Introduction | Works for | Works by and with | Writing | Acknowledgements | Gridlocked installation

Review: The Package | Essay: Sarah Farrar | Emma Fitts and Julia Holderness | Review: Jess Johnson

Essay by Sarah Farrar

I have been questioned about this need now to exploit my sexuality or push myself into territory that isn't really what I stand for - yet I answer by saying that in order to find the balance I need to go even further. I need to find what lays underneath. How far can I go before I freak out? I have to scream from the rooftops who I am before I can be completely comfortable in me. It is a process. A process I am willing and am looking forward to being a part of. It is about me. Only me.

Joshua Grant, Manuscript, 7 May 2001

Joshua Grant discovers Narcissus' watery mirror
- Sarah Farrar

Time and time again the same pantomime was enacted, and time and again the nymph eluded his touch; but the enamoured youth could not tear himself away from the spot haunted by this sweet image, whose sensitive face reflected his every emotion, and who grew pale and wan as he, -evidently, like him, a victim to love and despair.

- The story of Narcissus (H.A. Guerber, Greece and Rome Myths and Legends. London, 1992, p.97.)

The camera offered Joshua Grant a scenario like that of Narcissus staring endlessly at his reflection in a watery pool. In his third year as a painting student at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, Grant fell in love with photography. "As soon as I started playing with photographic images, I never wanted to paint again" he stated (J. Grant, Interview, 2 October 2001). Grant was preoccupied with identity, stereotypes, and the things that made him different from the people around him. In 2001 he began a journey of self-exploration and focused attention on his own identity as a young gay Pakeha male living in the 21st century.

His move into self-portraiture in 2001 was a development from his earlier portrait works, paintings that were extreme close-ups of a friend's face. The images are cropped, sometimes removing the forehead, chin, or cheeks. Grant described them as dark haunting images which became increasingly stylised and theatrical. There is a strong connection between these images and Grant's later self-portrait photographic works. Both sets of work are highly engaging and dramatic: "when you walk into the room they are staring at you and screaming for you to look at them" (J. Grant, Interview, 2 October 2001).

At times this exploration took Grant into territory in which he was not entirely comfortable, but this was necessary so that he could find out more about himself. Grant's move to self-portraiture was sparked by his discovery of the work of American photographer Cindy Sherman. As he described, "Having never before been acquainted with her work, I was instantly fascinated, attracted by the performative element and the concept of assuming and documenting different roles." (J. Grant, Work Proposal for 2001). By using herself as the model in her photographic tableaux, Cindy Sherman created ambiguity about whether or not she was depicting herself or acting the part of another character. "Conforming herself to innumerable stereotypic images and personae, Sherman could be everyone in her art and as such she was no-one (in her art)" Grant noted in the catalogue for the Stop Red project.

He decided at that stage that he wanted "to assume various roles, like Sherman, and document them in photographs." (J. Grant, Work Proposal for 2001). Placing himself in the image and presenting that to the public was initially difficult for the self-conscious art student, something that was overcome by his increased ability to control the image and what it would look like. "I'm not just taking snapshots of my life. It's a quite different process. It might come across as glossy and really fast, but the processes and the organizational stuff that goes on behind it is quite intensive." (J. Grant, Interview, 2 October 2001). Grant's photographic works were the result of careful planning, studio lighting, props, costumes, makeup, practiced poses, as well as outside assistance from other photographers, artists and friends.

A self-portrait in drag

In Grant's Stop Red diptych, he appears dressed as a prostitute in knee high boots and glossy red PVC mini-dress standing at the corner of a filthy, dilapidated brick building. A white arrow painted on a red background of one wall points at the lone figure, an unsubtle call for business, a detail which draws attention to the hooker and poignantly highlights her isolation and vulnerability. Working on this project was an unnerving experience for Grant, bringing him directly into the "realm of some people that live off selling their bodies for money" (J. Grant, Manuscript, undated). He was forced to consider issues which he would not have encountered had he recreated the scene in a studio setting, "Am I treating their 'territory' with respect by entering the environment with a somewhat glossy and glamorous approach, just looking at the role of women on the game with the viewpoint of the image only, rather than thinking about the issues of desperation and necessity pushing them into doing something commonly thought of as reprehensible?" (J. Grant, Manuscript, undated). Ultimately, once the photographs had been taken, Grant found working on the project an enormous "release of the tension that I feel about what I represent to the world" (J. Grant, Manuscript, 27 May 2001).

