july-august 2009

ODS_wellington sky_march 09


One Day Sculpture: An International Symposium on Art, Time and Place
26th-28th March 2009
Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

In the late summer I was fortunate to be able to combine a visit to a friend on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast with attendance of the One Day Sculpture symposium in Wellington. Conceived by the Litmus Research Initiative within the Massey University School of Fine Arts and creatively directed by UK-based curator Claire Doherty, the One Day Sculpture project was a one-year program of twenty temporal public works by local and international contemporary artists staged across the North and South islands. Lasting more or less twenty four hours each, the projects were realised Cuckoo-style (1), commissioned in partnership with a suite of institutions including museums, public and artist-run galleries and thereby nesting into a wide range of organisational resources. Instrumental to the accompanying discursive program – together with public discussions, responsive critical texts and a rich website of documentation and recommended reading – the symposium was held over two days at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It featured a dynamic range of local, regional and international critics, academics, curators and practitioners and was timed to coincide with the presentation of two of the One Day Sculpture projects in Wellington.

I’d been drawn to attend by the dynamic structure of parallel session streams – academic papers, close text readings and project case studies, bracketed by keynote and positioning papers and panel discussions – from which delegates could fashion their own symposium experience according to their leanings. Mine were toward the strong foregrounding of practitioner voices via the project case study sessions with One Day Sculpture participating artists. This composite structure suggested a malleability running counter to my prior experience of contemporary arts forums – though this was the first time I’d been at a symposium as a delegate, not before having been able to afford the cost of registration fees or loss of paid work time. Conferences and symposia tend to privilege arts industry professionals over producers, being typically staged on weekdays, when institutions can despatch their employees to attend in work time in continuance with paid work duties. Showing up on my own money and my own terms, my experience of the symposium was of an abundant, stimulating but ultimately overwhelming program that left me musing on some reverberating motifs of expectation, interjection and locality. And the distinct gaps between situated and secondary viewing and the specialised research community of contemporary art and the real live world.

Arriving in Wellington the day before the first symposium event allowed time to meet the city (in all its cultural kinship to Melbourne), some of the galleries (including Enjoy and the singular Peter McLeavey Gallery) and do some erratically situated reading of my close reading session text in the local backpackers and cafes. Prefaced by an extended powhiri, the poignant Maori welcome that ceremonialises the coming together of guests and hosts, the opening event was a keynote address by British architectural theorist and art critic Jane Rendell. Titled (The Re-Assertion of Time Into ) Critical Spatial Practice it charted a course between Rendell’s published research on spatial thinking and sited practice (2) and the expanded temporal implications posed by the One Day Sculpture project model – particularly ‘what occurs when time comes to the fore, rather than space’ (3). To enable attendance by the public as well as delegates, the evening event had been separately ticketed. In the first of a sequence of interjections, as soon as Rendell finished her presentation someone loudly announced, “Well I want my money back! And I consider myself critical!” Claire Doherty swiftly patched the puncture to the reverent atmosphere of the lecture theatre in segue to a responsive dialogue with Rendell.

Not unlike this person, I had been (more quietly) running up against my expectations and actual experience of what I’d come along to that night. In my case, it was the anticipation of more aerated than academic approaches to presentation and of vividly contemporary and localised artwork – neither of which resounded in Rendell’s delivered paper largely illustrated with well exposed European exemplars. In their banter style unpacking of key ideas around One Day Sculpture, Doherty and Rendell went on to flag some useful points with which to reflect on the project at large. Likening its structural form to that of a constellation, in which each work was both linked and discrete spatially and temporally, Rendell suggested that the understanding of these projects by their traces was a valid mode of witnessing. While referring largely to the documentation and critical writing around already staged projects, this notion was well cued to the here and now by an image in her presentation of what remained at the site of Heather & Ivan Morison’s Journée des barricades held in December 2008 in Wellington – a scrap of metal squished into Stout St. Paying a visit and some attention to a former site made a neat counterpoint to Rendell’s acknowledged distance from the One Day Sculpture project as she’d been experiencing it via the website on the other side of the world. A distance she described as being prolonged rather than collapsed, thanks to the opposite time zone and season, despite now being in New Zealand. The questions of distance, presence and the multiple means of ‘witnessing’ the One Day Sculpture events were well synthesised in Doherty’s reflection, ‘Where is the present tense of these projects?’ Any ripple in the present tense of the opening event care of the unhappy customer was well smoothed over by the time of post-keynote refreshments. As delegates from across the country made their greetings and social alignments and visitors negotiated meetings aided by name badges, the standard art world relational model of standing around with drinks found its familiar feet.

