Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 7 - Science Fact and Fiction
Log 7 - Science Fact and Fiction

Wellington Roundup
Terrence Handscomb


I have been back in Wellington after a year in Berlin, but I have not been feeling well. I have been spending too much time logged on to hard core binaries newsgroups. Even though my skin still looks good, I think I am depressed. I have begun to fake orgasm during masturbation. Something definitely feels wrong here, but I am not sure why.

I continually imagine that tiny objects, insects, rodents or other small mammals, are attacking me. This occurs during episodes of kleinmorphobia, the rare condition of fear of being small. I think my recent attacks have something to do with the culture shock of being back in NZ. In Berlin (C/F LOG 6) a different sort of smallness upset me, but the panic attack at The Matterhorn was different. It was more subtle, abstract and highly political. It was cultural smallness. It is surprisingly difficult to detect unless one spends lots of time abroad. Like the paranoiac male form of penile obsession, there is the optimistic fantasy that the object in question is a lot bigger and more potent than it actually is.

Absolution Ritual
Absolution Ritual in The Matterhorn
Video Still by Terrence Handscomb

The Matterhorn is possibly the worst place in Wellington to suffer culture shock. I went upstairs and emptied both my stomach and bowel. Maybe the involuntary vomiting was caused by a pathogen I ingested while I was away, but to be perfectly honest, I have a reactive tendency to punish myself when I feel powerless. It all started when I found the Leap of Faith publication in The Matterhorn along with the Toi Toi Toi discussion at the Engaged Signal forum at the Govett-Brewster. There has always been something quite suspect about the way we construe our international cultural arts image at home. The rhetorical peddling of Toi Toi Toi is no exception.

Much of the discussion at Engaged Signal focused on the claims that because the NZ art in exhibitions such as Toi Toi Toi in Kassel and Cultural Safety in Aachen has had considerable impact, NZ art is internationally strong. The purported success of these shows must demonstrate to those NZ arts institutions that fail to address contemporary NZ arts in their curatorial programmes that they are making gross strategic errors. By initiating programmes that popularise arts culture, or by heavily marketing franchised exhibitions such as Haring and Star Trek to increasing vernacular audiences, demonstrates that the institutions are somehow failing. The international success of shows like Toi Toi Toi and Cultural Safety, both curated by internationally acknowledged German curators, continue to emphasise these failings. At the same time, Toi Toi Toi tenaciously demonstrates to culturally literate European audiences how important NZ contemporary art is.

No wonder I am depressed.

The anti Te Papa rhetoric is getting tiresome and in my view City Gallery, Wellington was written off ages ago. So why am I continually emptying my guts?

NZ art to German audiences is seen on the same level as say, Caribbean contemporary art, contemporary Brazilian art, Central African contemporary art, South Asian contemporary art. Simply not a major international player and certainly not in the sense being construed at Engaged Signal.

Firstly, there is political pressure for publicly funded German museums to curate shows of third/first world cultures or small colonial European cultures in an attempt to allay the mood (or the imagined guilt) of German cultural imperialism, or claims of German right wing cultural nationalism. The show was initiated in NZ with an invitation by CNZ to René Block to visit NZ after being in Australia. Block would then view the works of various (the best) NZ artists (which he did) and make a selection of work for a show in Kassel. Admittedly Block put up most of the money for the show, but I have already suggested why he may have done this.

Secondly Toi Toi Toi was not actually curated by René Block. At least not to the extent in which it was being implied at Engaged Signal. A politically "tight curatorial body" of NZ interests prepared a list of works by NZ artists which was presented to Block. Without much further effort Block then simply ticked them off. To suggest that the art included in Toi Toi Toi was a major recognition of the most important art being made in NZ at this time and the result of major research by an important international curator is to overstate the process of selection. The line up of Toi Toi Toi is so politically tight it would have been necessary for Block to be impossibly cognisant of contemporary NZ arts politics in order to make a corresponding selection. It is also fallacious to imply that the line-up is vindicated on deep levels by strong international recognition.

Don't get me wrong. I like the work of most of the artists in Toi Toi Toi, even though some of them are on the verge of being overrated. The sure sign of reaching the famous NZ artists' mid-career plateau. However, it is also clear that Leap of Faith is a strategically important show. Even though the Leap of Faith public pamphlet (the one that upset me at The Matterhorn) is politically over-engineered, the current curatorial programme at the Govett-Brewster is one of the most important in NZ at this time.

I think I have been away too long. Either that or back in NZ for too long. Or like Charles Bukowski, I think I just need a good shit.

Terrence Handscomb
Winter 1999



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room