&Ampersand : HSP. 20 September - 16 October, 2003

&Amperand was the big blow out, hso group show which invited artists from the last twelve years for a one off group show. Artists who exhibted were, Sam Eng, Rob Hood, Simon Lawrence, Maria Walls, Grant Wylie, Eddie Clemens, Sean Kerr, Violet Faigen, Saskia Leek, Francis Upritchard, Joyce Camball, Rae Culbert, Zina Swanson and Dan Arps.
& etc.

Art and artists may have their own histories, but the gallery as an institutional form has a history as distinct as that of the art shown in it . This rings especially true when considering the phenomenon of Artist Run Initiatives as a form of collective, social practice and on an occasion such as this, it seems like a suitable opportunity to consider some of the issues related to the value & values of history as it may come to pass in relation to the evolution & achievements of Christchurch's High Street Project.

Every art institution is more than just a place of display and the true value of any exhibition initiative, HSP included, lies within the sum total of all its processes, activities and initiatives. So, impressive or otherwise, with a history spanning over ten years HSP has managed to out run and out last the others in its field to become the longest running gallery devoted to the emerging and experimental arts in New Zealand.

However, for an organisation perpetually in planning, the opportunity to stop and take stock of its own history and achievements is an unusual luxury indeed. But, even the change of focus and pace enabled by the Ampersand project series can only last for so long, as the relentless procession of emerging artists' shows simply doesn't stop. Consequently, while the retrospective anniversary show which this catalogue seeks to document is going on, across town and three floors up its 'business as usual' back at the gallery, currently in residence at 132 Cashel Street.

HSP was established as, and primarily remains a space in which work by emerging artists can be shown in for the first time. Over the years, HSP has successfully achieved and sustained this original objective, & much more. But, I guess when you hit the double digits everyone wises up a little, and the Ampersand series in its entirety, would seem to suggest the HSP has not only achieved an awful lot within the context of a single series, but that, as an institution this artist run project space has most certainly come of age.

The CNZ proposal for the Ampersand series expressed its hope to "explore an interface between the past and future of HSP and of the broader contemporary artistic community in New Zealand" and outlined that this would be achieved via five different components: a series of ten emerging artist's shows, a group exhibition, an archive presentation, an off-site historical survey exhibition and the compilation of a substantial publication to document the whole Ampersand project.

The structuring concept or device behind Ampersand focuses on the a syntactical device '&' that serves to link and bind things together. In the context of HSP's retrospective exhibition and this catalogue, the ampersand itself serves to yoke the memories and the 'all-stars' from back 'then' in the day to the realities and complexities of right 'now', just as it also hopes to outline and connect the present & potential future of HSP. It seems funny to me that the Ampersand series, apart from achieving HSP's usual level of recognition for young artists and furthering its existing ties with other galleries, that the series began with HSP's archive presentation, to date, and then just over a year later comes to a close with the production of this catalogue. I like that progression from the scrapbook aesthetic of the to date show to the spit 'n' polish finish of the catalogue you hold in your very hands. To me it all seems truly appropriate, late finish and all.

Inescapably, HSP is a frame. It's a device that facilitates whatever goes on and is looked at inside of its walls and at points throughout its existence, HSP has succeeded in making contact outside of those boundaries too. But rather than the walls, or more precisely the series of walls that has served to structure the project's development over the last 12 years, I'd like to foreground the value of HSP via the recognition of the 'culture' of the place, that ephemeral yet extensive phenomenon that has come exist as the 'institution' of HSP, which even today remains a phenomenon whose role and impact remains more complex than any one person will ever be able to accurately define. To me the most important thing to try and do when considering the 'institutional history' of HSP is to get behind the fascade of the 'brand' as it has come to establish itself and recognise the sheer determination and the hours of hard working and hard thinking that has gone into the 12 year history of this adventurous endeavour.

So, what was it that motivated this project of retrieval and re-evaluation? I suspect a covert taste for 'nostalgia' played a strong part, alongside the desire to uncover and reproduce the 'real' history of the 'texts and contexts' of that local, early 1990s phenomenon and not-so-distant relation of the present-day gallery known as HSP. Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one to be a little suspicious of any form of capital 'H' history especially in respect to the project of uncovering the 'true' record and character of HSP, but what's an anniversary such as this if not the chance to tell a few stories, have a few drinks and reminisce? And, what is history if not a form of narrative that expects to be read, revised and ultimately re-written? As a consequence of all this, I think we shold be celebrating the 'history' of HSP as a reflective and reflexive embodiment of the 'culture' of the project itself, that is necessarily fluid, indeterminate and different for each person that experiences or comes into contact with whatever HSP is, or will be at that particular point in time.

