The art scene in Dunedin has been jolted back into the 20th century,
due to the much-awaited arrival of the Blue Oyster Gallery. The Blue
Oyster is an exciting contemporary arts space opposite Arc Cafe in High
Street. Dunedin has desperately needed a space like this ever since the
closure of the Honeymoon Suite in 1998. Thankfully the Blue Oyster crew
has got its act together and is continuing the great work that the Honeymoon
The Blue Oyster space has been transformed by Emily Barr, Steve Carr, Wallace
Chapman, Douglas Kelaher and Kate Plaisted, and what a transformation. Kelaher
was the main driving force behind the reconstruction of the space. I was amazed
to discover that all of this was accomplished with a very limited budget due
to no funding whatsoever. Kelaher has used his sculptural skills and intuitive
knowledge of architectural space to create an impressive and workable interior
for artists to exhibit in.
The space was an installation in itself. The bad news is, after all the hard
work, it is rumoured that the building is to be torn down, to become car parking
for the Casino. This would be a travesty, considering the Blue Oyster has the
potential of becoming a major art influence in Dunedin. Surely it would make
more sense to turn the street into a pedestrian-only arts centre, by paving the
road and blocking traffic, instead of a car park, but maybe that's just me.
The grand opening of the Blue Oyster was a quirky show curated by Emma Kitson
titled Collections, Taonga, Trash. The show was a perfect choice for a
grand opening, non-threatening, fun and very colourful. Beautiful soft lounge
provided by dee jay flyboy made the night most enjoyable. It is always interesting
to find out about people's obsessive collections. They had it all, humpties (Rachael
Bye), soft porn record covers (Douglas Kelaher), Catholic merchandise (Clare
Warmington) and an interesting installation from Steve Carr, which consisted
of a series of Return of the Jedi cards, minus one. Apparently it was
stolen by "Scott Jones", a childhood rival. Accompanying the piece
was a police computer scan of what Scott Jones might look like today. Overall
a very successful show!
While all of this was happening above, down below, was Richard Crow the UK king
of rot, serving warm milk and liquorice. The Blue Oyster was lucky enough to
grab hold of Crow while he was in Dunedin. Crow was brought here by the Otago
Polytechnic's Artist in Residence programme organised by Artists at Work. His
first show was an interesting contrast to the collections above, with dark images
that at times blurred the boundaries of contradiction and irony. Crow successfully
used the basement of the Blue Oyster to create an eerie atmosphere of gloom,
history and decay. The audience wandered through the large underground space
to discover a series of installations. In the final room Crow projected the film
of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker onto a decaying wall, the subtle impression
from the patterns of the dripping wallpaper making their impression on the film;
an enticing effect.
After Emma Kitson's Collections, Taonga, Trash came local artist and guitar
god Michael Morley. Morley's exhibition was yet another lovely parody on the
`great painters'. The show contained a series of small works hung in a grid format,
filling the main wall to create a powerful image that absorbed the viewer's vision.
The paintings were full of bold colours, thick brushwork and simplified forms.
In comparison to all this was an interesting comment on the Dunedin fashion scene,
depicted through a small installation of toy soldiers all painted black. Sitting
on the floor beside the soldiers was a small boom box playing the music Morley
composed for Dunedin-based designer Nick Blanchet's premiere show in Sydney's
1998 Fashion Week.
Richard Crow was again in the basement, this time playing with his organ. Like
the Phantom of the Opera, Crow would appear and then play a comical yet haunting
melody to an obscure black and white Russian film. The organ in question was
a 60s remnant bought at an auction earlier that day. When Crow was finished he
would tape down a few keys to keep the ambience constant. It was at this moment
when I noticed a peculiar piece in the installation. On the floor was a small
glass cream bottle filled with urine. With the noise of the sustained note on
the organ and the image of the bottle, I though maybe it was a comment about
someone busting for a pee. Later talking to Crow I discovered that as a child
he and his naughty friends would fill cream bottles with piss and throw them
at shops. It may have been an act of karma that knocked the bottle over that
night. Nevertheless, the stains on the concrete and the smell in the room just
seemed to add to the atmosphere.
The Dunedin Public Art Gallery was home for Alistair Galbraith and Matt de Gannaro's
wire performance and slide show. Audiences were treated to a wonderful spectacular
from two of New Zealand's most prominent noise musicians. Meanwhile the Community
Gallery shook the foundations of the Dunedin art world, with their Dunedin Woodturners
exhibition. Again pushing the boundaries of the `What is Art' debate. You can
always count on the Community Gallery to provide enough fuel for months' worth
of controversial mind-numbing cafe discussion.
More recently the DPAG put on a fantastic exhibition opening, previewing the
Wearable Arts show and Boyd Webb. An unusual contrast in shows, but an extremely
enjoyable night. Webb's show is not to be missed -- his large surreal photographic
works are somewhat reminiscent of Neil Dawson's illusion series. At times the
photographs seemed unsuccessfully staged and at other times they worked to perfection.
Personally I was fonder of his smaller photographs and his films. I found myself
compelled to stay and revisit his work a few times throughout the night, an experience
I seldom have when viewing work.
As for the Wearable Arts show, that too was very intriguing. It was great to
see the work up close, being able to check out every detail. I did feel, however,
that more thought could have been made in the presentation of the gallery space
itself. Instead of a small TV screen on a plinth, perhaps a video projector would
have been more appropriate. Moving images combining with the music from the show
would have created a stronger sense of the atmosphere of the Wearable Arts evenings
held in Nelson. Putting that all aside, it brings a smile to my face to see the
Dunedin Public Art Gallery supporting the arts in all their forms. Good to see
the return of the little savoury pies at the opening as well. Nice One DPAG!!!