And that was… January 2019

Well, January flew by, right? We thought that since life is so hectic, and the worlds of urban art are often so fleeting and ephemeral, it would be helpful to recap each month with a kind of top five list, you know, like in the Nick Hornby book High Fidelity (or the John Cusack movie adaptation, where Jack Black steals the show, take your pick), or a truncated Letterman Top Ten. We will list five things that we loved during the previous month – from new works, big or small, to events and exhibitions, or even just general talking points. And of course, we would love to hear what you think, so jump in and comment, or send us a suggestion for our upcoming lists…

So, without further delay, here, in no particular order, is the inaugural ‘And that was…’ list for January 2019 (drum roll please…):

  1. Face Value @ Fiksate Gallery

Face Value Promotional Poster

The team at Fiksate followed up the Jacob Yikes exhibition, Bad Company,  with another impressive showing – the second incarnation of the Face Value: an exploration of portraiture, figuration, faces and characters through the lens of urban art. The show featured a range of talent, from emerging and established locals, to big names from wider Aotearoa and further abroad, such as Anthony Lister, Elliot O’Donnell (AskewOne) and Tom Gerrard (Aeon). Highlights included O’Donnell’s monochromatic apparition Chloe (Beta), the collective strength found in the juxtaposition of local artist Meep (Kophie Hulsbosch)’s bold self-portrait and the works of Auckland’s Erica Pearce, the elegant chaos of Lister’s Ballet Dancer, and Koe One’s typography-laced black and white portrait of urban youth.

  1. The Giant Cans get a makeover…
The Giant Cans got a make-over with new work by (L-R) Wongi 'Freak' Wilson, Fluro (Holly Ross) and Ikarus.
The Giant Cans got a make-over with new work by (L-R) Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson, Fluro (Holly Ross) and Ikarus.

While five cans remain a constant open platform, the three cans that stand aside are designated as semi-permanent. Initially painted by Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson, Ikarus and Jacob Yikes, in mid-January, the three metal sentinels were re-painted by Ikarus, Wongi and Fluro (Holly Ross), giving them some fresh evening wear for 2019. With Ikarus’ slick letterforms, Fluro’s elegant typography, and Wilson’s photorealism (with some nostalgic cartoon fun thrown in as well), the cans represent a variety of approaches and styles.

  1. Macadam Monkey chills in North Beach
Macadam Monkey's North Beach and Chill wall, Marine Parade, North Beach.
Macadam Monkey’s North Beach and Chill wall, Marine Parade, North Beach.

French artist Macadam Monkey spent several weeks in the city in late December and January, and he made the most of his time here. Hitting a few spots with his almost Art Deco-styled, elegant females as well as more traditional lettering, our favourite was probably his appropriately titled ‘North Beach and Chill’ wall beachside in North New Brighton. The refined (and recurring) colour palette of black \, grey, yellow and white added to the chilled vibe and the work itself seems to have the potential to be something of a small-scale landmark for the area (although time will tell of course…).

  1. Juse1, VRod and Torch in New Brighton
Juse1's B-Boy chilling in New Brighton.
Juse1’s B-Boy chilling in New Brighton.

It was something of a meeting of generations and locations when Wellington legend Juse1 visited Christchurch. He spent time painting with local writers VRod (who hails from Auckland but is based in Christchurch) and Torch, and while the Hereford Street spot was a blink and you’ll miss it deal (in fact there have been a number of pieces there that could have made this list, shout out to Tepid, Lurq, Ikarus, Dove and more), their sprawling production in New Brighton has shown more legs. The pieces add to a vibrant setting, and Juse’s iconic B-Boy character adds a perfect nod to hip hop culture, as if it is straight off a New York subway train circa 1982, albeit still fresh to death…

  1. Jonny Waters, Dizney Dreamz @ Anchorage
Jonathan Waters, Goofy, from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2018

Dunedin-based artist Jonny Waters goes by a few names, but one thing is always consistent: his playful, twisted aesthetic, which was on full display in Dizney Dreamz at The Anchorage on Walker Street. Presented by Kin Art, the show featured a new series of Waters’ cut-out characters, this time iconic (and several overlooked) players from the world of Disney cartoons (his previous works have taken on Looney Tunes, Rugrats, Sonic the Hedgehog and The Simpsons). While the silhouettes are familiar and intend to invoke a feeling of nostalgia, the details take the viewer on an unexpected trip; eyes where they shouldn’t be, limbs and heads protruding from fresh wounds. All these features are accompanied by a fine technical detail, with layered sections, perfectly imperfect lines and a use of various media.

Jonny Waters – Dizney Dreamz

 

When I sat down with Dunedin-based artist Jonny Waters the morning before his new show Dizney Dreamz opened at The Anchorage, it was the first time we had met in person. Yet, even outside of the collection of social media messages and e-mails we had exchanged in both arranging an interview and as part of other exhibitions Jonny had been a part of, such as CAP’D at Fiksate in 2017, I had been encountering Jonny’s work for such a long time, I kind of felt like I knew him already.

