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Failed Utopias and Curatorial Laziness

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If the drive of historical post-object conceptualism was to abandon the object and the aesthetic cult of materials, emancipate art from the museum and relocate the work of art to localized site-specific investigations involving the extraction of concept, then its post-conceptual legacy seems to be one that reclaims the art object and reassign it aesthetic and material commodity, while reaffirming the (erroneous) importance of place in the museum.

EyeContact Essay #7

There is a cultural and intellectual gap riven between an eagerness to see New Zealand arts culture as a viable transnational force and the self-conscious, anti-intellectual, self-reflexivity that tends to localize and aestheticize the meaning of indigenous (occurring naturally in a particular place) New Zealand contemporary art. This fragmented non-in-between, not-this, not-that space, I (elsewhere) call the “pseudo-dialectic zone” of art. This is a zone which, not unlike the curatorial agenda of Freedom Farmers: New Zealand artists growing ideas (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 26 October 2013-23 February 2014, curated by Natasha Conland), remains critically unintelligible. I suspect that this is because of the ontological disruption of “place” and the postconceptual elevation of the object in contemporary art. It is no accident that the curatorial mandate of Freedom Farmers emphasizes “place” in contemporary New Zealand art.

Of course, any notion of cohesive contemporaneity is a modernist myth which, in its naïve iterations, usually entails the idea of serial temporalities and the homogeneous evolution of things, albeit punctuated by Hegelian Aufhebungen. Contrary to this, the space-without-place that I am advocating here, is one in which the contemporaneity of art, or the contemporaneity of anything for that matter, rapidly degrades into a ‘heterochronic’ disruption of normative historicity. This condition usually entails the collapse of any consistency that may otherwise give long-standing order and meaning to a particular history or oeuvre. The language of the pseudo-dialectic zone is fractured and inconsistent and it is usually unrecognizable in its time. The pseudo-dialectic zone is always untimely, but ironically this entails a certain mutation of ‘freedom:’ the forbidden jouissance of the symptom. The pseudo-dialectic zone is always out of place, singular, unanalyzable and its symbolic order is usually without ratifiable objects: the pseudo-dialectic zone, is always unsited.

Colin McCahon, the most beloved father of New Zealand modernism, is one of the few New Zealand artists to elevate the zone, but his suffering was immense. This is, in part, due to the untimeliness of his work and his inability (or unwillingness) to unsubscribe the unconscious ontological tyranny of Being woven tightly into the symbolic fabric of Catholicism.

Although McCahon’s work could generate its own singular space, he never really understood the power of the site-as-symptom and the unanalyzable meaning of the jouissance that characterizes it. The totemic elevation of the name-of-the-Father always requires personal bloodletting at the point-at-infinity, beyond which the symbolic fabric of McCahon’s God-talk would have otherwise frayed into meaninglessness. McCahon’s textuality was meaningful, but its textual consistency that did not allow him to transcend its intrinsic flaws. Like Samuel Beckett’s unnamable “I,” McCahon was unable to name the unnamable, simply because, in his Christian earnestness, he failed to recognize the resistance of ordinary language to signify those things that have no tangible referents. In other historical milieux, a post-object art resolution could instigate a site-as-symptom, abandon the object, extract the concept and name any remaining void with invented names for nothingness. In the words of Maria Wyeth, the tragic protagonist of Joan Didion’s postmodern novel Play It As It Lays: “I know what”nothing” means, and keep on playing“ (84).

Maria, unlike Beckett’s unnamable “I” has, at the edge of the frayed symbolic fabric of her world, discovered the ill-founded logic of going-on that marks the emotional void left by the irretrievable loss of the symbolic object: her Hollywood success.

Elsewhere I characterize the modality of radical nondeterminism and the logic of going-on as mathematical functor categories of terminal coalgebra whose ‘objects’ are ill-founded worlds with smooth maps between them (Sinthôme: a mutant automaton in an ill-founded world, unpublished doctoral dissertation, 2011). The collapse of consistency and the corresponding separation of object and concept, also marks the ordinal limit of going-on: “if there were a thing” (151). The point of collapse is ontologically located in a site without perimeter and any corresponding theory of surfaces would need to be coalgebraic and higher dimensional: “mathematics, like death, never makes mistakes, never plays tricks.”

