The City Gallery Wellington presents a unique exhibition. A special exhibition. Stop Making Sense. 11th April–25th June. Fifteen Māori artists. Fifteen Pākehā artists. Free from any curatorial baggage. To illustrate differing approaches, or the similarities, between differing cultures. There will be debate, and you could feel more than a little confused. Because the title is ‘Stop Making Sense’. Some people hate Siamese cats walking through the ploughed field carrying Bren guns. Others say Jamaica is fine too. But the answer is the same. When they brush the south east their teeth still go brown …
George Hubbard, Stop Making Sense: Who’s Pushing the Bandwagon Anyway? (Wellington: City Gallery, 1995).
Stop Making Sense is an artists’ exhibition. I asked some of my favourite Māori and Pākehā artists to produce collaborative work of their choosing free from any hidden curatorial agendas.
If you want to curate a good show, the best people to ask for advice are the artists. Artists make art, it’s their job. These are the people who know more about their art than anyone else. In New Zealand, the 1980s saw some of the most cumbersome institutional shows, where curators pursued the artwork as definitive article, re-presenting the artists in a curatorial context which usually had more to do with the curators than the artists. With Stop Making Sense, I did not even get to see any finished art until I travelled to Wellington to install the show. This made my role as curator particularly exciting, if not a little anxious.
The role of the curator in the 1990s is like the job of a pop-band manager. The manager secures the venue, oversees transport and freight arrangements, books the PA system, draws up fliers, compiles set lists, and pushes the talent on stage to wow the audience. The manager is never on stage as a performer or star, opting instead to take care of important backstage chores, such as sweeping the floor and organising toilet paper. The artist is the star.
My earlier shows—Choice! (Artspace, Auckland, 1990), and Cross-Pollination (Artspace, Auckland, 1991)—were largely the products of my personal agenda. I workshopped my cultural inadequacies in public, with the artists as vehicles for my confusion. In retrospect, I think that even though these shows were largely successful and launched a few stars, I should have worked in more with the artists instead of thinking about myself.
As I was adopted by English parents, I grew up thinking that I too was English. It was not until 1973 at an Upper Hutt intermediate school that I discovered much to my alarm that I was not Anglo-Saxon. I had just filled out my census form when the teacher called me to the front of the class to explain to everyone why I had not listed myself as Māori. I was very annoyed as I have always been pale and legally I am English. So, this is part of the reason why my curating has primarily revolved around ‘what constitutes Māori?’
With Stop Making Sense, I am more interested in blurring the boundaries of Māori and Pākehā cultures, and curating a show where the audience will have to decide for themselves what is going on, instead of being bashed around the head by some high-flying politically correct curatorial rationale. Some will think that Stop Making Sense is a promotional tool for the outdated notion of biculturalism—it is not! With the fiscal-envelope fiasco I would prefer to think of Māori as cross cultural (cross and cultural), and not bicultural.
Stop Making Sense can be seen as a call to institutionally based curators to start rethinking the plot, to stop making sense out of art, and start making cents (and dollars) for artists.
Katy Corner, ‘Biculturalism Left Behind’, City Voice, 6 April 1995.
When is art politically correct? A new exhibition at the City Art Gallery will explore this question as well as showing collaborative works by thirty Māori and Pākehā artists.
‘Anti-curator’ George Hubbard says: ‘It’s an artist’s exhibition. Artists need more involvement with the institutional curating process. The title Stop Making Sense is a call to some local curators to put away their theory books, predictable exhibition rationales, and stop making sense out of shows which usually have nothing to do with the artists, other than lumping them together under some high-flying curatorial thematic banner.’
Artists themselves were curated, rather than their works, says Hubbard.
‘Artists were curated on buses, at dinner parties, in restaurant kitchen sinks, in dentist’s waiting rooms and on fax machines. But even though Stop Making Sense is looking at art from two distinctly different cultures, it should in no way be seen as a promotional tool for the outdated notion of biculturalism.’
One artist, Terrence Handscomb, has manipulated his work on a computer. He makes the observation that many New Zealanders see biculturalism as a standoff tempered by political correctness, and his work plays on the complications of that PC attitude. He thinks the exhibition is timely and that things that need to be said will be brought out into the open.
Auckland artists Judy Darragh and Ema Lyon are working with piupiu (flax). They have drawn inspiration from Diggeress Te Kanawa’s work and are using traditional dyes. The works involve frames on motors, a hair skirt and piupiu stitched onto trouser stands.
Kirsty Cameron from Auckland will present ‘techno-music’ with Rachael Churchward and Michael Lawry (ex–Headless Chickens) in the Continuum City Cinema. Entitled PAT: Potential Audio-Visual Trauma, the work will screen on Thursday 13 April.
