Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power : Dr Bob Wood. 7 - 26 July, 2003

Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power is a group show of artists that have affiliation with the High Street Project (HSP), an artist run space, in Christchurch, New Zealand. Dr Bob Wood ran an open door policy to his curatorial concerns, and his crop of artists speaks as much to the curious notion of continuity within HSP affiliation (Johns, Leach, Upritcahrd, Culbert) as it does to the whereabouts and health of its current formation and image (Langford, Parkes, Treveylan, Lawrence). As any artists run space will know, the strength of the organization comes from its exhibiting artists and their willingness to become involved in the decisions about exhibition practice. The reason behind the HSP's ascent and continuity throughout the 90's is attributable to this involvement and fluidity. HSP artists have never been content to simply inherit the past without at least pushing it a little further. Since its inception in 1992, HSP has remained at the bedrock of art practice, opening itself up to emergent and experimental artists willing to pursue their own notions of art professionalism. As such the HSP has developed a unique position within the art community that many since have tried to ape. Whereas traditionally artists run spaces have been about specific agendas (serving to challenge the notion of an equivalence between dollars and art), or desires (art-world exposure), HSP was established to serve and develop a community. Although HSP does operate on a proposal basis the nature of kinship that develops outside the bounds of administration through the gallery circuit of openings, performances and friendships, has ensured an extended lease to the shelf life of the developing artist's currency whilst resident within the HSP community/gallery space. Unlike gallery’s such as Artspace (Auckland) or, The Physics Room (Christchurch), which serve to differentiate such audiences, HSP is not interesting in saying "this artist has arrived", "this vogue is in trend", in these terms the curatorial policy of the HSP has always been absent. First and foremost HSP exists to develop an audience and community, a network of support so that emerging and experimental artists can pursue their own notions of practice. With this in mind, HSP sits in a curious cusp in regards to affiliation. It’s not always so necessary for an artist to want the HSP brand, and as the artist-run-space goes through its numerable permutations, artists and audiences are right to be wary, to be nostalgic. It's this necessary friction and uncertainty that both damages HSP and enhances it. The future of the collective is always going to be up in the air, and it's up to those who become involved that'll define this - which makes for a huge responsibility, but one they shouldn't let inhibit them. With this in mind Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power is a timely show, its the last before the anniversary big bang that is Ampersand (HSP's next series beginning September 13, 2003), and yet its managed to pre-empt this self-congratulationism by collecting a unique stream of artists that will for so long now carry the HSP brand along.

Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power, is part of the HSP Cut'n'Paste series that asked artists to consider the notion of originality. In order to receive funding from Creative New Zealand, HSP must undergo two funding rounds a year. This means the collective must come up with clear, coherent exhibition programs for emerging and experimental artists to work within. The Cut'n'Paste series was put together in July of 2002 and developed out of an initiative to run a series around the technique of "cut'n'paste" as a response to originality. The initial proposal envisioned the emergence of technological or new-media art based around the edit function of cut and paste. To a large extent though this didn't happen and what emerged was an overall pattern of collection and articulation. The series Cut'n’Paste became more about the joining of two things, it became more about the articulation process, the process of placement and collection and too a large extent the botch on the HSP flyers "cut&paste" bet us all to it (it’s also kind of apt that that it has managed to beat the Ampersand series, the & series, as well). These processes of articulation, in both senses of joining and giving voice too, are more than apparent in the group show. The very curator plays his own roll in this, his borrowing, his pastiche of new age currency, is one of those techniques of appropriation and articulation. Robert Hood's signature cynicism has crafted the sub-urban deity of the new age guru with all its downward mobility into the cult of the emergent artist. These upwardly mobile artists are imbricated into the art world mesh with a weary push, a challenge of articulation, as much a cry from HSP's past as it is for the desire of its future health. "Calling New Age Power" is part of the HSP fluidity, its connotations contextualise that convex loyalty of artist-run-spaces. The shows trajectory, from Christchurch to Wellington to Sydney, (and just possibly Dunedin) prolongs this articulation process, this possibility of taming and naming collective action. Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power gives a quasi definition of HSP's trajectory, but more certainly it summarizes the current location of the HSP brand all to well.