Despite initial reservations, dressing up came naturally to Grant and he came to revel in the performance of acting out various parts and pretending to be someone else. "You know the whole kind of fairytale, Versace kind of look. I think that's really cool and it's definitely not for every one. But I love it and I love its constructed nature. It's such a façade that I find it very attractive." (J. Grant, Interview, 2 October 2001). He believed that for a large part of his life, he had been able to "suppress the person that makes me up" and to "hide so successfully behind a façade…" (J. Grant, Manuscript, 27 May 2001). As he felt he had been playing a part for so long, to be open about it and play with the idea was a very liberating experience. "I have obsessed and ignored and grappled with this person I am for so long that I am rather au fait with it now. Why not? It seems like the most natural thing to 'play' with in this forum" (J. Grant, Manuscript, 7 May 2001).

Grant's journey of self-discovery led in 2001 to a greater sense of clarity and confidence both personally and in terms of his art making. Unlike Narcissus, he recognised the face staring back at him as his own. He had finally found the ideal medium to express himself in and content that concerned him so deeply that he was never at a loss for an 'idea' or the 'feeling' that he wanted to communicate. This is the legacy and the challenge that he leaves his family, friends and contemporaries.

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself
Finite infinity.

- Emily Dickinson


Review: The Package, 6-12 March 2003

I will be famous
Works by, with and for Joshua Grant
25 February - 16 March
Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch

Appleby, Matthew The Package, 6-12 March 2003

"How sad it is! I shall grow old and horrible. But this picture will remain always young." Poignant words from Joshua Grant, whose haunting self-portrait dominates this tribute show. In October 2001, Grant, 22, survived a car crash only to fall to his death in the Otira Gorge. Over a year later, his family, friends and colleagues celebrate his life in this stirring show.

In July 2001 Grant displayed a series of self-portraits at the City Art Space, showing an obsession with narcissism, fame and youthfulness. The University of Canterbury student worked with artists, photographers, designers, performers and stylists and was multi-talented himself. The show creates Grant the icon, a "sweet prince", "a friend for all time," "never afraid to be himself," "uncompromising and a perfectionist". "It was Josh who inspired us," says one tribute. "The room is empty." In contrast, the upstairs of CoCA is full, with the work of dozens of artists in dozens of styles.

Grant appears as a hedonist, in drag, but most of all as an idol. If the purpose of the show was to recreate him as a hero, it succeeds. It reveals plenty about Christchurch's young art scene, and not only their working styles. What audiences will not discover is how good an artist Grant was. The question remains - could Grant have broken out of the clique and become famous? The answer may be yes, such is the emotion his life has created with this show.

Matthew Appleby

Review: Jess Johnson

I will be famous
Works by, with, and for Joshua Grant
February 25 - March 16
Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch

"How sad it is! I shall grow old and horrible. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that - for that- I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!

These words were chosen by Joshua Grant to accompany the above self-portrait in a work he assembled for a 2001 group show. Josh died less than one year later at the age of 22 and in a quirk of fate these words are now embittered with irony, our memories of Josh forever frozen within his self- portraits. His death was heartrending for many in the community. I hesitate to use the much-bandied clichés to describe the sadness of his death ('so young and full of talent' is especially grating), but unfortunately the words are particularly apt to commemorate Joshua Grant's short but filled life.

I will be famous opened at the Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, on February 25th 2003, 16 months after his death. At the time Josh was a student at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts and had nearly completed his study. I will be famous is an exhibition presented by his family, friends and contemporaries. It is the first major showing of Joshua Grant's body of work and the exhibition also hosts a large number of works by those in the art community that Josh associated with in life. These works are not 'tributes' as such but merely reflect the web of work that surrounded Josh, that fed his practice, which in turn fed others.

A connected offshoot of the show can be seen around town in the various Gridlocked sites. Josh went through art school with friend Tessa Giblin (Gridlocked Director), who developed the idea for Gridlocked in her final year of study. Tessa has opened up the Gridlocked sites to Josh's replicated image, plastering the surfaces to a wallpapered effect. This was the work that Josh had been eager to exhibit when the Gridlocked project came to fruition. Additional information and links can be found on the Gridlocked website (

Josh was fond of telling his contemporaries at art school that they were walking the path of the most celebrated and exciting profession imaginable. He was particularly aware of the talent and potential emerging around him and in his own practice he worked collaboratively with other artists, photographers, designers, performers and stylists. Josh voraciously befriended 'interesting' people. He adored eccentrics, the extroverted and introverted, those on the fringe, talkers and troublemakers. The work exhibited by his friends in I will be famous demonstrates the extent to which Josh reached out to his elected community. He centred himself in a cocoon of creativity and experimentation as one does at art-school, and made elaborate plans for the future. He dreamed of building an International retreat for artists tucked away in the New Zealand bush. Josh of course would have been at the center of things, coordinating, concocting, discussing and dreaming.