From Christchurch to Wellington and more recently Dunedin, in addition to the digital realm, his stickers, fridge magnet installations, paste-ups and more recently graffiti and character paintings, as well as his studio works, have always been distinctive and memorable, showing an exploratory, inquisitive and playful nature (a fact exacerbated by the various monikers he has employed). This sprawling body of work is reflective of his own journeys, and, for me at least, has provided touchstones of different time periods (like a Christchurch chalkboard message from 2010 that was recontextualised, and protected, by hurricane fencing in the wake of the earthquakes, indeed it is still there today) and places (I still remember literally stumbling upon a small sticker in the fringe of the Wellington CDB a few years back and immediately making a connection between similar versions I had photographed back in Christchurch).

We caught up with Jonny on his return to Christchurch (where he lived and studied for several years) for his new show, which features a new batch of quirky cut-out characters, playful riffs on his love of nineties cartoons, their recognisable silhouettes framing transformations that rip apart nostalgic expectations. We spoke about these works and their relationship with his previous work, his experiences in different cities, and mixing his roles as both an educator and an urban artist.

Jonny, your show Dizney Dreamz opens tonight (January 25th) at The Anchorage…

Correct.

You are currently based in Dunedin, how did an exhibition in Christchurch come together?

It’s been in the pipeline for probably four or five months. I was looking for a space in Christchurch, where I wanted to have a show. I’ve had lots of shows in Dunedin, but I really wanted to push for a show in Christchurch because it’s close to home. I grew up in Ashburton and left when I finished high school to study here for three years, and those three years were super fun and I learnt a hell of a lot and made some amazing connections and friends. So, I wanted to come back here and have a show to, I think, spread my wings a little bit, but also to get back to my roots a little bit more, you know? To be back on the old Canterbury soil…

You are working with Kin Art for this show, how did you make that connection?

Yeah, I’m working with Justin from Kin Art. I’m pretty sure Justin hit me up on Instagram, and he said: ‘Hey, I’m actually in Dunedin in a couple of days, do you want to meet for a coffee?’ So, we met, had a yarn and then he came to the studio, and checked out the works. At that stage, Mickey and Minnie (two of the works in Dizney Dreamz) were half or three quarters done, and he really liked the look of those. I showed him the other cut-outs. Obviously, they were unpainted, but he was really keen to talk about having a show. Then a few months later I came up to The Anchorage, checked out the space and the size was perfect.

It is an interesting space. It is a café, but it offers a decent environment to show work, it’s not like those cafés where there is not really any suitable or even defined space for work…

It’s got a clean aesthetic. It’s functional for people to walk around without being in the way of anyone else. It works really nicely as an exhibition space and a café space. It has nice walls as well. I like that it’s got different sections, so you can show this work over here, that work over there on that wall, and kind of split things up a little bit…

I want to come back and talk about Dizney Dreamz in more detail, but I’m also interested to talk about your background. You mentioned that you grew up in Ashburton and came to Christchurch and studied at CPIT, or what now is ARA, but since then you have lived in a few different places, and I have to admit I have stumbled across your work, under various identities, in a number of cities. Has art, and in particular, urban art, always been a way for you to get to know a new environment?

I think so, definitely. A lot of people may not agree with this or may have a different opinion, but it is actually a lot easier to meet other writers or street artists and link up with them and become part of their community and their environment than it is to try and connect with people in the art world, generally speaking. I don’t know whether that’s the traditional elitism or that feeling of exclusivity, but I have definitely found that. A lot of people have this weird stereotype of: ‘Oh, big bad graf guys, isn’t it scary to reach out to them?’ But ninety-five percent of the graffiti and street art people that I have met have all been the most lovely and nice natured people, so that’s been a really good foundation to discuss art and graf and to find spots to paint. But a lot of the time, the people that I’ve met through graffiti in the different cities that I’ve lived in have been in touch with the art world as well, not the fine art, high art world, but the low brow, funky, weird, illustrative, urban contemporary thing… It all depends. The artists that create urban work in every city shape the feeling and vibe of the environment. A classic example is the BMD guys when they were going full gas in Wellington. They created an environment that felt more friendly, creative, playful and relaxed.

Just a Kid with a Vision, fridge magnet installation, Poplar Lane, Christchurch, 2010
Just a Kid with a Vision, fridge magnet installation, Poplar Lane, Christchurch, 2010

You are now based in Dunedin, you have lived here in Christchurch, briefly in Sydney, and in Wellington, does that ring true for all of those places? How does each city compare in terms of their own distinct vibes and scenes? Obviously, this can depend on timing and who you connect with, but how have you found different cities?

I think each city has a really different flavour, but I think that depends on who you hang around with as well; the people that influence your view about where you are going, whether you push it one way or go in another direction. Unfortunately, I haven’t painted here that many times. I’ve painted a few times with Gerald and Hurls, just my regular mates in the crew, but my graffiti and street art foundations are here through mostly stickers and random wall installations. There are also more guys in Christchurch who are just into bombing, which is awesome, I respect that one hundred percent, but I just can’t afford to live that type of graffiti lifestyle. It’s always been a more fun outlet for me, the legality of it comes secondary. But Dunedin is so chill. It’s like, we’ll go for a paint, we’ll buy a box of beers, it’s more about hanging out, it just so happens that we’re painting as well. In Dunedin we have also got so many spots that you can do that, it’s like a grey area. Yes, it’s illegal, but the cops aren’t going to arrest you, they are kind of safe spots in a way. I don’t think they mind because it keeps it somewhat ‘contained’. Wellington is similar as well. There are a lot of spots you can go paint and not worry about people stressing out. I’ve painted a lot up in the gun emplacement barracks up near Brooklyn, and people are always up there walking their dogs or having a few beers at a picnic, and they are cool, they are interested in what you are painting, they are not like: ‘What are you doing?’ I prefer a chill vibe and would rather not get paranoid about shit.

