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, March 25, 2009

Here's a question for

the ninety-nine other people who attended the Paola Pivi performance on Saturday afternoon at Auckland Airport.

Did anybody actually see the plane in the air? How do we know that the fish were Sydneyites and not Aucklanders pretending...that the bowls were not installed in the passenger seats in New Zealand? How do we know the filming was done in the air and not while coasting on the Auckland runway?

Does it matter?

Actually I think it does. I hate conspiracy theories, and the last thing I want to do is drag Auckland Art Gallery and One Day Sculpture into one. However I would like to be assured that we weren't all conned and that what we were told happened actually did.

Perhaps it's a non-issue. Any thoughts?


artandmylife said...

I think it matters. Unless the fact that it was possibly a "hoax" is part fo the art. (Pauline Dawson - too lazy to change her pseudonym)

John Hurrell said...

Yeah well I find the thought that a whole bunch of AAG staff and ODS people were there to hoodwink the rest of the art community really creepy. It is so arrogant a thing to perpetuate, and as the art community is quite small, close and friendly, terribly hard to believe.

At the time while chatting in the hangar I raised this subject and one friend swore black and blue he had spoken to the airline staff in the plane and seen concrete evidence of the flight, that it wasn't staged. If he lied, that really bugs me.

Then I had a conversation with another out-of-town artist friend much later, who reckoned that the cost was so high it must be a scam.

The thing is, to see the plane in the air and watch it land on the tarmac, and then to board it to see the fish, would have been so much better. To have a real 'welcome' for the fish at the airport, would have been sensational.I hate the idea it was a fraud set up so the artist could get some shots for a film. I find the fakery really offensive. Plain insulting.

artandmylife said...

being lied to , to perpetuate the idea would be very bad. Don't know much about the artwork but wouldn't there be customs issues with fish anyway?

John Hurrell said...

If the aim was to spread a story, the social phenomenon of talk being the 'content', that would be feasible - though of course unethical and bad PR.

The airport people were strict. There were definite no-go zones. We were closely watched.

melissa laing said...

You must have missed the piece on the TV news the day after where they reported that MAF raised concerns regarding clearance for the fish and were advised that the fish were loaded on to a plane in Auckland and flown around for 3 hours (representing the duration of the flight between syd and akl) as the flight from sydney and MAF issues had proved too problematic.

The flight attendant on the plane advised that he had given his inflight safety demo (cause there were ten passengers in addition to the fish) and that the fish bowls had had little lids on them during take off and landing as well as wearing seatbelts.

And I also heard tell that they took off again after we viewed the work for another flight as they weren't happy with the video.

SO YES they lied to us but not entirely. The fish were in the air. The news people didn't seem to appreciate the false reporting. I was just disappointed that I knew what the work was in advance because the one and only punch line of the work was live fish on an aeroplane flight.

John Hurrell said...

You are a gem, Melissa. Thanks so much. (I don't have a tv, so wouldn't have seen that news item.)

It couldn't have been a snap decision though. It takes time to organise eighty or so goldfish, even in Auckland.

It's a shame the idea was compromised.I wonder what MAF's beef was. It's not as if the fish would get stolen by irresponsible art bandits.

John Hurrell said...

Here is a radio news link from last week:

artandmylife said...

Read this today from here

"In fact, the fish came from a Te Aroha fish farm and were flown for three hours over the Tasman before being returned home"

John Hurrell said...

So are we talking about a teenie-weenie fib (brought about by pressure at the last minute by MAF bureaucracy), or a great big whopper lie that was thoroughly rehearsed and planned from early on?

Cheryl Bernstein said...

I would imagine cock-up rather than conspiracy. Perhaps no one thought to check the quarantine regs for importing the goldfish beforehand? And when MAF found out what was planned after all the prepublicity kicked in and put the kibosh on it, then some speedy improv was called for. Nothing so exciting as a whopper lie. I suspect.

John Hurrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hurrell said...

