. The interior delivered on
the promise of its signage as I was confronted by a multitude of ‘holy’ consumables ready for eager customers to
snap up in the hope of comfort, support, protection, redemption or possibly, more simply, just the vague promise
of some kind of fulfilment. St Christopher’s protection on one’s journey, or the Virgin Mary’s nurturing aura can, I
discovered, be obtained for the sacrifice of a few dollars. The love of Jesus can be expressed by the adornment of
one’s car bumper with a glittery sticker’s exclamation.
My encounter with the spectacle of the Holy Shop’s merchandise influenced a rethinking of perspective in terms
of the evolving position of the contemporary public art museum in relation to my painting practice. Guy Dubord
says: “The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image.”6 While invoking the image of the
church through architecture and the conventions of curatorial and exhibition installation practices, public cultural
institutions, particularly in rural areas, are dominated by the overarching pressure of market forces. Because these
market forces demand that culture is palatable as a consumable for the masses, it could be said that the public art
museum delivers a product on which a service delivery agreement is based. These service delivery agreements
notoriously become more and more ambitious in periods of economic and political transition when mission
statements are reviewed, changing demographics re-examined and benchmarking exercises undertaken.
In 2007 the Ashburton Art Gallery hosted the exhibition “Modulations: Cantata Reconfigured,” by Lyn Plummer.
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
My engagement with Plummer’s practice reinvigorated my interest in the positioning of the public art museum as
church or as a sacred, ritualised space. Plummer declares “[a]n interest in the nature of space … and especially in the
secular, ritualized space of the gallery and its relationship to the historic, religiously charged ceremonial space of the
spiritual. This attention focused on changing and charging the gallery space into one which demands that we reflect
upon our private responses to ceremony and ritual and their multiple readings and meanings.”7
“Modulations: Cantata Reconfigured” was the first exhibition the Ashburton Art Gallery toured nationally, and it
was intended to change as it travelled. Here Plummer’s role shifts from what is traditionally considered to be artist
to that of curator. Her spatial focus was integral to the evolving presence of the work in each venue.Thus the gallery
worked as a facilitator to manage the administrative and practical aspects of the exhibition, allowing Plummer to
focus on the various manifestations that would come about as a result of identifying the spaces in which the work
would be shown.
Figure 4. Modulations: Cantata Reconfigured, Lyn Plummer, Installation view, Ashburton Art Gallery 2007. Credit Photography
Rodney Brown
Having secured the venues, Plummer liaised directly with each museum in regard to the form that the exhibition
would take. As the notion of transition was a major component of the overall work, Plummer created a series of
detailed architectural replicas or maquettes in order to resolve the way in which the space would feature in each
manifestation. These maquettes captured something of the essence or ‘aura’ of the individual museums, allowing
specific spatial exploration and the consideration of how each interception or transformation would function.
While Plummer’s ‘modulations’ used space in a way that utilised the museum as medium, it is arguable whether
the museum provides a space devoid of meaning – a neutral ground ripe for manipulation. In my experience these
spaces are unique, and loaded in their own way with what could be thought of as an ‘aura.’ In many cases, particularly
with respect to museum conversions or extensions (rather than purpose-built structures), the buildings themselves
appear intimately connected with the history and traditions of the space and place in which they stand, as Benjamin
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In Art and the Power of Placement, Victoria Newhouse notes that “Alana Heiss, a pioneer of alternative viewing
spaces and currently the director of MOMA’s P.S. 1 Long Island City, wants the museum ‘to make you feel as if you’re
in the presence of God’.”8 While I assert an interest in the exploration of the sacred within the public museum
environment, I believe my own practice seeks more to address the conflicts associated with the merging and
reproduction of contexts and the assumed loss or decay of the aura of the original. In the exhibition “Holy Shop”
(Ashburton Public Art Gallery, 2007/8), I presented a series of paintings on mirrors hung in a cross formation, having
first postered the gallery wall with a repeated A3 low-resolution image of a white gloved hand (my own) reaching
for a jar of screws. In the far corner a plinth was piled with hundreds of white gloves, which were also reflected in
a mirror hung on the wall nearby. The work was visible through a multitude of reflections. On entering the space,
viewers became part of the space and part of the work itself as their own gaze was captured and reflected. The
exhibition sought to question the concept of the original, authentic, artwork as a manifestation of the sacred – in
this case small detailed paintings on second-hand mirrors, in opposition to the notion of mechanical reproduction as
a manifestation of the accessible consumable – multiple photocopies. The exhibition also poses the question, What
is the authentic original in which Benjamin’s notion of ‘aura’ resides? Are the paintings “authentic,” to use Benjamin’s
term, even though they shift the context of the mirrors and have been painted predominately from photographs?
Does the exhibition in any way create or contribute to the ‘aura’ of the gallery space?
In his introduction to Brian O’Doherty’s book Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Thomas
McEvilley proposes that within the “white cube” we “accept a reduced level of life and self. In classical modernist
galleries, as in churches, one does not speak in a normal voice; one does not laugh, eat, drink, lie down, sleep; one
does not get ill, go mad, sing, dance, or make love.”9 Here McEvilley introduces O’Doherty’s argument by addressing
this disconnection from life, reality and perhaps self. The gallery space is, curiously, perceived by some as a neutral
blank canvas as it were, for the artist to “paint,” as in Plummer’s case. However, Plummer’s practice concentrates
on the use of the museum’s unique attributes or ‘aura’ to reinterpret the original manifestation of her ‘modulations.’
It could also be said that the role of the public art museum has changed, and no longer seeks, in totality, to evoke
or retain the sacred space of the church; in order to find ways to increase the audience for visual art, museums
enlarge their viewer numbers by creating attractive public spaces complete with restaurants, cafes and retail outlets.
Many frequent museum visitors today may experience spaces in which laughter, babies crying, teenagers txting,
baby-boomers World Wide Web surfing, children x-boxing and students coffee-drinking is the norm. According to
David Carrier, the museum “shows an amazing capacity to rework its interpretation. The history of art has ended;
the historical expansion of the museum has been completed; and high art must cohabit and compete with the novel
culture of mass art.”10
In her essay “The Architecture is the Museum,” Michaela Giebelhausen identifies a fundamental shift from the
museum traditionally being perceived as church or temple-like to being more appropriately viewed in terms
of contemporary purpose-built structures such as malls.11 Dating from around the mid-eighteenth century, the
purpose-built museum confronts its public with the space between the traditional – the sacred – and the new – the
modern. Does museum architecture inherently define and frame its purpose, or seek to do so? In terms of its role
as a maker, Giebelhausen’s claim that the architectural configuration of the museum shapes meaning and therefore
the experience of the museum seems a given. Why, then, do so many modern museums appear to have little grasp
of this principle when planning redevelopments?
“In the late 1970’s, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, the architects of the Pompidou Center in Paris, described the
new institution not as a museum but as a centre of ‘information and entertainment.’ ”12 The persistent isolation of art
from its cultural history may have changed in the sense that market pressures have forced institutions to appeal to
the masses and produce a consumable product. Does this development echo Benjamin’s theory of the loss of ‘aura’?
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 5. Modulations: Cantata Reconfigured, Lyn Plummer, Exhibition Advertisement, Oamaru & Gore. Credit Design &
Photography by Rodney Brown
If, as Giebelhausen proposes, “the architecture is the museum,” then is the reproduction of museum architecture,
and of associated practices, contributing to the death of the museum – in the sense that its aura or place in history
and tradition has been displaced in favour of presenting a wider public with an institutional replica, in order to draw
us closer to the experiences that we now expect to be available to us? Although we also expect to see life and
self represented in the public art museum, our perspective on this has vastly changed and we are, it could be said,
increasingly comfortable with a ‘franchised’ environment which simply replicates experience and reconstitutes it in
its most palatable forms, as required (depending on context).
My work, Whatever it Takes (2008), acrylic on mirror, was inspired by a new kind of ‘holy shop.’ In place of the
demolished historic Somerset Hotel in Ashburton, a new structure rose up from the rubble – a mall. As the
concrete slabs were erected, clearly visible from the gallery, a large central cross was formed by the negative space
between the slabs. At the time, there was debate raging about the future of the historic Ashburton Railway Station
which had been empty and derelict for some years. Many members of the community wrote to the local newspaper
about their personal and family histories and narratives connected with the station. Although it was suggested that
the station be moved, many felt that the building’s removal from its site would compromise or even destroy its
significance to the people of the Ashburton district.
Ashburton has lost numerous historic buildings to demolition, and what replaces them are structures that – if
we support Benjamin’s assertions – perform the role of replicas or reproductions, in that they seem to bear little
relationship to their own time and place. However, it must be said that in undertaking these particular reconstitutions
of the built environment, Ashburton is perhaps presenting us with a signifier of its own – a rejection of the ‘aura.’
According to Jon Goss, “our desire is such that we will readily accept nostalgia as a substitute for experience,
absence for presence, and representation for authenticity.”13 Here the preference for the new in the form of a
mall resonated for me in the ongoing debate surrounding the redevelopment of the Ashburton Public Art Gallery.
Initially, the community elected to retain and revamp the former county council building to house the gallery. While
subsequent proposals included the institution’s relocation to the historic Ashburton Railway Station, a preference
for a purpose-built facility rather than investigating any further extensions to the current building was the model
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
pursued. The proposed purpose-built facility is of concrete tilt slab construction and is modelled on the county
council building, but allows for additional floor space.
Considering Goss’s article on the “Magic of the Mall,” it is remarkable how closely our public art museums echo
the imperatives of the shopping mall. James Rouse, one of the pioneers of the modern mall, claimed (in 1962)
that malls “will help dignify and uplift the families who use them … promote friendly contact among the people
of the community … [and] expose the community to art, music, crafts and culture.”14 History and nostalgia are,
conceivably, evoked in the mall to bestow an ‘aura’ on a replicated environment in order to lend it a sense of
authenticity. According to Goss, the universal new feature of the contemporary mall is the clock; previously banished,
today the mall clock serves as a reference to respectable, historic, civic and religious institutions.
Acccording to Victoria Newhouse, “Placement has affected the perception of art … since the first cave paintings.
Where an artwork is seen – be it in a cave, a church, a palace, a museum, a commercial gallery, an outdoor space,
or a private home – and where it is placed within that chosen space can confer a meaning that is religious, political,
decorative, entertaining, moralizing, or educational.”15
It is within this framework that Whatever it Takes begins to contemplate the political space in which it was made.
As discussed above, this space impacts on all aspects of museum practice. The title of the work is the Ashburton
district’s motto and features alongside the Ashburton District Council’s logo on all council correspondence. The
work is built on the underlying structure of this logo, but replaces its elements with an amalgamation of the new
mall – concrete slabs – and the historic Ashburton Railway Station. The image of the lily is used as a kind of brand
or signature indicative of self which here seeks to portray something of the political struggle between red and blue
– Labour and National.
In his discussion of art as commodity, Paul Wood references the work of Manet, an artist of modernity who was
compelled to represent truth – a notion of truth described as “the commodification of everything.”16 Wood’s point
is illustrated in works such as A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, where the celebration of the commodity is depicted
“from bottles to barmaid as well as what you cannot see – the spectacle behind you that all those people in the
mirror have paid to consume.”17 Rather than referring to a history of cultural meaning, Wood presents Manet’s
image as a collection of props, seeming to imply that their connectedness is simulated or artificial. Wood argues
further that it is possible for an artwork to directly engage with the commodified world while maintaining a sense
of critical distance. In discussing Manet and the commodity, Wood appears to refer to an awareness of loss. Loss of
a kind of authenticity or connectedness to a history of cultural meaning may also be described as a loss of ‘aura.’
His concept of the commodified world as both “seductive and lacking” again refers to our desire to consume art,
often without satisfaction. Citing Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Wood refers to
“a change represented in our terms by shifting attention from the symbolic dimension of art’s representation of
commodification to its condition as commodity.”18 He questions the idea of truth and whether art has effected
a “strategic withdrawal” from the commodified world. If so, then it is clear from Wood’s discussion that such a
withdrawal has been damaging or has at least left its mark.
In Sarah Thornton’s essay in Seven Days in the Art World, this mark is reflected in a conversation with Paul Schimmel,
director of MOCA, on the work of Murakami Takashi. According to Schimmel, “Takashi understands that art has
to be remembered and memory is tied to what you can take home.”19 He defends Takashi’s inclusion of a Louis
Vuitton boutique within the MOCA show – Louis Vuitton produced a limited line exclusively for sale as part of
Takashi’s show – and supports the artist’s intention as an “institutional critique.” Schimmel accepts this critique,
arguing that branding is deeply meaningful to younger generations and that one can’t ignore “the elephant in the
room.” In planning the exhibition of some 90 works for this show, the curator spoke of creating “a wonderfest
temple quality,”20 and Schimmal refers to the desire to “gesture to a commercial art fair from within the museum.”21
Takashi’s first studio, the Hiropean Factory, set up in 1995, was originally named in homage to Warhol’s Factory, but
was later renamed Kaikai Kiki after its distinctive four-eared rabbit and mouse mascots.
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
En route to Invercargill, freighting “Modulations: Cantata Reconfigured” to the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, I
was struck by the dominance of industry along the main road, specifically the Edendale milk processing plant. Before
reaching Edendale, I had become aware of the significant number of milk tankers on the road, a constant flow of
traffic coming and going from the processing plant. The initial experience of the plant, for me, was like approaching
an enormous beehive – slightly threatening in scale and with trucks streaming from a central opening in the building.
The structure itself offers no obvious relationship with its surrounding area – almost as if it has been dropped in
amongst the green pastures of Southland from above. The large rectangular boxes in which the milk powder is
packed, horizontally striped in lavender and white with green tops and bright red detailing, accentuate the aesthetic
of something constructed by a child from a box of Lego or a recreation of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie
At this stage I had been working as the manager/curator of the Ashburton Art Gallery for around three years.
During this period I had, like many before me, been involved in a constant financial struggle to secure the gallery’s
ongoing operations and at the same time was working to build a case for the institution to gain an increased level of
operational financial support. Unfortunately – despite a concerted and successful effort by the staff and committee
to lift the gallery’s community profile, increase and diversify services and lift visitor numbers – there was little
support for the notion that the gallery should undergo development consistent with population growth in the area,
or operate at a level comparable with institutions of similar size and community demographic.
This seems a very common story in cultural institutions in rural New Zealand. At the same time, it is also difficult
to see that any meaningful attempt, in a wider sense, by policymakers nationally is being made to resolve these
issues. The seemingly never-ending cycle of fundraising events, initiatives and grant applications required in order to
carry out the basic operations of a rural public art museum is an exhausting process which, in my case and others,
dominates the role, mission and vision of the institution. Not only are our public cultural institutions encouraged
to become more and more productive in terms of turning over ever more ambitious annual public programmes,
but this expectation often comes with no incremental increase in resources – let alone any consideration of
the extraordinary work undertaken by committees, Friends of the Gallery, members and staff to keep our
public museums afloat. Does the contemporary public museum director in rural New Zealand have any time to
participate in professional forums, further training or seek advice and support from wider networks – or do they
find themselves isolated in a constant struggle to attract funding and increase production while making cuts to basic
operational requirements?
