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.

Monday, August 11, 2008

(The teaching of) House Painting as Art

Night Art School at Gambia Castle
Andrew Barber lecture: How to paint a window frame in three easy stages
Held in conjunction with Rirkrit Tiravanija: magazine station no.5, ARTSPACE, NZ
Monday 11 August 2008 7-9 pm.

Night Art School is a collective of energetic Auckland artists that often use for lectures the Grey Lynn Community Hall, a building I can see - when I look over my computer and out my window – across the Western Motorway. They often do classes on wet wintery Tuesday nights.

One of their friends, Andrew Barber, is an accomplished painter well known in Auckland for his shows at Gambia Castle and Starkwhite. He is also a part time barman and a skilled professional house painter. Last night he gave a demonstration of the finer points of the latter, as part of the preparation of the Gambia Castle space for Kit Lawrence’s show, the next one after Kate Newby. Newby had painted the walls and windows overlooking K’ Rd bright yellow. Barber very thoroughly went through all the nuanced details of surface preparation, sanding, dusting, undercoating and paint application - shimmying up and down a ladder and illustrating techniques while talking.

I came along because I was curious. Any DIY ‘handyman’ renovation-type activity is something I will do only if blackmailed by somebody I desperately want to impress. It’s activity I ordinarily loathe, and will usually disappear if I ever get the slightest inkling of its impending occurrence. I came only because I thought maybe there is a science to such work, and Andrew could educate me. In the sense of ‘knowing that’ more than ‘knowing how’. I’ve no intention of ever applying such knowledge to beautify a living space. The idea is absurd.

I also turned up because of a bigger meta-issue. Perhaps this stuff was really meant to be art? Some sort of relational project that was a provider of community services (teaching being like free music or cooking) and which broke down the distinction between life and art. Something in the tradition of Cage or Beuys. After all it was being presented in a gallery as part of a programme under the auspices of an internationally esteemed art star - someone known for focussing on simple acts of social generosity as art - and all the people on the Night Art School’s mailing list are artists and art students.

This meant that if it was art, its conceptual membrane as such wasn’t being totally dissolved. This was knowledge only partially being provided as a public service – it was still strictly within the art community, not outside it in the ‘life’ world. To go beyond that parameter would mean renouncing art, the provider purging all ‘artistic’ thoughts from their mind, and severing all social connections to the art world and aspirations for artistic kudos. It would be a sort of potlatch devoid of ulterior motive tainted with careerism. It would involve radiating an altruism that has in its core a purity extraordinarily hard to imagine.


slug said...

I have often poundered on the existence of such form of "art", except it would be hard to spot for the lack of the artistic contextual frame. Or people would simply read it as "a charming shop", "a gentlemanly person" or "a socially responsible enterprise".

But then I have also heard of cases where architects and designers have used the frame of "art" to evade council restrictions [see page 77 of "Less + More: Droog Design in Context" ].

John Hurrell said...

Well Relational Aesthetics stays well inside the 'Art' frame. It is a very popular movement, and its leader, Nicholas Bouriaud, is could be argued, is the Clement Greenberg of our time. I don't think he necessarily wants it to be that way, it has just happenned. This form of art is about conversation and social interaction - not something I find personally very interesting as an idea. The notion is getting a lot of attention and that is great.