The lost object of Beckett’s self-reflexive “I, say I” (3) and the circularity of his failure to go on, not only marks the edge of consistent reason and the forbidden jouissance of silence, but it also marks the beginning of the end of the utopian rebellion of the modernist project. If the drive of historical post-object conceptualism was to abandon the object and the aesthetic cult of materials, emancipate art from the museum and relocate the work of art to localized site-specific investigations involving the extraction of concept, then its post-conceptual legacy seems to be one that reclaims the art object and reassign it aesthetic and material commodity, while reaffirming the (erroneous) importance of place in the museum. The upshot of normative relationships between postconceptual art and the politics of its appearance, requires that the “ineliminable but insufficient character of the aesthetic dimension” (36) gives the work of art unavoidable post-autonomous meaning that is exegetically determined by its place in well-founded social space.

The historical tension between New Zealand’s post-object art history and its more recent postconceptual elevation of the art object is evident in the art included in Freedom Farmers. This is a show that touts a new generation of New Zealand “leaders” and “influencers.” These practitioners, so the story goes, are no longer a generation of young emerging New Zealand artists. These are the “children of the 1970s” whose “cynical doubt” brings focus to the utopian optimism of their parents’ generation. In doing so, they bridge the gap between “those who helped break open the social fabric of the 1970s and those who never knew it,” but it seems also to precociously herald not only a new coming of age of New Zealand art, but also the emergence of a new order of New Zealand artists: always a generational occurrence.

At first, this conceit (remember, this is Conland’s own generation) seems to mark the rite of passage of the not-so-young, who at the late end of not-being-entirely-established, have not yet themselves hit the fabled mid-career plateau experienced by many older New Zealand artists. It is instructive however, that et al., who is a generation older than the other artists (except for Wayne Barrar), is included in Freedom Farmers. This demonstrates not only the unresolved curatorial intention of the exhibition, but it also exposes the extent to which curatorial agendas can be diluted and manipulated to serve local loyalties. Ironically, et al.’s many to many (2013, in collaboration with Sean Curham) is one of the few works in the exhibition that shows enough maturity to engage with difficult (global) issues and other themes that do not tie her work to the task of unravelling the historical contradictions of the generation of her parents.

However, the longstanding formal derivativeness of et al.’s installations is not extenuated by the pertinence and timeliness of its content. The force of et al.’s work is due to its industry, which over a number of years, has become burdened by reiteration and the derivativeness of its neo-Beuysian materiality. As a consequence, the content and intention of many to many becomes unavoidably damaged by the forces of associativity carried by the historical traces of derivation. Moreover, the content and intention of the work risks appearing, to European and North American audiences at least, to be humorless, self righteous anti-EU (and by association, anti-US) stone-throwing, that is too earnest to be incisive.

Having said this, M. Tweedie (for good reason, I am not engaging in her pseudonymous silliness) is the only artist in Freedom Farmers defiant enough to (typically) refuse to provide an artist’s exegesis of her work, or agree to an interview, for the exhibition publication; a twenty-four page A3 size pamphlet, which appears to be the only exhibition publication. This refusal highlights the conspicuous absence of a strong text - there is a brief introduction - that clearly identifies the curatorial intention of the show. Nor is there any overarching explanation of its curatorial agenda. Rather, this responsibility is relegated to the artists through a collection of interviews and statements, petitioned by the curator. New Zealand artists, with some obvious exceptions, are notoriously bad at explaining their work beyond laconic descriptions of materials, motivations, intentions and production contexts. Although the interviews with Ava Seymour and Francis Upritchard provide some insight into Conland’s curatorial intention, the absence of an adequate text leaves many of us wondering what Freedom Farmers: New Zealand artists growing ideas is actually about, with no real clues being provided by the exhibition’s nutty title.

This absence contributes to my longstanding gripe: New Zealand culture deserves braver, stronger arts institutional leadership; intelligent leadership, which is capable of transcending the pressures of local loyalties, the expectation of our state patrons - especially at Venice; strong cultural leadership that is capable of making critical analyses and statements about New Zealand’s cultural condition in clearly and decisively well curated shows. The inconsistencies and lack of clarity of Freedom Farmers‘ curatorial intention exacerbates this.