So, in full knowledge that written 'history' is one of the most unstable forms of documentation, at the heart of which always lies the unwritten, which functions silently as an invitation to acknowledge the temporariness and impermanence of the record itself, I would urge you to look for the traces of experience recreated here that echo your own understandings of HSP and its significance, as HSP is as much about a living 'historical' and interpersonal process as it is about lists of dates or a pile of archival memorabilia. This approach also necessarily involves an acceptance of not only the plurality of voices that have historically constituted HSP, but the interconnection of those voices, whether they are/were shouting in unison alongside one another or at a distance and complete cross purposes.

I am aware that if we are to try and consider HSP in such open and ephemeral terms there isn't really all that much we can pin down to congratulate ourselves about and that certainly does take a bit of the fun out of the equation but I'd like to think there's more to value about HSP than its longevity, or for that matter, what you might initially expect. So whilst a chronology of exhibitions and artists' projects and a bibliography of documentation has been incorporated into this catalogue with the aim of sketching out some of the basic details of HSP's evolution, these 'records' don't pretend to be final versions or even definitive accounts. Just as any achievement of HSP is structured and enabled by what is often a complex accumulation of actions and words, so this record of the project's history can only every exist as another layer or series of layers within the discourse and culture of HSP. In a sense, the texts contained here seek to talk back to those records already laid down 'officially' whilst documenting a variety of attitudes and perspectives about HSP that continue to exist within the many hearts and minds of New Zealand's art culture.

The fundamental obstacle that HSP continues to face is that, as a voluntary institution, it draws its energy and potential from those people who choose to care, and for whatever reason have the ability to get involved for what is often little direct reward. So, in most cases it would be fair to say that 'we do it for the love of it' but that's not the whole truth either. Really most of us do it to curry favour, further establish our own practices or gain that elusive and ever enviable commodity, experience. And what's wrong with that? Because along the way we inevitably meet and assist others with their own projects and practices in a more selfless manner (or so my theory goes), so that the history of HSP can be read quite honestly as a coming of age story in more ways than one.

As individuals involved with the project, ultimately each of us wants to witness or gain access to new experiences and avenues. We'd like to find some measure of acceptance and maybe prestige or esteem and, if at all possible, all this for a minimum of effort. To me, that's the post-adolescent/young-professional reality that HSP has always situated itself firmly within. Yet, realistically, most artists/board members/co-ordinators find themselves in this position because they have other occupations and pass-times in order to pay the rent, and in the particular case of the co-ordinator, often the most difficult thing is not to let HSP consume all your energy during the duration of your 6 month Task force green stint at HSP.

So, for me the most valuable thing to come from this 'milestone anniversary' of an artist run initiative (words seen so rarely together) is the attempt made at collecting and collating a series of social and interpersonal histories of HSP. In this way the essays and interviews of this catalogue echo & relate to the gesture of the Ampersand retrospective exhibition, with its intention to mark out the progression of HSP's history by calling on a range of artists involved with the gallery over the years.

HSP has always thrived on the energy and vigour of those who do get involved and make history happen in the present tense. And the last thing HSP needs at this stage of its 'long and illustrious career' is to become complacent with its profile and achievements to date. In this respect, it is interesting to note that soon, for the first time in almost ten years, HSP will not be expected to conceptually delimit or define the content or context of its projected series which will instead be devoted entirely to new work by emerging artists. This all sounds a bit like empty rhetoric, as HSP has always endeavoured to achieve just those ends. But, it is our hope that with less time and energy put into the conceptual structure that the artists' shows selected for the series are expected to somehow fit within, it is hoped that HSP will be able to renew its attention towards that long existing desire to enable more off-site and experimental artists' projects.

HSP has always been about art and the artists that produce it. And with any luck HSP will continue to define itself in relation to the practices and processes of supporting the on-going production of both creative & critical work within both a local & national environment. HSP will undoubtedly sustain this primary and most functional of roles well on into the future, but as members of the current board, we like other boards before have also make it our goal to further HSP's interests in the facilitation of projects outside of the gallery's walls in tandem with a sustained and quality focused exhibition schedule within the institutional frame & context that HSP will continue to constitute for itself in the future.

Kate Montgomery