Justin Paton, ‘Critic’s Choice: Exhibitions’, Listener, 8 April 1995.
Stop Making Sense. An exhibition of collaborative works by Māori and Pākehā artists, this is a show that aims to break rowdily through the crust of pieties that surrounds exhibition making today. Instead of rounding up the usual suspects for a big tepid group exhibition, or herding Māori and Pākehā artists into different ethnic corrals, or lumbering the art with a dead weight of curatorial gobbledygook, guest curator George Hubbard has thrown cultural safety to the wind and arranged a series of blind dates between thirty New Zealand artists from both sides of the bicultural divide. The pairings (here’s hoping) will spawn some bizarre hybrids: Gordon Walters cross-bred with Chris Heaphy, Shane Cotton in a clutch with Dick Frizzell, Ralph Hotere mated with John Reynolds (Hotereynolds?). The publicity makes it sound annoyingly cute and ‘offbeat’, but Hubbard’s cross-cultural matchmaking should, at the very least, throw off some illuminating sparks.
Louise Garrett, ‘Lifting the Lid on an Artistic Illusion’, Dominion, 15 April 1995.
Stop Making Sense is an exhibition which features collaborative works by fifteen Māori artists and fifteen Pākehā artists: two football teams.
The show has been touted as an exhibition with a difference, presumably different attitudes toward Difference.
Curator George Hubbard wishes to give control of the exhibition to the artists, a laudable if unrealistic aim: whether he has managed to achieve this is arguable.
What he is railing against are types of exhibitions in which the artworks are chosen specifically to enact the role determined by a curatorial theme or theoretical basis. As Hubbard derisively states, ‘[those exhibitions] where curators pursued the artworks as definitive article, representing the artists in a curatorial context which usually had more to do with the curators than the artists’.
These types of shows create the illusion of uniformity so it appears that the artworks themselves inherently contain the given curator’s theme, disguising curatorial partiality.
Hubbard’s exhibition lifts the lid on this illusion by stating his personal bias—that is, that he has chosen artists he knows and likes, suggesting (surprise, surprise) a uniformity of taste reliant on the curator—and offers a curatorial banner (though denying it) under which they exhibit: this is ‘an exhibition of collaborative works by Māori and Pākehā artists’.
He inserts himself at the centre of this discussion (as curators have always done) as he states in his blurb: ‘I am more interested in blurring the boundaries of Māori and Pākehā cultures, and curating a show where the audience will have to decide what is going on.’
Further, an introductory wall panel promotes the nature of artists collaborations as a product of the City Gallery’s institutional policy, providing a further context for the exhibition itself, not the artworks.
That said, the exhibition provides a showcase for fantastic collaborative works, though I get the feeling that the so-called dialogue that these provide is largely personal, between artists. An obvious point perhaps, but I believe that artists’ statements, had they been provided, might have offered clues as to the nature of the collaborations and creative conception of the works, and suggested a basis for dialogue between artworks and their audience.
This I think would interrupt the internal control which the curator asserts, and offer greater power to the artists, the artworks, and the audience: the important elements in this equation.
The idea behind the exhibition is excellent, if a little flawed, and the artworks need to be studied on their own terms: outside this debate.
James Mack, ‘Hubbard Blurs the Cultural Boundaries’, Evening Post, 27 April 1995.
What a refreshing, vibrant show. George Hubbard, humbly standing back from visible evidence of his involvement, has asked some of his favourite Māori and Pākehā artists to produce collaborative works. His pairing is brilliant. His emphasis has been on the art; can it be any other way?
Hubbard says of the show: ‘I am more interested in blurring the boundaries of Māori and Pākehā cultures, and curating a show where the audience will have to decide for itself what is going on, instead of being bashed around the head by some high-flying, politically-correct curatorial rationale. Some will think that Stop Making Sense is an outdated tool for the outdated notion of biculturalism—it is not!’
Some works pack a cultural wallop. Ema Lyon/Judy Darragh present a kinetic sculpture of a traditional piupiu wiggling away on a motivated trouser stand. It’s a gestural up-you, as the naughtiness of the intention becomes apparent and how attitudes to Māori on show affect the way we think.
Diane Prince/Terrence Handscomb also interact with political whammo. Handscomb’s prints say: ‘Ethically challenged white NZ Male/seeks/PC sensitive dominatrix/to support culture punishment games’. Under his prints on the wall, Prince presents a sale table with faces made out of paroa Māori bread, with a sign that says ‘Freshly baked Phoney Hone Paroa 50c’.