In a global economy that afflicts 99% collateral damage from the upward flow of capital, and widespread state and corporate kleptography (the clandestine stealing of personal information, in which the New Zealand government is complicit), Freedom Farmers with its localized, narrow historical characterization of ‘freedom,’ seems hopelessly out of touch with what is needed to make plausible, pertinent, meaningful and gutsy curatorial statements. Sadly this condition, with some exceptions with some obvious exceptions (Adam Art Gallery and possibly City Gallery Wellington with a new curatorial mandate), is widespread in New Zealand’s arts institutions. New Zealand artists can be a timid lot and annoyingly, we seem to tolerate curatorial mediocrity in exchange for meagre to middling rewards (getting in a show). As a culture, our understanding of art suffers because of it, while at the same time, our horizons of expectation become hopelessly localized and our work derivative: the work of Dan Arps, and to a lesser extent, et al., Stella Corkery and Tessa Laird being the most noticeable examples of this in Freedom Farmers.

After Venice 2009, I thought if I ever saw another one of Francis Upritchard’s Hobbits-with-hard-ons (an unintentional but perfectly good metaphor for the populist self-image of New Zealand’s cultural significance on a world stage), I would have to go somewhere and jerk off. Given the local admiration of her ‘internationalism,’ and the accessibility of her craft, to include the work of Francis Upritchard in Freedom Farmers, doesn’t require much curatorial courage. Nevertheless, there is something theoretically engaging about her work: the postconceptual primacy of the object. Admittedly, and contrary to my political and theoretical objections, I find Upritchard’s seduction-by-materials difficult to resist and I admire the virtuosity of her craft, both in spite of and because of, its classicism. Yet, the ‘failure’ of conceptualism in late twentieth century proved that if aesthetic materiality is a necessary component of art, then it is not a sufficient one. The post-object advocacy of the ‘idea’ and its site-before-medium specificity, still has legacy force and this works against Upritchard’s sort of objectification. It also locates her “not-utopian,” “not-dystopian,” “sculptures-not-Barbies” on shifting historical ground.

These objects are bodies without sites (in a Badiouian sense), which effectively negates the conceptualization of place, body and site by driving its meaning within close range of the objects’ aesthetic, and therefore emotional, auras. Moreover, each of her babies-in-situ is so aesthetically invested with material integrity that their meaning binds the subjectivizing of space so closely to their form, that the entire installation is smothered in a field of conceptual agoraphobia. At the same time, this force inexorably drives the derivable meaning of each object into deep zones of diegetic intension (correctly spelt). This rives a gap between the potential of each object to bear critical narratives and the diegetic ransom of their significant aesthetic investment. Nevertheless, the postconceptual diminution of analytical categories and isms (as Peter Osborne puts it), insulates Upritchard’s sort of art from critical meditation. This allows her work quotidian credibility and gives it place in a transnational art industry bloated with accessibility. This completely localizes Conland’s mandate: the gallery is a place where something may “take place.”

Art quite capably takes place (in the sense of purloining, occupying or dominating social space) and this is often enabled by the way in which the spectator experiences the highly moderated “constructive intent with which galleries expose works” (38). This is evidenced by how effectively Upritchard’s little people take place. They do so by contracting the ambient space of the gallery, condense it around each of their bodies with such aesthetic intensity that the ontology of location is inextricably extended it to other safe zones: the market place with its cult of monied patronage.

Note: Two outstanding works in Freedom Farmers are Shannon Te Ao and Iain Frengley’s Reading While Driving and Speaking Poems in the Dark (2013, two-screen site-specific video performance) and Louise Menzies’ Tablet (2013, 16mm film loop installation). A full exploration of each is deserving but beyond the scope of this essay. This discussion could explore issues including; liberal sentiment in New Zealand postcolonial identity, POCO museum mandates, how constitutional tribalism and legalism is replacing anthropological models of indigenousness and how the upward flow of capital within corporate iwi will increasingly define Maori art and identity. On the other hand, the theoretical elevation of the subjectivizable body, the diminution of site-specificity and its relocation to the museum, the destructive representation of the performative site by museum-based moving image projections, are themes that could also drive a discussion.

My use of the tern “postconceptual” in art draws heavily on the philosophical explorations of Peter Osborne in his excellent book Anywhere or not at all: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (Verso, London, 2013). Osborne’s book is well reviewed by Antonia Birnbaum in “Extra, extra, read all about it! Contemporary art is postconceptual,” Radical Philosophy 183 (33-39), Jan/Feb 2014.

The quote that starts “mathematics, like death …” is from We , a 1921 dystopian novel by Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884 - 1937); cited by Finn Burton in Radical Philosophy 183 (2). The Beckett quotes are from Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable, New York: Gover Press Inc, 1970 page numbers in brackets). The Didion quotes are from Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 (page numbers in brackets). All other quotes are my own writing (no page numbers cited), or due to Birnbaum’s review of Osbourne (page numbers in brackets).

