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Art for Commerce’s Sake

Craig Cliff



If you haven’t been to the refurbished Rutherford House yet, there isn’t any artwork. Why, when I tell people this, is no one surprised?
I guess Commerce can do without art (I’m not at all sure about my capitalization there). I realize this is probably a temporary situation; they’re probably buying it as we speak, or are awaiting donations. Perhaps they’ll just steal some from the Kelburn Campus when no one’s looking. Maybe the university has already bought new stuff, but it’s locked away in an airtight vault, and they’re saving it for when the renovation has wound up – after all, we wouldn’t want whatever-it-is they’re hoarding to get coated in the paving-stone dust like all the commerce students, of which I am one. Yes, the truth is out. Now you’ll all be looking for a guy with half a face (thanks Kim for the lovely portrait).
As I wait outside lecture theatres in the unadorned antechamber of Rutherford House, I wonder what will one day grace these walls, and wish that someone up there had a sense of humour. On a completely unrelated topic, I began to regret not writing this column under a pseudonym when I realized I could not call the Vice Chancellor an imbecile without fear of retribution. So I won’t be calling the Vice Chancellor nothin’.
Back to the art issue: if it were up to me, I’d commission someone to make a big McCahon-sized work based on the relationship between the Money Supply and Interest Rates. You see, there are four possible graphs you can draw and they all disagree (see my effort). It’d be a great big declaration that no one knows what the fuck they’re talking about. But such honesty is reserved for where no one will ever look – textbooks.
Suspending our disbelief just a smidge longer… if there was, in fact, a funny bone amongst the stiffs with the say-so over university decoration, I see two rich veins of artistic stimulation. Firstly, why not have works that reflect what most self-respecting BCA students are thinking about whilst in Rutherford House… the job at the end of the greyscale rainbow? Cynic that I am, I’d hang up graduates’ jotter pads and call it Art. The doodles of daydreaming drones, swirls of red from ‘Entered’ stamps, impossible dates from tampered date-stamps. I’d litter the, ahem, Pipitea Campus with water-coolers, but stick goldfish in them. Now that’d baffle the international students! I’d have a big screen with anti-OOS exercises playing backwards, so that after stretching the presenter leaves and the actors all cramp up. I’d commission unemployed actors to pretend to work in the concourse. They’d have meetings with agendas and minute-takers, a photocopier that always jams and the usual inter-office tiffs and trysts – it’d be Big Brother meets The Office.
But who am I kidding? Art has never reflected the commerce student’s world sufficiently – why start now? Instead, the university could install works that remind the EFTs, I mean students, what they have left uphill in Kelburn. To pay homage to the hippies, I’d line the walls with a frieze of bare feet; some with beaded anklets, others kicking hacky-sacks. And there’d be life-sized sculptures of science geeks – resplendent with sellotaped® glasses – which frustrated management jocks could throttle at will. There’d be posters for poetry readings, foreign films and SRC meetings so the commerce students can scoff at such carry-on. Ignorance is far less becoming than misplaced derision.
Ok, so my ideas aren’t likely to have much purchase on the glassy surface of university intelligence, but I’ll survive. Honest.
Maybe the real purpose of this exercise in fantasy is for us to look at what’s really on our walls right now – be they bare, festooned with crap, or bearing a masterpiece. Whatever it is you’re looking at, it says something about the people who put it there, and if it’s any good, maybe something about you as well. Just keep that in mind when you go down to Rutherford House. If the walls are still bare, don’t despair: often silence can be more telling than speech.