Wellywood Sign

So, Wgtn Airport is gonna erect a sign right by the airport. WELLYWOOD, it will say.

I am suggesting that it would be a great idea if they put an oversized exclamation mark on the end.

Or if they used comic sans!

How would you modify the sign to make it better?

Overseas readers/potential tourists – do you have an opinion about whether this sign makes Wellington look awesome or foolish?

Make your own Wellington sign here:

Review: Jitterati collection (2009)

Jitterati is Grant Buist’s strip comic of life in a cultured, coffee-drenched festival-heavy Wellington. It runs every week in the free local paper the Capital Times, and in Grant’s own words it tends to go like this.
I have a lot of love for Jitterati, no doubt because I am a coffee-drenched festival-going Wellingtonian with pretensions to culture. It speaks my language and talks about what is going on around me, and that’s cool. More than that, it’s important; we need media content that reflects our local environment or something in the feedback loop between person and community starts to break and you end up with the weirdness of everyone using packaged American culture as their reference point (as everyone who remembers the 80s and 90s will no doubt attest).
(Since this is a review, it’s also worth pointing out that I have known Grant for years, although for most of those years our relationship has been stable at the “say hello to each other on the street” level. And I’ll send him a link to this review. Hi Grant!)
I picked up a copy of the collected edition at Zinefest last year (along with a few other treats that I really should blog about too). It covers the complete run of Jitterati from its launch in 2001 through to 2009, reprinting about 75% of the strips (complete with marginal notes to explain the many, many topical references), as well as several short text pieces talking about stories from behind-the-scenes.
It’s a handsome A4 collection with four strips to a page, black-and-white interiors (with lovely print quality that makes full use of grayscale), and a card cover with colour spot illo. The title of the book was apparently stained on with coffee, which is a nice touch. Nicer still is the CD in the back, which contains the full run of the strips in colour, and two short films.
The Zinefest edition also came with some free Havana Coffeeworks coffee, which I finished off the other day. Lovely.
Grant’s art is extremely polished, as you’d expect after a decade-and-half of solid cartooning. He’s become extremely comfortable with the four-panel format, making good use of the limited space in every panel and getting lots of physicality and geography out of a strip that is basically three characters sitting around a table. Around the middle of the decade the strip acquires the photographed backgrounds that are now its trademark, and the mix of photographed background and illustrated foreground works beautifully to give the strip a nice sense of place. (It reminds me a bit of Herge’s Tintin, which used stylized clear-line character drawings set against highly detailed and realistic backgrounds and made them work smoothly together.)
The collection shows an increasing comfort with the four-panel gag strip format, too, with a good mix of gentle fun and outright cynicism. Lots of jokes about local politics and the theatre and arts scene, and now and then some variations from the standard patterns to mix things up.
I really enjoyed reading through this collection – as a tour of Wellington’s noughties culture, it carries a surprising amount of heft and is very enjoyable read as a bundle. The best part of this for me was reading over the years when I was in Edinburgh, and getting a nice cafe-level view of what was exercising Wellington at the time. (The controversy over the braying portaloo had somehow passed me by!)
So – I recommend it, unreservedly, to Wellingtonians. Inner-city latte-sipping theatregoers should get hold of copies and sit them on their coffee tables. Every cafe in town should purchase a copy to keep with their reading material. This strip is a mix of pop-art and journalism and it’s funny and it’s ours, and I give it a hearty thumbs up.
If you want to get one – well, they’re out of print at the moment but Grant informs me he’s doing another run in time for Armageddon Pop Culture Expo at the start of April. You can reach him through his blog and ask him to write your name on a list or something.
(Aside for any non-Wgtners who’ve come this far – does your town/city have a comic strip about what’s going on there? I’m curious…)

New Necklace

Beware my giant gnashers!
This is my necklace. If you’ve seen me about recently you might have noticed it hanging all sparkly-like around my neck. Cal commissioned it for our first wedding anniversary – she sees it as the boy version of her engagement ring. It’s lovely and sturdy and I’m very proud of it.
The necklace was made by Chris Cole of Chris Cole Jewellery, who also made our wedding rings. CCJ is a great little new business in Wellington – I love Chris’s work (and his attempts to popularise a brooch for men, the bro-ooch).
If you’re in Welly next weekend, you probably already have the Saturday 27th Mt Victoria Inner City Festival on your calendar – when you’re there, keep an eye out for Chris and Anne of CCJ. They’ll be right at the centre of things, on Roxburgh St, just up behind the Embassy theatre.
Thanks Chris for the amazing craftsmanship!
Thanks Cal for the amazing gift!