Terrence Handscomb

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This Discussion has 24 comments.


Barry Thomas, 5:41 p.m. 8 February, 2014

Good content Terry... rotten language... there is some less impenetrable and robust discussion at for those interested.

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Owen Pratt, 3:24 p.m. 10 February, 2014

From am to http
The Creative art without
To the of.punctuated.

apologies to Basho

Thanks, Language is a virus, haiku generator

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Ralph Paine, 2:48 p.m. 11 February, 2014

Operating at the subjective level—e.g. “Francis Upritchard’s work turns me on”; “et al. is stroppy but nevertheless repetitive and silly, and a stone thrower to boot”; “What’s required now is strong curatorial/art-institutional leadership”!!!####$$$$$; “The work of Dan Arps, Stella Corkery and Tessa Laird is hopelessly localized and derivative”; “Local artists are wimps”; “Robert & Tina are OK”; and so on (of course I’m paraphrasing here)—is not Mr Handscomb’s forte.

I much prefer things when he gets ALL abstract on it; when the Badiou inspired onto-mathematical death machine kicks in and we’re taken on some weird ‘n’ whacked out sci-fi flight across the aesthetico-conceptual terra incognita—“This is your Mutant Automata speaking, we are now approaching the contours of a Nameless Ill-Founded World”. At a Deleuze conference in Auckland a while back Mr Handscomb delivered a paper which spun my head well off its dead-part-of-the-afternoon axis! In the meantime though, much of the good sh_t that we get here is mixed up with sad doxa in extremis—everything interesting and conceptually hazardous that surfaces seems to fall quickly back down into that big black hole named Culture; or else it’s re-territorialized on the Nation State, detoxed, rehabbed, citizen-ized, subjected all over again.

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Terrence Handscomb, 10:58 a.m. 14 February, 2014

Open letter to Ralph Paine

Neo-conceptualism: art as non-deterministic, mutant automaton “death machine” -- in ten easy steps.

1. Abandon the material object and replace it with the thought object (i.e. the concept).

2. Its primary unit of presentation is the phoneme.

3. Idealize any material object as a (Riemann) sphere closed at its point-at-infinity. Consider its surfaces to be a complex projection.

4. Abandon affine coordinate geometry as a way of defining surface. Our understanding of surface must be solely abstract, topological and algebraic.

5. Abandon Badiou’s discrete set-theoretical ontologies with their aporetic "site-as-exception" clauses. Replace these with abstract topoi and extend the “materiality” of place to higher dimensions.

6. Abandon Badiou’s "transcendental logics of worlds" (complete Heyting algebras) and replace them with functor categories of non-deterministic terminal coalgebras. Call such perversions "mutant automata."

7. Collapse (coproject) any complex surface by fracturing it at its point-at-infinity.

8. Such collapse can only be expedited by the occurrence of a "silent singularity" (my distortion of Badiou’s "weak singularity" and a consequence of Lacan's "désabonné à l’inconscient").

9. Coproject the ideal object (sphere) to the real line (-∞, ∞) and reduce its scope to the continuum [0, 1). Such continua will have the same infinite number of points as their dimension-three projections, but with a standard order type closed under ≤.

10. Call this continuum the “going-on” and name its trace "Sinthôme."

(10a. Ignore your other postings below).

Ralph Paine, 10:28 a.m. 16 February, 2014

“So the place of utopia, of innovative action, of transformation, of revolution and civil war is the detachment between our thought and reality. In that non correspondence we can project what we’ve never seen, the radically unknown.”—Paolo Virno

OK, I have received my instruction(s), my little lesson. A perversely encrypted set of order words, in my reading; and ignoring 10a., presented as such via multi-pointed and projected (written ‘more geometrico’) inductions into what seems an onto-mathematical program (school) for the production of neo-conceptual art. That is to say, here the being of a new form of art is posited and intrinsically sustained via the aesthetico-theorematic ideal of a certain hybridity of mathematics, logic, and poetics. The program is a pure abstraction. It posits the already-within-itself as that which it produces. As such, the program and the product are the same no-thing, and thus, contra its claim of non-determinism, the global All that is figured (the god-like sphere, the point-at-infinity, the higher dimensions, etc.) is demonstrated—i.e. turned in the mind as a form of proof—in the total absence of any potentialization whatsoever: the going-on here seems self reflexive, solipsistic, narcissistic.