One of the great collaborations in the show is between Māori artist Chris Heaphy and one of the legends of New Zealand art, Gordon Walters. On stretched jacquarded linen table cloths, they interact in a lively way—symbol for symbol, subtle reaction to each other’s markings. The push and pull between who did what and how has made a beautiful, evocative work.
Robert Jahnke and Peter Roche seem strange collaborators. They acted and reacted against each other until their works met for the first time as the show was put together. Jahnke has a beautiful drawing in blue pencil done directly onto the wall and inscribed across it is ‘No Sense 1995’. At the last minute, Roche sent a polaroid of himself in full fake moko, tongue poked out in challenge to Jahnke. At the hanging, Jankhe put the photograph and notes from Roche in a glassine envelope and had it framed and hung under his drawing. Dialogue and diatribe are alive and well as two feisty artists front up to each other. The work is ephemeral and will be no more after the show. The encounter was a worthy one.
Ralph Hotere and John Reynolds show again the twenty-five aluminium panels from 1991, called Winter Chrysanthemums. Reynolds bows to Hotere’s medium and they produce a lively interaction. A handsome work.
Eugene Hansen and Anton Parsons produce three enigmatic works richly deserving exploration to expose their innards. Giant plastic carryalls, zippered, stark, sit and lie around the room. When you look inside there are small sculptures. Maybe there is a sign needed urging reticent gallery goers to actually open the zippers and see what confronts them.
Whoever had the idea to invite Hubbard—good! It is a classy, unpretentious, ever so slightly vulgar experiment with the sacred cow of exhibition making. I hope one day, someone asks Hubbard and Jim Vivieaere to do a show together, with collaboration between Māori and Pacific Island artists. I tremble in anticipation.
Robin Neate, ‘Stop Making Sense’, Art and Text, no. 52, 1995.
In his curatorial statement for Stop Making Sense, an exhibition of thirty-paired collaborations by Māori and Pākehā artists, George Hubbard claims that this is an ‘artists’ exhibition … the artist is the star’. But unfortunately it isn’t, and they aren’t.
Collaboration as a metaphor for biculturalism is a difficult agenda to upstage; it takes on a life of its own and it becomes the star. That is what happened here. Like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, the show’s composite body of stitched-together parts lurched awkwardly about the gallery dumbly pondering the reason for its existence.
Although this exhibition is a faltering life form, it is not without a pulse. Gordon Walters and Chris Heaphy lay out the blueprint of its dilemma with a diptych of scattered cross-cultural appropriations and symbols appearing like components of a puzzle waiting to be assembled. Almost as if taking up the challenge, and inspired by a mutual love of paint, Shane Cotton and Dick Frizzell graft together their assemblage of symbols in a seductive combination. Looking rather cosmetic, the painting is rescued with some humour by Cotton turning Frizzell’s modernist dots into basketballs (or is it the other way round?).
Others grapple with the natural or the unnaturalness of the collaborative act. Robert Jahnke and Peter Roche are clearly a case of organ rejection, with one artist destroying the work while on exhibition. Barnard McIntyre and Karl Maughan seem to be a biological mismatch; McIntyre’s white box precariously sits on Maughan’s painted muddy lily pond waiting for a spark of life. While John Reynolds and Ralph Hotere blend into each other as imperceptibly as osmosis, Giovanni Intra and Michael Parekowhai revel and revolt in the creative process. They present a lifted black-and-white photograph of the May 1968 Paris riots, printed once the right way around and then again as its mirror image. Their cloned emergence point is 1968 (the year both artists were born), but we are also reminded that the Paris riots involved an alliance of students and workers against the established order.
Music is where cross-cultural boundaries are constantly blurred. So it is hardly surprising that Kirsty Cameron and Rachael Churchward’s audiovisual installation becomes a successful electronic hybrid of hip-hop and poi rhythms, Māori flutes, and video cutups. Their beat is echoed by Ema Lyon’s and Judy Darragh’s motor-driven oscillating piupiu (flax skirt), endlessly searching for a body to wear it.
In many ways these collaborations are good metaphors for the bicultural climate in New Zealand today, although that doesn’t necessarily make for great art. There are no answers or explanations here because, as evolution tells us, there are no shortcuts in the creation of new life forms. And while Hubbard can be admired for his refreshing approach and non-curatorial scientific detachment, he may eventually have to take responsibility for his experiments before they turn on him too.
But, in the end, it is perhaps Anton Parsons and Eugene Hansen who close the act on the anticipated sequel, as Pākehā Parsons manages to wittily betray the dominant culture by zipping Māori Hansen’s work into a vinyl bag. Through its apertures, here, the viewer can occasionally glimpse the beast within.