a stream of continuity

Rae Culbert last exhibiting at HSP in 1998 and is currently living in Texas, (his website is well worth the visit). His work in this show is part of that continuity between the future and the past of the HSP. His presence is largely attributable to the curator’s friendship with him, yet the work also speaks out of the voice of HSP. The cheap commodity centric ferns and drawing utilities, and the art-history reference (Richard Killeen) are common ruses amongst emerging HSP artists. However, its convention and composition also talks with a more mature voice, a sophistication that has come with the years of maturity and development. This same voice is apparent in Francis Upritchard's work yet both exhibit that technique of articulation - that joining and voicing which the Cut'n'Paste series has so come to be about. The same isn't necessarily true though of Maddie Leach's swimming pool drawings. Leach was one of the initial artists to be involved with the collective in 1992. She now resides in Wellington and her work speaks more about the continuation of her own practice (which isn't to say that Francis, and Rae's don't either). Leach's work stands out as drawings, as research into a new field. Given that last year she constructed an ice skating rink as part of an exhibition in Hamilton, the swimming pool plans sit at the edge of the possible. The viewer cusps their uncertainty, their temporal suggestiveness become plans that are incorporated within the viewers and the artists own projected futures. Leach uses the opportunity of the group show to articulate her own ongoing practice within the midst of the HSP brand. Paul Johns work is also in a similar position, an older, less emergent artist, with an established market and dealer, Johns has been looking to the HSP for support to extend the limits of his practice. Last year Paul exhibited a series of works that went back to the 80's and the critic-cum-collector Jim Barr's derisive commentary, which so hindered his development. His inclusion in this show speaks as much about his own practice as it does about art audiences and the way in which "the dictatorship of the viewer" is always being catered to, no matter which side of the fence we sit upon.

recent departures

Eddie Clemens exhibited at HSP last year with a show titled Ghostings (images can be found on the HSP website under the Recycle series 2002). Now based in Auckland, Clemens work for Reaching Out is derived from this show. Packaged as arrowheads, or weapon clips, Clemens work toys with the adage of the pen being mightier than the sword. He shelters our militaristic growth in childhood, those supplementary play-pens of indoctrination, and re-casts them in an overt ambitiously custom built consumerist approach. It’s all to easy to swallow Clemens line when they're so neatly packaged, and the explanatory diagram on the front eggs us on to break them out, to explain their use, their convention, their explanation. This type of articulation, this joining and voice from within simultaneously swindles and creates their art-object sanitation; it speaks as much about the viewer’s relationship to Clemens’ work, through the lens of collection and the subsequent sanitation of explained verification. Pursuing these items is like adding another scalp to our art knowledge belt. Simon Lawrence's work is in a similar position. His pieces derive from his Cut'n'Paste show Leo Will Never Get Sick or Die a show that explored the ambivalence of technology through the anthropomorphic (one can find images of this show and anyother HSP shows mentioned on the HSP website). "Leo" can easily be located in the tape loops trace and coincidence of a Neil Young loop, "I had a friend". "Leo's" presence is always so timely ambivalent, it postures malevolence and benefactor at once and is always on the verge of decay or recession. Like any mechanism within the kiwi laconicism of pragmatism, "Leo" is part of the "jerry-rigged" lazirefare methodology and approach to technology so prevalent within New Zealand/European culture. Scott Flanagan's work is also bound up in this technological skepticism. His closed circuit footage, apes the insecurity of surveillance, his undercurrent of subversion and authority carries on regardless. His recent show at the Center for Contemporary Art, in Christchurch, was also part of this politic. Flanagan diverted his own art posture through the doppelgangers of pseudonym identity and challenged the niche identity politics so readily creates for art consumption. Sam Eng's work is of a similar vein, titled, After my Discussion with Dr Bob Wood, Eng borrows the curator's pastiche and mixes it with that wary skepticism of surveillance that’s so apparent in Flanagan's work. Eng’s squeamish brain-like representation is a lot like those old ads in which frying eggs titled “this is my brain on drugs” carry moral dictums. Sam Eng, Eddie Clemens, Scott Flanagan's and Simon Lawrence's presence within Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power shows the ways in which artists move on from the emergent community of HSP. Their work shows notably traces back to their involvement with HSP, yet displays a consistent development of ideas and concepts that are only germinating in those early HSP shows.

