Exhibition Essays

New Work Series. 1

December 2004

Liberated by newness

Jessica Reid

The flip-side to all the disadvantages of being a struggling, fledgling initiative, is the incredible liberation this situation brings. In a similar scenario to being ‘the new person’ in a job. Allowances are made for you, your mistakes are forgiven, you are given encouragement and support more freely. But as time goes by, once you’ve been in the position a while, the employer may not be quite so lenient and you are asked to really prove yourself. The pressure comes on to affirm the value of your contribution and things become challenging once more. These transitional times can be crucial for your survival, when you’re asked to come up with something new.

The New Work series represented a transitional period in Enjoy’s vision and development. By the second half of 2004, the gallery had passed the four year mark and was ready for a fresh direction. Moving away from the gallery’s hands-on, thematic approach of the past, New Work set the loosest of theme requirements yet, and this will probably be the last of such dictated restrictions. Confident enough to take a step back, the gallery relinquished some curatorial control and set the art and artists loose to spread their wings and fly.

The proposal call-out requested that the work be ‘new’. Of course, as ever in contemporary art, things are rarely as straight forward as they initially appear and the definition of this, seemingly simple word, ‘new’, was up for grabs. Debate ensued over the difference between work being newly created and new to any given audience. While much of this discussion turned out to be academic, it all helped in the process of evaluating and directing the status of Enjoy as a venue for experimental projects.

There was an inclination towards music and performance in this series which, because they play with an element of chance, sat comfortably with the series aims of showing work which hadn’t been seen before. The blur between the forms of art and music brought new audiences to the gallery and captured the interest of practitioners who would not previously have considered Enjoy a potential venue for their work.

Another way in which this ‘newness’ was reflected was that the majority of the artists in this series were new to exhibiting and the work of many was new to Wellington. Miranda Parkes’ Hullbreach, the first show in the series, came from Christchurch as did Clare Noonan, James Oram and Zina Swanson whose group show was titled Drawing. The collaborative team of Chris Cudby and Dave King, Golden Axe, resides in Auckland. Enjoy was able to offer two nascent artists, Tim Armstrong and Amy Howden-Chapman, their first solo shows. Armstrong’s A Christmas Story was an entertaining exhibition which gained a lot of media attention and Howden-Chapman’s A Story of Three Sentences was a poetic examination of the space between words and meanings. Charlotte Huddleston, by no means new to Enjoy, took her first steps in the artist role by working in collaboration with Richard Lewer for In Between, an exhibition based on their research and interpretation of local ghost stories.

As well as these exhibitions, the series programme was completed with the addition of some Enjoy-initiated ventures. The stand-out example was the inaugural Performance Week which ran in mid-September and was a complementary follow-on from Golden Axe’s performances and inhabitation of the gallery in the weeks prior. Through the curation of board members Marnie Slater and Louise Tulett, a different artist or group of artists was selected to perform in the gallery within an allotted twenty-four-hour time-frame. All six performances pushed personal and art-form boundaries and it was heartening to see many both new and repeat audience members on each day.

Another programmed week, to expand the gallery’s audience draw, was Enjoy’s first involvement in Wellington Architecture Week. Taking a more lateral interpretation of the definition of architecture, musician Bevan Smith was invited to create a sound work for the gallery. Bevan, with the assistance of speciality computer software, created aural maps of different Wellington venues, including Enjoy gallery itself. Gallery visitors were invited to speak or clap into a microphone which layered this noise through the mapped space giving it the effect of taking place within that recorded location. The installation ran for a week and ended with a closing performance by Bevan Smith and Dino Karlis in which, by removing gallery floorboards and placing amplifiers underneath, the resulting vibrations from the mellifluous drones of guitar and drums further emphasised the relationship between sound, architecture and bodily presence within a space.

Enjoy gallery was also host to a week of public lectures in late September. In an introductory talk, law student Bevan Marten addressed issues of copyright in relation to artists, and this instigated a lively discussion with members of the audience. The following evening called for a Performance Week evaluation and re-group, giving audience members the opportunity to ask questions of, and give feedback to, the week’s performers and organisers. Friday night saw Stuart Shepherd and Charlotte Huddleston each impress with their tales of overseas travel in relation to their own practices, as artist and curator respectively. It was clear that Stuart had a great love for a recently purchased digital camera and was willing to embrace all that ‘power point’ had to offer in a highly amusing and entertaining display of his holiday slides. Charlotte, meanwhile, had the audience envious of her being selected to attend a Venetian symposium hosted by, a proponent of relational aesthetics, Rirkrit Tirivanija. Charlotte recounted tales of boat trips, ice cream and wine shop visits and firework displays in the company of other select international art writers and curators. The successes of these three ventures mean they will be incorporated into Enjoy’s programming as repeat events for 2005.

The year was capped off with something less new and a bit more in keeping with gallery tradition: The Enjoy Buy 100 Fundraiser. It was a truly fresh and beautiful show, and support from artists, visitors and buyers was overwhelming. Invigorated with this burst of self-assurance, I look towards the 2005 programme, confident that Enjoy will continue to show exciting, experimental art, encourage artists to push art-form and personal boundaries and enhance the successes of the past with work and initiatives which are new.