Does that also allow you to be a bit more adventurous in what you do?

What I enjoy doing is mixing it up and being deliberately quirky. If every tag I have done is slightly different in some way I think there’s something funny about that and creates a style in itself. Same thing with pieces. I literally paint how I’m feeling on that given day. I might have painted something I have actually sketched out beforehand maybe 2 or 3 times max? It’s fun to say: “Well what could I have a crack at today to mix it up”. Sometimes it looks good, sometimes it looks shit! (Laughs)

Did your experience within educational institutions impact your feeling of a city as well? Because you also studied in Wellington, right?

I did, I was at Teacher’s College in Wellington at Victoria University.

And here in Christchurch you were studying visual arts?

I did a Design degree. At ARA you’ve got three streams, and I think it is still the case: Multimedia, Visual Communications and Visual Arts. I did Visual Communications, so basically a Graphic Design degree…

Was that environment important for you, not so much from an educational perspective, but a social one? Did you find yourself surrounded by a certain crowd, or in a certain creative community, that changed the way you think about art?

Changed the way I thought, or fostered it?

Either. Was it there that you started to think about the streets as a site in which to work, or was that already happening?

It was interesting, because I grew up in Ashburton, where you are not surrounded by any urban art whatsoever. The only time I ever got to see any urban art was on the internet or when I came up to Christchurch as a kid, and that cemented quite a strong idea of what I thought about Christchurch’s identity. I loved it, and I’d try to talk to my dad about it, and he’d be like: ‘That’s just bullshit!’ So, I was like, ‘Oh, cool, so it’s bad as well! It’s rebellious!’ Aside from that, it had a real impact on me and that’s why I started doing stuff outside of my normal artwork under different names. But the guys who I went to ARA with, they had a bit of an influence as well. We all started going out doing stickers and stuff like that, but we each had our own interests. In the classroom or studio, we all developed our own niche and our own approach. I guess we figured out the ways we each operated best and what mediums we preferred and that sort of thing, and that was completely supported by our tutors. I specialised in things like 3D studies, design things but pushing them into an art world. I also liked illustration, and I really enjoyed life drawing. I was putting an artistic twist on graphic design, whereas other guys were getting way more into typography, web design and stuff like that. I was always swaying towards art…

Did that reflect a desire to be using your hand, rather than technology?

I hated the computer. I got sick of it. I just wanted to draw all the time, so I was like, I will just scan it in and chip away at these works, I’ll literally just use Live Paint, Illustrator, whatever, and be like: ‘Cool, that looks awesome!’ I did this final year project, Monster Mash, a big alphabet poster, all the letters were really weird and quirky and humorous, a little bit distasteful, not P.C. It was purely illustration, the only graphic design that was involved was how they were laid out and the type face chosen for different titles and stuff. That is sort of where I headed in the end, and I wouldn’t change anything about that. Honestly, some graphic design I find tedious. I don’t like computers so much… Did I mention I don’t like computers so much?

That ‘Do-It-Yourself’ quality has long been a part of urban art culture; did you make that connection?

Definitely, I think it has always been pretty obvious. The crossover, the look of the different characters that I draw, is really obvious. I didn’t think so back then, but it is. I mean there is always going to be a crossover, and some artists do it really well, they have a really natural crossover in their aesthetic for the urban stuff they do and the art practice work, but for me I think it is unavoidable. (Laughs)

It is also interesting that you started with more of a post-graffiti, character-heavy style, and then moved into letterforms later…

Yeah everything at the start was character-based.

Alphabet (detail), digital print, 2017
Alphabet, digital print, 2017

Often your lettering has embraced characters not just as accompaniments, but as part of the letterforms themselves…

I’ve always loved that, creating, making characters out of type. That Monster Mash poster, that sort of thing. It’s almost like problem solving: how am I going to create this letter that is still a letter but is also really funky and cool, weird and quirky, you know?

That is at the heart of graffiti, right? How do I take a letter and recreate it where legibility is no longer the primary goal?

I guess I’m not necessarily taking the traditional approach, but yeah. I’ve had a lot of traditional dudes, who follow that path, say to me: ‘That’s really cool, you’ve got your own twist on it.’ Then, I’ve got other people who would be like: ‘What the fuck are you up to? You’re like dissing the culture of graffiti!’ I think these days there so many people doing amazing weird shit that you have to be open to change.

Mural on the 'LegenDairy', Dunedin, 2016
Mural on the ‘LegenDairy’, Dunedin, 2016

But people have been pushing letterforms so far for a while now, so you aren’t alone. There are the likes Augustine Kofie and Remi Rough, who have taken their work towards the abstract, but it’s developed from letters…

Exactly, it’s the same with what Askew is doing, a lot of his abstract patterns all developed from letters…

As a teacher, how do you balance celebrating the rebelliousness that was a vital recognition when you first discovered urban art with the responsibility of teaching?

