Thursday, March 31, 2011


The past couple of weeks have been quite tumultuous in so far as I feel that I have been hit by a great wall of information and the realisation of my unknowing has flattened me.

I had a good first meeting with my supervisors, Alex Montieth for studio and Danny Butt for writing; they both provided a lot of information and suggested I take a few weeks to do a wide amount of reading to decide what it is I'm actually interested in portraying. Alex in particular noted that within my work there are several huge narratives, namely climate change, art/science data conversion, national identity construction, green myth and the sublime. 

Any one of these on their own could be the topic for a dissertation, although my view of them is that they're intrinsically intertwined. That's fine for an essay of some length (I'm aiming for 13,500 words) - I think there will be enough space within that to tease out the (perceived) connections - but it's too much for an artwork to encapsulate. The more I look at what is deemed "successful" contemporary art (whatever that may mean, which is a different entry entirely) the more I am convinced that simple is best.  Simple not necessarily in the sense of construction, which can be quite elaborate, but simple in that the idea is distilled and clear. 
With this in mind, it seems quite obvious to me that I must decide exactly what it is I want to say with my art this year.

I have been doing a fair bit of reading around national identity construction in New Zealand, as well as looking at the history of the postcard. The show Emil McAvoy and I proposed (although we do not yet know if it has been accepted) was centred firmly in this arena, so it felt like a logical place to start. In the process of this I came across writing by Claudia Bell, (see previous entry on Rural NZ and potentially following entries) who I have discovered works at the University of Auckland. I have scheduled a meeting with her this morning, and will take my dictaphone with me. I hope to discuss this our national mythology/ideology with her further, and see if she can elaborate the link with the "national green wash" and apathy toward climate change. I'm also keen to see if she thinks change is possible, or if semiotic resistance is the only viable option; real change seems untenable at the moment, particularly with the current government. If this is the only form of resistance, is it valid/valuable to make art about it still, or would I be better off focussing on something more tangible and having the semiotic resistance as an added bonus?
I think this is something I need to decide soon.

I have been reading a fair bit on new media ecological art; art which utilises new technologies to explore ecological discourses; "ecomedia". From the small amount I have read on it, it involves a lot of collaboration. Andrea Polli is one of the most well known artists practicing in this field, and I find her writing fascinating. I do have access to the scientists who are working on the Tasman glacier, so I feel I should probably utilise that if I can. It would be a steep learning curve to work out some of the technology, but it feels like it might be worth it - and it also feels contemporary.

As far as climate change goes - I keep being given really good links to websites that discuss it, and I have so much research about contemporary arts engagement with the subject, I just need to figure out where I stand on that. I'm not sure I want to make art specifically about climate change, although it is something that continues to stimulate my interests, and given my subject matter it's probably impossible to avoid those associations. I'd rather people were examining their own behaviour than debating about whether or not climate change is happening. Whether you subscribe to the belief of anthropogenic climate change or not, I think it's impossible to deny that humans in New Zealand are having and have had an adverse affect on our natural environment. I think it's better to address these things on a localised scale, because if you look too big, then people are overwhelmed and shut down.

Of course in New Zealand you can't say that we're not green because our economy is dependent on Tourist Dollars which arrive at our shores on the back of that idea.

In MFA reading group the other day we were discussing the need to understand the complex aparatus that you live in in order to challenge or subvert it, and I feel that is where I'm going with this reading/research. There is a lot to digest, although I've just found that I have a lot of research from last year which I sourced, and probably quoted in my essay, which I didn't engage with fully. Being a tutor for second year reading groups has really made me focus on reading skills and getting the full meaning out of a text. I realise that up until now I have been working within my own knowledge base; writing what I want to write then finding the appropriate source to cite which backs up my argument, without ever completely digesting the texts. Anything can look right if you construct it to do so. I suppose in a sense I am feeling a bit guilty that I got through four years of undergrad being 'intelligently lazy' - I think I've done myself a disservice; if I'd read in the manner I am now for the past four years, I'd be a lot further ahead.  I discussed this with Lucille, and she disagreed somewhat - she reminded me that the more you know the more you have the capacity to understand, and that I wouldn't have been able to read like this had I not done some research during undergrad. My peers are also quick to point out that my work is often much more informed than I give it credit for.

I've also been struggling with the emphasis that the tutors are putting on becoming a commercial artist with gallery representation. I have missed the professional practice lectures that Quay School provided, and the candid nature of the artists that presented them. I remember being told that if your practice does not lend itself to being commercial, that you may have to consider making 'bread and butter' art (art which is commercially viable) on the side to support your practice. Of course there are other ways to support the art habit, teaching being one of them, but it does seem that our tutors all have gallery representation.
How they got that representation is another story, and one that no one seems willing to share.

Another issue that has suddenly appeared at MFA level is that of ethics approval. When the Ethics Committee visited us at the start of the year most of us left afterwards realising that had we needed to do this through undergrad our practices would have been vastly different. I had debate with Lucille Holmes (who I work as a tutor with on the 204 Critical Studies course) yesterday about how it would impact on students if it were required all the way through. Restricting your practice to within university ethics restrictions is very difficult to comprehend after four years of art education, having been given examples of contemporary art which does push the envelope and encouraged to do the same throughout.

It's all complicated, and there's lots to think about.

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