After a positioning paper by visiting Irish academic and artist Mick Wilson, my chosen morning parallel session on day one of the symposium program was the project case studies with One Day Sculpture artists Kah Bee Chow (NZ) and Bik Van der Pol (NL), moderated by local curator Paula Booker. With Kah Bee Chow’s Golden Slumbers event having taken place in Wellington back in August 2008 and Bik Van der Pol’s 1440 Minutes Towards the Development of a Site yet to be realised in Auckland in April, the symposium had occasioned a moment of temporal flux – from retrospection to potential projection. Right then and there, Chow had an air of the mild queasiness that artists can feel looking back at past work. Her presentation outlined the research process and components of an event work staged in memorial to Joe Kum Yung, the hapless victim of a 1915 race murder on Haining St in Wellington’s former Chinatown. Weaving the past and present use of the last remaining Chinatown era building she’d negotiated use of, Chow’s twelve hour event comprised a memorial garden, soup kitchen and video interviews about urban change on Haining St under an elaborate golden marquee – signifying the gold that had first attracted Chinese migrants to New Zealand. While all these discrete elements made clear sense in terms of the given research, Chow expressed uneasiness that the sum of its parts be ascribed to the genre of relational aesthetics. While it’s gracious for an artist to allow access to uncertainty, the implied sentiment of revision suggested this as an instance of the temporality of the One Day Sculpture project & symposium re-working the edges of completion and public understanding of an artwork. For both the public and producer. In the second part of the session the collaborative duo Bik Van der Pol opted not to forecast their forthcoming project – citing verbalising a work-in-progress as a complicating exercise they’d prefer to avoid – instead giving a useful introduction to their practice through documentation and publications from two prior projects.

In the afternoon of day one I took part in a close reading of the article Four Stages of Public Art by Mark Hutchinson (4) led by Mick Wilson and Claire Doherty. Hutchinson’s text deploys philosopher Roy Baskar’s four-part model of transformation to determine four distinct stages or modes at play within public art. The first is constituted by the unthinking imposition by an artist of their artwork onto a public, and the second marked by an artist opening into awareness of the impact and relationship between artwork, context and audience. In the third stage a genuine dialogue between the public artist and their intended public is able to take place, while the fourth constitutes a transformation of what public art could even be – ‘Art would be an art that changes what art is’ (5). Hutchinson’s suggestion is that the four moments don’t occur chronologically or exclusively within a public artwork, but might be observed in operation at any given stage of its realisation.

Wilson and Doherty positioned Hutchinson’s text as an introduction and tool with which to consider the suite of One Day Sculpture projects. Throughout the session discussion of the text was cued to projected images of a number of projects, including local artist Liz Allan’s Came a Hot Sundae: A Ronald Hugh Morrieson Festival. This was the work that I’d been most looking forward to attending a project case study with the artist, and was disappointed to learn Allan was ultimately unable to attend the symposium. Came a Hot Sundae was a one-day festival staged in the township of Hawera in South Taranaki, birthplace and lifelong residence of author and musician Ronald Hugh Morrieson (1922-1972). Conceived by Allan as a commemoration of Morrieson’s work, the festival included music performances in local venues, screenings of the 1980’s film adaptations of Morrieson’s novels and readings of his work by various civic figures at sites including the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet that mushroomed on the spot of Morrieson’s family home after its demolition in 1992. That this demolition went ahead, after a small and unsuccessful protest effort, has been understood as means of ‘collective vengeance’ (6). Hawera was not proud of Morrieson, for his writing or unorthodox lifestyle. I was reading The Scarecrow on this trip and could appreciate why. The dark and startling perversity, hilarious vernacular and unflinching portrait of the poverty and parochialism of life in small town New Zealand that was characteristic to his novels fed a local resentment that persists to this day.