The two worlds? That façade? You’ve got to be a careful with what you say, how you frame things…

I’d love to be able to say to every kid, this is important because it is illegal, or it developed from illegal roots…

Because the artist did illegal stuff for ten years, that’s why this is important! (Laughs)

So, how do you approach that with students, or in the workshops you run?

When I was at Kings High School (in Dunedin), for three years I ran a street art camp. All year ten students had to choose a camp each year, there was no art camp, nothing cultured, it was all sporting or academic, science camp and stuff like that. So, I was like, stuff that, I’m going to create an art camp! Every year we came up here to Christchurch, we did a graffiti workshop with Ikarus, and then we always had a look around at the street art. That was when all the big walls were still up, you had Lister, Owen Dippie, all these amazing walls to check out. We would do a trip out to New Brighton as well. The boys really loved that trip, it was great. It was letting them in and showing them who you are, but only so much, you know? It wasn’t like I was taking them out and showing them how to do a tag, it was framed in a street art context. It just so happened that I chose graffiti to be framed within that…

But that’s the challenge now, right? Urban art is so complex now. There are so many approaches…

It’s such a melting pot…

But those rebellious roots need to be acknowledged…

Sure, especially with the way the street art movement is sort of being defined as ‘more important’ now…

It’s easy to take kids to see amazing big murals, and the artists are amazing, but it’s important for kids to not think that that is what street art is exclusively…

Exactly, and that is what I tried to ensure, actually doing a graffiti workshop and learning about letterforms, about painting a piece, not a character, not a ‘street art’ painting, they were actually learning about a graffiti piece. Shout out to Ikarus for all those workshops as well, because he was amazing with all the kids. Even in the classroom, the kids know that you are in that world, that you are part of that world, but they don’t know much more than that. I was always really careful about any specifics, and generally I was pretty quiet. I wouldn’t say like: ‘Oh, I painted this sick piece in the weekend, you should go and check it out’, you know? I was very much, this is me as an artist, this is the work I do as an artist, and I sort of left that stuff out of the spotlight when it came to anything professional or school related…

I guess the most important thing to do would be to let them make their own decision around the socio-political motivations for making art that isn’t permissioned. If a young person is able to decide that they believe in something enough to do it in a certain way, that’s empowering for them.

Exactly, and the thing is, if a student was getting into graffiti, I would never deter that. I would actually support it, and probably, if I trusted them enough, and they trusted me, I would give them some advice, a heads up, and you know look out for them a little bit. But there is a very, very, fine line. You’ve got to stay professional.

Just because of urban art’s longevity, we are now seeing more and more people in ‘upstanding’ positions who have grown up writing graffiti, or making street art, and not just as artists, but in other realms as well.

There are lots of people moving within these different worlds, like Berst is in education as well.

And it isn’t just that direct crossover, but there are more people who recognise graffiti and street art’s validity and importance as visual cultures.

As forms of expression…

Coming back to Dizney Dreamz, we’ve touched on that illustrative and character-based approach, which is very evident in these works; these sort of grotesque, surreal, re-imagined cut-out Disney characters. A lot of the influences and ideas we have been talking about come out in these works, there is a trace of your work over time in these works…

I think so, but in a cohesive way. Obviously, it helps that they are all Disney characters, but they have all got a similar aesthetic in the way they function as pieces as well. There are different linkages, the pieces flow with each other, I think that there are certainly a lot of those influences coming together, but it’s also about how they interact with each other in this specific show. There’s a little bit more thinking involved. When I’m doing all the sketches for these pieces, figuring out how I want to design them, there’s always so many different options or varieties with how things can go. There will always be one piece where I’m not happy with that, or that’s not right…

Goofy, from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2018
Goofy, from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2018

That relationship between each other is even more important when the added context and information of the street is removed as well. There is more emphasis on how they work as distinct objects of display.

Exactly.

Rather than each character being framed within a block or a canvas, they have an autonomy or sense of independence through the cut-out shape, and that allows that flow through each one to another with those whips and angles and lines. The eye is led around each piece and on to the others as well…

They are just really interesting to view. That space they create, negative or positive, is really interesting. I’ve always wanted to choose characters like Mickey and all his mates, because they are really interesting silhouettes. They are so recognisable, so I’m able to communicate almost instantly. Most people are aware of Mickey and these Disney characters, so you’ve got that initial connection sorted, and from there you can go further and get closer and get a feel for what the work is about…

Yet, because the silhouettes are so recognisable, you are then surprised and intrigued because that recognition is blown apart by the detail…

Exactly, it might annoy some people because it ruins their image of Mickey Mouse, or whatever character, but the whole idea is about nostalgia. The early nineties or mid-nineties, for me, was super cartoon-based, it’s got a real strong place in our subconscious and I think that’s what nostalgia does, it’s like a collection of dreams, and hence Dizney Dreamz. I think the work in this show is trying to change the way we feel about our own nostalgia. So, if anyone sees a silhouette of Mickey Mouse, they know straight away its Mickey Mouse. Then, whether you like it or not, you get a feeling like: ‘Oh when did I last see Mickey Mouse?’ It’s all tracing back, but it’s recreating an experience when you see these works, it’s like reinterpreting nostalgia. I’ve had this fascination for a little while and it started with a show at Kiki Beware in Dunedin, it was really off the cuff, and I wanted to do some paintings on cut-outs. I don’t even know why I thought of it, but these silhouettes were so cool. That show was smaller, there was Bugs Bunny, a smaller version of Mickey, Sonic the Hedgehog, Speedy Cerviche from Samurai Pizza Cats, Chucky from Rugrats. They were awesome, and a lot of the feedback I got was that these were something new, that people had never seen shit like that before. So, I was kind of inspired after that, I guess. Then I eventually got to planning my first solo gallery show, Tooney Lunes, taking Looney Tunes characters, fifteen of them, and turning them into warped, fucked up characters. It sold really well, it had big numbers going through, and I was feeling pretty positive and good about it. Then this show follows on, and the whole crux of the idea about it is trying to manipulate your feelings of nostalgia towards characters or things that you may be attached to…

