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Performance Week at Enjoy

Thomasin Sleigh

Visual Arts


Featuring Kaleb Bennett, G-Fab and The Meat Pack, Murray Hewitt, Beth O’Brien, Raised by Wolves and Gemma Tweedie. 27 September to 7 October.
I thought it would be interesting, after giving it a promo last week, to write about some of the performances I’ve been able to get to that were part of Enjoy Public Art Gallery’s Performance Week. I’m writing this while the week is still going, and I haven’t been able to make it to all of them, so this is far from a thorough examination of them all. So think of this rather as a taster of a few, like the Cameo Cremes and pink wafer biscuits from one of those biscuit selections: A small selection of the overall tin, but a choice and pleasurable one nevertheless.
But enough of the biscuit metaphors. I had the pleasure of being involved directly in one of the performances that was organised by artist Beth O’Brien, a recent arrival to Wellington. Entitled Beeline, the work involved a group of corporate-types walking down Lambton Quay during the peak walking time, 8:00 in the morning. The artist sought out people she knew, friends of friends, friends of the gallery, and also random workers who worked down the end of the Lambton Quay. We had had a meeting a few nights before, where we were given our instructions. Some of us were to be part of the ‘the mass’ which stuck together in formation and walked the length of the course, all the way to the end of Lambton to near Parliament. Others were the ‘joiners’ who connected to this central group part way.
We met at 7:50 on the corner of Willis and Lambton, formed our group and headed off. We were supposed to look focused, and walk together with a sense of urgency and purpose. There were quite a few people recording the performance, taking photos and videoing it, but we were not supposed to look for them or look directly at them.
It was an interesting experience being involved. Being the way I normally walk to work, I am used to the sights and general vibe of Lambton Quay in the morning. Lots of serious people, dressed in black, going to work, thinking about the day ahead, or still waking up. I often think about it as I walk along; all these people with different stories and different types of days who come together in this public space. And it is the same people you see every day, doing the same thing, and treading the same streets. These were the kinds of issues that were raised in this performance; the patterns that people make without thinking about it, and the shapes that we create by ourselves and with others in our everyday lives. Also examined were the ways in which we adapt to our environment. Simply navigating through all the foot traffic on Lambton can sometimes be tricky, as well as crossing roads, getting on buses and waiting for lights. These were all mundane activities that we concentrated on in this performance, and highlighted the way in which our environment shapes our navigational routes.
Another performance I was lucky enough to catch was Untitled (Musical Performance) by Wellington based artist Murray Hewitt. I have been intrigued by Hewitt’s work since he was involved in the show Smoke Signals at the Michael Hirschfeld gallery a couple of months ago. In that exhibition, Hewitt showed an interest in the imagery of Southern America and the visual markers of this part of the world. Again, in this performance, Hewitt examined the imagery of America and the innate contradictions that appear in the cultural climate of this region. Dressed in red, with red Adidas pants, a Coke T-shirt, and red face paint, Hewitt sang a country gospel song to a small audience. This performance took place behind the Opera House in the small alleyway next to the James Smith parking lot. Visually, this was a stunning setting. I’ve never been behind there before. There is some amazing graffiti, and the orange wall behind the artist really offset his red attire. It is also a slightly American surrounding. I could imagine being in New York or some stereotypically urban American city. Lying on the ground next to Hewitt was an American Eagle and a soft toy of the Disney character Pluto, both overt symbols of America and American cultural imperialism.
The lyrics of the gospel song (sung very well by the artist I must say) were saccharine in their clichés and empty in their promises. “I still believe in nonviolence,” they went. “I will run to be with Jesus, I don’t believe what they say on TV.” The soft toy is immediately associated with the child-like and innocent, as are the words of this religious and supposedly uplifting song. This conception rails against the violent history of Southern America (for which it is obviously not alone), and the racism which often characterises this region. But the song was delivered dead pan, with no obvious hint of irony. “Take from it what you will” the artist seems to say.
Finally, straight after this performance I headed down to Enjoy to check out what G-fab and the Meat Pack were getting up to. Unfortunately, while I was there, this performance wasn’t working so well, and it could have been amazing if it did. The performers themselves weren’t there; they were at an ‘undisclosed location’. In Enjoy was a phone taped to a microphone, which was in turn connected to some speakers. The artists were playing electro/trash/pop music somewhere else and this was piped down the phone line, onto the phone at Enjoy and then supposedly amplified by the microphone. It would have been amazing if this music had been pumping around the gallery, but unfortunately it was very quiet when I was there. I don’t think that the connection between the phone and the microphone was quite good enough to amplify the sounds sufficiently.
Nevertheless, it was great idea, and I don’t know if it got working more successfully after I left. The piece played on the idea of presence and absence, and sneakily removed the artist almost entirely from the artwork. This gave the music a life of its own when distanced from its creator. The work also played with the ideas of connectivity and communication. And interestingly, by not actually working properly, the work highlighted the limits of communication in our supposedly technosavvy age.
Interesting bits and bobs from Performance Week. It was nice to see some art that wasn’t hanging on the gallery wall.