Appearing (as if) outside the museum and the monetized gallery system, the program nonetheless requires its site—or better, its allocation of “relations-in-transit” (see Parasites Or No Sites At All V). That is to say, the program—in order for it to function as such—requires an up ‘n’ running feedback loop operation, one networked, connected, all meshed up within the site-nonsite dialectic of current conditions (the Age of General Intellect). In my view and in this instance, the proper name EyeContact designates this operation.

Roger Boyce, 1:50 p.m. 21 February, 2014

I wish I'd written Failed Utopias and Curatorial Laziness ... and the following sentence:

"If the drive of historical post-object conceptualism was to abandon the object and the aesthetic cult of materials, emancipate art from the museum and relocate the work of art to localized site-specific investigations involving the extraction of concept, then its post-conceptual legacy seems to be one that reclaims the art object and reassign it aesthetic and material commodity, while reaffirming the (erroneous) importance of place in the museum."

And I wish Ralph Paine (and his attendant school of equally-obtuse Perciformes) would cease their remora-like parasitization of perfectly good essays, and write standalone stuff of their own.

But, as my dear father was wont to say "Wish in one hand son and s--t in the other, see which one gets fuller."

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Ralph Paine, 2:50 p.m. 11 February, 2014

But rather than any direct, point-by-point analysis of Mr Handscomb’s essay on the contemporary post-object/post-conceptual condition, in what follows I take up again the thread of comments posted on Mr Hurrell’s earlier review of Freedom Farmers, thereby inducing, I hope, a kinda parallax effect to emerge from the between of Mr Handscomb’s text and mine, and thus providing brief yet further access to, and exploration of, a restored site-nonsite dialectic as traversed to and fro, opened up, theorized, and played out by an increasing numbers of artists here in the Age of General Intellect.

This is an age of multiplicity/differentiation/circulation, and as such is exemplified both aesthetically & conceptually by Robert Smithson’s famous site-nonsite dialectic, wherein artworks are understood & felt as feedback loops operating BETWEEN certain territories, milieus, strata, abandoned places, contested spaces, sectionings of the earth, and so forth, AND white cube galleries, magazines, social platforms, museums, smart phones, computers, TV screens, catalogues, books, etc.. So despite the name “dialectic”, Smithson’s nonsites are not negations of site. A nonsite is understood & felt as an “actual elsewhere”. Or, we might say that a nonsite gives the virtuality of site—it marks the potential of anyplace-whatever. In this sense Smithson’s dialectic is really, as above, a “restoration” of the dialectic-as-differentiator i.e. a restoration of the power of Life (the Void) to pose the primordial question of site, and which Deleuze would have me write as ?-Site (see Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. M. Lester and C. Stivale, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 123).

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Ralph Paine, 2:52 p.m. 11 February, 2014

Ancient Greek goddess of Earth, Gaea is said to have been born from Chaos, her very own alien or radical other. Etymologically, Chaos is the “gaping void”—or according to Ovid, “a mixture of the ‘seeds’ (semina) or potentialities of all kinds of matter”. But Gaea herself also gave birth; to the Sky who then became her husband, and subsequently to their multiple offspring: seas and mountains, forests and rivers, the Titans, Cyclopes, and Typhon. At Delphi she was worshiped as “the original holder of the oracular shrine”, and her cult spread to become a cult of the Earth “in general”: Gaea, resident in the whole and governing over it.

But what did this “whole” signify for the Ancient Greeks? It seems that Gaea’s original nature was that of “the fixed or the firm one”, and thus she is the whole of ground in its concreteness and certainty—something set within a fixed horizon. And because she must know what is done within this fixed horizon, one of her main functions is to witness oaths: “Here on Earth, on Gaea, I doth swear…” The whole functions in a relay with the “here” of the oath, and thus confirms Gaea’s dual conception as specific place and as the multiplicity of place (any place whatever). For doesn’t the place where one is at always imply both the place(s) where one is yet to be and the place(s) where one was before? A place contains the promise of elsewhere and meanwhile, eternally as the past, provisionally as a glimpse of the yet to come. Place, then, is a repetition of the macro in the micro, the singular in the multiple, a coming and going, always between—between our immediate perceptions and our (re-)imagining of an outside (non-perception) to this immediacy.

