The idea of a ‘night at the museum’, gallery or anywhere that you aren’t supposed to be at night has always intrigued me. The Auckland Art Festival’s White Night is the perfect event because museums and galleries are open until midnight, with special exhibitions and performances spread out around the city.
Although I prefer the idea of visiting these places at night without anyone knowing (rebel), the programmed events met and exceeded my expectations. A common thread amongst each venue was that act of visiting these spaces at night, regardless of the event, garnered a special kind of nostalgic experience that was shared by those that were there.
Starting White night on a high was senior artist Alex Monteith at Gow Langsford in Lorne Street. The exhibition Temporary Mechanisms featured her moving image work and also brought a Toyota Hilux into the gallery space. The video work was funnily enough complimented by the ‘doof doof’ techno music from the nightclub next door. Although this may not have been intended as part of the work, the pumping sound and group of clubbers outside the gallery made the event anything but a ‘quiet’ exhibition.
At the Auckland Art Gallery, NZ Trio performed a composition by David Downes to the animated film Kingdom. The live musical performance showcased the musically talented trio and their impeccable timing to correlate sound with the events of the film projected behind them. I enjoyed the performance, however the film removed for me any child hood recollection of classical music with animation (recalling the film Fantasia here).
Outside of the gallery was an installation by Paul Van’t Hof Got Milk, previously shown at Art in the Dark 2012. Layering a collection of milk bottles to create a single square structure, a wall of LED lights inbuilt into the bottles can be activated by the viewer’s mobile device. The participatory work allowed the viewer to create and control the aesthetic outcome of the work. Standing alongside other viewers, also on their mobile devices, together we created different artworks all in one night.
As a former ‘Elam kid’, it was interesting to see the artwork of students and recent graduates of Elam School of Fine Arts at the Central City Library. Mixing it up through different responses to the library context, Club Night by Emil Dryburgh, Alex Laurie and Liam Pram deconstruct the library as a space for quiet reading and study by bringing a mini-golf course into the front of the library.
Stripping the floor of its carpet to reveal the bare concrete surface, the removed carpet was used to upholster the putting ramp. Providing golf clubs and balls, it immediately drew audiences in to interact, play and compete. It was interesting to watch people play, celebrate successful putts and then have their friend to remind them it’s a library. “Sssssssh”.
My favourite of the night was Pukepuke ‘o Tonga, a performance choreographed by Pacific Dance Artist in Residence Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila at Gus Fisher Gallery. Pukepuke ‘o Tonga tells a story of traditional village life through historic Tongan dance forms: Otuhaka, Faha’iula and Me’etupaki.
It was during these performances that confirmed for me that Walter Benjamin is right. Film kills performance. A reproduction of this particular performance, through a photograph or video, would not reflect the aura of what was experienced that night.
I definitely felt mafana (warm hearted) watching the performances and at times felt torn between cheering and giving a faka’pale to the performers. Although this is done culturally, I realised that in this instance it would intrude into the performance and perhaps lead other members to give money to the performers. Therefore changing the purpose of the performance. Exporting these dance forms outside of a cultural context and performing them within Gus Fisher, Sesilia renews the relevance of the historical Tongan dance within a contemporary context.
Crossing the threshold into the second part of the performance, we entered the studio into quite an intimate setting. The larger part of the group were seated on the ground, singing with their backs facing us. Taking a seat directly behind them suggested that we were part of the performance.
As a Tongan with inside knowledge, I felt torn between cheering and giving a faka’pale (gifting money) to the performers. Although this is done culturally, I realised that in this instance it would intrude into the performance and perhaps lead other members to faka’pale the performers. Therefore changing the purpose of the performance entirely.
The tension Sesilia creates for a contemporary art audience is quite tricky. Time collapses in this space and we are forced to contemplate how to continue and preserve cultural traditions, and engage with closed knowledge systems. Sesilia’s approach paves a new way for traditions to be lead and examined from within the audience.