Art Bimpson/Bart Simpson, from Neo Nostalgia, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2016
Art Bimpson/Bart Simpson, from Neo Nostalgia, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2016

That sense of the grotesque, which has been a feature of your work for a long time, aids that approach…

Yeah, I never thought of them as grotesque, more playful. But now that you mention it…

Yeah, there are limbs coming out of unexpected places, that then disappear into each other, there are wrinkles and bumps…

They are all smiling and everything, but it’s like, are you happy though? Are you really happy? (Laughs)

Are you attracted to that imagery because of the fun you can have in creating it? It allows you to do almost anything you want, because you aren’t seeking perfection or beauty…

I think again, it’s like a problem-solving thing, like I said with the letters; you’ve got this silhouette, you’ve got the frame work, what are you going to do to make it look interesting? It doesn’t necessarily have to look pleasing to the eye. It’s good if it does, but it doesn’t have it at all. In regard to inspiration, I’m really inspired by Kaws, I’m really into his work, and I think there’s probably some similarities in taking familiar characters and changing them, morphing them and layering them. Another huge inspiration is Rob McLeod from Wellington. He works with cut-outs as well, my work would probably be more Pop, with brighter colours, whereas his works have gotten more subdued and darker. Some of his stuff has got pretty grotesque and quite dark, so he’s a huge influence. But my favourite artists are Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francis Bacon, even if it isn’t as obvious in these works…

Sketches from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on paper, 2018
Sketches from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on paper, 2018

With someone like Basquiat, there is an urgency in the mark making, but there is also an often a violence that comes through, an unease…

Even when you’ve got those happy colours, this doesn’t feel right, you know? (Laughs) That’s how I feel when I look at Francis Bacon’s work as well, you’re a little bit unsettled…

Which is what you are trying to do through the lens of nostalgia, right? Speaking of Kaws, considering you are working with cut-out shapes, longer term, have you thought of expanding into three-dimensional sculptural pieces?

Wow, I don’t know. I’d certainly be open to the idea of things like that, but I just love painting. I love painting in two-dimensions. These works are still two-dimensional surfaces obviously, and I don’t think I will ever lose that attachment to painting, but I’m not really into the traditional canvas thing, at the moment anyway. I might go back to it, but I want to keep exploring other ways of creating paintings that are two-dimensional, but different in some way.

I suppose it comes back to the fact that you were more interested in drawing and painting even when you were studying graphic design. These cut-out works have that certainty, that sharp line work, but there is always a sense they are created by hand…

There is no mechanical quality.

Donald Duck, from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2018
Donald Duck, from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2018

Yeah, there is no mechanical production, which can become hard to replicate in that sculptural process. When you start dealing with fabrication and manufacture, that process impacts that freedom.

Exactly. But I don’t know, I probably need like a month to reflect and think about where things might go. I want to have a few more shows this year, wherever it might be, whether it is in Dunedin, or in Sydney, when I go over there for a cousin’s wedding, I might try and tee something up there. I feel like maybe the cut-outs may have done their dash, but with these ones, the whole idea was to be bigger in scale and because of that I could play around in media. There’s spray paint in there, there’s a thicker use of paint, there is a little bit more of an abstract quality to the layering. I think that’s almost pushing it as far as this sort of aesthetic can go, because the previous ones were really flat and clean, and in some ways, it looked really nice. But I really like the layering and detail that has come with these works. I don’t know how much further I could push that…

Are you more likely to develop those ideas in the studio, or on walls? How much influence do those different approaches feed into each other?

I think they are always cross-contaminating. It’s what you are confident with; I wouldn’t use spray paint in these works if I didn’t feel comfortable with that medium, because it’s high risk. You don’t want to fuck up a work when you want to have a decent show. So, it’s a confidence thing. It’s what you are safe with, which sounds bad, because people say art should take risks, but I think there is already that risk-taking in other elements. When I’d finish cutting in and doing the different layers of these works, I thought about doing some splatters and stuff like that, like a big line through it. I thought about seeing how it goes. I did a few tests of that idea a few times, and it looked cool, but it actually detracted from the design too much. It took too much away, it drew the focus away too much to the action of doing that, so I was like, nah I’ll keep it subtle…

Wile E. Coyote, from Dizney Dreamz, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2018
Wile E. Coyote, from Tooney Lunes exhibition, Dunedin, mixed media on plywood cut-out, 2017        

Are you still trying to create a character that has a sense of being able to function as a working body? The silhouette gives that suggestion, and while the details subvert any expectations, you still read them as functioning, albeit mis-formed, creatures…

Yeah, I still want them to function as a whole.