It was in response to these questions that I produced Self Portrait, 2008, acrylic on mirror, which reflects on the
museum as factory, a centre of efficient production, churning out consumable products to meet visitor number
targets. I used the image of the Edendale milk processing plant to explore my own position within the institution
of the museum as a facilitator of production. According to Christian Witt-Dörring, a curator at the Museum für
Angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna, “If we couldn’t see the same objects differently at different times, they would
die.”22 The constant re-contextualisation predominant in current museum practice, then, could be seen as the desire
to revitalise the museum object/artwork/space which would otherwise die. In this sense, the loss of ‘aura’ could be
presumed to be necessary in keeping the museum and its contents alive to new generations of visitors.
The adoption and amalgamation of the attributes of the church, the mall and the factory by the contemporary
public museum, both architecturally and ideologically, leaves us to question what this new context may be. Over a
period of time I have come to understand, and question, this reality in my art practice – not just through my own
experience as manager of a regional public art gallery, or as an artist, but as a member of the community who views
such shifts and changes in relation to the space and place in which they are located. Art museums do not operate
in isolation, but are significantly affected by their communities and the ongoing flux of social, political and economic
pressures. While the presence of the church is still felt by museum visitors, I believe this is being subsumed by the
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
more dominant models of the mall – centres of consumable desire and entertainment – and the factory – centres
of efficient and profitable production. What remains then in terms of Benjamin’s notion of the ‘authentic’ or the
‘aura’ may be thought of as a trace, ghost or illusion – a remnant or what was the original. While the answer to the
question of whether this dislocation results in the destruction of the original or contributes to a reconsideration
which consistently adds meaning and therefore preserves the‘aura’ continues to be elusive. Contemporary museum
practice reassuringly continues to support a level of self-assessment and critique encouraging artists, curators and
directors to work together in the ongoing debate over how commodification and the reproduction have changed
the lens through which we see, make and place the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Kathryn Mitchell is an artist and a lecturer at the Southland Institute of Technology. She holds an MFA from the
Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic and was formerly The Director of the Ashburton Gallery.
Victoria Newhouse, Art and the Power of Placement (New York: The Monacelli Press, 2005), 8.
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, (London;
Pimlico Press, 1968 / 1999), 211-35.
Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 214-15.
Ibid., 217.
Ibid., 218.
David Carrier, “The End of the Modern Public Art Museum: A Tale of Two Cities,” in his Museum Scepticism: A History of the
Display of Art in Public Galleries (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), 181.
Lyn Plummer, Modulations: Cantata Reconfigured, exhibition catalogue (Dunedin: Lyn Plummer and Rodney Brown, 2007).
Newhouse, Art and the Power of Placement, 212.
Thomas McEvilley, “Introduction,” in Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (California;
University of California Press, 1999), 10.
Carrier, “The End of the Modern Public Art Museum,” 207.
Michaela Giebelhausen, “The Architecture is the Museum,” in New Museum Theory and Practice : An Introduction, ed. Janet
Marstine (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 41-63.
Newhouse, Art and the Power of Placement, 212.
Jon Goss, “The ‘Magic of the Mall:’ An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment,”
in Exploring Human Geography: A Reader, eds Stephen Daniels and Roger Lee (New York: Arnold and Halsted Press, 1995),
Ibid., 203.
Newhouse, Art and the Power of Placement, 8.
Paul Wood, “Commodity,” in Critical Terms for Art History, eds Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff, 2nd ed. (Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 392.
Wood, “Commodity,” 397.
Sarah Thornton, “The Studio Visit,” in Seven Days in the Art World (London: Granta Publications, 2009), 203.
Ibid., 206.
Ibid., 207.
Newhouse, Art and the Power of Placement, 112.
Kathryn Mitchell – Museum as Holy Shop – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
David Bell
Museum education programmes offer opportunities for enriching knowledge, skills and understandings, changing
attitudes and values, enhancing enjoyment and creativity. Museum experiences can transform ‘traditional conceptions
of learning’ to embrace collaborative and community initiatives, e-learning and local partnership.1 Recent research,
however, suggests that classroom teachers themselves might contribute to more purposeful museum learning.2
Teachers can be more proactive in negotiating meaningful museum experiences and extending them in their own
classrooms and beyond. This article draws on teaching observations and interviews from research in 16 New
Zealand and North American museums to propose 20 strategies classroom teachers could adopt to enhance the
learning provided by museum educators.
Quality programmes draw on a wealth of institutional and human resources
Museum experiences can complement classroom teaching, informing enhanced learning through collaborations
between teachers, education officers, caregivers and students. Museum educators draw on diverse backgrounds
of teaching, curatorial, art history, arts administration or art practice. Their different experiences inform the broad
range of stimulating, knowledge-rich and critically literate experiences they can provide.They can embrace students’
ideas and provide rich experiences outside their classroom lives while simultaneously providing professional
development for teachers.3
These experiences can familiarise, acculturate and nurture first-hand engagements with artefacts – but do we
exploit their potentials fully? In 2006, over 600,000 New Zealand students enjoyed LEOTC experiences from
over 60 contracted providers.4 Though ‘not much short of the national school enrolment,’5 this number did not
represent a corresponding breadth of engagement. Many schools do not visit museums,6 and LEOTC services have
experienced a recent decline in access.7 Anecdotal evidence suggests some visits are one-off experiences, little
related to classroom programmes. Museums provide quality services, but how can teachers themselves capitalise
on them more purposefully and profitably?
A survey of practice: research aims and rationale
Changing patterns of use suggest different strategies may be required for encouraging more purposeful museum
visitation. This paper will suggest that classroom teachers themselves have much to contribute to the development
of richer museum, and associated classroom, learning experiences. In doing so it draws on a research project
developed through 2009 and 2010. The project sought to identify the ways that effective arts teaching models in
museum settings might best inform teachers’ own classroom practices. It gathered data through a broad spectrum
survey that included museum visits, resource analysis, discussions with museum educators, observations of teaching
sessions, and meetings with stakeholders including teacher advisory panels in 16 art museum education programmes
in the United States and New Zealand. These combined observations suggest a range of interrelating strategies
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
classroom teachers could adopt to inform more profitable classroom learning, in visual arts and across the wider
curriculum, from the museum visits they currently enjoy.
Engage with a sense of purpose tailored to the character of the museum
Quality experiences are built on clearly framed philosophies, principles and goals. Both tacit and explicit principles
are provided in The New Zealand Curriculum.8 The Ministry of Education’s requirements in its “Learning Experiences
Outside the Classroom Provider Guide” lists core principles for building shared goals for all participants for
interactive learning with different tools, objects and artefacts.9
The diverse collections and individually tailored practices of each museum may require specifically framed agendas.
Teachers can draw on goals from museum education programmes. Those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York, for example, are achieved through diverse pedagogies for the visual or tactile analysis of original
artefacts, inclusive and sharing learning, interactive engagement, finding group and personal relevance in learning, and
informing independent skills for life-long enjoyment, delight and cultural understanding.10
Minimise risk factors
Any participant – students, parent/caregiver supporters, members of the public, and even teachers themselves
– has the potential to compromise the museum experience. In one teaching observation, an educator carefully
established her expectations with a small group of new-entrant children, and then took them into the gallery to talk
about early Mäori domestic practices. The parents and teacher went to the museum café, returned to the front of
the wharenui, sat down and sipped their coffees. They challenged protocols for appropriate behaviours both at the
wharenui and the museum. In other instances, educators noted inappropriate interjections (especially on sensitive
cultural issues), disruptive conversations or inappropriate management of children, by parents or teachers. Some
simple safety strategies include:
Use museum protocol materials. Though almost every museum surveyed supplied schools with comprehensive
information on their expectations and protocols in hard copy and on websites, many claimed these resources
remained unused, and that only regular participants seemed familiar with expectations.
Pre-arrange expectations and roles for all participants. In some sessions observed in the research, teachers and
caregivers seemed at a loss what to do.Teachers can play a proactive role in managing student behaviour, organising
students into groups, moving them between activities.11 They can meet with educators to clarify procedures and
roles prior to a visit, with all caregivers to establish expectations and appoint roles as group leaders, with instructions
in writing, allocating practical, useful tasks like distributing lunches, collecting bags, guiding children to the cloakroom
or guiding learning conversations with small groups.
Pre-negotiate visits to promote diverse, quality, multidimensional, learner-focused experiences
LEOTC research verifies the value of pre-visit negotiation.12 Most providers supply comprehensive pre-visit information
on risk-management, maps, bussing arrangements, parking, caregiver support, or cloakroom arrangements.13 Most
websites provide extensive free downloadable teaching resources to inform visits. The “Guggenheim Guidelines for
Planning Visits” pdf resource, for example, supports programme design; their complementary “Inquiry Checklist” pdf
provides suggestions for developing open-question technique strategies. Pre-visit preparation is informed through
links for Current Exhibition Previews, Arts Curriculum Online and a database of selected artworks from the New York,
Bilbao, Venice and Berlin collections. Guggenheim resource kits include image downloads, contextual material, and
teaching and learning pathways. Teachers can draw on an extensive range of thoroughly researched, scholarly and
user-friendly resources developed through focus ‘lenses’ of media, place, meaning, character, genre or narrative.14
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Pre-negotiated engagements proved meaningful when the museum learning was related to that of the classroom.
This is consistent with the 2010 LEOTC findings.15 The survey found polarised policy and practice in this area. At the
Asian Arts Museum of San Francisco, most visits are chosen from a prepared programme seen to be appropriate
for working with unfamiliar cultural content and the docent facilitation model employed there.16 Auckland Museum
found joint planning more attractive to lower-decile schools.17 At the Dunedin Public art Gallery, however, every
visit is individually negotiated against the broader classroom programme to build on prior class learning and inform
longer-term learning experiences and curriculum goals.18 Teachers can make excessive demands of museum
educators. One observation saw Getty Centre educators asked to lead 108 students through the learning tasks
outlined in a teacher-prepared 18-page worksheet requiring close study of 15 art objects (exhibited in different
parts of the museum) in a 60-minute visit.19
Use all institutional facilities
Asked what he remembered after an overnight stay at the museum, one child answered “breakfast at the café.” This
was a positive learning outcome. Enjoyment and acculturation are as important as the cognitive benefits of museum
visiting. The museum environment itself can impact on learning experiences. The Richard Meier-designed Getty
Centre Museum in Los Angeles realises a vision of the museum itself as an artwork. The tram-ride from car park up
to the museum complex physically and psychologically separates the aesthetic experience from the world below.
The discrete displays in each gallery encourage close-focus and in-depth learning engagements. The central garden
is a commissioned artwork by Robert Irwin. The buildings are interspersed with restful garden and piazza areas and
panoramic views across Los Angeles or Malibu, or framed views within the complex. Experiencing these areas is an
important part of each school visit. The Getty complex’s active contribution to learning is a practical realisation of
the Reggio Emilia notion of the environment as the third educator.
Capitalise on quality museum resources
Many museums offer extensive, clearly presented and well-illustrated resources to inform independent class
learning. In most they are free of charge. At the Art Institute of Chicago, teachers can access extensive loan
materials onsite through the attractive, well-appointed Crown Educator Resource Center.20 Through the online
“Borrow Materials” link, teachers can access collection- or theme-based teaching manuals, art historical and artist
resources, poster packets and videos. The “Collections” database allows teachers to search groupings by subject,
resource type, pictorial category, curriculum subject area or lesson plan. The resources include fulsome historical
contextualisation, artist and work studies, detailed, curriculum-linked lesson plans and activities, glossaries, timelines,
maps, bibliographies and image lists. Their scholarly quality reflects the Institute’s agenda of empowering teachers
and schools. They are designed to inform classroom programmes that may develop quite independently of the
Institute visit or tour. Most Crown Center users access its resources online. Using the “My Collections” link, teachers
and students can make their own collections by selecting artworks from Institute collections and adding their own
notes to create student resources or virtual exhibitions.21 Other museums also offer online resource access and
embrace media like facebook, youtube, ArtBabble, itunes or Mac applications into their resourcing strategies.
Through the MFA Boston Educators Online site teachers can access 360,000 objects, with reproductions of 150,000.22
Though this initiative was developed in collaboration with teachers and specifically for teacher use, it is open-ended
and accessible also for children of almost any age. Museums provide great resources: use them.
Generating opportunities for linking and connecting the museum experience back to the class
How can teachers sustain what they learn in museums beyond the visit itself, taking the museum experience ‘home’
to inform longer-term individual or class engagement? Educators at Rotorua Museum give every child a small,
brightly coloured sticker to wear, inviting others to ‘Ask me to tell you what I learned in the Rotorua Museum today.’
Classes visiting the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland are issued with a digital camera or video
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
camera for children to document their visit. Many art galleries allow this, provided the documentation depicts the
visitors and works together.
LEOTC providers encourage teachers to establish clear links between the museum learning, the learning intentions
of the visit, and the objectives of the broader classroom programme by referring back to the ‘big idea(s)’ or ‘big
question(s)’ introduced at the beginning of the visit, and asking students what new thoughts, ideas or knowledge
they could apply to these questions now, and relating this to their own lives or classroom learning.23 Though LEOTC
providers pose these questions, they work best when teachers proactively meld them into their classroom learning
before and after the museum experience itself.
Seize opportunities for multi-visit participation
Repeat visits acculturate and encourage depth learning.24 A Year 1 and 2 class observed at the Govett Brewster
Art Gallery in New Plymouth was enjoying its fourth visit in six months. For some children new to school this
was a first visit, for others it was their fourth. The gallery was familiar territory. Children knew the place, the
locations of cloakrooms, toilets, and gallery and class spaces. They knew and were comfortable interacting with
gallery staff. They were familiar with museum protocols – no running, shouting or touching. Most importantly, they
felt comfortable responding, talking, making and acting amongst works in the gallery, and prepared to take risks when
talking about art. These children were acculturated, aware and active engagers. Some North American museums
offer programmes combining outreach school visits with museum-based programmes.25
Develop partnership programmes to promote extended engagements with art and art-world
Some North American museum education teams broker learning partnerships that synergise community resources
to broaden teachers’ and childrens’ views of art-world engagements. The Guggenheim “Learning Through Art
Initiative” is an artists-in-schools programme. Teachers and artists collaborate to develop cross-curricular inquiry
learning engagements and hands-on art-making explorations. Teachers are closely supported in the development
and critique of inquiry plans, and the museum offers opportunities for teachers to share these, together with their
own evaluations of their effectiveness, on the education website. This programme helps students build important
critical thinking, art and literacy skills. Placing artists in schools puts children in the company of artists, has them
working in adult contexts and validates or legitimises art as a worthy life pursuit. Schools currently pay $US7000 for
this. Where schools are from low-income areas, the museum takes a part-payment from the school and fundraises
the remainder.
Close mentoring partnerships are less common in New Zealand, but those like the one being forged between
Monte Cecilia School and The Pah Homestead in Auckland offer rich opportunities for extended collaborations.
Engaging learning experiences are often thematic
Thematic classroom programmes complement curriculum integration for holistic learning. Thematic explorations
enhance the cohesive melding of individual, class and museum learning. In museums, thematic pathways provide
links between sometimes diverse collections of objects. These investigations are generally pre-negotiated to inform
broader class programmes in ways that are consistent with both curriculum and local community requirements.
“Learning Through Art” explorations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York guide children through themes
like Communities Around the World; Faces, Masks, Hats and Headdresses; A Look at Animals; or Observing the
Four Seasons. At the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, themes of cultural identity, spiritual belief, change and
transcultural interaction provide accessible introductions to the diverse worlds of Asia.