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Ralph Paine, 2:52 p.m. 11 February, 2014

To be between is to be on a line, a path—and preferably to be walking it. Joining the long and meandering march of Situationists and Surrealists, flaneurs, Richard Long, Nneka, Dadaists, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Robert Smithson, pilgrims and backpackers, gypsies, planetary aboriginals and pedestrians, Rebecca Solnit, D&G, exiles, tramps and wandering (weary?) Utopians, clockwork ambulators, Hamish Fulton and Bob “Walkin’ Ain’t Talkin’” Dylan, refugees, migrants, tourists, shuffling schizophrenics, hitchhikers, boulevardiers, drifters, and strolling “crazies” of all kinds, artists today are learning to become artists of the path. They want to trace lines of the aesthetic all the way to a coming yet always attendant uselessness and nowhere, so as to get lost there on ground’s calm and neutral surface, to fuse with the Past-Future event, to become the open highway—I, the road.

And crucially, contra Mr Handscomb, let’s include both Samuel “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On” Beckett and Colin “Walk With Me” McCahon in this collective going-on. Christians, heretics, atheists, prolific imbibers, failed modernist Utopians, Irish, Aotearoian, whatever—did not both these great ARTISTS create exactly the kinds of complex cartography of which you speak Terrence? In my view, any doubt about this will be itself cast into immediate doubt by the reading of two texts: respectively, Deleuze’s essay ‘The Greatest Irish Film (Beckett’s “Film”)’ in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith & Michael A. Greco Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997; and, Stephen Zepke’s Colin McCahon and the Writing of Difference, unpublished M.A. Thesis, Auckland University, 1992. Also, the later contains much fruitful analysis and research into how McCahon, via his work, negotiated ways toward the Unnameable.

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Ralph Paine, 2:54 p.m. 11 February, 2014

Leaving Beckett aside, I conclude with some general comments about McCahon. Without searching for any Quintessence of art, place, or politics, McCahon nevertheless provides us with a remarkably productive set of questions/paradoxes concerning what art might be capable of, and what we too might be capable of, as a people yet-to-come. In this sense there is a beautiful makeshiftness in McCahon’s art; certainly in his choice and use of materials/sensations—the orchard signs and portable blackboards, the cheap house paint on un-stretched canvases with brass eyelets like tents as temporary folding, unfolding, refolding shelter, and so forth—but also in the way his focal point was always moving, floating, swept away, panning, zooming. McCahon never stopped changing the direction in which he faced and walked, the styles he was interested in, or the concerns and concepts he wanted to address/produce—and then readdress/reproduce. Even within an individual work there are often multiple focuses, horizons, time zones, strata, and vanishing points.

And so too McCahon’s art shifts and changes us. By means of proliferating, disjointed series and bifurcations it relays us along trajectories of becoming; it dislocates the given space-time of the world via ruptures, stutterings, jump-cuts, crossings-out, fades to black fathomless shadows, silences, blindness, falls; forcing openings which we constantly betray, crossings-over and bridge traversals that exhaust the powers of our bodily interpretative faculties. In many ways then McCahon’s art is a sublime art of the future. He understood & felt the world to be composed of nothing but relations-in-transit, or that the world is an ever changing dynamic between history and myth, geography and politics, tribes and states, clouds and rocks, ocean, plain, paper, paint, brush, and canvas. And perhaps this is why he was so attracted to the māori-with-a-small-‘m’ “world of light”, with its fecund possibilities for fresh alliances, spiralling growth, and upcoming renewal. But equally, he was attracted to the possibilities of the count-as-one, to the common, unranked possession of “one world”—which for him might just have added up to a socially just democracy, a “necessary protection” for all… I AM-AM I projecting? Yet McCahon was no nationalist. He was not into naming the Nation State as such. A patriot, perhaps, but only in the sense that he wanted to help place the Coming Encampments—the “small birds”—out of all danger. Yet best of all, I like to think of him as a nomadic regionalist, always travelling towards some place or other of which he could say: “Look, this is new!” Ditto the return.

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Daniel Webby, 1:39 p.m. 14 February, 2014

I really wish this flight of fancy would from time to time touch down on the specific practices it purports to orbit, curatorial or otherwise. As it is the discussion seems to have spiraled away into the object of its own criticism - that of the terminal coalgebra outlined above.

I've probably missed the point (and its corresponding dimension-three projection) but if one is invited to take a ride on the mutant automaton death machine (MADM) surely there is a possibility of scheduled stops along the way - if only for a quick glimpse of the trees for the forest.