Any shout outs?

Shout outs to The Anchorage for hosting obviously, big thanks to Justin and Kin Art, thanks to Watch This Space for the interview. Big ups to Christchurch in general, I’m loving being back here and having a show!

 

Dizney Dreamz is at The Anchorage until February 23, 2019…

Follow Jonny on social media:

Instagram: @jonathanwatersart

Web: www.jonathanwaters.me

Face Value at Fiksate Studio & Gallery

After the success and popularity of Jacob Yikes’ exhibition Bad Company, Fiksate are set to launch their next show, with the return of Face Value. Initially held at Fiksate’s previous location in New Brighton in late 2017, Face Value was an exploration of portraiture through urban art, design and illustration.

The 2019 incarnation of Face Value continues this theme, but with a more specific focus on the presence of faces, figures and characters in the work of graffiti, street and urban contemporary artists. This takes the identity-centric and infographic qualities of urban art (think of the centrality of the name in graffiti, and the instant recognition sought by post-graffiti artists) as a starting point, to consider the varying ways artists utilise portraiture, self-portraiture, characters, figures and faces, at times within their work. This spans somewhat traditional approaches to portraiture, to repeated, iconic emblems that are as much about their material or performative creation as their visual appearance, akin to a tag as much as a representational image.

The stacked line-up provides an array of artists whose work engages with this realm and highlights a variety of stylistic, material and conceptual approaches, from internationally renowned Anthony Lister’s frenetically composed images that shift between high and low cultural references, to Elliot O’Donnell (you may know him as AskewOne, either way he is undeniably one of New Zealand’s most successful and thoughtful urban artists) and his portraits that consider cultural identity. There are also works by Australian artists Handbrake (Perth), Tom Gerrard (Melbourne), and Mulga (Sydney), who all bring a playful, graphic quality to their character-based work, and UK and US artists KoeOne and Voxx Romana respectively, the former elegantly combining greyscale figuration with bold typography, and the latter, subversive cultural references with a stencil precision. Auckland artists Erika Pearce and Component bring further diversity though their distinct approaches to cultural identity, while local artists, both emerging and established, ensure a vital representation of what is happening right here. Local artists include Jacob Yikes, Ikarus, Joel Hart, Porta, Dove, Tom Kerr and Meep, each representing distinct personal perspectives; from bold self-portraits, to recurring motifs and characters developed over years of extended practice.

Face Value opens on Friday, January 18th, 5:00pm – 9:30pm at Fiksate Studio & Gallery, 165 Gloucester Street.

Check out Fiksate’s social media for more information…

Facebook: Fiksate Studio & Gallery

Insta: @fiksate_gallery

Web: http://www.fiksate.com/

Future X Creep Threadz Pop-Up Shop and Launch

This Saturday Kophie Hulsbosch’s Future Apparel joins forces with Creep Threadz for a pop-up shop to launch respective new collections. Featuring the good feels of a sustainable approach to clothing and fashion, the Future X Creep Threadz pop-up will present a range of one-of-a-kind pieces you won’t find anywhere else.

Following pop-up shops at both Embassy and the Art Box, Kophie declares that she wants “to end the year with a bang” and present the development and refinement of Future‘s approach and aesthetic, alongside a selection of friends and creative forces.

Based on graffiti culture, the new Future collection is a reflection of hip hop’s central influence on Kophie’s life. Clothing also presents an alternative vessel for her own graffiti writing, one that bypasses the beef she has encountered recently on the streets, and in fact embraces community “by collaborating with local and international graffers that haven’t necessarily been in a gallery space before.” Importantly, Future‘s focus on highlighting an alternative to ‘fast fashion’ and more sustainable options that might combat our impact on the planet, is still evident, both in the use of sustainable clothing, but also in declarative illustrations such as: “The Future is Bleak”.

“Sifting through second hand shops, and even dumpsters, to find clothes that are in good enough quality and not warehouse crap” (and fit the street wear and hip hop aesthetic) and then customizing each item with a fitting alteration is a lengthy process, and imbues the pieces with a unique value. Alongside clothing, the Future collection will also include re-purposed broken skateboard decks (a large contributor to landfill and maple deforestation Kophie points out), and due to her awareness of the impact of spray paint, Kophie plans to recycle aerosol caps and cans.

Creep Threadz is a new brand  from Lyttelton artist McChesney-Kelly Adams, packed with dark imagery which, like Future‘s sustainable approach, is  printed on second-hand items. Creep Threadz also has a socially-minded approach, with a portion of proceeds being donated to a mental health foundation.

The pop-up shop will see the room divided in two, with Future‘s graffiti inspired items on one side, Creep Threadz‘s darker, quirky collection on the other.

Three other local clothing brands will also be represented: I Heart Thrifting, who re-sell second hand vintage; oscottworld, a young fashion designer from ARA, and artists residence, two creative brothers with a passion for the finest street wear.

Fitting for both the socially aware approach and the venue of the launch, such an undertaking never happens without a lot of support and Kophie is quick to shout out to “Bruce, my ARA tutor who kindly made my rings for me because I didn’t have access to a wood workshop, Callum for emotional support, Cassels and Sons for supplying some beer and Jimi for hooking up the sponsorship, and my Mum for sanding and polishing all my skate rings!”