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Quality programmes foster somatic, sensory engagements and pose evaluative questions
Immediately experienced somatic engagements encourage children to move through and around art objects, touch
them, weigh, smell, listen to, even taste them. The Robert Irwin Garden at the Getty Center is an artwork with
its own dedicated education programme. Challenging the conventional ‘look and don’t touch’ axiom of museum
behaviour invites provocative opportunities to extend learning beyond observational, descriptive or socio-historical
engagements. ‘Is a garden an artwork?’ ‘Which of these is a work of art?’ At the Oakland Museum of California,
children cast their votes against a Native American object, a woven work, or an object made from grass. At the
Dunedin Public Art Gallery, John Neumegen challenges children to make choices: ‘The gallery is on fire – which
work will you save?’ ‘You are culling the collections: choose the first work to throw on the skip.’ ‘What does this work
mean for you?’ ‘How does it make you feel?’ provoke enthusiastic debates or invite personal reflection. These are
aesthetic engagements; provocative, thoughtful and evaluative, and high-order learning experiences.
Quality museum learning benefits from interactive learning
Interactive learning experiences are engaging, and provide accessible opportunities for applying knowledge,
transferring learning to new contexts, or inventive problem-solving. At the Govett Brewster, dance and role play
invite children to respond to artworks experientially, emotionally and empathetically. Play encourages quality learning.
Most museums surveyed embraced interactive activities into their learning. The DPAG, Govett Brewster and Puke
Ariki in New Plymouth and Te Papa all provide classroom spaces to enhance gallery learning through art-making,
or role play or dance interpretations relating to gallery learning. Most United States museums had similar facilities,
and some have dedicated spaces for exhibiting children’s works. All of these can transfer to classroom contexts.
Many museums maintain interactive experiences for public audiences. At the DPAG, children can enjoy a range
of age-dedicated ‘art hunt’ activities designed to promote exploring, close looking, interpreting and articulating
personal responses to questions or riddles. At Getty Villa, children can climb right inside an antique grain-storage jar,
make rubbings for vase decoration, explore tactile qualities in ‘feelie’ boxes, or recreate their own antique theatre
with a range of props and costumes against a silhouette screen. The Natural History Museum in New York offers a
dramatic team role-play engagement in a ‘race for the Pole.’Te Papa’s Mixing Room attracts engaging and challenging
multi-media interactions.
Quality museum-based learning is realised through inclusive transactional pedagogies
Learning with objects invites strategies different from those of teaching with text.26 Inquiry learning encourages
children to make diverse responses and interpretations in relation to the facts of objects, enhances cross-curricular
learning connections, and benefits literacy and broader learning skills.27 All museums surveyed employed transactional
inquiry pedagogies consistent with the constructivist philosophies of New Zealand and North American curricular
constructs. Within this commitment, however, lie different theoretical paradigms, approaches and outcomes.
Inquiry is a learned skill. The Guggenheim web resource guides the development of teachers’ own inquiry strategies
through a three-step sequence.28 Through step 1, ‘Find – an inquiry plan,’ teachers can access a range of prepared
inquiry pathways. Having trialed exemplary materials, teachers are guided to ‘Create – your own inquiry plan.’
A step-by-step planning demonstration leads from a curricular theme to a selection of art technique and artist,
into developing questions to guide observational and interpretive engagements. Having developed their inquiry
pathway, teachers are invited to ‘Share – your inquiry plan’ for museum staff critique and advice. The best get added
to the Guggenheim database. Online “Classroom Troubleshooting Tips” provide guidance for initiating questionand-response sequences, encouraging close observation, embracing diverse contributions, guiding legitimate
interpretations, extending conversations to elicit fuller explanations, eliciting valid evidence for interpretations, and
drawing conversational inquiries to a conclusion.29
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Quality learning builds on appropriate pedagogies:Visual Thinking Strategies
The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) project embraced by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Boston Public
Schools guides conversational engagements through a sequence of three basic questions: ‘What is going on in the
picture?’ opens up the discussion; ‘What do you see that makes you say that?’ asks for evidence from the objects;
‘What can you find?’ gives students the opportunity to look further and stretch their visual and critical thinking
abilities.30 Teachers support the engagement by paraphrasing and linking responses, pointing to features under
discussion, maintaining neutrality and guiding depth – 15 minute – engagements.31 This encourages close scrutiny,
description, and sharing and justifying interpretations, and it empowers both shared and individual appreciations.
These skills are transferable to other learning and other aspects of daily life.
VTS claims to answer the teacher problem of ‘I don’t know anything about art.’ Certainly it appears to have been
transformative for teachers, students and school communities.32 It has been promoted as a school curriculum, and
as a teaching method that can develop critical thinking, communication and visual literacy skills; engages rigorous
examination and meaning-making through visual art; increases observation, evidential reasoning, and speculative
abilities; facilitates conversational, respectful, democratic, collaborative problem-solving class interactions; nurtures
language skills; and nurtures growth in all students, from challenged and non-English-language learners to high
… though not all learning is open-ended – pedagogies in debate
A place for cognitive transmission. Though popular, VTS has its limitations. Senior students, for example, require more
definitive historical, contextual, biographical or theoretical knowledge about art objects and ideas. Some knowledge
may be negotiable, but some is not, and valid understandings often need to be supported by evidence beyond
the work itself. Children’s own experiences might encourage them to misinterpret what they see. At the Asian Art
Museum of San Francisco, for example, children interpret signs like swastikas in Buddhist iconographies in ways that
differ radically from those of the social, spiritual or historical contexts that informed the works’ own generation and
use. The museum needs to support the development of legitimate understandings by referring to evidence that
may lie beyond the artwork. They do this by focusing learning experience and discussions on contextual fact more
than on interpretation or response.
For similar reasons, educators at the Art Institute of Chicago favour a balance between open-ended negotiations
between art objects and children, and prepared, academically informed delivery drawing on sound historical,
biographical or media knowledge. Maintaining a balance between negotiated interpretations and valid knowledge
about artworks contributes to more reliably legitimate understandings of the works. Educators develop informed
learning pathways through a framework of interrelated cognitive learning skills:34
Questioning and Investigating
Comparing and Connecting
Reflecting and Responding
Observing and Describing
Teachers can use these entrées selectively or non-sequentially.The model complements the 4-strand (‘Arts Making;’
‘Arts Literacy;’ ‘Interpretation and Evaluation;’ ‘Making Connections’) Chicago Public Schools arts curriculum and
favours inter-curricular subject integration to enhance historical and cultural contextualisation. It adapts readily to
level-specific learning requirements of elementary and secondary school contexts, and provides a pluralist and
culturally inclusive model to serve a broad range of community interests.
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Quality museum learning develops through appropriate pedagogies: critical thinking in visual art
Inquiry strategies at City Gallery Wellington have drawn on the United Kingdom ‘enquire programme.’35 Helen
Lloyd describes critical thinking as a strategy for ‘developing active, reflective and questioning critical thinking
skills for visual arts engagements.’36 She cites diverse benefits, including critical reflection, questioning, challenging,
investigating problems, discovering, analysing, classifying, comparing, drawing conclusions, hypothesising, predicting
and connection-making. Open critical enquiry engagements can be facilitated through questions that engage looking
and analysing, explaining or interpreting: ‘What?’ ‘When?’ ‘Who?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’37 In practice, Lloyd develops searching
questions through categories of meaning, ideas, contexts, values, opinions, beliefs, intentions, feelings and narratives.38
A question sequence might follow: ‘What can you see?’ ‘What does it remind you of?’ ‘How does it make you feel?’39
‘What if?’ questions encourage thoughtful and imaginative discourse; in relation to a Yayoi Kusama installation: ‘What
if … the dots were not dots, but holes you could put your hands inside and feel something, what might you feel?
What if … you had a switch that could turn the sculptures on so that they can move? How might they move?’40
Critical thinking informs close scrutiny and description of children’s experiences of artworks, and encourages
searching questions about how artworks might be conceived, made, transported or owned, and discussions about
aesthetic and artistic ideas.41 Critical thinking strategies are easily adopted into classroom learning exchanges to
promote the ‘thinking’ key competency of The New Zealand Curriculum.42
Open pedagogies challenge through imaginative engagement
An art gallery is a bug-free zone … For John Neumegen at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, imaginative challenges
provide a segue between classroom subject focus and accessible engagements in the gallery.43 School themes like
dinosaurs, fairy tales or bugs are often difficult to relate to the gallery exhibition programme. Challenging children
to find insects, dragons or dinosaurs amongst the artworks encourages them to explore the exhibitions, look with
a searching eye, and make inventive associations between the smeared paint of a Judy Millar painting and a slimy
snail trail on the pavement, or between a glittering installation by Reuben Paterson and the iridescent surface of a
butterfly wing or the scales on a dragon. These provide an entrée into questions about the art objects themselves:
‘What do you think the artist had in mind when she made this work?’ develops the conversation into a deeper
Quality museum experiences allow space for enriching subjective responses through reflection
and contemplation
However sociable the debates they provoke, aesthetic responses are inevitably subjective, individually experienced.
Mostly teachers seem to expect intensive, information-packed engagements at the museum, but this is often at
the expense of richer appreciations of artefacts. Thoughtful responses require time for each child to reflect on
objects themselves, in their own ways, in relation to their own cognitive stock or sensible dispositions, as they form
their own evaluative judgements and responses to the works they experience. They need ‘a space in which [each]
will act by his own light to his own ends …To offer a pregnant cultural fact and let the viewer work at it is surely
more tactful and stimulating than explicit interpretation?’45 Allowing time and opportunity for the crystallisation of
individually reflective responses against the pressure for intense cognitive engagement emerged as a key issue during
this research project.
How do we know if museum education programmes are successful? Implicit or tacit approval is indicated through
positive questionnaire evaluations46 and repeat visits. During a conversation with stakeholders, members of the
Art Institute of Chicago’s teacher advisory panel agreed that museum learning contributes positively to childrens’
learning, informs integrated cross-curricular links and enhances literary skills.
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
As the teachers described their own relationships with the education team, the benefits of multiple visits,
collaborative partnerships and customised activities for developing a rich synthesis between museum and school
classrooms became apparent. However, what became clearly evident was that positive negotiated pathways began
not with the museum, but with the classroom teachers themselves. Teachers identified the gaps in their own art
knowledge, and cross-curricular links with areas like literacy or sciences, and museums provided resources for ‘filling
in’ the art knowledge and providing something of a springboard into learning about art for its own ends and values.
One teacher noted that her fourth-grade class came to the Institute four times a year, enjoying ‘shorter’ teacher-led
90-minute visits, and focusing the art engagements through learning in the social sciences. Her visit focus and the
resources she used were negotiated prior to each visit. Her school has a particular museum focus – it is called a
Museum Academy – and each grade-level class is allocated a different museum through the Chicago “Museums
in the Park” arrangement; hers is the Institute. They see only three or four art objects, in only two rooms, in each
visit, and really synthesise what they learn into the broader classroom learning unit. The visit experience can be
developed into an appropriate art-making experience like printmaking back in the classroom.
Some teachers found the museum website useful for pre-visit preparation around specific works of art – one had
set up a gallery in his classroom so children could walk around and learn how to behave and engage in a gallery
space. By seeing works at half- or quarter-scale on the smart-board, they could explore ideas about how we engage
with artworks. Prior to their museum visit, the children had to find an art object relevant to them, then find it
online, reproduce it, and then prepare a piece of work explaining its personal relevance. Mastery of technology was
critical in achieving this. Extending the museum experience back in the classroom, using reproductions of works
children had seen in the original, around ‘what if?’ propositions was a useful way of extending learning. All agreed
on the benefits of proactive teacher participation in developing close relationships. These inform more specifically
customised activities that can further enrich children and empower teachers to extend their role in self-conducted
tours, and in children’s independent dispositions to positive museum learning.
Museum learning offers first-hand, inquiring engagements with real art objects; it informs and empowers teachers
for developing their own museum and class-based art learning engagements; and it favours dispositions for lifelong
engagements in the arts. This was confirmed in an informal observation during a Sunday afternoon visit to the Art
Institute of Chicago several days after the research visits.The Institute was crowded. Huge numbers of family groups
filled every gallery and corridor. Children and parents were enthusiastically engaged close-up with art objects of
every kind, scrutinising closely, pointing excitedly and most of all talking, arguing, comparing, sharing their experiences
as they moved around the museum. They were thoroughly acculturated, knowing and inquiring, confirming the
positive role of museum learning for informing broader life engagements in the arts.
I would like to acknowledge the generosity of staff in the following institutions. In New Zealand, the Govett Brewster
Art Gallery and Puke Ariki, New Plymouth; the Real Art Roadshow on location; the Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui;
City Gallery Wellington and Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand in Wellington; and Dunedin Public Art
Gallery in Dunedin. In North America, the Art Institute of Chicago; the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; the J.
Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles and Getty Villa Malibu; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of
Fine Art, Boston; Museum of Modern Art New York; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York City.
David Bell is senior lecturer in Art Education at the University of Otago College of Education. He teaches
programmes in secondary visual art and art history curriculum, and in Japanese art history and theory. He is
immediate past president of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators. He has been a regular
contributor to Ministry of Education and NZQA developments in curriculum content and structure, and in
the assessment of achievement in these areas. David has published on the history and theory of art education,
curriculum practice, and pedagogies for engaging the “Communicating and Interpreting” and “Understanding Arts in
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Context” strands of The New Zealand Curriculum, as well as on the visual arts and culture of Japan. His most recent
research in museums-sited teaching and learning in the arts has taken him into the diverse settings in New Zealand
and North America from which this article has developed.
Michael Deaker, The Provision of LEOTC to New Zealand Schools: A Policy Review Paper for the Ministry of Education (Wellington:
Ministry of Education, 2006).
Rachel Bolstad, LEOTC Provider Trends, Issues, and Themes (Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research Te
Rünanga o Aotearoa mö te Rangahau te Mätauranga, 2010), 7-9.
Randi Korn and Associates, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Teaching Literacy Through Art Final Report: Synthesis of 2004-05 and
2005-06 Studies (Alexandria, VA: Randi Korn and Associates, 2007); Deaker, Provision of LEOTC, 7-9.
Deaker, Provision of LEOTC, 5.
Ibid., 10.
Auckland Museum, Barriers to Access (Auckland: Auckland War Memorial Museum, 2006).
Bolstad, LEOTC Provider Trends, 3-4.
New Zealand Ministry of Education, The New Zealand Curriculum (Wellington: Learning Media, 2007).
Ibid., 4.
10 (accessed 12 Nov 2010). (Hereafter Met, 2010.)
Bolstad, LEOTC Provider Trends, 7.
Ibid., 5.
Ibid., 5-6.
14 (accessed 12 Nov 2010).
(Hereafter Guggenheim, 2010.)
Bolstad, LEOTC Provider Trends, 5.
Museum visit interviews with Stephanie Kao and Deborah Clearwater, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Tuesday 5
October 2010. (Hereafter Asian, 2010.)
Auckland Museum, Barriers, 3.
Museum visit interview with John Neumegen, educator, Dunedin Public Art Gallery,Thursday 24 June 2010. (Hereafter DPAG,
Getty Centre, Art Together: School-Based Community Programme (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department,
20 (accessed 12 Nov 2010). (Hereafter Chicago, 2010.)
22 (accessed 12 Nov 2010). (Hereafter MFA, 2010.)