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Ralph Paine, 5:28 p.m. 14 February, 2014

No point in attempting to sit above the fray and then from there trying to counsel, mediate, tut-tut, & plead. If you want the conversation to move in a certain direction (e.g. toward curatorial practice) then MAKE it move in that direction.

Daniel Webby, 4:06 p.m. 18 February, 2014

I’d say I’m caught in the maelstrom on this Ralph but in an effort to more fully describe my position…

“Freedom” is an explicitly political framing device. For better or worse, it’s a concept most commonly paired with variations of the word “fight”. The link with the activity of farming is judicious and potentially productive, particularly in light of the verb list it offers; to cultivate, to graze, to grow, to harvest, to plant, to plow, to raise, to reap, to sow, to tend, to till…

That said, the declaratory subtitle “New Zealand Artists Growing Ideas” effectively erases the political from the mix, quietly replacing it with a “cultural innovation” agenda – a tension on record with respect to the exhibition more generally; compare this release: with the material from the AAG website:

“Aspiration”, “irony”, “free market economic policy”, “critique”, “cynical doubt”, questions of “how freedom can be made” and its “relationship to art, the land and to the production of the economy and society" as framed for an international market, for the local audience becomes a “specially commissioned”, “ground-breaking”, “dynamic sample” of “artistic freedom” intended to “encourage discussions about creativity”.

Maybe the packaging doesn’t have any real impact on the content its envelops but in my experience of the exhibition it does linger; interrupting, mediating, blocking access to the very real, at times overt, political content of the work. This seems a disservice to both the audience and artists alike.

In a sense the f word could successfully be removed from the frame altogether; “Farmers Market: New Zealand Artists Growing Ideas” eschews a guise of cynicism, clearing the way for a celebration of innovation in the terms found in the promotional material online.

Ralph Paine, 12:23 p.m. 21 February, 2014

Perhaps best not bracket or erase the f-word: it's there, given.


Freedom is an Idea encompassing the sense: the power to act.

An institution is a model for action; it makes Ideas manifest.

Freedom at the level of the art institution: an institution which increases the power of our artistic action is good.

First question: who is the ‘our’ of the above statement; what collective is designated? Those who have artistic desire (everyone)? Those who control the institution (bureaucrats, curators, technical & other specialist staff)? The privileged few (wealthy collectors, patrons, financiers, etc.)? Those who make artworks and/or sell artworks, or provide other services (artists, dealers, auction houses, consultants, contractors, etc.)?

Second question: what is 'artistic action' in its contemporary, postconceptual sense?

Mr Handscomb's essay is an attempt to get to grips with all of the above; 'Freedom Farmers' is his example.

Time now to read Peter Osborne's 'Anywhere or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art'.

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Barry Thomas, 12:13 p.m. 21 February, 2014

Conceptual/post conceptual art history for d’mmies
1. Guillaume Apollinaire coined this prophetic sentence ... “only an artist so uncommitted to aesthetic preoccupations, so absorbed by energy as Marcel Duchamp, can reconcile Art and the People" (first published 1913).
2. Marcel Duchamp appropriates a common place urinal, signs it “R. Mutt” and exhibits it in the society of independants show New York 1917… Organisers had offered that “all submitted works will be shown”. Duchamp later described his action as “I wanted to throw the urinal in their faces”.
3. Many, from Situationists to Smithson to environmental artists take the next logical step out of the gallery structure and controls to investigate their version of the reverse readymade and just how any artist calling anything “art” in the real world means taking action within their milieu… within that politic.
4. Art thereby shifted into opportunities for art practice to engage in forms of leadership and social/environmental engagement… inspiration, castigation, environmental and social commentary. And now we have “occupy’

Art is only leading, taking action, seeding radical new memes in the pavement cracks of culture, framing elephants in rooms. Jetter le gant. Freedom to challenge. Freedom to see.
I remain very unconvinced yet still moved to respond to Freedom Farmers.
Any show purporting to embrace the concepts of leadership, utopia, and freedom - hashed together in an untimely, two month, tourniquet-cobbling timeframe, having nothing whatsoever to do with reaching out into the ‘real world’ must deliver very little… by definition it will go down in our art history as delivering no art of note/revolution.

Radical means “the growing tip”.