current developments

Joanna Langford presented work this year at HSP as the first artist in the Cut’n’Paste series. Her “Hansel and Gretal” houses differ and yet extend on from that show, Cardboard Tales. Cardboard Tales was much more about creating a viewing environment, in fact, Langford in her press release invited the comparison to ‘little carnivals’ whose ‘enchantment’ ‘entice[d] a viewer into a childlike world of curiosity and imagination’. These houses are a significant part of this process, their appeal to the Hansel and Gretal houses and the faery lights of xmas decoration are directly related to this ongoing project. Their portal ingenuity, the way in which we’re invited to look into the interior of these biscuit houses is delightfully rewarded by their twinkle and exaggeration of scale which so easily triggers processes of myth and imagination. Peter Trevelyan’s work is of a similar vein in its attempt to trigger awe and wonder. This image that contrasts a satellite against the spectral image of a planetary scape imposes a sense of scale and wonder. This is reinforced by the satellites ambiguous origin, as a representation it settles somewhere between being a representation of a model or the real thing itself. This deft ambivalence is cultivated further by that blue landscape which emerges somewhere in imagination, yet is so akin to tele-visual props, and insinuations of managed appearances. Miranda Parkes work is also part of this process of articulating origin and the debate surrounding that representational aspect. Her recent show Plane of Contact during the Cut’nPaste, series made use of planetary connotations in her manipulation and representation of the gallery’s floor as an aesthetic field of wonderment. Jackie Greenbank’s work is also connected to this aesthetic of trace and locution. Her series of drawings revels in the meticulous and perverse aspects of representation. Parkes’ and Greenbank’s work is of a similar formal aesthetic desire yet both deploy different means and articulations of achieving this. This ambivalence of representation and formalism is given a social context by the photographs of Kim Swanson. These three photographs graph a manipulated cultivation of identity. The center piece being the Warhol-esque superstar which unsettles somewhere between obesity and starlet, fascination and denouement. This is further undercut by the articulation of “found” detritus from our social age / milieu. This graft of “foxy” and “Lady” gives voice to the articulation and correspondence of the “superstar”, that notoriety of image and its subsequent fall from grace as it moves from dénouement to the cult of yesterday. Aeiyon Thales work is also part of this trace of identity and its locution with culture. Those speech bubbles and gallery setting articulate a world larger than the physical self-portrait could mange to open up. The gloomy text above settles as a larger cloud, both farcical and commonsense, it is part of the ambiguous role we play in connection to authenticity and how we are often perceived otherwise.

new directions

Ralph and Boris are the shows complete unknowns. Today I found Boris had written something about seduction in the HSP visitor’s book. Their presence within the show points towards a positive future for HSP. Their ambivalence and posture within the doppelganger is priceless; unlike their work which can be idiosyncratically swapped for items of their choice. Emily Gardener’s work mixes iconography with the sincere. Her choice of material opens out a possible collaboration and articulation with the world of design. One can only image the stretched possibilities and street-scape versions, and yet the work could equally manage a more intimate and personalized environment as well. Shane C’s photographs, Aaron Eastwick’s sculpture and Coral Harnett’s painting also point towards the future possibilities and permutations of HSP.

the hsp brand

It feels unusual to speak about an HSP brand. For an artist run space that is in a constant state of flux, the idea of a trace, or a line of descent doesn’t automatically work. The HSP brand plays host to a contested field of co-operation and flexibility that by its very nature, emergent and experimental, forces the project to play host to competitive voices. Often challenged as both dissentious and conventional, HSP is both responsible and responsive to the community. Lines of descent and make-shift genealogies are possible but never as formative as retrospection may make them seem. HSP’s role has and should be one of accommodation and provocation. The current version operates in a community vastly different from the one in which it emerged. Operations such as Gridlocked offer other avenues for emerging artists to pursue, whilst the annual group shows and galleries of Art Departments and Colleges also compete in this field. HSP has responded to this challenge by allowing artists to hold significant solo shows that field a new body of work for the first time. To a large extent though this period is closing and with the development of an archive library, HSP is looking towards having a more hands on role with the arts community of Christchurch. The current policy of the HSP board is to facilitate and develop a more discursive and challenging environment, to stimulate more art events and more off-site activity. Reaching Out, Calling New Age Power is part of this policy. It is a group show that both states individuality and collective action, it is both a voice from the future and call from the past. This articulation and commitment is both timely and necessary to the ongoing tradition and future of HSP.


Dr Bob Wood was born in 1971 Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. He spent his early childhood in Ann Arbor, where his parents owned the grocery store. In youth, Wood’s poor health forced the family to move to a warmer climate, they eventually settled in Mexico City here Wood was able to complete his studies, gaining a doctorate in medicine, he was latter banned from practicing as a MD in the U.S.

He is best known for his literary work Gothic Night a story of lost love involving a poor young tennis coach and a haunted castle, set somewhere in Poland. Since completing his studies he has travelled widely, having spent two years in Western Samoa and sometime in out back Australia, he now lives in Merivale, Christchurch. He is currently employed as a health insurance salesman.