Bolstad, LEOTC Provider Trends, 8.
Barbara Piscitelli, “Children, Art and Museums,” Scope: Journal of Contemporary Research Topics, 4 (2009), 120-125.
Getty, 2010; Guggenheim, 2010.
John Shuh, “Teaching Yourself to Teach with Objects,” in The Educational Role of the Museum, ed. E Hooper-Greenhill (London
and New York: Routledge, 2001), 80-91.
R Kennedy, “Guggenheim Study Suggests Arts Education Benefits Literacy Skills,” New York Times, 27 July 2006, E1; Rebecca
Herz, Looking at Art in the Classroom: Art Investigations from the Guggenheim Museum (New York and London:Teachers College,
Columbia University, 2010).
Guggenheim, 2010.
Hilary Landorf, “What’s Going on in this Picture? Visual Thinking Strategies and Adult Learning,” New Horizons in Adult Education
and Human Resource Development, 20:4 (Fall 2006), 28-32.
Ibid., 31-2.
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Carol Johnson, “VTS: Visual Thinking Strategies,” an open letter to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan,
system/resources/0000/0228/Duncan-Johnson (accessed 14 Jan 2011).
33 (accessed 14 Jan 2011).
Chicago, 2010.
35 on documents at enquire key findings/The enquire programme/Overview_Emily Pringle/
LondonFINAL/South East FINAL/NE_FINAL) (accessed 14 Jan 2011).
Helen Lloyd, “Provoking Critical Thought in the Gallery Context,” Scope: Contemporary Research Topics: Art and Design, 4
(November 2009), 126-34.
Stephen Bowkett, 100+ Ideas for Teaching Thinking Skills (New York and London: Continuum International Publishing Group,
Lloyd, “Provoking Critical Thought,” 132.
Helen Lloyd, “Exploring Kusama’s World: Art as Experience,” ANZAAE Journal, 20:1 (2010), 14-19.
Ibid., 15.
Ibid., 16.
NZ Ministry of Education, Curriculum; Lloyd, “Provoking Critical Thought,” 133.
John Neumegen, “News Flash: Art Gallery Infested with Bugs … and Dinosaurs,” ANZAAE Journal, 21:1 (2011), 5.
Ibid., 5.
Michael Baxandall, in Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture, eds I Karp, C Kreamer and S Lavine (Washington
and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), 182-220.
New Zealand Ministry of Education, LEOTC Provider Guidebook: Policies and Essential Information, 2011,
LEOTC-home/For-providers (accessed 10 Jan 2011).
David Bell – Museum Visit – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Response
Rebecca Hamid
“It is that phenomenological shift that brings uncertainty; that asks the question – what are we looking at? And I
hope that somewhere in that is a moment of poetry.”1
It is September 2010 and Scott Eady’s “Bring It On!” exhibition has been installed in the RH Gallery at Woollaston
Estates, Mahana, Nelson. The owner of the premises acted quickly to censor one work, removing Ivan; ‘Kick Me’
(2010), an orange-painted 70 kilogram cast brass ball with a small hand written sign “Kick Me” cello-taped to one
side. After protracted and tense negotiations, the director of the gallery secured the return of the sculpture to its
original position; but now without the sign, and with the addition of a brass plinth to protect the gallery floor.
There is a recurring anecdotal scene of censorship,
communication, power, annunciation and reception
with minimalist sculpture. In her essay “Minimalism and
the Rhetoric of Power,” 1990, Anna Chave describes
two teenage girls in the Museum of Modern Art
who walk over to a Donald Judd gleaming brass
floor box (1968), kick it, laugh and then putting its
reflective surface to good use to rearrange their hair
before bending down to kiss their images. The guard
watching did not respond.2 Chave’s writing examines
the relations of power in annunciation and reception
behind minimalist art. She observes minimalism’s
departure from offering neither negative nor
prophetic moments that have previously placed it at
the vanguard of modernist art. Chave concludes that
where minimalism offers non-discourse, presented as
non-art, or offers nothing new, only more of the same,
the viewer is left disillusioned and possibly hostile.3
Moreover, where the artist’s trajectory is deliberately
aimed at a discourse of power and violence or
disinterest in the viewer, it is not surprising that such
art may illicit responses of violence or mockery, or
Figure 1. Scott Eady, Ivan; ‘Kick Me’ (2010), bronze, enamel
paint, paper, 36 cm diameter.
Minimalist sculpture has long been associated with art historical rhetoric including the gambits of such luminaries as
Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin. During the 1960s minimalist artists
considered it their role to redefine societal values; though it is problematic whether or not they ever effected any
real social change.4 The types of materials used, their weight, size and construction were associated with the values
and rhetoric of power and politics. Richard Serra’s mammoth corten steel structures which tower and lean over
the viewer are some of the most explicit examples of this. Art which aspires to be non-art5 is often only recognised
Rebecca Hamid – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
as art by the viewer because it is located in a gallery, curated by an art professional or created by a ‘named’ artist.
Complicated nuances of association and referencing of other art objects have been the underlying premise of much
of this minimalist art practice. Most often this is demonstrated in its conception and construction, which is to further
complicate the deliberate non-narrative objective. Increasingly, the degree of difficulty in understanding what the
artist intended became the primary trajectory and this, not its meaning – if it had any at all – was what gave the
artwork its intrinsic and elevated value.
Tony Smith’s Die (1962), with its complexity of meanings by association and with only the title offering hints about
its content, is typical of minimalist artists’ sculptures of that period. Like Donald Judd, Smith was effectively offering
this work as non-art or as an object that denies art as it is commonly thought of. Judd wrote in his essay “Specific
Objects” about ‘plain power,’6 expounding his minimalist platform of stressing the physical, phenomenological
experience of objects. Like Smith, Judd aimed to remove all natural form, all traces of the artisan, inventiveness or
uniqueness from his sculpture, denying viewers the usual prerequisites customarily used to engage their attention
with a work of art. Mass-produced, commercially fabricated, machine-made and with minimal intervention by the
artist, this trajectory of non-art, as Chave points out, has initiated not only a violence against the art itself but also
against its audience.7 There is also the explicit denial of any motivating humanist endeavour or any sense of moral
or spiritual inspiration. Not surprising then that a viewer’s reaction would be hostile or violent.
Figure 2. Scott Eady, “Bring it On!”, installation.
Eady’s installation “Bring It On!” included Ivan; ‘Kick Me’ and two other brass sculptures, ‘Jonathan you were Wrong’
( 2010), and Into the Light: Crazy Little S of Fools (2010). The installation also included an exploding wooden castle,
two catapults and several small photographs mounted on one wall. As with Smith’s Die, the titles are deliberate and
significant as they contain a multitude of complex references which in the minimalist idiom, unless explained, are not
readily discernable. ‘Jonathan you were Wrong’, a 30-kilogram cast brass pretzel painted a pale pink and cellotaped
to the gallery wall, rests on a biscuit tin with a landscape of Mitre Peak on the lid. Its reference to a gallery owner’s
refusal to install sculpture against a wall is obscure. Unless explained to them, viewers would be unlikely to ‘get’ its
meaning. The multitude of complex art historical references are all there, but only the very well-informed punter
would realise this.
Rebecca Hamid – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Ironically, through referencing the Judd anecdote
cited above, Eady was inciting his audience to kick
his artwork, which resulted in the censoring of Ivan;
‘Kick Me.’ There was concern that viewers might
break a toe, not that the artwork might get damaged.
Intentionally, the artist had cast this 70-kilogram solid
brass ball and coated it in a soft ice cream orange
texture like paint [correct?], presenting it as a disguised
soft toy, a product of children at play. The sort of trick
one brother might play on another. Old enough to
read the sign, one would surely clue up to the trick.
That aside, the minimalist ruse of power over and
violence against art conventions and the art audience
is all there.
One would have to be a barren soul not to enjoy
Scott Eady’s art. Eady’s sculptures delight.They present
us with artful masquerade and if we let them, they
ignite our imagination and can make us smile. Mostly,
they are images which include a tongue-in-cheek
glimpse at many of the things in this world that we
often take too seriously. Or, as we read here, others
take too seriously. Eady’s aesthetic appreciation of
objects is reflected back to us, larger than life.
Figure 3. Scott Eady, ‘Jonathan You Were Wrong’ (2010), bronze,
enamel paint, biscuit tin, cello-tape; dimensions variable.
While referencing the minimalist sculpture of Judd
and others, Eady offers his own unique and engaging
discourse. There is a humanist motivating endeavour
and a sense of moral inspiration and prophetic
moments in his art. The human touch is apparent,
and deliberately juxtaposed with the manufactured,
mass-produced non-art of the minimalist idiom he is
Eady is a self-reflective spirit. He is an eloquent artist,
using visual expression for his musings on the meaning
of life and the meaning of art per se for his audience. His
trajectory charts complex relationships and incidents
he has shared with art professionals, curators and
gallery owners. In the past, the discourse has included
a focus on the deconstructive exploration of what it
is to be an adult male in New Zealand, entwined with
a playful affection for objects and trappings, processes
and artifacts. More lately, he has shifted this focus to his
experience and reflections on what it is to be a parent,
and more specifically, a father of young boys.8
Figure 4. Scott Eady, Castle (2010), wood, hardware, paint,
crash net; dimensions variable.
Rebecca Hamid – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 5. Scott Eady, Catapult 1 (Ping) (2010), wood, hardware, rubber balls; dimensions variable.
Rebecca Hamid – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
If it was Eady’s dialogue with and observations of masculine culture that cast the central focus of his work from
the mid-1990s to early 2000s, it is his experiences of fatherhood and collaboration with his children that have
influenced his practice in recent years. Earlier sculptures consisted of constructions of vastly over-scaled models
of a chainsaw, nail gun and bolt-cutters.9 The massive amplification of these objects, their form and their loss of
functionality, portrayed male culture, intimacy with tools and a relationship stated in terms of something larger than
their utility value.
Eady moved into portraying the contradictions of male culture and expressions of masculine fantasy. Eady’s jovial
and tongue-in-cheek sculptures twist contemporary narratives about being a real man’s man, the tough New
Zealand bloke. He often contrasts the dilemmas of whether to conform to this or to more recent stereotypes such
as the metrosexual through objects that caricature both extreme masculine and effeminate notions of manhood.
Sculptor Anish Kapoor talks about the importance of the artist’s work in their studio and the creation of sculpture
through the process of play. This is something Scott Eady’s practice readily embraces. Inside and outside the
workshop, his sculptures are about play and the relationships integral to that play – the play of young boys and his
observations and delight as a parent experienced in observing children at play. “Bring It On!” extended this play
into the gallery. The installation included Catapult 1 (Ping) (2010), and Catapult 2 (Pong) (2010), and Castle (2010),
which provided interactive play for children and adults firing rubber balls across the gallery at each other and at
other sculptures. The Castle had walls which exploded by means of a mousetrap mechanism set off when its door
was opened. The resetting of this and the catapults sorely tested the intervention of gallery staff, another poignant
reference by Eady to the Judd museum anecdote above and juxtaposition with it.
Eady mines the life-experience and imagination of his children (and himself) to resolve issues about himself and his
relationship to others. In the process, some of the deepest and most complex existential states, including fear, power,
joy and self-doubt, are exposed and materialised in sculptures memorable for their unabashed honesty and insightful
ambivalence. As we follow the interplay between fragment and whole, past and present, we become voyeurs; we
feel the oscillations of his life, his challenge of being a man and a parent. More sustaining is the artist’s ability to
encourage an empathy with parenthood and reflection on our own experience and what it means to us to be a
parent, or to have been parented. As parents we have mused and been amused by the imaginations and insights
of children and their games. Reflections on the passing of time and what this means in our adult lives are equally
absorbing. The questions raised are important. The politics of war games and toys, the identity we gain from these,
and whether we should censor these or, like our parents, invest in our children’s imaginations and trust in their ability
to develop into mature discerning adults, provide much to reflect on.
On another level, these works of Eady’s have a powerful and captivating abstract component to them. This is
revealed to us through continuous looking and experiencing, through anticipation, observation and recollection.
Eady’s use of colour, the painted surface he applies to the cast bronze, and the pristine surfaces of some pieces are
crucial to our appreciation of their abstract qualities. As Barnett Newman noted, abstraction and the use of a single
colour is about “a real time of dreaming; not just something static, but deeper and beyond its sculptural confines.”10
Meaning and experience are personal and our own. There is no prescribed view, no preferred way of looking, no
defined explanation nor understanding. Each person will take in the gallery space differently. There is an unlimited
range of individual experiences, which may take place over time and in more than one session of viewing. Eady’s
sculpture is about us. The meaning of the sculpture we see is held within our imaginations. There are moments
of recognition that hold power for us whether this is perceptual, or aesthetic, or emotional or psychological. Into
the Light: Crazy Little S of Fools, is a powerful example of this. Two Dollar Shop plastic, battery-fired candles light
up a marshmallow-like cake, cast in solid brass and painted a pale yellow, placed on a stand which is more like a
plinth than a cake stand. The discourse is complex. Yellow and blue are fundamental to the aesthetic appeal of this
sculpture. Simultaneously satirising and revering minimalist sculpture, while contextualising this in the play and pranks
of children and a parent’s response to these, are just something of what Eady touches upon here. The ambiguities,
Rebecca Hamid – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
the aesthetic qualities and the deliberate minimalist
overtones and complex references combine to
encourage a multitude of responses from the
viewer. There is much more besides the purposefully
perplexing title to engage the audience.
Thus the power or success of Eady’s sculpture lies
within the audience. It’s not about the sculpture by
itself. If it can act as a catalyst for thought or change
people’s ideas or encourage people to think new
thoughts, then that is more encouraging than just
thinking about the possibilities of what these sculptural
objects could be. As sculptor Ai Wei Wei argues,
“Life is about art, politics and exchange.”11 While
embracing much of what the art audience appreciates
in minimalist art, Eady’s sculpture offers much more.
Rebecca Hamid is director of RH Gallery on the
Woollaston Estates Vineyard, Mahana, Nelson. She
has a Postgraduate Diploma in Art History from the
University of Otago (with Distinction), is executive
director and trustee of the Nelson Sculpture Trust,
and curates philanthropist Glenn Schaeffer’s NZ and
US private art collections.
Figure 6. Scott Eady, Into the Light: Crazy Little S of Fools
(2010), bronze, candlelite candles, aluminum, wood, enamel
paint; dimensions variable.
Anish Kapoor, audio recording, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, September 2010.
Anna C Chave, “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power,” rptd in Minimalism, ed. James Meger (London: Phaidon Press, 2000),
274-84. First pub. 1990.
Ibid, 282.
However, by the late 1960s Judd and others denied their art had anything to do with societal values, theories or institutions.
The contradictions in their claims were that, while negating many of the attributes traditionally associated with fine art, their
work was presented as ‘valued’ fine art for the consumption of a fine art audience.
Clement Greenberg, American Sculpture of the Sixties, ed. Maurice Tuchman (Los Angeles: County Museum of Art, 1967).
Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,” rptd in Donald Judd: Early Work, 1955-1968, ed. Thomas Kellein (New York: D.A.P., 2002). First
pub. 1965.
Chave, “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power,” 279.
Richard Lummis, “Big Time, Major Works by Scott Eady,” Art New Zealand, 99 (2001), 74 –7.
“The Big Time,” an exhibition held in Artis Gallery, Parnell, Auckland in 1997.