God, Cheryl, I hope you are right. But no one checking quarantine regs does sound implausibe, does it not? Highly improbable surely, that level of incompetence.

Cheryl Bernstein said...

Well, these things happen. Projects take odd turns sometimes. (Though I don't know what actually happened in this case; the scenario I outlined above is just a possibility). The work sounds really interesting either way, & I would have loved to have seen it unfolding. What I'm wondering now, is if one were to entirely discount the vexed issue of the international origin of the fish -- say they had always been intended to be sourced from the Te Aroha fish farm -- does the idea still work? Is the international flight integral to the concept & success of the work? I suspect the domestic trip is actually still OK.

John Hurrell said...

Absolutely not.

An institution like AAG must be seen to maintain impeccable moral integrity, and not be suspected of deliberately misleading the public through deception and arrogance. A beautiful idea needs to be carried out exactly as publicly announced to remain beautiful - and not involve cheating so an artist can acquire film footage for 'documentation.'

Cheryl Bernstein said...

Sorry, I can't have been clear in my query. What I mean is, say there had been no change of plans, that the fish had always been going to be domestically sourced, and the work had proceeded as proposed under those terms, would the idea still function or did it NEED the international component to work as an idea? (I'm thinking not, but I wasn't there...)

Secondly: surely an institution is only as moral or immoral as the people who operate it. An institution itself can't be moral, per se, can it? (I'm sure some philosopher or other has a point to make about that.)

Thirdly: the intellectual ownership of the project (the 'beautiful idea') -- as well as the right to alter its terms -- was surely only that of the artist's, in this case, and not any other body. Are you intending a critique of the artist, or the institution?

Just asking.

John Hurrell said...

Eerk Cheryl,I think you are right.I misread your question - though it was ambiguous. Sorry.

Your three (restated) questions are great.

(1.)I am personally very interested in what Umberto Eco calls 'hypotyposis' - the use of language to create a mental picture.In recent years I've been fooling around with this using alphabet soup letters to make art. Mental pictures from pasta texts.

So to your first point.... the idea is more beautiful I think if there was a flight from Sydney. If the fish were stated as 'Aucklanders' having a joyride above the airport it is not such an attractive mental picture in my view. I like the purpose implicit in conveying them from Australia to here.

(2.)Yes I agree, if an immoral policy is not specifically stated in its mission statement or policy agenda,an institution is only as immoral as is indicated by the behaviour of its personnel.

(3.)If I was to critique the fibbing you mean? Well the artist would know wouldn't they? They would be consulted. They would decide whether to go ahead with the proposed deceit. The institution would not do it otherwise.

Mr Stephen Rowe said...

I found the whole work unengaging and thin. That it was supposed to have come from Sydney is, of course, integral to the work. This is why there was a certain 'economy of truth' surrounding that aspect once it was 'found out' that MAF regulations could not be met. However to fly around for three hours in some crude approximation of it is disgusting. I mean, I found the whole idea wasteful and decadent anyway - wasteful in its resources and decadent because only 100 people could see it. Why the need to fly for three hours when a quick spin around the block would have sufficed (after it was known the Sydney flight was off)? To get the take off and landing shots? Shots that were absent from the later projection of the work at Freyburg Place (where the 'public art' bit of the project was realised).

Perhaps the issues with MAF regulations could have become part of the work? Essentially the work had failed at the point where the regulations stuff-up happened and that failure was not dealt with very well (or at all).

But of course the flight had to take place because what One Day Sculpture is lies in its documentation. It isn't "One Day" at all as it will live on in many other guises. Further many works have been designed to have 'added value' - such as Pivi's - where they will become 'other works' separate and perhaps not even referencing their "one-dayness."

Xavier Tellez's work 'Intermission' is another case in point. The audience for that work were filmed constantly and often in a very direct manner which appeared to interrupt their experience of the work. This goes past 'documentation' as it is very likely Tellez will use this footage in another work. Essentially they were unwitting extras in a wider work that goes beyond 'One Day Sculpture.'