There is an extant art history (mostly untold) within the bounds of our shores that demonstrates my d’mmies trajectory (above). Only when art historians and the likes of CAG, Adam, and AAG simply do their jobs and deliver on this actual history – cf., as we see here in FF… blithely re-invent (Duchamp’s bicycle) wheel – will a respectable art management and likewise relations between artists and the art oligarchy be delivered. Where are the plethora of GenY and Z artists currently doing great work like Tiffany Singh? Where is the wondrous Bruce Grenville who invented a ‘real’ utopia… his own country run out of a post box in Auckland Where are the plethora of artists working with Letting Space? Where is Tao Wells?

 In reply

Barry Thomas, 12:23 p.m. 22 February, 2014

I love Terry's thinking around Freedom Farmers especially the para starting "In a global economy that afflicts 99%..."

In the face of such a large number of issues of our age - too many to list... the current determinations by Gaia scientist James Lovelock offer up portends of truely potentially catastrophic proportions.

Surely the challenges of such issues would or should have been worthy of canvassing within the orbit of Freedom Farmers... Unfortunately such pressing - Utopia nullifying - predictions appear well beyond the capacities of our Gen X art cultivators to discuss, show, let alone begin to solve.

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John Hurrell, 2:04 p.m. 21 February, 2014

Contributors to these threads, please be fastidious about the contents of your contributions. If you make an accidental post, and I (as editor) then remove it because it is nonsensical, it can lead to damage to the earlier parts of the thread which I then have to attempt to replace by repasting. That's annoyingly messy - to put it mildly.

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Barry Thomas, 6:05 p.m. 24 February, 2014

The silence is palpable... Terry's view of post conceptual art is one thing... and his co-algebraic thesis (still in formation) seems to be heading toward a perceptual solution that is provable and quite Cartesian/scientific in its construct. It's his way forward out of post post object conundrums... There are other ways forward... For many years in the artists co-op in Wellington (and including Terry) we had something of a focus in and around performance art - as one way forward... including many others like Nick Spill, Andrew Drummond but the institutions have such limited capacities to deal with protecting and promoting this kind of art let alone theorising about it - most of it has gone. However, it is healthy now that Sammin Son and many others have revived this via Noise/performance works.

It seems to me our art institutions find it easy to coracle a small herd of compliant artists into group shows like Freedom Farmers - but the reasonably vast weight of the work of groups like Letting Space and sympathetic artists are working very hard along very similar thematic, even moral, pathways (to the kaupapa of Freedom Farmers)... but this actual art movement is simply being ignored by institutions like AAG... Letting Space promotes art action mainly in the urban environment... in the real world, outside of the gallery, to basically improve life/ to intervene in the urban landscape as something of a provocateur, to stimulate positive change. I am not saying they are wholly successful but at least they are making the effort. I find it extraordinary that Freedom Farmers - with a large dose of curatorial/ institutional arrogance - simply ignores these real world efforts and puts up a bunch of usual suspects to deliver a very insular, non outreaching, non inclusive - wholly unpolitical interpretation of what could have been a great, stimulating and even earth shattering show. Its generational myopia being but one of its serious flaws. I am flabbergasted that a show purporting great leadership, freedom, utopia does not have the balls to even begin to investigate demonstrably palpable and pressing real world issues. Where is poverty solution? where is egalitarianism, where is wealth distribution? global warming? As Terry so rightly says... 'local loyalties' seem far more important to this institution than demonstrable, useful social and environmental value(s).

 In reply

John Hurrell, 7:13 a.m. 25 February, 2014

Barry, if you wish to persuade our readership that artists, not trained experts, can solve the staggering problems that afflict our forlorn planet, then at least stick to the correct thread.

Barry Thomas, 12:23 p.m. 25 February, 2014

John... I would have thought within any subject and especially one so lugubriously enchanting as Utopia...Farming Freedom, et al one might be 'allowed' to post where, when, how-ever one feels 'free'.

John Hurrell, 12:36 p.m. 25 February, 2014

Not at all. The subject matter is irrelevant. Forum sites are designed so readers can follow the threads, watching thematic conversational connections between the different contributing voices.

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Barry Thomas, 8:37 p.m. 26 February, 2014

Can you please be more specific John... My understanding of your logic means there would be no threads because we apparently can only 'follow"... am I missing something here? Threads must start somewhere... right.. to introduce new considerations nay?

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John Hurrell, 9:06 a.m. 27 February, 2014

The online discussions from this review have now closed. Many thanks to the energetic contributors.

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