Anish Kapoor quoting Barnett Newman, audio recording, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, September 2010.
Ai Wei Wei, artist quote from video about his installation “Sunflower Seeds.” Recording by Tate Modern, London, October
Rebecca Hamid – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Practice Response
Michele Beevors
For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost …
In the last ten years, the work of Scott Eady has undergone a complex transition which saw a movement from
a simple engagement with masculine identity politics and female masquerade to a series of works that examine
the provisional nature of such identities in relation to marriage, fatherhood, nationalism and late capitalism. What
is lost in the works from 2001-11 is the bravado and self-confidence of youth, as in works such as BIG TIME. In his
article “Big Time: Major Works by Scott Eady,” Richard Lummis suggested that this impulse is replaced in a series
of exhibitions whereby Eady literally tries on different masculine stereotypes such as John Wayne, a pathetic clown,
a metro-sexual, a barbequing bloke, and a rugby-playing thug.1 This response will examine a selection of Eady’s
exhibitions in relation to the notion of the fallible masculine, which I have defined elsewhere as the masculine
response to the demands of a politicised feminism.2
For “Sculpture on the Gulf ” at Waiheke Island in 2010, Eady buried a treasure, Booty, and as a result there was
nothing to see.3 The visitors – those out for a nice stroll in the sun – became frustrated, followed instructions and
tried to figure out where the sculpture/booty was buried, but no-one succeeded.
For children the game of ‘pirates’ is exciting, replete with buried treasure, swordplay, and X marking the spot. It
was played long before Johnny Depp taught a new generation of moviegoers that pirates were a little bit daring, a
little bit stupid, a little bit cunning, a little bit camp, a little bit tipsy and a little bit schizophrenic. Our treasures and
swordplay though were imaginary, our violence benign, constituting ourselves through roleplay and games.
Eady’s treasure was there alright, for anyone to find; the map indicated a depression in the earth, X indeed marked
the spot. A bronze cross-bone with a clue as to the whereabouts of the ‘booty’ was cast into the ground and was
designed to frustrate the expectations of the art-loving public who gather at such events. Those who expected to
see something – enticed by the prize at the end, entertained by the thrill of treasure – caused fences to be erected,
not to keep the viewers from their treasure, but to ensure the safety of those who thought that the treasure may
have slipped off the island and into the sea.
In these big “Sculpture by the Sea” and “Sculpture on Shore” events, the work on offer seems entirely predictable,
and giant metal palm fronds and seed pods abound. Eady’s practice lies entirely outside of the parameters of such
Michele Beevors – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 1. Stupid Daddy, 2010. Mixed Media, Photographed by Scott Eady.
a show, which has more to do with the expectations of an audience ready to be entertained than primed for an
encounter with art of a serious or critical kind. In the already picturesque setting of the island, plonking down any
old piece of coloured tin or timber take the place of the idea of site specificity as it fades into history. It has been 42
years since Robert Smithson strode around in the deserts of Utah, after all. Eady’s work dealt directly and in a novel
way with both the site of Waiheke Island and the conspicuous consumption that such an event entails.
The “Sculpture on the Gulf ” website asks us to “make a summer’s day out of it, see the sculptures, then explore
Waiheke’s seaside cafés, beaches, vineyard restaurants and cellar doors.” This website, and the curation that tags
along with it, equates the viewing of art with the leisure activities of fine wine and fine dining. Eady’s work both
comments on and sidesteps these issues, for Eady never gives away just what the ‘booty’ is (it could after all be a
child’s booty or a set of plastic boobs or any number of absurdities). Is there any booty at all? You really don’t know.
The artist may never have buried the treasure in the first place, and that’s why no one could find it. Some people
Michele Beevors – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
were angry. This denial of expectations is a perfect foil to the greedy, ready to consume the next best thing – art
as entertainment.
This is also the kind of thinking that led to Jeff Koons’s Locomotive (proposed for the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art), a commission with a $25 million price tag. Contemplating Koons’s train, there is nothing left for the audience
to think but ‘WOW, that is a lot of money to spend on art.’ What has been traded for gold, and what is at stake
in works like this, is any kind of critical engagement. No one has stopped to consider if it’s worth the trade. Art is
reduced to the status of every other commodity, fulfilling its investment potential. Art is entertainment, culture is
reduced to capital.
Money as well as ‘booty’ is at stake, too, in Eady’s work. The show “Lost at the Bottom of the World,” at the Sargent
Gallery in Whanganui, featured a Money Train which is literally made of recast, obselete New Zealand currency.
Resembling a cat or dog chasing its own tail, the tiny nickel train (in N scale) is connected at front and rear, a neverending loop of coming and going, and going nowhere ….4 Frustration is again employed as a strategy to undermine
viewer expectations in the work HANNAH, a double-ended rowing skiff. A push-me-pull-you, this work demands
that the viewer imagines being both rowers, facing off against one’s opposite number, again going nowhere as each
rower rows against his or her other self – a self that is constituted through a mirror image. One can imagine the
outcome as both rowers are completely spent or torn apart in a violent manner. Within the same exhibition, two
pieces, the grass is green and the grass is greener (photographs of two perfectly green lawns, with a great white
inflatable cloud hanging overhead) lead the viewer to believe that in suburbia everything is rosy, each day a perfect
day. On one level, these works represent the blue-sky optimism inherent in nationalistic sports advertising.The other,
more pessimistic viewpoint suggests that the Land of the Long White Cloud and the facile optimism of suburbia
have given birth to relationships where both sides are working hard at going nowhere.
In modernism, pictorial space disappeared, the figure gave way to pure ground, and the masculine subject of
modernity – the hero, the adventurer and explorer of past centuries – was replaced by the idea of the anti-hero,
the tragic figure of a James Dean. John Wayne was replaced by the image of Clint Eastwood, doing the wrong thing
for the right reasons. (Eady’s version of Wayne in the exhibition at Mary Newton Gallery, “As the World Turns,”
is a more domesticated one.) After waves of feminism and the onslaught of postmodern thinking in response to
the effects of colonial power, the europhallologocentric subject of modernism gave way to a more provisional and
fallible masculinity. Soon there was no room to stand, with all the partial bodies and part-objects around.
If there once seemed to be a clear transition from boy to man, the myth of a happy, uninhibited childhood has been
superseded by its representation in the media as a place of lurking dangers and controlled play. In Stupid Daddy, Eady
plays with the possibility of the subject as defeated, as a tragic clown consumed by grief at a world he cannot control.
He sits with a cloud of grey balloons amidst bronze monuments to the lost innocence of childhood, blobby bits of
high-key colour. These small bronze works cannot reference anything other than the abject nature of childhood and
the scatological bent of schoolyard jokes – the objects on display resemble something that has been extruded from
the body; tarted up to look like lollies and desirable designer fluff, they leave one with a sinking, slightly sick feeling
in the presence of that sad clown.
The search for an impossible masculine subjectivity, defined against stereotypes as distinct as the sad clown and
John Wayne (from the exhibition “The World Keeps Turning”), becomes a futile grasping at straws as the idea of
subjectivity itself proves equally ill-fitting. For what now stands for the subject is a mass of posturing, like Johnny
Depp’s portrait of the fictional Jack Sparrow. Representations of the ‘nearly whole’ conflict with multiple viewpoints,
the subject in motion, a blur, a hybrid: one whose identity is casual, an identity in infinite flux. Eady’s early work raised
some interesting questions about the shifting masculine subject; the labourer of Big Time gave way to the fetishist car
painter of Posy Pony, moving to the just-married man of Honeymoon on the Pigroot. But while these works hinted at
the shifting identity necessary to maintain the status quo, they also hint at some cracks in the image of the perfectly
controlled ego (and repressed subject) of modernism.5
Michele Beevors – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 2. Dickkopf, 2006. Plastic skeletons, wood. Photographed by Scott Eady.
Cracks begin to appear in the image of the perfect man because, along with the kind of masculinity portrayed
by John Wayne goes a conservative, jingoistic nationalism; along with the image of the clown as happy and fun is
the clown who can’t hide the tracks of his tears. The Perfect Man as advertising imagines him – for example, in
the campaign for Perfect Italianio Cheese – blatantly illustrates that such a notion is completely farcical, while also
challenging notions of the masculine as a definition of what women want. In the ad, a handsome man tells a largely
female audience that he “is practicing listening,” or that “I love to listen to the problems of your friends,” or “I’m
listening and painting.”
The cheese ad plays on an idea about the kind of ideal masculinity that undermines feminism.The masculine subject
becomes pro-feminist, defined through a stereotyped notion of what he should be, how he should behave. Sensitive
to the point of nausea, he becomes another stereotype (straight off the cover of a Mills and Boon novel), one set
against the overt masculinity of the Speight’s ad: “It’s a hard road finding the perfect woman, boy.” This former image
is equally impossible to imagine, and requires repression of all aberrant desires. Just as the stereotypical perfect
woman has nothing to do with real women, the perfect man is a shell, a construction. Eady’s version of perfection
is parody. In Eady’s version of the Speight’s ad, She’s a Hard Road, masculinity and new-found feminist skills clash. In
this billboard work, Eady dons a plastic apron (featuring false boobs and a French maid’s garter belt), barbeques
the sausages, beer in hand, to the same tune – “She’s a hard road finding the perfect woman, boy,” about as hard
Michele Beevors – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
as it is to define the perfect man. In fact, to find the perfect woman, a man has to walk a mile in her shoes, literally
scrambling together in an ill-fitting amalgam with homoerotic undertones.
What is lost on advertising is found in the works that deal with play and imagination – candy-coated niceties with
surprising overtones of violence.
Boy #1, Boy #2 and Boy #3 – three children/mannequins in camouflage pyjamas – hold onto the leg of a monster
which is a maquette for the sculpture Dickopf of 2006 – the same monster that recurs in the bronze works from
that show. Depicting monsters engaged in scenarios such as a rape scene, death (a recurring motif throughout the
show, down to the whitewashed plinths that resemble funeral caskets) and a rugby scrum-cum-war zone, these
works reflect the violence implicit in childhood games (such as pirates, war games and cowboys and Indians) and
offer a version of where this kind of ‘role play as conditioning’ can lead. In Beautiful Terrors, Eady assembles a video
work together with Boy #3. The video work recreates the Travis Bicknel role from Taxi Driver – “Are you looking at
me? What are you looking at? … bang, bang, bang,” as he aims his gun at the screen. But it is a child who is repeating
these lines – a cute, cherubic but somewhat disgruntled child, and the effect is chilling.
Children use drawing as play to discover the world. Eady’s children are the inspiration for nearly all his works of the
past decade, helping by doing what they do best – playing at making stuff. Eady faces a moral dilemma by using his
children in this manner, having to discern the difference between fun and exploitation. The bronze works in Stupid
Daddy were inspired by a session of fimo sculpture made by the children. The bronze sculptures, which are painted
in highly toxic oranges and blues, both hide the monumental nature of traditional sculpture and bring it down to
the level of child’s play.
In another work, Ian’s Castle, sports mats surround an exploding castle. Like a mouse trap, it waits until someone
opens the door, then springs apart; the audience is more than slightly dismayed by the fact that they have destroyed
the work. In the last of these works, IVAN, a note is crudely taped to an orange blob sculpture the size of a small
boulder or a large leather medicine ball – but the ball is bronze and the note says ‘kick me.’ Like so many schoolyard
pranks, you only find out its true character when you kick it and it bites back. Eady’s work recalls the seemingly
uninhibited spaces of childhood as the sole occupier of the imaginary, a time when it was easier than now to slip
between play identities as pirates and cowboys. He offers us a new source for the imagination; by re-enacting
childhood play, a temporary and partial subjectivity is formed where once the illusion of a whole subjectivity was to
be found, presenting us with new and old frontiers to plunder.
What is at stake in the recent work of Scott Eady is not so much the idea of a unified subject constructed out of
the stereotypes of masculinity, but a subjectivity that is partial, fleeting and temporary. Through various encounters
with feminist discourse, the idea of the perfect man is defined as what women want. Eady remakes his own image
according to the expectations of others; no wonder that the clown is sad, or the rugby scrum is reduced to bare
bones. In a last defiant and wilful act, his persona ruts about in a duel to the death. Eady’s work examines the dark
places where displays of masculine posturing lead to the humiliations of Abu Ghraib and to the constant threat of
annihilation and war. Boy #1, Boy #2 and Boy #3 play out this reminder: “from little things, big things grow.”
In work after work, expectations of masculine subjectivity are examined and are found to be flawed. From the
billboard work, She’s a Hard Road Finding the Perfect Woman/ Boy, to Dickopf, Lost at the Bottom of the World, Boy #1,
2 and 3 and The World Keeps Turning, role play is a recurring motif. It is through a parody of such stereotypes that
Eady proceeds to unpack the baggage of consumerist culture and address the advertising industry directly – for it is
through advertising that these stereotypes are perpetuated, until the values they represent are normalised.
Michele Beevors – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Michele Beevors trained on postgraduate level at the Australian National University in Canberra and at Columbia
University in New York. A sculptor who exhibits widely in Australia and New Zealand, she is a senior lecturer and
head of Sculpture at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic.
Richard Lummis, “Big Time: Major Works by Scott Eady,” Art New Zealand, 99 (Winter 2001), 74-7. Lummis celebrates Eady’s
use of masculine tropes and stereotypes and links these to homoerotic content borrowed from stereotypes of femininity –
“pink equal girls.” I would disagree with Lummis that the toolshed is feminised (because the internal fit-out, it seems to me, is
a display of a clearly feminine masquerade – what some men might imagine femininity to be), while the clearly phallic form of
the car in The Desert Fox becomes another example of a tool (albeit a pink one). Lummis mistakes this as feminine – but since
it has no opening, no windows and doors, its rigidity can equally be described as auto(erotic) or resigned to self-pleasure,
rather than the coupling Lummis desires for the work.
M Beevors, “Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” Scope: Contemporary Research Topics: Art 1 (November
‘Bootilicious’ is a slang term which signifies a male desire for an overripe version of female sexuality. While not evident in this
work, this idea it is at the heart of a work like Scotty’s Place.
N scale is 1:160 in the United States and 1:144 in the United Kingdom.
Eady’s examination of identity through playing pirates, clown and cowboys, and the notion of men at war and at play echo the
early work of Cindy Sherman, who exposes images of feminine masquerade caught in the headlights of an all-too-male gaze.
Eady’s work, focused as it is on the self as constituted by the necessities of family, shows us just how equally damaging these
stereotypes are, and how difficult they are to live up to – just as much a masquerade for the camera as Sherman’s versions.
Michele Beevors – Scott Eady – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Biennale Report
Rebecca Hamid
Figure. 1. Chapman’s Homer, 2011, bronze, stainless steel, two pieces: 251 x 271 x 175 and 56 x 87 x 37 cm, Photograph by Judith Cullen.
“But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” In a fable by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” only an
innocent child, without guile, can openly declare what it is they are all looking at. More concerned with being judged
ignorant or incapable, the Emperor, his ministers and subjects all play along with the tailor’s swindle, admiring the
suit of clothes which simply does not exist.
We perceive in Anderson’s allegory the ubiquity of the tale, the sudden recognition that it brings, certain archetypes
of the adult human psyche and behaviour. It exposes the compelling reality of childishness and universal configurations
of narrative that are understood subconsciously and collectively. The application here to the world of ‘high’ art is
revealing and pertinent. It provides a valuable reference point when looking and writing about art.