Gallery Dots

Yesterday, I cashed in some of my time-in-lieu and left work early to spend the rest of the day wandering in the sunshine. I was in an unusual head-space, mentally and physically restless while seeing the familiar Wellington scenery with fresh eyes. I was approached by a couple of young mormon missionaries and had a pleasant chat with them, then decided to go and see the dots.
“The dots” is what Wellington has come to call the City Gallery’s exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years. Kusama’s immersive and engaging work has proved a huge success, drawing big crowds, and the City Gallery building itself has been covered with dots in honour of Kusama’s iconography.
I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. There were some lovely mirrored spaces that provided a fully immersive environment, and the two “Dots Obsession” rooms containing gigantic 3D shapes were imaginative and powerful.
However, I found that it was the smaller, less dramatic works that had a bigger effect on me, if you can call these giant canvases small. Here’s one that takes up an entire wall: Stars Obsession A, B, C (This may not be the specific painting on display in Wellington, but it’s part of this series at least.) This image revealed new aspects of itself as I stood in different relation to it, and I particularly loved how my initial impression of simplicity when close by (forced by the gallery, which put another object close creating only a narrow walking channel) was completely unseated when I viewed it again from further off and saw how subtle colour gradations gave an incredible texture and depth to the image.

I’m curious about whether the curators at City Gallery did that deliberately, placing another object to force that contrast of perceptions from up close (on one side) and far away (on the other). The exhibition has not been supervised by Kusama, who has not come to New Zealand with her work. Curators have been given significant freedom in arranging and presenting the work. In the initial flurry of interest in the show, this was a frequent negative talking point in the Wellington media, but it has disappeared completely since the show’s success became obvious. For my part, there’s only one curatorial decision that seems wrong to me, and that’s the juxtaposition of the “clouds” works (here they are in Sydney) with these large black-and-white canvases full of obsessively repeated motifs. I didn’t think these works had much to do with each other, and the fact that they’re both monochrome overwhelmed any other aspects of either set. (Of course, this might have been a space issue – this is a big show, and compromises will have been needed somewhere.)
My favourite piece was one of the simplest, and also one where curatorial input mattered a great deal. Kusama’s Narcissus Garden consists of a large number of football-sized mirrored spheres. In the City Gallery, they have put this piece in the space directly across from the entrance hall, a big wooden floor with windows at the end. The spheres are arranged right up against the walls, up to six balls deep, as if they have rippled out there from the centre. The more I stayed in this space (which, given its unassuming character and proximity to the coat-check, took me a while to properly appreciate) the more it had an effect on me. The mirrored spheres crowding against the walls seemed to be retreating from me, trying to push themselves as far from me as possible, like magnets repelling each other. My reflection in every sphere thoroughly implicated me in this. There was an undeniable emotional level to the experience too, as though I was responsible for an unsettling disequilibrium. The piece resolved itself into something quite emotionally aggressive, not remotely pleasant, but something that seized me and forced me to consider how to move on from it. (That last is always a sign that an artwork has grabbed me.)
So, I really loved that piece, and it was easily the highlight of the show for me. But here’s the thing – my experience, I’m certain, is nothing like what was intended by the artist. Narcissus Garden was launched in an infamous art-prank in 1966, when Kusama turned up at the Venice Biennale with the full piece and proceeded to hawk off the spheres for a couple bucks a pop. A photo of that incident shows the spheres all sat together on a small grassed plot. When they install this piece, curators have to make their own decisions about what to do with the mass of silver balls. A google image search shows the variety of solutions that different galleries have adopted. The City Gallery decision to push them to the edges of a large space is quite unlike the choices made elsewhere.
So where does that leave my experience of the piece? I am fascinated, to be honest, by the fact that my interaction with it wouldn’t have happened at any other Kusama show in the world. What this does is highlight for me just how much engaging with artwork is a fundamentally creative act. To me, and this will surprise no-one who knows the patterns lodged in my thinking, art is about interaction. Artworks are an opportunity for us to create personal responses through our experience, and the back-and-forth between these two is where everything of value and meaning happens.
Or, put another way, art is a game we play.
The show finishes on Sunday. If you’re in Wellington, it’s worth the effort to go see the dots.