So for “sick graffiti on the walls and for sale, local & sustainable streetwear, quirky artworks and free beers”, head along to The XCHC on Saturday for this exciting pop-up…

Future X Creep Threadz Pop-Up Shop/Launch

Saturday, December 8th, 6:30pm (Runs until December 13th)

The XCHC, 376 Wilson Road North

Cover image credit: Eliz Abeth

A Tribe Called Haz Does Hanukkah

With Christmas fast approaching, and the hectic lifestyle that comes with it, A Tribe Called Haz has decided to get a jump on it and do Hanukkah instead (Hanukkah falls between the 2nd and 10th of December this year), and that means a one night only, pop-up show at Embassy on Colombo Street in Sydenham on Friday, December 7th. Haz insists the timing is perfect, as any later and he would be “killing off some brain cells in Wanaka” post-Christmas, which, amongst other obvious respects, ruled out a Kwanzaa themed event.

Haz Does Hanukkah is a quick turnaround from his recent one-night show,  A Tribe Called Exhibition, also held at Embassy, which Haz suggests reflects his constant work rate, increased productivity and conscious use of time. The show will feature a number of smaller works, indicative of this constant output.  The same acerbic, acidic and quirky qualities remain, a constant reminder of Haz’s unique approach to image making, however, the show will also include more patterns and textures than previous work, as well as works influenced by tattoo flash and some digital works.

Alongside original paintings, there will be prints and stickers available (the stickers bigger than the last, inadvertently cute, batch!). This variety, and the melting pot of images, means you should be able to get all your Christmas presents in one go!

As he continues to undertake more and more events, commissions and opportunities, Haz is growing in confidence in getting his work out there, continuing to develop his identity and aesthetic through such support. Last Sunday Haz completed a live colab painting with Fiksate’s Jen at a Notion Touring event at Smash Palace, further signs of the flourishing opportunities for emerging and more established artists in Christchurch.

Haz Does Hanukkah is supported by the good ship Embassy and by Ghost Brewing, who are supplying the all-important beers.

Get along and get amongst!

A Tribe Called Haz Does Hanukkah

Friday, December 7th, 6:30pm – 9:30pm

Embassy, 451 Colombo Street, Sydenham

Porta: Applesauce at The Lux Gallery, CoCA

It is probably fair to say that Christchurch stencil artist Porta never expected to have an exhibition at a place like the Centre of Contemporary Art. So when he was approached by Hannah Watkinson of The Corner Store to show his work in the Lux Gallery space, he admits he was surprised. But perhaps he should not have been, after all he has had work featured in a growing number of festivals, shows and projects, from Spectrum to First Thursdays and, of course, the CAP’D exhibitions he started several years ago.

Porta admits that as is his normal approach, he didn’t really have a plan at first, and it has changed “a bunch of times” as he has got closer to show time, with ideas “falling by the wayside due to being too busy”, left for later down the track. The body of work that has come to form Applesauce is stencilled on a variety of materials, a signature the artist has developed over the years. Porta admits the ideas he works with “come from all over the place and are usually a playful take on something pretty run of the mill”, a reflection of the show’s intriguing title. Porta recounts that after a drawn-out argument, he and his verbal adversary realised that their disagreement had in fact, started with applesauce. That realisation allowed a pause, reflection, and then laughter. Much like that argument, the title Applesauce notes how the show is all about “making something from almost nothing”.

That idea extends to both the materials on which Porta’s images are made, which he collects from various sources, keeping an eye out for second hand stores, wrecking yards, garage sales and other favourite spots, and the re-contextualised, often lowbrow, images drawn from vintage movies, advertising and photography, all of which the artist admits are “fun to work with”. Importantly, that sense of fun extends throughout Porta’s work, and is a feature of Applesauce, packed with playful surprises and juxtapositions.

In his ever-humble manner, Porta is quick to thank those who have helped him put together Applesauce, including Hannah from The Corner Store, CoCA, the Fiksate crew, and vitally, Ghost Brewing for supplying the beer, and all things going well, Smokey T’s for ribs. When I ask him to explain in one sentence why everyone should get along to Applesauce on Friday, he suggests: “Because if you go somewhere else the possibility of getting free ribs will be slim as!” Ribs fan or not, get along to the Lux Gallery on Friday and support one of the city’s finest stencil artists…

Applesauce opens at 5:30pm, Friday the 16th November at the Lux Gallery at CoCA…

Berst: The Faith of Graffiti (Part Two)

In Part One of our interview with Auckland’s Berst, we discussed his approach to teaching graffiti, and in Part Two that theme continues, along with a deep dive into the way graffiti has developed over time and across the globe, including New Zealand, his advocacy for graffiti, the challenges the culture faces, gentrification and the commodity of culture, and the importance of ideas…  

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2018

In terms of Aotearoa, how distinct can we be when we are talking about the history of graffiti? Do you see distinct scenes in specific cities more so than an overall feeling, or is New Zealand small enough that it can be condensed down to an overarching scene?

Are you talking about stylistic lineage?

Yeah, but also in terms of a more social history of the culture. Like, do you think different scenes have had both distinct stylistic trends, and specific social developments? Or is the scene small enough to mean that that overlap occurs around the country, both stylistically and socially? And I’m asking this because in Christchurch, this city has that position of being younger and smaller than particularly Auckland’s graffiti culture, so when you travel and talk to people, do you see a distinction between the places that you go?

