Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Behavioural Pleasures

By any means and by all accounts and in all events at any cost
Elam Final Year BFA and Postgraduate student catalogue 2007
Cover design by Kate Newby, 152pp

The running of tertiary art institutions is a major industry in Auckland, with intense competition between many rival art schools. Years ago Elam used to be considered easily the leading contender, but no longer. There are so many options now. Different institutions have different priorities and emphases. Shrewd students figure out their needs and find the right course structure and tutors to match them.

This publication is a promotion brochure for BFA and post graduate students, designed to show the public the varied nature of the Auckland University Elam art product. It shows the visual labours of 109 students, and sample writings from 5 of them.

Constructed to be easily circulated and keep all the graduates and their families happy, it is nevertheless unwieldy because the work is so scattered. How could it not be? In fact a book on the practices of, say, their top fifteen pupils, thoroughly looking at each, would have been far more effective for ‘celebrating thinking’ – which is what Auckland University likes to claim it encourages. It would provided clarity and focus, instead of being muddled and overtly political. Trying to be all things to all people.

The artists who come out well in this publication are Kate Newby, John Ward-Knox, Selina Foote, Sam Rountree Williams, Trenton Garratt, Paul Cullen and a few others. Either because they have a good choice of work or else what they are presenting looks good on the printed page. However having said that, we all know photographs lie and that what we experience directly in the gallery space should be ultimately what counts.

There is a whole raft of other issues too - hidden away and not often talked about.

Of those presented here, how many will survive as artists?
Most will end up being teachers, curators, dealers, consultants, administrators, packagers, installers, writers or historians, and get side tracked seeking advancement in those vocations. The struggle to maintain a practice will be too expensive or exhausting, and grind them down so they are forced to abandon it.

There is another problem. How connected is an academic qualification and the acquired verbal and writing skills to those of an artist anyway? The two are not necessarily bound together, nor are they embraced within a marketing, dealer gallery structure. The art buying public are often terrified of articulate intellectuals, and prefer their artists to keep their mouths shut. Furthermore commentary on the artwork can replace the art itself, or pre-empt the experience of it. Layers and layers of interpretation can end up crushing it. Yet writing and speaking do undoubtedly clarify the thinking process behind production. They improve the tracking process of ideas within a work.

Of those artists that can sell their work or subsidise it through another career, the good ones will learn to shake off the influence of their teachers, to develop true independence of thought – free of the anxieties of ‘the paper chase’ and the accompanying politics embedded in acquiescing to a university study programme. However to do that takes several years after graduation so they can evaluate from a distance. It takes a steely, resolute confidence.

Yet I don’t want to sound too negative. To participate in the artworld and its assorted debates and varied sorts of practice is incredibly interesting. There is such a richness of printed and spoken conversation swirling around its artefacts, ideas and personalities, that one can only pity outsiders who are uninterested in this wonderful subject.

To the 109 individuals here in this publication, I say,”Good Luck!”

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