Come As You Are : Group Show. 19 July - 6 August 2005

High Street Project’s group show for the Christchurch Art Festival. This show was an open call for all artists, involving approximately fifty local, national, emerging and established artists.
Those who came:

Mark Anderson / Audrey Baldwen / Roger Bays / Mike Boulden / Amelia Bywater / Judith Carnaby / Korey Condon / Tim Coster / Simon Denny / The Department / Lee Devenish / Gerard Donaldson / Lang Ea / Sam Eng / Stuart Farmer / Scott Flanagan / Madelaine Green / Jacquelyn Greenbank / Helga Goran / Ross Gray / Robert Hood / Ying-Hua Jiang / Nixz Kerr / Lesley Knight / Naomi Lamb / Kit Lawrence / Jenny Lee / Rebecca Lee / Damien Luke / Gaelen Macdonald / Kate McIntyre / Kirstein McKendry / Cody Makora / Dane Mitchell / Clare Noonan / James Oram / Jamie Richardson / Sarah Rossiter / Treason Seditio / Cat Simpson / Christina Silaghi / Simon Stewart / Gemma Stratton / Mel Sebastian / Zina Swanson / Malcolm Terry / Alanah Tocker / Kerry Turnstall / Shameela Unka / Sian van Dyk / Matthew Ward / Tessa Warburton / Tom Westlake /

The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent

“Part spectacle, part socio-historical event, part structuring device, exhibits, especially of contemporary art – establish and administer the cultural meanings of art” - From the introduction to Thinking about Exhibitions.[i]

When asked about including part of HSP’s exhibition schedule within the 2005 Christchurch Arts Festival, the decision was made to use that particular slot for a group show where anyone could be involved. The thing the board wanted to eclipse was the sanctimonious ceremony and often hot-air talk of selection that such festivals promote. Such prioritizing, if you think about it, flies smack in the face of what we try to do. But at the same time, we could have done a show of contemporary art, in much the same way that the last two HSP group shows, reaching out calling new age power, and Mr & Mrs Pinks’ Fabulous Collection have been.[ii] But the tendency with such shows, in which they turn towards a faith initiating momentum, in the young, willing and mobile, emerging artist wasn’t really something the board wanted to repeat. Which is why we opted for an open call. The point was that we weren’t demanding anything special. Group shows of this nature stand out precisely because they show mid-grounds between and within other people’s practices. Consequently though, because of the open call, that middle-ground has been stretched beyond belief. That’s why, within the show, you’ll find there’s work from artists with longstanding ties to HSP, those who would be more accurately described as recent arrivals, and complete strangers. Which is why it’s probably better to keep the show’s title in mind. Come as You Are reads relatively easily if we keep the analogy of a party in mind. You know, cool kids in the kitchen, strangers in the hall, bores in the corner and old friends lounging round the hearth keeping the home fires burning. It’s your approach to this sampling that’ll determine what you get.

Group shows cobbled together like this are always going to sprawl out, move in various directions and cover lots of terrain and I guess you expect the same of arts festivals in general. Offering up a vast array of wares and practices, the festival form itself clearly illustrates the flexibility and constant contestation of anything deemed worthy of the designation of capital ‘C’ culture. Involving both creative production and active forms of consumption, concentrated in time and place, reoccurring festivals of all kinds have traditionally attempted to be ‘innovative’ but have always been controlled or delimited to a certain extent. As Tony Bennett illustrates in his research into The Birth of the Museum, exhibitionary institutions of all kinds form "a complex of disciplinary and power relations" designed to educate and instruct an audience using techniques of demonstration and display.[iii] Bennett roots around and traces it all back to the Crystal Palace, "The pre-eminent symbol of the Victorian age," built to house the 1851 'Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations'. The key here is the Crystal Palace’s fraudulent but symbolic embodiment of the transparency desired at a PR level by the Imperial administration.

But Arts Festivals aren’t really about looking at the reasons behind cultural display, they’re too busy making things happen and don’t often spare the energy to allow contemplation or reconsideration over time. The pace and the snappy schedule are a little too swift for that. I reckon it’s really closer to the painfully contemporary form of speed dating, ‘I managed to get tickets for a dance ensemble on this evening, made it to a poetry reading this morning and heard some opera in the afternoon’, which is why Art Attack is such a fabulous event to have take place within the middle of the wider Arts Festival as it compresses the content and relevance of 15 galleries into a less than crystalline 3 hour block of time. Complete with free bus rides and it’s almost parodic carnivalesque atmosphere, this onslaught of contemporary art engenders a culture of swift consumption and turnover, aiming to accelerate heart rates and send minds racing. As an exercise in speed reading the aim of Art Attack is surely to expose its conscripts to work and galleries not usually visited or supported by certain sectors of the arts community in Christchurch, but how might Come as You Are function within all of this hoop-la?