Michael Parekowhai’s entry to the 2011 Venice Biennale, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, is an extravaganza
the like of which New Zealand has never entertained before. In the context of Venice, touted as the most
prestigious of all international art fairs, New Zealand’s and the artist’s gambit is an ambitious one. With the
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
announcement, national pride and enthusiasm gained
momentum. Parekowhai’s credentials confirm him as
one of Aotearoa’s most accomplished contemporary
artists. He is a popular choice. Given its destination,
the decision to go for scale and grandeur may have
been an astute call. If he pulls it off, this could be a
career-defining move for the artist. The stakes are high
– “Venice remains a high pressure engagement.”1
But has the artist and his team pulled it off? With the
emphasis on ‘installation,’ does it work as the catalogue
and reviews claim it does? Mindful of Parekowhai’s
past achievements, how does this collection of
sculptures compare to previous work? The decision to
send Parekowhai has taken ten years. Has this belated
decision compromised his installation? 2
Walking away with the Golden Lion is to pick up a
coveted prize. Nations, artists, their dealers, curators,
directors and commissioners, and some heavyweight
corporate backers, all line up for a piece of the action.
Ideals that art is sacrosanct and not a commodity
are dismissed by the capitalist ethos that prevails. As
Simon Rees muses in “Pavilions and Palazzi,” there is a
“current and murkier tendency for the nationalization
of production funding and the privatization of profit
for sale.”3 It is the nation’s taxpayers who fund some
or most of the entry, but it is the artist and their dealer
who benefit from the sales.4 The dilemma here is not
the rights and wrongs of public funding or support for
the arts, but whether or not the profits realised should
repay the public purse so as to sustain support for
the arts on an ongoing basis. There is also the moral
predicament of using public funds to boost the coffers
of the private sector.
Figure 2. Kapa Haka (Officer Taumaha), 2011, bronze,
182 x 60 x 45 cm, Photograph by Judith Cullen.
The scale of this event grows each year. There is
nothing scrimpy about Venice. Everything is on a grand scale. It has for centuries been a destination for the wealthy
and powerful, appreciative of its elegance, opulence, decadence and cultural diversity. A major power until the
eighteenth century, Venice became a byword for decadence. Leading up to the 1800s, vast inherited fortunes were
squandered by the aristocracy in gambling and lavish parties. A revival came in the 1870s with the opening of the
Suez Canal; Venice became a destination for rich Europeans and wealthy socialites. The Venetians’ predilection for
liberalism infused the arts and nurtured a setting for the radicalisation of art practice. With the founding of the
Biennale in 1895, Venice became a European epicenter of creativity for music, writing and the visual arts.
During the opening days of the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, “ILLUMinations,” the febrile clamour of the festivities
resonate glamour, glitz and extravagance that at times overshadows the art itself. Referred to as the Cannes Film
Festival of world art shows, it exudes excitement and excess. En route to the Giardini, the crowds of art-goers and
press representatives pass by the super-sized yacht owned by Roman Abramovich, reputed to require a staff of 45.
President Berlusconi arrives for the Argentinian pavilion opening, complete with an entourage of speedboats and
bodyguards on jet skis dressed in matching wetsuits. It all seems reminiscent of a James Bond movie.
In shipping containers alongside the cocktail parties, three artists from the impoverished nation of Haiti have
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
installed their collages of human forms sculptured
from junk. Death and Fertility (2011) offers a trajectory
on Haiti’s ability to regenerate itself after tragedy.
From the Atis Collective, Andre Eugene, Jean Herard
Claude and Jean Claude Saintilus include fetish effigies
constructed from lavishly coloured textile fragments.
Juxtaposed with its opulent setting, the Haitian
pavilion makes Venice seem all the more extreme and
surreal. Apart from its location, this installation makes
a powerful political statement about the excesses of
both capitalism and art, the distribution of the world’s
resources and the spirit of human survival against all
odds. While other nations, including New Zealand,
reference Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades by choice,
it is by necessity that these Third World artists use
discarded and trashed objects to form the basis of
their discourse. Powerful and haunting images of
human experience have inspired these sculptures. As
with Ernesto Vila’s cut-out silhouettes of the missing
and persecuted, Imagenes (des), in the 2007 Beinnale
Uruguayan pavilion, the conceptual ideas behind these
sculptures command much more than a disengaged
and intellectual response.
Contradictions abound between wealth and paucity,
parochial and global, virtual and real, grand and simple.
There is a deluge of art both serious and lightweight,
some inspired but much of it repetitive, or tired, or
just trying too hard. From the alluring to the very dull,
each year the event grows and this year’s Biennale
offers a greater breadth of art talent than ever before.
Of particular interest this year is that some of the
privately funded exhibitions offer more depth than
the official events, many of which feel weighed down
by conventions of conceptual rigour.5
Figure 3. Untitled, 2011, wax,pigments, wicks, steel, installation
dimensions variable,edition of 2 +1AP,
Photograph by Rebecca Hamid
The 27-page list of exhibitions in the official press pack includes separate exhibitions housed in the Giardini and the
Arsenale. No surprises that previous and current bastions of imperial power dominate the Giardini, the gardens
containing the major permanent national pavilions.6 The USA occupies the central position, a location it secured
in 1986. Britain is at the end of the main avenue, with France and Germany on either side. Pavilions belonging to
other countries are in supporting roles, the largest of which is the Palazzo delle Esposizione, a Fascist-style building
formerly known as the Italian pavilion.
Since the first Biennale in 1895, the number of national participants has grown rapidly, with a noticeable jump from
77 in 2009 to 89 in 2011. Venice is indisputably the oldest, largest and grandest of international art fairs. In 2011
Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Haiti exhibited for the first time, and several countries returned after
absences in recent years. Countries committing to permanent pavilions have spilled out from the Giardini to the
nearby Arsenale, a series of old armaments warehouses, and across Venice into various palazzi.This year, 37 collateral
events supported by international organisations and institutions, spread across various locations around the city,
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
have further swelled the number of exhibitions. Some
nationally and privately sponsored shows are on a
par with those in the Giardini and Arsenale. There
are exhibitions of big-name artists including Anselm
Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, Andrei Monastyrski and James
Turrell. Galleries with permanent collections, including
the Gallerie dell’Accademia (Italian medieval and
Renaissance), the Peggy Guggenheim (Modern), and
the Ca’Pesaro Galleria d’Arte Moderna, are also
staging one-off feature exhibitions. The Guggenheim
shows a special exhibition by Robert Rauschenberg,
“Gluts.” In the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana,
and now the recently opened Palazzo Ca’Corner
della Regina on the Grand Canal, rival fashion house
magnates Pinault and Prada vie for position with the
biggest and best of their contemporary collections.
The theme for the Biennale involved literally shedding
light on the institution itself. In announcing it, director
Bice Curiger drew attention to “dormant and
unrecognized opportunities, as well as to the conventions that need to be challenged.” “ILLUMinations”
“points to light, a classical theme in art that closely
relates to Venice.” To make her point, she negotiates
the installation of three huge canvases by the radical
Venetian Renaissance painter Tintoretto in the front
Figure 4. Constitution Hill, (olive saplings), 2011, Polychromed
bronze, 110 x 35 x 35 cm approx,
gallery of the Palazzo delle Esposizione.This is a daring
Photograph by Michael Hill.
and controversial move, which nevertheless proves
popular with many visitors.7 In effect a dual theme, the
2011 title also accentuates the element “nations,” alluding to predetermined notions of nationhood as exemplified
in the conservative Venice construct of national pavilions. Curiger intended her initiative to challenge artists “to
explore new forms of ‘community’ and negotiate differences and affinities that might serve as models for the
Curiger’s premise is to encourage art that “explores notions of the collective, yet also speaks of fragmentary
identity, of temporary alliances, and objects inscribed with transience.” Her hope is that Venice will host art that
demonstrates the vibrancy of life. Citing an age when humans’ sense of reality is profoundly challenged by virtual
and simulated worlds, she called for art that expresses its potential, is inspired, questions assumptions and strives
to be the best.9
Looking at what is on show, some of the national events are disappointing.The United States pavilion has a deserved
reputation as a must-see venue. In 2005, Edward Ruscha exhibited early urban black-and-white landscapes alongside
new, full-colour canvases. These were unsettling yet engaging and beautiful paintings. The 52th Biennale entry
showed an installation by the dead Cuban-born artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. This was a controversial choice and
questions have been raised about the curatorial logic behind this, as well as previous and current artist selections.
Choosing dead, mid-term or high-profile artists has proved to be both frustrating and exhilarating. GonzalezTorres’s rigorously conceptual artwork, America (2007), included replenishable paper stacks, take-away candy spills,
light strings, public billboards and photographs. His minimalist refinement of black and white, coupled with social
commentary and personal disclosure, ensured that the installation was engaging and fresh. Both his and Ruscha’s
installations filled the US pavilion as one connected and complete exhibition. In 2009, the multifaceted American
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
conceptual artist and sculptor Bruce Nauman, a pioneer of post-minimalist video and performance art, won the
Golden Lion.
In 2011, Costa Rican collaborative artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have created six works, titled Gloria
(2011), for the US pavilion. Drawing a clear distinction between not representing the US but being “honoured to
be included in the history of the US pavilion,” Allora and Calzadilla have been strongly critical of American culture.10
Their multimedia works are about US presumption and military and financial might, as well as nationalism in its
various expressions including Olympic sport. In each multimedia work Gloria references the theme of grandeur,
whether military, religious, Olympic, or economic, using paradoxical and often absurd aesthetic forms to provoke
discussion about critical contemporary issues. With a big budget, a permanent fixture and one of the best pavilions
in which to work and plan their installation, Allora and Calzadilla had the ideal opportunity to produce some of their
best work. But Gloria lacks synthesis.The sculptures and the various realisations of athletic performances do not flow
as one coherent whole, or from one room to the next. With the not-so-subtle use of juxtaposition and symbolism,
the references, narrative and ideas are too obvious to allow the audience to think for themselves. For the rest of
the world, the chronicle of US ideology, politics and militarism offered by Gloria is ‘old hat’ and lacks sophistication.
In the eight rooms of the Palazzo Pisani, in a collateral event, Scots artist Karla Black exhibits new work. Described
as intimately and painstakingly worked in situ, her pieces are exquisitely detailed. These sculptures float in aesthetic
forms of varying materials and colour. They are abstract sculptures, suspended and spilling throughout the rooms
and across the floors. Some sculptures were inspired by her interest in scientific theories about quantum particles.
Using a vast array of materials including marble dust, sugar paper, cellophane and soap, Black has made sculptures
that are at once gestures and serious attempts at creating things of delicate beauty which she describes as having
“no image, no metaphor.”11 The installation cleverly transitions from one room to the next to form a compelling
and complete work.
Christian Boltanski’s Chance (2011), in the French pavilion, consists of print works sketched in metal scaffolding,
resembling a cage or jail, and a press running off a belt of baby photographs, their faces ticked off by digital clocks. As
an installation it is complete, integrated and coherent. The noise of the press fills the vast spaces of the scaffolding.
Finding it unpleasant, the audience want it to stop; they are encouraged to press a button to do this. However, an
alarming new noise takes its place. Boltanski’s sculpture is a baby-factory. It is a portrait of the Darwinian drive to
extinction and the human predilection to over-populate. It successfully juxtaposes the lightness of the scaffolding
structures with the innocence of the newborn and the human predicament, involving a mix of misguided actions
and inertia.
Despite its sombre content, the British entry has attracted lengthy queues. Mike Nelson’s installation, I, Impostor
(2011), is made up of a labyrinth of interiors, corridors and squalid corners, workbenches, dusty and derelict
appliance and utensils and a make-shift photographic darkroom. Nelson’s experiment in ‘pavilion-vanishing’ has
been acclaimed by a few critics including Rachel Withers: “the skylight is gone, and the effect of stepping out from
the installation’s dim, dusty, intimate spaces into the teetering, sunlit ‘courtyard‘ is breathtaking.”12 Charles Darwent
also praises the installation: “its homelessness makes it at home in Venice.”13 Comparing Nelson’s work with Michael
Parekowhai’s, he implies that both negotiate global exchange and migration such that national identities become
blurred. Given that Nelson – inspired by his 2003 Istanbul Biennale entry – intended his installation to replicate an
old Ottoman workshop, Darwent’s analogy is problematic. Nelson’s work misses its mark. It is tediously repetitious
and it is very hard to take in anything accept dusty rooms and rusty junk in dead-end passages. It contains little which
is fresh or provocative or inspiring.
Highlights at the Giardini include Maurizio Cattelan’s entry The Tourists – 2000 dead pigeons hung from the rafters of
the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. This entry appeared at the 1997 Biennale, but shows that art which is apparently ‘old
hat’ can, if well executed, remain fresh and vital with repeat showings. We can compare this installation to three huge
Tintorettos, borrowed by Curiger from various Venice museums and installed in the first room of the same pavilion.
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 5. Untitled, 2011, charcoal, acrylic and oil on canvas,157.48 x 279.4 cm, Photo credit: Jeffrey Sturges
Courtesy Haunch of Venison
This was heralded by many critics as a courageous attempt to weave Italian Renaissance art into the twin curatoral
themes of light and the nations. Tintoretto’s paintings are characterised by dramatic use of light and gestures, bold
use of perspective and muscular figures depicting biblical scenes. Curiger intended their placement here as an
act of provocation, a challenge to the self-reflective preoccupations of contemporary art. However, this intended
juxtaposition has fallen flat. The contrast is too stark and disruptive, causing a disconnect rather than a transition
into the adjoining rooms of contemporary art. Curiger’s preferred artists, chosen for reasons of contrast rather than
homogeneity or ‘best fit,’ compound this disjunction. In the end, her choices come across as a mishmash of genre,
ideas and intentions. One of the starkest of these contrasts is formed by the mismatch of artist Monika Sosnowska’s
trite and empty wallpapered corridors alongside South African David Goldblatt’s haunting and thought-provoking
black-and-white photographs.
In the German pavilion – wittily re-emblazoned ‘Egomania’ from the original ‘Germania’ – Christoph Schlingensief ’s
installation, A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within (2011), described as “a protean and unsettling creativity,” is installed
by curator Susanne Gaensheimer.14 Schlingensief died within months of being selected for the 2011 Biennale. Simon
Rees judges that, like many other exhibits, “works that delved into elements of insanity impressed.”15 Schlingensief ’s
work clearly impressed the judges, who awarded it the grand prize. Having visited this pavilion three times over
five days, I concluded if the concepts, or narrative – or both – do in fact impress, then it is difficult to understand
why. The church-style pavilion, with the films, objects and altar that make up the installation, does little other than
to accentuate the obsession of the German people (and the artist), with themselves or their past, or both. The
artist portrays an unflattering view of the human condition and reveals an obsession with his own imminent death
from cancer. Combining film, theatre, sculpture, opera, political events and realpolitik, the piece features numerous
chaotic images and ambiguous connections marked by excess of every kind. It is difficult to comprehend whether
these portrayals of gross indulgence are to be attributed to others, the artist himself, or the judges who awarded
it the Golden Lion.
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
In contrast, the Czech/Slovak pavilion, which features
Roman Ondak’s sculpture, is a salutary reminder that
much of the art at Venice is vicarious or virtual. This
exhibit is made up of a walk-through continuation
of the Giardini’s gravel paths, with shrub planting on
either side. The point of this is to affirm the act of
being present, in the Giardini, here and now. It is an
expression of the artist’s belief that being present and
in the moment should be enough. It provides a simple
reminder that less can mean more.