This knowledge of the Came a Hot Sundae project, derived only from online resources, combined with the reading of Four Stages of Public Art effected an uncomfortable about turn in my opinion of this work from enthusiasm to scepticism. The project’s critical respondent Patrick Laviolette labelled it an ‘interventionist festival’ (7), and the unlikelihood of the Hawera community celebrating the difficult figure of Morrieson of their own accord left me wondering if it wasn’t a fair example of Hutchinson’s first or second stage public art. While I knew that Allan had been on residency in the area during the project’s preparation, I was more acutely aware that this sway of mind had been occasioned by the mechanisms of the symposium, documentation and various framing voices (critics & curators), rather than a direct experience of the artwork or the reflections of the artist.

In itself this close reading session never quite transcended the nervous dynamic of an undergrad tutorial. Hampered perhaps by the overbearing arrangement of ringed tables that had Doherty and Wilson positioned at some distance at the front of the formation. Numerous empty chairs amplified the sensation of the gathering lacking quorum. Following the afternoon parallel sessions was a panel discussion with local curators Jon Bywater and Rob Garrett, Blair French (Australia) and Claire Doherty, debating what forms of curating best support emerging forms of contemporary art. After a whole day indoors behind closed blinds and drawn curtains my mood was veering. At the close of the panel we were despatched to view that day’s One Day Sculpture, Camouflaged Building by Slovakian artist Roman Ondàk. A number of us walked from Te Papa around the harbour front, in turbulent fresh air under a phenomenal late-day cloud streaky sky. Cutting into the city streets we met with the full effect of Wellington’s famous WIND. Experiencing an element as a pure and unapologetic force, that made walking such a significant effort you could only laugh, was a back to the body sense refresher. Battling to the Old Government Building, the site of Ondàk’s project, we looked for our visual tip-off’s and found them in the small piles of sawdust heaped against the base of the building, in corners and doorways all around its perimeter. Somehow evading dispersal by the wind, the sawdust was an unravelling of the building’s materiality – being the southern hemisphere’s largest timber structure, though modelled to resemble the gravity of stone. Walking around, observing dutifully, the modesty of Ondàk’s intervention was an awkward fit for expectant minds. I heard someone use the word ‘underwhelming’. Having seen what there was to see, the trail reconfigured into a drift towards the cable car and a ride up the steep city slopes to the next stop on the symposium itinerary – the opening night of the survey exhibition Billy Apple: New York 1969-1973 prepared by the Adam Art Gallery.

In his positioning paper opening day two of the symposium program the following morning, Berlin-based critic Jan Verwoert neatly inverted and re-inscribed this flat reception of Camouflaged Building. In an energising presentation illustrated with eclectic pop and cultural references – from YouTube grabs to the Muppets to his latest favourite Christian saint – Verwoert raised the implications of art becoming loaded with the role of inaugurating of public space. Citing this as the overbearing pressure to perform and deliver placed on artists, to meet everyone’s expectations, Verwoert proposed a counter strategy of refusal. By refusing to deliver ‘the big event’ or monumental intervention, artists might work with a ‘mini-grammar of very small gestures’(8), making use of ‘mini-concepts for maxi-ideas’(9). Positioning Ondàk as the perfect exemplar, the piles of sawdust along with a former work consisting of a pointless queue became fitting instances of the non-event. This felt like a direct and healthy case of the symposium’s critical framework informing and expanding on the understanding of the One Day Sculpture projects. From another stance, Ondàk’s intervention stood as the perfect economy for a work scheduled to exist for only twenty-four hours.

Artist Maddy Leach (NZ) also pointed to this underlying question of the sustainability of the One Day Sculpture rationale in her project case study within the second morning’s parallel session. For Perigee #11, Leach’s chosen site was a rundown boatshed across the road from her home in Breaker Bay, outside Wellington. While uncertain of the ethics of developing an elaborate project for just one day, her careful renovation of the shed’s timber interior assured the structure’s longevity beyond its role in her project. Leach’s broader site was the day on which her work took place – 28th August 2008 – selected by long-range weather forecasting methods as the likely date of the year’s worst southerly storm. Knowing little to nothing of this project before the session, it was a pleasure to glimpse the details, processes and decisions enfolding the work, in what Leach’s peer Louise Menzies aptly termed ‘the privilege of the artists talk’. On the contrarily clear blue day that eventuated, the effort by viewers to travel to the boatshed to view the approach of the no-show storm separated them from the course of a regular day. While Leach interestingly chose to remain absent from the work for its duration, preferring that visitors related to the site or each other rather than her. In an echo of Kah Bee Chow’s sentiments the day before, Leach likewise voiced resistance to an interpretation of her work in kinship to relational aesthetics.