Come As you Are might be a mini-me art fair with not much pomp and very little ceremony, but what it does allow for is an opportunity to see an absence of selection. That the show sags in its own quandary of pluralistic invitation is more problematic and enabling than dismissive. The precise point for us was to do something that stuck in the throat, that got in the way of the easy read of the festival’s own rhetoric and its own catch cry: ‘Applaud’. Surely art, let alone arts festivals could at least make us think, not just demand our appreciation. Which is why it’s okay to see the good alongside the bad, not simply to say that everything is different, that everyone has their own taste, but rather that there is value in opinion. In this we at least hope that Come as You Are borrows some of the mettle of an earlier HSP group show, Prostrate Canterbury, which deliberately set out to lampoon, the good faith bargaining of prospect-style New Zealand art surveys.[iv] If anything, Come as You Are seems to take Robyn Ussher’s levelling criticism of Prostrate and turn it inside out:

Is there serious intent behind the exhibition? It seems rather an elaborate in-joke, full of allusions pertinent to those in the know keeping the outsider at a distance.[v]

Come as You Are deliberately doesn’t keep the outsider at a distance, but draws them in. It sets out to make the gallery a kind of terra nullius. It’s an axiom nowadays that where you show is a more pertinent question than what sort of art you make. Perhaps then we could read Come as You Are as an exhibition that brazenly stakes out some of the varied and various terrains of the art local scene, some of the highs and a considerable proportion of the lows. Or perhaps we can draw you in, encourage you to act on your complicity as viewer, you came as you were – now what will you do?

Montgomery & Win.

[i] Thinking About Exhibitions edited by Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson and Sandy Nairne, London & New York, Routledge, 1996.

[ii] reaching out calling new age power showed at Enjoy public art gallery, Wellington and the Mori gallery, Sydney in the spring of 2003, while Mr & Mrs Pinks’ Fabulous Collection showed at the Blue Oyster gallery, Dunedin and HSP in the summer of 2004.

[iii] The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, London & New York, Routledge, 1995, p. 59.

[iv] Prostrate Canterbury, May 11- 21, 1994.

[v] Robyn Ussher, ‘Tradition in burlesque’ The Press, 18th May, 1994, p. 19.


It began in a gallery that reminded me of a comic book warehouse hideout in the way it was set up.
You know in the old batman t.v show you've got Adam West (Batman) and Robin (the other dude) cavorting around insanely like two frenzied human-bird mutants fighting crime in these incredibly fake fight scenes and when they hit one of the bad-ees the big coloured speech bubbles splatter the television screen with such classic comic onomatopoeia like: SLAT! and ZOCK! and KAHPOW! ? Well, they always take place in the villains hide out. It's a pleasure that supers heroes get to indulge in rather often.
High Street Project Art gallery is definitely a villain’s hideout posing as an art gallery...right now.
'Come as you are', (and see for yourself) is what I think is being said here. It's the kind of exhibition that you wouldn't want to get stuck in over night. Things would come alive and eat you. Some of the work would definitely gain sentience around midnight and have a go at dismantling your sanity.
When I was walking around, I knew I was in the Jokers hideout. I knew that after hours there would be all sorts of deranged scheming and maniacal villainous hooliganism.
'Come as you are' really deserves to be a section in the world’s first avant-garde department store. The work fits so well together; the energy of each piece colliding with one another and fusing into one conglomerate living mass-monster-energy that will come after your daughters and commit massive amounts of organised crime.
I think the discerning art critics might find it secretly exciting and relieving to have the distraction and low-attention span-friendly element of a group show of this size and diversity.
Shows like this are perfect for the Need-to-be-seen Cool as well as the Genuinely Enthused:

you can walk around looking at everything and schmoozing on a surface level until you feel that you have spent a respectable amount of time at the opening and are free to leave without tarnishing your reputation. And if you pull this off right, no one will realise that you don't want to be there, OR you can spend a long time totally engrossed in a variety of art and hopefully get deeply effected and inspired by a few pieces of work -thus resulting in a very successful and fulfilling evening.
My favourite thing about this show was that in terms of quality, the work spanned right through the whole spectrum.
There was everything.
There was:
so mediocre it made me sterile,
plain and unplain aweful,
unoriginal in a bad and good way
original in an awesome and frivolous way
and relieving.
It was like the sensory-overload bomb.
All good Art should Make one Experience as Many different Sensations as Possible. So this High Street Project show was very successful in demanding me to feel and react. It has easily been my favourite so far this year. I love loving and hating art all at once.
Large group shows like this are very public-friendly, which gives the show the potential to be very popular and well received. The target audience really IS the general public, Which is why the show ITSELF is a secret living super-villain-entity. All great super villains everywhere attack the general public for their own gain, and so do non-specific group art shows. You remember the 1st Batman movie? where Vikki Vale gets attacked/abducted by the joker in that art gallery? Well, if it were to happen in Christchurch, then it would happen at High Street Project art gallery during
Come As You Are.
There is something here for everyone. If their was someone who actually managed to hate every piece of work there then obviously,
THEY were the ONLY THING missing from the show.

Tristen Deschain.