Figure 6. Gelatin Pavilion - ‘Some like it Hot’, 2011, installation.
In the Arsenale, the American artist James Turrell has presented one of his dreamy installations in which changing
light creates an alternate universe of space and colour. Turrell’s aesthetics and conceptual articulations of light and
space can be awe-inspiring. The curatorial theme of “ILLUMinations” would have been sadly lacking without this
piece. Like Ondak’s work, this installation provokes moments of reflection that Schlingensief ’s work fails to achieve.
Swiss artist Urs Fischer attracts the crowds with monumental functioning wax candles. One is a full-scale replica of
Giovanni Bologna’s sixteenth-century sculpture The Rape of the Sabine Women; the sign on the wall says ‘Untitled,
dimensions variable.’ The other two pieces are in the forms of a computer chair and a well-dressed middle-aged
man. The figures will gradually self-destruct during the months of the show as the wax melts and limbs drop off.
These sculptures are clever in conception and expertly executed, but beyond this they do not offer much to sustain
longer contemplation.
In addition to the five national pavilions of Arab nations at the 54th Biennale, a pan-Arab collateral event, “The
Future of Promise,” involving 22 different artists, is presented in various buildings in the Dorsoduro district. Across
Venice, Arab countries represented include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eygpt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and
Lebanon. Much of the art presented is gritty and politically engaging. Israel’s long and ruthless oppression of the
Palestinian people is eloquently portrayed in Al Maw’oud (2011; the title translates as ‘The Promised’), by Ayman
Baalbaki, who examines the human quest of Palestinian freedom fighters.
In the Giardini, one of the most compelling and inspired presentations is provided by Egypt. The artist, Ahmed
Basiony, was killed by sniper fire during the 2011 Egyptian revolution against the Mubarak regime; he became a
symbol of hope to millions of Egyptians seeking to oust their repressive government. The installation is a two-fold
presentation of work by the artist. Curated by Aida Eltorie and Shady El Noshokaty, it is designed to reflect a
random display of incidents. Thirty Days of Running in the Space (2011) is a digital and performance-based concept
exploring the changes involved in our everyday consumption of energy. This is juxtaposed with another set of
screens showing raw footage of the chaotic events on the streets of Cairo during the uprising of early 2011. Basiony
and his colleagues filmed events unfolding around them, and Basiony returned home each evening to download all
the footage onto his laptop. Exposing the audience to the raw footage that survived Basiony’s sudden and violent
death, this installation is a homage to the artist behind the project. A reflection on Basiony’s life and his commitment
to social change, all the events recorded in this exhibition are documented on film, and occupy five screens in the
exhibition hall, showing their material randomly side by side.
Sponsored by the Gervasuti Foundation, Iraq has a national pavilion for the first time, featuring six internationally
renowned contemporary artists. Thirty years of war and conflict has taught these artists a great deal about artistic
isolation. Venice offers these Iraqi artists an international audience to present ideas and cultural themes which
extend much wider than the way the West views Iraq. Representing two generations, the artists include Ali Assaf,
Azad Nanakeli and Walid Siti, who were all born in the early 1950s and who experienced the cultural richness
of the period leading up to the 1970s; and the second generation, Adel Abidin, Ahmed Alsoudani and Halim Al
Karim, who have experienced at first hand the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, UN economic sanctions and
then the invasion of the USA and its allies. All are part of the Iraq diaspora who have fled their homeland to study
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
and practice art abroad. Having forged ties with
contemporary artistic practice outside of Iraq, they
have all been able to relate the global situation to
their Iraqi experience.
Figure 7. The Fisherman’s Shoes, 2011, bronze, two pieces
dimensions variable, Photograph by Michael Hill.
These artists represent an experimental approach
that is both sophisticated and credible on an
international stage. Water is the thematic choice for
all six, and they provide provocative and convincing
interpretations of the gravity of the crisis confronting
their nation. It is the critical lack of water, not terrorism
or civil war, which creates the real sense of urgency
for Iraq, and provides a rich source of inspiration for
these artists’ use of video, documentary, photography
and sculptural installations.
Behind the Arsenale, discreetly positioned in a wellkept garden of perennial borders, Gelitin, an Austrian artist collective, present Gelatin Pavilion – Some like it Hot,
(2011). With a core group of four, other performers from across the globe join them to chop wood to fuel a
wood-fired furnace, play music and flirt with each other. A tall naked man plays with his penis while conversing
with other participants. A man in crutchless leotard tights mingles with the crowd. A large oven is fed glass taken
from broken champagne bottles and glasses previously used by spectators and performers. The hot liquid glass is
regularly extracted from the furnace, a reference to Venice and its history of glassblowing. Installation art in action,
this ‘happening’ combines a variety of elements including live music, audience participation and simulated sex.
In the Dorsoduro, close to the Parekowhai exhibition, the Taiwanese Le Festin De Chun-Te (2011) by Hseih Chunte includes elements of photography, theatre, cooking, music, dance and performance – combined to shocking
and dramatic effect. Like Gelitin’s successful installation art, this piece requires good timing and patience from its
audience. Being present for the entirety of the performance is critical in order to comprehend the complexities
of meaning it embodies, but given the frequency of performances, this isn’t always possible. The four-day cycle of
Gelatin’s performance, on the other hand, is sustainable. As with so many others, the Taiwanese and New Zealand
entries aim to last out the full six months of the Biennale.
With no national pavilion of its own, the site chosen for the New Zealand commission is the imposing Palazzo
Loredan dell’Ambasciatore on the Grand Canal. Jenny Harper, the commissioner for the entry, announced it as a
major sculptural installation that, in the context of other national presentations of the Biennale’s “ILLUMinations”
theme, will be “timely, compelling and memorable.” Prior to the exhibition being installed, anticipation ran high in the
New Zealand art world. Michael Parekowhai is a popular and respected artist whose previous sculptures, including
The Indefinite Article (1990), Kiss the Baby Goodbye (1994), Patriot: Ten Guitars (1999), and The Big O E (2006), have
gained him widespread appreciation and recognition. He draws strongly on a Maori–Pakeha cultural narrative that
strikes a chord with a wide cross-section of the New Zealand art-loving public. If the narrative is at times complex
and intricately woven, the visual impact of his work and its familiar symbolism can resonate with instant impact.
It is this familiarity and sense of cultural identity that draws his audience to take a sustained look at his work. The
credentials of the artist, the people involved in the project – the commissioner, curators, supporters and patrons
– the considerable costs and media hype all created an expectation that Parekowhai’s pianos would impress the
Venice crowds, woo the punters, position the artist to attract international commissions and, most immediately, gain
the judges’ attention.
In the official brochure and Creative New Zealand’s website page for Michael Parekowhai’s Venice commission, it is
described as an installation.The work is made up of a number of sculptures as well as performance – there are three
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Figure 8. Wood, brass, automative paint, mother of pearl, paua, upholstery. Two Pieces: 103 x 275 x 175 cm and 85.5 x 46 x 41 cm
very large grand pianos, live music and singing. “The works that make up the installation include: He Korero Purakau
mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand River, 2011 (a carved Steinway grand piano), A Peak in Darien, 2011
(a bronze bull resting on a piano), Chapman’s Homer, 2011 (a standing bull and piano), Kapa Haka (Officer Taumaha),
2011, and Constitution Hill, 2011, (olive saplings).”16 The Steinway piano is wooden and intricately carved with Maori
and European symbolism, and is embellished with paua inlay and Parekowhai’s siblings symbolised as carved lizards
on the lid. First painted shiny black when launched at the New Zealand Patrons’ debut in Henderson, it was then
painted a brilliant red before being installed in Venice. He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New
Zealand River is played throughout the exhibition along with a programme of special performances including one
by Aivale Cole, who sang several arias at the exhibition opening.
Music is intended to link the sculptural works and ‘fill the space’ to complete the installation. According to the artist:
“While the objects in On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer are important, the real meaning of the work will come
through the music. Just as my work Ten Guitars was not about the instruments themselves but about the way they
brought people together, performance is central to understanding On First looking into Chapman’s Homer because
music fills a space like no object can.”17 The dilemma with incorporating performance is how to maintain it as a
constant element of the installation. While Creative New Zealand has engaged pianists for the first three months of
the exhibition, for the remainder of the Biennale, and during the interludes, the audience will not have the benefit
of music as a unifying element. Further, the music and performance require the carved piano. The music connects
the bronze pianos and the potent bull/piano stool symbolism. When the show is over and the sculptures go their
separate ways, the symbolic potency of the unplayed pianos will be lost.
The artist points out that “It’s not the size of the object that matters. It’s the scale of the idea.”18 Nevertheless, the
size, materials and grandeur of the three pianos don’t fail to impress. Much has been written about their weight,
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
cost and the difficulties of transporting them the great distances to Venice. The sculptures have been meticulously
executed. The carved piano is beautiful and opulent, and the bronze versions are exquisitely made. Their boldness
and daring commands a respect that sits well in Venice and the Palazzo. The accomplishment of their making, getting
them to Venice and putting on a first-class performance sends a powerful message to people who know little about
New Zealand. The challenge, then, is not to let national pride and parochialism subsume the art. Jackie Wullschlager
comments briefly on Parekowhai’s entry in reference to her claim that “Nationalism – even parochialism – is the
intoxicating paradox of every 21st Century Biennale.” The New Zealand pavilion “could not open without first
receiving a Maori blessing.” Not a word about the art itself.19
Parekowhai’s carved piano has been ten years in the making. The artist put himself forward twice for selection and
was overlooked a third time when he rejected the competitive process. During this time, he discussed various
installation scenarios for his carved piano including Venice, the Piazza San Marco, a live concert and the possibility of
staging a performance with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Pianos have featured in many of Parekowhai’s previous sculptures.
With the exception of The Fisherman’s Shoes (2011), a bronze pair of Crocs modelled on some belonging to the
artist’s brother, who died aged 12, and the Spanish bulls on the pianos, all the other sculptures in the installation have
been used before in various forms.20 The delicately cast bronze potted olive trees are a new version of The Moment
of Cubism (2009). The security guard, Kapa Haka (Officer Taumaha), who watches from a corner of the garden is a
version of his bronze Kapa Haka (2008) and Kapa Haka (2003), figures set in white and black painted fibreglass.
Pianos have featured in his practice for over ten years, and include Horn of Africa (2006) and My Sister, My Self (2007).
Parekowahi has employed animal figures and performance frequently in the past, interweaving these with his ideas
of showmanship and Duchampian wit. In the context of Venice, Parakowhai has all the ingredients for success. But
the wit is missing. The sculptures are serious. Unlike his previous combinations of performing seals, ready-mades,
animals and pianos, the bulls on the grand pianos do not make us smile at the artist’s sense of humour.
Finding a suitable pavilion space was not easy. Making the installation work when the artist did not have a
predetermined space in which to work was a difficult task. Five months out from the opening, a suitable palazzo
was found. Parekowai and art curator Justin Paton have both reflected on the suitability of the space, agreeing that
the Palazzo Loredan dell’Ambasciatore was their second choice, a ‘best fit’ compromise. In the exhibition catalogue,
Paton writes that the three pianos are to be placed in the Palazzo, with one of the bronze instruments in the garden
at the back; the other in the portico, the entrance off the Grand Canal; and the third, the carved piano, in a room
adjoining the other two. The purpose of this arrangement is that visitors will either pass through the garden on the
way into the building or enter via the canal, thus achieving what Parekowhai calls a ‘moment of reckoning.’ In reality,
few will enter by way of the portico – most will arrive via a side door and enter the room where the carved piano
is positioned. As the garden is surrounded by a high wall, it is in effect not possible to experience Chapman’s Homer
without first entering the room with the carved piano.The positioning of part of the installation in a beautiful garden
also questions the relevance of the sculpture itself. So, in the end, are we left sitting in a park listening to music?
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer refers to the poem by the nineteenth-century English Romantic poet, John
Keats. Keats describes a Spanish adventurer climbing to the top of a hill in what is now Panama and looking out
over the Pacific to survey its potential riches for the first time. Simon Rees questions this referencing of Keats
and asks, why not Byron? – given the latter’s closer association with Venice.21 Rees’s comments are not persuasive
on this point. Keats’s poem provides a compelling reference, as it implies an epiphany – an eye-opening moment
and a sense of discovery. The use of the poem for the title works well, both for the installation and Chapman’s
Homer itself. Rees also calls into question the use of an American Steinway instead of a European make, and the
performance by a soprano rather than a baritone. He argues that a baritone would have been a more appropriate
choice, given that Inia Te Wiata was well known in Europe both as a singer and a master carver.22 Although Rees’s
own references are a little flimsy here, it is relevant to ask these questions given the heavy reliance on cultural and
historical narrative to support the works. The layers of postcolonial references apparent in the work – such as the
connection between the craftsman who carved Parekowhai’s instrument and the piano in the film The Piano –
alongside the layers of historical connections, produce an impression of self-indulgence. Likewise, the interwoven
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
references to migration and re-migration, culture and art are not altogether convincing and burden the works with
further layers of narrative.
The titles of the sculptures, as well as the exhibition texts and catalogue essays include references claiming to shed
light on the meaning of the works – not to mention the many subsequent critical reviews. None have been less
convincing than Mary Kisler’s interview on National Radio where she discussed the prominent role of animals in
Venice’s cultural history, linking the symbolism of crocodiles from Africa with the bronze Crocs in the palazzo
garden.23 Likewise, Sue Gardiner’s reference to Molly Macalister’s Little Bull (1967) in Hamilton, and her linking of
New Zealand’s rural economy with bronze Spanish bulls in Venice, is a little thin.24
Of necessity, the exhibition catalogue and accompanying publicity material were prepared before the works
were installed. These are revealing in what they omit. Given Parekowhai’s status as a “one of New Zealand’s most
dynamic contemporary artists,” commissioner Jenny Harper expresses confidence that his exhibition will be a
major event. However, commenting on the actual installation, her references are to past work emphasising the
deliberate juxtaposing of his sculptures; the topical and polished quality of his work; his use of drama and surprise;
his engagement with both Maori and Pakeha culture; his sense of New Zealand identity; and his use of pastiche, wit
and the savvy. These comments are made both in reference to past work and in anticipation of what was to come.
Paton and Harper had visited the artist in his workshop and had seen the intricately carved piano in the making.
They saw the work again, including the two bronze pianos, bronze bouncer, olive trees and ‘Crocs,’ five months prior
to their departure for Venice. Paton is intrigued by the layers of meaning that have come to be synonymous with
Parekowhai’s art. His bull figures, for example, weave connections between the meaning of bulls in art and myth.