Harking back to the spontaneous response on the night of the keynote, the lunch break of day two provided a second interjection to the symposium program. Flyers appeared announcing an impromptu event that day at a city location by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, and delegates were encouraged to seek it out in the recess. Locating the site on foot, seeing the work, having some lunch and a break all inside an hour was always a long shot, and in the end the snaking queue up the city office block stairwell made it impossible. Rushing back to Te Papa, I got an anecdotal account as we assembled for the afternoon parallel sessions. Creating yet another variation on the abstracted viewing that the symposium hinged on, I heard that once you got to the head of the queue you were ushered alone into a room to see a dejected looking man standing with his penis sticking out of his pants. Others were reading the work as analogous to a peep show and thereby an implied critique of the One Day Sculpture structure. By holding the guerrilla event he developed with a local art student on the same day as an officially scheduled project (Billy Apple’s Less is Moore), Sierra was already creating an interpolation within the curatorial scheme. While Sierra was slated to present a One Day Sculpture project in Auckland in the coming months, it was easy enough to overhear that the directors had hit an impasse in their communications with the artist, and ultimately he presented no official project.

Thanks to the person who thought to arrange the chairs in a circle, the last of my parallel sessions opened out into a more freely discursive exchange. A project case study with Bik Van der Pol and Liz Allan’s commissioning curator Melanie Oliver (speaking in her absence), moderator Laura Preston followed Sierra’s lead and drew the group into a broader curatorial consideration of One Day Sculpture. I found a space to voice my uncomfortable formulations and fluctuations of opinion based only on secondary source materials and the influence of the symposium’s critical reflexive mechanisms – these being rich but insubstantial stand-ins for direct experience of artwork and full appreciation of an artist’s intentions. Jane Rendell was present and suggested that this was what she’d sought to address in her articulation of the ‘non-situated viewer’ in her keynote lecture, returning to the validity of witnessing projects via their traces. I wasn’t sure I agreed with her. Bik Van der Pol outlined the research into the history of activism and protest in New Zealand that was informing their forthcoming project. I’d reached saturation, took no notes and remember leaving the building in the tea break to flop by the water and take a photo of nothing – a frame of spacious sky.

Following a final summation of the symposium’s key thought trains by Mick Wilson, into the hanging pause created by an invitation for closing questions and discussion came a third and last interjection. For the first time over two days the blinds in this Te Papa function room had been opened, revealing the dazzling panorama of a sunny Wellington harbour right outside. Into the gap a dreamy voice in the audience observed, “The Water Whirler is working”. A scan of the vista found a lazy projectile spiral of water at the edge of the skyline – a waterfront public sculpture by one of New Zealand’s most significant artists, Len Lye. The shift of attention to a broader, situated frame of reference beyond the stuffy mental landscape of the room was poignant and short-lived. Claire Doherty launched into a reply to a question no one seemed to have asked, which in hindsight resembled a reply to Santiago Sierra’s indirect critique. Adam Art Gallery director Christina Barton queried whether real world events over the project’s extended duration had made any impact on its development or realisation. Doherty speculated that an earlier occurrence of the global financial crisis might have seriously compromised the project, but otherwise the question went unanswered. The mood for discussion was tentative, and soon filled over with a raft of institutional acknowledgements, thankyous and congratulations by the convenors. The symposium concluded with encouragement to go and view Billy Apple’s One Day Sculpture in the rest of the daylight and to re-group later for a closing knees-up at the Reading Room site at the Engine Room on Massey University campus.