Josh's own work presented in I will be famous demonstrates his preoccupation with identity. His investigations into self-portraiture are a nod to the work of American photographer Cindy Sherman. Sherman used herself as a model in her photographs in a carnival of different characters. Josh also assumed various roles and his strongest works are the resultant polished and immense photographs that show him playing at these various stereotypes. Josh's photographic works were the result of careful planning, studio lighting, props, costumes, makeup, practiced poses, as well as outside assistance from other photographers, artists and friends. In the 'Stop Red' diptych, he appears dressed as a prostitute in the prototypical uniform (a red PVC mini-dress and knee high boots), posed in alleyways and on Manchester street corners.

Dressing up came naturally to Josh and he savored the performance aspects of acting out various parts, reveling in things exaggerated and over-the-top. As a young gay male Josh intensely analyzed his own identity. He believed that for a large part of his life, he had been suppressing his true character. At art school he found that to be finally open about himself in his work was a very cathartic experience. "I have obsessed and ignored and grappled with this person I am for so long that I am rather au fait with it now. Why not? It seems like the most natural thing to 'play' with in this forum" (J. Grant, work proposal, 2001).

The title of the show I will be famous came from a T-shirt Josh once wore, with the words "Papa, I will be very very famous one day" printed across the chest. Perhaps this may have been so - at least here people have been given the opportunity to come to know a little of who Josh was and what he might have been.

Jess Johnson


Emma Fitts and Julia Holderness

Dear Family and Friends,

Our tribute to Josh was an event organised and directed collaboratively. We refer to it now as "Qui etes-vous Polly Magoo". Twenty-six fabulous guests became part of this evening. It took place on the 13th of January this year. It was documented by a variety of people and mediums.

This event was a party, a celebration, a production, a performance and a game. "Qui etes-vous Polly Magoo" was our second production of this kind, and more of the beginning of a concept which we hope to develop. In the semblance of a three-dimensional movie set we directed and hosted an evening where people got lost in foreign characters, were entertained by performers and participated in scripted events. Many guests commented on the liberating nature of interacting under the guise of a new personality and history. They were given new secrets, new families, new friends, new quirks, new obsessions, passions and dislikes. Returning to one's own personality and life felt dull in comparison to the character one had just occupied.

The evenings have a loose structure and are open to individual interpretation and direction. Guests invited to "Qui etes-vous Polly Magoo" were given a new name and instructed to turn up in black and white 40's chic dress. We all met in central Christchurch for the Valhalla Film Society A.G.M. The evening began formally as Maxwell chaired the meeting and raised agenda items such as "the problem of Bob....". After this the group crossed town to another secret location under the impression they were going to attend a film screening of "Qui etes-vous Polly Magoo". The rug was pulled out from under their feet as they stepped out of the elevator into the warehouse. It was obvious there was to be no film screening in the ordinary sense.

Surrounded and waited on by stilted models clad in stiff black and white garb that reflected their flat two-dimensional personalities, the evening opened up as the guests began to ease into their new environment. Black and white figures wandered through the warehouse space covered in graffiti, to the sound of Parisian music and the whirl of cameras, old and new. There was a meal of fish and chips served on the floor, German porn, endless photographs, a stage and cabaret set up with chessboards and candles, a grammaphone, Edith Piaf, mirror distortions and reflections, harsh spotlights, white screens, ladders, fake walls, projections, a wall-papered bedroom, arguments, red wine, a tap dancer, a poet, a magician, paranoia, a woman with a scrapbook, the presence of danger, the anticipation of non-existent characters, group portraits and spontaneous performances.

And who was Polly Magoo?

We think perhaps she was a young fashion star, an English designer lost in a Paris that was too sharp and fast. Her death was untimely and confusing for those around her. The party was a celebration of her art and last collection.

It was Josh who first inspired us to create these lavish evenings of indulgence and intrigue. To dress up, to act, to perform, to paint your nails, to find that perfect accessory...this is a game for liberating people, giving confidence, an exercise in creativity and a new way of socialising. An experience which makes people aware of the importance of a look, a raised eyebrow, the colour of a scarf, a conversation and a piece of information. Josh displayed an amazing attention to detail, a generosity with people and a passion for beauty in his life. The people involved, whether they knew Josh or not, all displayed an incredible commitment to our idea. They took time with their hair, carefully chose their costumes, explored and extended their characters and vibrantly performed their stage directions. Thank-you to all involved for understanding the need for detail, amazing us both and allowing our vision to materialise.

With love,

Emma and Julia