He refers to their space-invading ‘bullness’ and compares them to solid landscapes, with haunches and neck muscles
reminiscent of lowlands and rolling hills. We are also reminded that heavily layered narratives are a prerequisite
of Parekowhai’s art practice. There are symbolic references to centuries of animal sculpture. Paton explains the
significance of the two large bulls, both in terms of their physicality and their undeclared meaning – they belong less
to official civic statuary, celebrating history or a military victory, and more to the realm of fables and inner-world
realities such as conquering a fear or solving a mystery.25
Like the Emperor in the fairy tale, did Michael Parekowhai get distracted by the hype and grandeur that is Venice,
seduced by the lure of this international stage? Was he trying too hard to impress? The artist and the nation risk a
great deal in pitching for Venice. It’s tough when the verdict isn’t all praise, but perhaps this is the price of pitching for
the world’s oldest and most prestigious art event. Parekowhai is aware of this more than anyone. On the occasion
of his presentation in Venice in 2007, he noted: “the art world has become such a self- promotional universe.”26
Nonetheless, Creative New Zealand Arts Council chairman Alastair Carruthers observes that progress has been
made after ten years of New Zealand entries at the Biennale. Now the focus is on the art itself, not whether or
not to enter or what the artist should send.27 However, this puts the weight squarely on the shoulders of the artist
to come up with the goods. It also means that critics and art writers need to see and write about what they are
actually looking at.
When you make a piece of art, is it really ‘lucky’ when it works? A happy surprise? A pleasant mistake? All artists think
carefully about making it look too easy. “Tennis looks easy, so grab a racquet and knock yourself out.”28 In the past,
Parekowhai has made it look easy. He has the ability to see what we can all see, but can’t express. Unlike anyone
else, he wraps it up in smart, chic, intelligent and heart-warming art. Pieces like Cosmio (2006) make us smile. The
idea of music ‘sculpting’ a space and the openness of the performance to public interaction was a hallmark of his
Venice entry. The downside was a certain awkwardness about the objects themselves that didn’t allow them to
work well as sculptures, and failed to draw a smile. If this is art as narrative for the sake of narrative, why wrap it up
in sculpture? With this one, the artist wasn’t so lucky. Neither are we.
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Rebecca Hamid is director of RH Gallery on the Woollaston Estates Vineyard, Mahana, Nelson. She has a
Postgraduate Diploma in Art History from the University of Otago (with Distinction), is executive director and
trustee of the Nelson Sculpture Trust, and curates philanthropist Glenn Schaeffer’s NZ and US private art collections.
Tom Cardy, Dominion Post, 26 May 2011, Arts Section, 5.
Venice has hosted official representatives from New Zealand on four previous occasions. Peter Robinson and Jacqueline
Fraser were the first in 2001, followed by Michael Stevenson in 2003. Following a government review sparked by a public
controversy over the entry of et al in 2005, there was no official entry in 2007. Despite this, Brett Graham and Rachel Rakena
installed Aniwaniwa, their installation of sculpture, music and video, in a salt warehouse in the Dorsoduro, as an unofficial entry.
Judy Miller and Frances Upritchard comprised New Zealand’s dual entry in 2009.
Simon Rees, “Pavilions and Palazzi,” Art New Zealand, 139 (Spring 2011), 52.
In 2011, Creative New Zealand (funded by taxes) contributed $700,000 as well as the additional costs for staff time and
expenses to support the event; the patrons’ group contributed $315,000. Each of the three pianos is reputed to have a price
tag (or have sold) for $1.3 million or more. The private dealer gallery representing the artist usually claims a commission on
art sales of 40-45%, the balance going to the artist.
This was a claim made in reference to New Zealand’s 2005 entry made by the collective et al.
Michael Archer, “Not Seeing but Drowning: My Visit to the Venice Biennale,” Guardian, 10 June 2009.
Jackie Wullschlager, “Arts & Books,” Financial Times, 4 June 2011.
Bice Curiger, “Introduction: Art,” 2011,
Elaine A King, “Art as a Monster: A Conversation with Allora & Calzadilla,” Sculpture, 30:5 (June 2011), 20.
Charlotte Higgins, “Karla Black at the Venice Biennale: ‘Don’t Call my Art Feminine’,” Guardian, 1 June 2011.
Rachel Withers, “Mike Nelson at the Venice Biennale,” Guardian, 3 June 2011.
Charles Darwent, “The Venice Biennale, Various Venues, Venice,” Independent, 12 June 2011.
Stephance Malfettes, “Christoph Schlingensief,” Art Press, Supplement (June 2011) (trans. L-S Torgoff).
Rees, “Pavilions and Palazzi,” 54.
Michael Parekowhai, brochure in Creative NZ press pack, June 2011.
Kim Knight, “Parekowhai to show at Venice Biennale,” Sunday Star Times, 22 May 2011.
Jackie Wullschlager, Arts & Books Section, Financial Times, 4 June 2011.
‘Crocs’ is a trademarked name for synthetic sandals or shoes.
Rees, “Pavilions and Palazzi,” 54.
Inia Te Wiata died in 1971. This weakens Rees’s argument somewhat; after 40 years it is questionable how well Te Wiata is
remembered in Europe.
Kim Hill, “Art with Mary Kisler: Power Animals,” Saturday Morning, National Radio, 2 June 2011. (“Senior Curator, Mackelvie
Collection, International Art, at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki discusses Michael Parekowhai, Venice, and symbols of
Sue Gardiner, “Musical Epiphany,” Art News (Winter 2011), 87.
Justin Paton, “Weighing In, Lifting Off: Michael Parekowhai in Venice,” in Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking Into Chapman’s
Homer: New Zealand at the 54th Biennale di Venezia 2011, ed. Mary Barr (Auckland: Michael Lett and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery,
2011), 22.
Gregory Burke, “The Virtuoso Effect,” in Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, 38.
Charles Anderson, “Bullish in Venice,” NZ Herald, 4 June 2011.
Rebecca Hamid – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Exhibition Review
Rachel Gillies
With more than 100 artworks seen in a space of three short days, I left the Venice Biennale with only a handful of
key works that stuck in my mind. The work I experienced best was that of New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai.
The international experience of the Venice Biennale
is often short-lived, art-packed and overwhelming for
the visual tourist. One lands, one looks, rushing from
exhibit to exhibit across the city, and usually one leaves
with a sense that one’s feet haven’t quite touched the
ground. It is rare in this environment to have much
time to collect one’s thoughts during the visit, and
often the works that resonate most prominently in
the mind are the ones that remain long after you have
left the Italian shores.
It was a rare and beautiful experience, then, to be
seduced by Michael Parekowhai’s exhibition before
I even entered the building; to find myself instantly
slowing down; and to spend an extraordinary amount
of time experiencing his work.
In the heat of the afternoon sun I came across
Parekowhai’s exhibition sign, pointing down one of
Venice’s charming alleyways. It had been an exhibition
on my list of course but, albeit out of sequence, here
we were. As I followed the signs round a corner or
two (then over a bridge and round another corner),
the first thing that hit me was the gentle sound of
piano music emanating from an upper window.
Instantly excited about the music – I had hoped it
would be played throughout the biennale and not just
at the opening events – I entered the Palazzo Loredan
dell’Ambasciatore on the Grand Canal and wandered
into the main chamber and up to the first piece.
Figure. 1. “He Körero Puräkau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu:
story of a New Zealand river” Michael Parekowhai (2011)
Installation Detail from ‘On first Looking into Chapman’s
Homer’ at the 54th Venice Biennale, Palazzo Loredan
dell’Ambasciatore, Venice (2011),
Photograph by Rachel Gillies, 2011.
Rachel Gillies – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
The room was dim and cool; I sat down, closed my eyes and let the music flow over me. Once rested, I began
to look. In front of me, the piano being played was a most intricately carved and red-painted Steinway piano. The
craftsmanship was stunning, and one couldn’t help but revere the skill and enormity of the work that lay behind it.
From my position in the room, I could look left and right and see the other two piano works. In a small ante-room
positioned directly on the Grand Canal was the first of two fabricated bronze pianos, with an enormous cast bronze
bull atop it. Positioned lying prone on the piano, the bull’s head rests almost at eye level with an imagined player
seated at the keys.The folds of the bull’s bulk echo rolling hills – a landscape associated with both the poem by Keats
to which the title of the exhibition refers and the individual title of the work, A Peak in Darien.
Keen to see the next bronze piece, I headed back past the carved Steinway and out into the garden area at the back.
Stepping back out into the sunlight, I was amazed and pleased to see families and other visitors ‘hanging out.’ Some
were having lunch, others were talking in the shade and surveying the sculptural works. In the middle of this reverie,
Chapman’s Homer, the second bronze-bull-and-piano were holding court. This time the bull is standing, confronting
visitors with its sheer size in a direct challenge to anyone who might dare to take the stool. Circling the work, I spyed
the bronze figure from Parekowhai’s Kapa Haka series, Officer Taumaha, nestled amongst the foliage in the corner,
keeping a keen eye on the scene.
What happened next surprised even me; I sat down again. I sat down and I looked and I listened, and I experienced
the work. People wandered round, floating almost, in the atmosphere of calm and tranquility surrounding the
installation. I viewed each work again, circling each piano, looking at the detail, the fall of the light, the work’s position
in its space. In a response almost unheard of in this international art supermarket, I spent more time here than at
any other (non-time-based) work and Michael Parekowhai made me do it. He made me stop and look. Really look,
and really experience On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.
For further information on the artist, the individual works and New Zealand’s history at the Venice Biennale, see
the website:
Rachel Gillies is a lecturer in both the School of Art and the Design Department at Otago Polytechnic and has
backgrounds in photography, multimedia technology, contemporary art gallery management, graphic design and
electronic arts. Her research practice includes electronic arts, photography and contemporary exhibition practices,
and she is directly involved in the development of digital literacy resourcing at Otago Polytechnic.
Rachel Gillies – Michael Parekowhai – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Christine Keller
In the current economic climate we hear more and more about restructuring and redundancies. This puts an everincreasing number of people in the situation of looking for new employment. I was made redundant in 2010 and,
during my subsequent job search, I found an interesting position advertised in the Guardian. Intending to apply, I faced
application processes from a UK university which I felt compelled to comment on. A slightly edited version of my
letter to that institution is printed in this article. In it, I firstly questioned the treatment of applicants who are asked
to disclose huge amounts of private information with the alleged intention of ‘treating everybody fairly.’ In my view,
simple principles of respect and privacy are at risk. Secondly, I believe the practice of not replying to unsuccessful
applicants is dismissive and should not be accepted. This practice is supposedly ‘in the interest of economy.’ I finally
want to raise discussion about what that actually means. What is the interest of economy? Who is economy?
In some countries, it is illegal to ask job applicants for personal details of the kind I was asked in this application
process. I remember that these questionnaires were put in place some years ago to make sure that no person
would be discriminated against, but I think it is time to speak up and say that we have thrown out the baby with the
bathwater. Also, the practice of not replying to applicants is just plain rude. The kind of position in question here is
not a casual labouring job, but requires a high degree of long-term commitment from the applicant. ‘In the interest of
economy’ is a lame excuse here. Economy means actually ‘the wealth and resources of a country and region.’ Think
about that. Wealth and resources are not limited to monetary aspects. That is what, in a growing atmosphere of
financial pressure and collapse around us, we tend to forget. In my opinion, we will not achieve a sustainable society
if we do not change our focus and evaluation (the S- word is so trendy right now, isn’t it?).
Recently, I came across the website of the New Economics Foundation in the UK ( and
found their ideas worthy of investigation. Their catch phrase is: ‘Economy as if people and the planet mattered.’ I am
waiting for a time when more of us stand up for practices developed in the interest of the people and stop using
money as the sole indicator of wealth and resources!
Christine Keller – Dismal Treatment – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
I sent the institution where I had applied the following letter:
To ………………………,
Human Resources and the
President of ……………………… University
Dunedin 11.10.2010
I am writing this letter after reading all the application requirements for your institution and I would kindly ask you to forward this to Human
Resources as well as to the head of the university.
My name is Christine Keller and I am presently a Senior Lecturer at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic in southern New
Zealand. With huge interest I read your job add in the Guardian. As the government in New Zealand is cutting funds for education, I am facing
a redundancy and need to look for a new perspective. I planned to write an application and to let you know that I will be in Germany in
week 48 (where I am shortlisted for a textile professorship). It would be easy for me to come and present myself to you, as I am ‘next door’.
I read that your institution states they want to work to best practice to “attract, retain and develop staff of the highest calibre”. That sounds
fabulous! As an award-winning designer with an international network, a good teaching record, industry experience and student success I
would not hesitate to see myself on that level. You may not have chosen me, but I would like to tell you why I decided to not even apply: the recruitment policy suggests that there is no
discrimination in the application selection process. I wonder why in 2010 any university is asking for the sexual orientation and religion of
their applicants and needs to have that information on file. What does the university learn from us ticking a box on those subjects? I have
nothing to hide, but wonder if ticking one of the boxes will make me a better person or seem a weirdo. (I grew up in the Lutheran tradition
by the way; does that make me a Christian?) And my sexual orientation - who is asking? I live in New Zealand, ‘the T-shirt says “Kiwis do ‘it’
with sheep” (well I don’t, but that is nobody’s business). And the details in the questions on race and disability; could you not ask the relevant
questions of the people considered for interview? What points are relevant to being a good lecturer? The important thing for lecturers is
to be tolerant towards different practices and religions and personalities and to be able to cater for all students of all different beliefs and
orientations (and race and abilities and so on). You need to be concerned whether my skills and personality will make me a good reliable
teacher, administrator and staff member. Other private issues, if they are not used to discriminate, should not be asked about!
As a German whose parents were teenagers in the last war, I am very aware how this information on file can overnight become relevant
beyond reason. I am concerned; my 81 year old mother was shocked when I told her about the form.
The point which really put me off is this:
In the interest of economy only those candidates selected for interview will receive a communication; may I thank you for your interest
in employment with the University.
To put all the information together for an application as important as an academic position needs an applicant’s competence, knowledge and
heart. A lot of work is needed for an application and it potentially has big consequences for people’s lives. To know that you are not chosen
might be an important piece of information for the future decision-making of an applicant. It is simply not good enough to not even reply
in case of rejection. If a prospective employer of academic teaching staff cannot come up with a system for decent rejection letters, albeit
standardised and emailed as today’s technology allows us, how can an applicant believe that the employer will look after the people in the
institution according to the highest standards?
The relationship between people, the economy and technology has recently become one of my research interests. My discipline of textiles
is a fantastic example of the development of technique and its consequences for society.Your application process is another example of how
‘far’ we have come. We are looking for progress and innovation but we must not forget whom we are doing this for. The point is not ‘the
interest of economy’ - the only decent and sustainable way forward is to consider the economy in the interest of people.
I hope you will find the best person and future colleague for your job. I have been working in a great team over the last 5 1/2 years and am
sorry that I will stop working here, but I have learned that there are some qualities that are very important: team spirit and support for each
other. For example, I would define one major quality of my school here in terms of the fact that I still give my present boss a hug. She is the
person who had to tell me that I was being made redundant, and I did not get the impression she enjoyed that.
In the interest of respect and in the hope that you will review your practice,
Kindest regards,
Christine Keller
Senior Lecturer, Textile Studio
Christine Keller – Dismal Treatment – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
Christine Keller is German-born and was the head of textiles at Otago Polytechnic School of Art in Dunedin,
New Zealand, between 2005 and 2010. Her work is positioned between traditional textile design and weaving
and new media art and innovation. She is interested in the clash of tradition and new technologies and its social
and political implications. Her work has been exhibited internationally and was featured in the publications Techno
Textiles 1 & 2 (1998 and 2005). She is an award-winning designer for her woven and felted work produced for the
Handweberei im Rosenwinkel workhop in Germany (1998-2001). She has taught textile design, weaving and textile
arts in Germany, Mongolia, Australia and Canada.
Christine Keller – Dismal Treatment – Scope (Art & Design), 5&6, 2010 /11
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