A second cable car ride up the steep hills to the Botanic Gardens found a mixed group of delegates and passers-by milling, meeting and relaxing on the lawn with Billy Apple’s Less is Moore: a double-sided billboard trailer pulled up alongside Henry Moore’s sculpture Bronze Form (1985-86). In open letter format, Apple pointed to the Wellington Sculpture Trust’s disregard of Moore’s intentions by waxing the sculpture to prevent change and degradation to its surface. As light faded the group dispersed and two of us detached from the symposium’s social body and headed to the concert being held in the Civic Square to raise awareness of Earth Hour, which happened to be that night. The homely crowd gathered by candlelight singing along to the medleys of The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra made for a tender and authentic civic warmth and spirit. Re-joining the fray later at the Engine Room party, it was strange to find everyone standing around with drinks again, as though at an exhibition opening. Maybe this is the only way people in the art world know how to relate to each other. An Australian colleague was surprised to hear it had been Earth Hour that night – over dinner with a scrum of professional peers, it had totally passed them by. On introduction to a local artist, I was surprised to be asked point blank, “Who do you work for?” This seemed to describe that it’s typically employees of institutions who travel to attend symposiums, and exposed the institutionalisation of relations habitual to certain layers of the art scene. In day one’s curatorial debate Jon Bywater spoke of the importance of artists getting to do things on their own terms as much as possible. This could be usefully extended to how we meet, encounter and engage with each other.

By the end of five days in Wellington, the feeling of having been enfolded into an ever-proliferating program almost overrode the sense of immersion in an actual place. The virtual extraction from the goings-on of the world created by two days of highly specialised attention was relieved by the three interjections, which in their own ways – crudely, latitudinally, gently – sliced through the infrastructure to give glimpses of other perspectives and atmospheres. I’d travelled to New Zealand from Melbourne, having taken part in the artist-initiated West Brunswick Sculpture Triennial (10), which likewise hinged on a temporal structure and place-based works. Involving twenty-four artists working across five sites within one suburb over four weekends, the ambition of the wBST was melded with an economy of scale that located projects in homes and backyards, a neighbourhood and real lives; making public existing practices, relationships and sites inside its duration. By contrast the impulse of One Day Sculpture to fix the fleeting nature of the works it commissioned into cascading forms of documentation – images, texts, website, symposium and publication – problematised its own publicity line, ‘Here today, gone tomorrow’. While reproduction is professional art’s key currency, in my experience the symposium took for granted the understanding of temporal work beyond its time and place and exaggerated the phenomenon of documentation coming to stand for actual work. The forthcoming One Day Sculpture book is being positioned as a demonstration of how the constellation of projects will be ‘encountered and remembered’ (11). For the many of us in the second wave public constituted by the symposium who weren’t always fortunate to be there, neither applies. This is the privilege of the immeasurable, incidental publics present in small and large places who witnessed each sculpture in its full expression on its one and only day.

Lisa Kelly
August 2009


(1) New Zealand curatorial collective Cuckoo, see http://www.cuckoo.org.nz
(2) Jane Rendell Art and Architecture: A Place Between, London: I.B. Tauris, 2006 and Jane Rendell Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism, London: I.B. Tauris, forthcoming.
(3) Jane Rendell (The Re-Assertion of Time Into) Critical Spatial Practice, One Day Sculpture Academic papers online, http://www.onedaysculpture.org.nz. © Jane Rendell and Litmus Research Initiative, Massey University. Published by Massey University, 2009.
(4) Mark Hutchinson Four Stages of Public Art, Third Text, volume 16, Issue 4 2002 pp.429-438.
(5) ibid, p.438
(6) Patrick Laviolette Predicament of Placelessness, One Day Sculpture Critical Responses online, http://www.onedaysculpture.org.nz. © Patrick Laviolette and Litmus Research Initiative, Massey University. Published by Massey University, 2008.
(7) Patrick Laviolette, ibid.
(8) Jan Verwoert, author’s notes, positioning paper, One Day Sculpture symposium 28th March 2009.
(9) Jan Verwoert, ibid.
(10) Curated by the Open Spatial Workshop collective, see http://www.osw.com.au/wbst
(11) One Day Sculpture website http://www.onedaysculpture.org.nz

With thanks to Anneke Jaspers and Spiros Panigirakis.

To be published in the forthcoming publication THE WEEKLY, CLUBSproject Inc, Melbourne.