Rolley Derby in Wgtn

Just a quickie, since I’m late for school: on weekend went to the local roller derby for the first time, an event called Skate Highway One. The local Richter City women took on the Pirate City crew from Auckland. City-vs-city rivalry at its peak!
It was hella fun. Seeing the local team skate out to a thunderous welcome from the home crowd – yeah, it felt good. And the skating was intense and furious and competitive. Wicked fun, even though Auckland smashed Wellington – the Aucklanders were consistently bigger, stronger, smarter and more skilled than Richter City, and it showed. The locals showed a lot of heart by continuing to skate their guts out right to the end, though, and the crowd loved them for it.
I’m definitely going back.
The photo shows one of the winning banners. Heaps more photos of the bout here.

Marie Antoinette on Nightline

Edit: we’re on tonight!

Yesterday the afternoon was spent in the Hippopotamus restaurant, filming a segment for TV3’s Nightline late edition news show. Nightline does like its quirky culture bits to round off the evening, and we’re lined up for Monday’s show tonight’s show!
We had five costumed performers enjoying High Tea, improvising like mad and gesticulating for the cameras. Eric (of the “how to behave” video) was interviewed, then a couple of the performers (one in-character, one out). The whole experience was good fun, and low-stress once it got rolling. Reporter Tova and cameraman Dan made smart decisions fast and pulled good signal out of a lot of noise; it was obvious they were both building the piece up from nothing in their heads as they went. Nice to watch.
And the Hippopotamus was amazing – very accommodating and helpful. Their high tea is wonderful! I mean to go back and check out the evening menu some time, executive chef Laurent Loudeauc spent a while watching what was happening and he seemed to be a nice gent, and the food definitely sounds amazing.
So, nice work everyone! There’ll be more photos up on the Flickr photostream soon, I hope. And we should be on Nightline on Monday!
Homepage: Affair of the Diamond Necklace

Directing as editing

So I’ve been directing the rehearsals for the Affair of the Diamond Necklace remount (December 12! One Show Only!) and have found it an interesting and challenging experience.
I don’t have much experience with directing of any sort. Back in high school for the odd short bit, but since then – nothing. Steep learning curve! What it reminds me of most, actually, is editing. Editing is the part of writing that you don’t hear much about – the bit where you kick your opus hard to find the weak points, then tear out all the stuff that comes loose. In a theatrical experience, though, the text isn’t really up for grabs in the same way, because everyone’s been committing their energy to learning it and big changes are unfeasible. We’ve messed around with some dialogue, but mostly it’s the way we use it that has changed.
I’ve been blessed with very skilled performers who can bring a lot of smarts to the script and can talk about what works, what doesn’t and what might be worth a try. The atmosphere is collegial and supportive and that makes it easier for me to push some angles hard, send some performances in a different direction, and so on.
The December remount is a straight-up better show than the August performance. We’ve tightened and sharpened and honed this beast and it plays like a dream. Love it.
I’m not a Real Director. Naw, I know some Real Directors, and they have chops embracing the whole field of endeavour. But, in my small way, I feel like I’m doing something good at the head of this team. I know for sure we’ve made something good into something great – and isn’t that the trick of it?

Have you seen the second YouTube video Steve Leon did for the show? It’s Eric Dorfman, main man for the show, telling you the three things you need to know to thrive in the Court of Versailles. More cool footage of costumes and action from August! Check it out:

And don’t forget the first beautiful trailer.
Right. Off to the French Embassy…