Well, I think first and foremost, in terms of a stylistic lineage, it usually goes in five-year cycles. Like every five years, there is a new crew that emerges that fuels something, that’s kind of what I’ve noticed…

A five-year cycle?

There’s a five-year cycle where crews form, and they make some sort of impact and they do something, and they are active…

Do you think that is related to a time span of maturity for a writer, age-wise? Or just a natural period of growth, influence, assimilation and repeat?

Yeah, definitely, definitely, you know most of the writers I hang out with now, they are anywhere between eighteen and thirty-five, mostly, so that’s the kind of age bracket of people who are writing. So, there are now kids that are beginning at eighteen and I’m totally disconnected from them. l don’t know what they are up to. But anyway, with stylistic lineage, I feel like we look back fifteen years, there used to be styles passed on because of who people painted with and associated with and were influenced by. One thing we talked about in the past is regional styles, and I think, particularly in Wellington, that’s probably the best case-study. A couple of crews down there, they were really influenced by hip hop, and they proactively worked together to have an integrated look and way of doing things, so their pieces were really traditional, classic New York looking stuff, whereas in Auckland we had quite a few writers where international writers came over and that kind of shaped their styles…

Like the German influence?

Yeah, that shaped the scene, definitely. I’m not too sure about the Christchurch scene and other cities, but I definitely know that for me, at that very early period of time, it was kind of just Auckland and Wellington, they were the two main places. When the internet came and remixed everything and you know it became so easy for one person to look overseas and say: ‘O.K., what’s happening in Brazil? I’m going to take a little bit of that aesthetic…’ So, definitely, styles are changing quite fast and it’s become a bit more hybridised for everybody, I don’t think you can trace the history as easily…

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2018

There’s an interesting danger there as well in some sense, right?

In terms of appropriation?

In terms of appropriation, obviously in regard to cultural sensitivity, but also when using something as a building block for your own practice or style, without any real understanding, it can become problematic in your development conceptually…

That is what happens when it’s an organic kind of art form, whereas with something like Pop Art, which was developed within, or at least formalised inside institutions, when you are in art school, they will say you do Pop Art like this. So, there’s an educational aspect of studying Pop Art in University, but then it could also maybe stifle creativity because you think that you have to make art a certain way, if that’s the aesthetic you are wanting. But with graffiti, each person is different from the next. In general, you would say most people start looking at New York graffiti first as a foundation, because you need letterform and structure, but I think nowadays people aren’t necessarily looking at those guys for inspiration. But you know, an artist said to me in one of my Real Time episodes: ‘New York, that’s the real deal in terms of style.’ Everything that is being painted now is just a replica, an interpretation of that in its various manifestations. That is still the core, that is still what we are trying to do and that’s still our bible, the blueprints of what we’re trying to create. So yeah, its an interesting one, I think partially that’s what I’ve been trying to do with some of the Auckland writers, is influence them. Going back to this idea of religion, its about practice and is also about preaching certain types of principles, and I’m not religious, but, what I’ve realised is most important is actually passing down ideas. So, you know, at the end of last year I actually brought together ten graffiti writers and I had a meeting with them about all sorts of shit, from the law, to style, to painting pieces, getting up. When I get back to Auckland I’m meeting with another ten. What I’m actually doing is developing an army…

Yeah? (Laughs)

I’m meeting another ten, and then next year I might bring together another ten. Then suddenly I have a whole new generation of thirty writers to work with. But most importantly, it’s about leaving behind some ideas, be it around style and how to construct letters, or how to do graffiti, ways of getting up, putting it into this context or making a living from it, you know? It’s mostly because the people that come to those meetings, these younger guys, they do only have that one perception of what graffiti is: ‘I tag’, or ‘I bomb’, ‘I get up and write everywhere’ and that’s their only conception of what it is. I’m just trying to open that a little bit…

Graffiti’s public perception means it largely is unable to rebut to any charges brought against it, it doesn’t often get a platform, but there is also a perception that graffiti writers aren’t necessarily thoughtful…

A perception from the community?

Yeah, that graffiti writers aren’t eloquent enough to express ideas around what they are doing, which isn’t true, I find a lot of young graffiti writers have very crystallised ideas of why they write. Talking to young people, do you find that there is that real sense of understanding, even if it is only that one perception, but there is understanding there of the complexity of graffiti that the wider public often discredits them from having? That maybe they just express them in different ways?

Well, one thing that I say quite often is that there are two things to take away from graffiti: the first is to make the statement that graffiti is not art, as we talked about before, and secondly, that graffiti often leads to other forms of crime…

The Broken Windows theory…

Yeah, the Broken Windows theory, and I’m O.K. with that, because I do partially believe that if there is a bit of graffiti somewhere, someone is likely to paint some more graffiti beside it, because it didn’t get buffed. So yes, I do believe that to a degree, but not fully, as I would also argue that graffiti can also lead to creativity. In many cases where I’ve interviewed artists for my own work, that has been the case, the journey. They haven’t taken a formal art destination route to becoming an artist, they have gone through graffiti and it has led them there. So, it proves that it is possible, right? We see graffiti and street art and all these other forms of public art, urban art, and its place in transforming a city post-whatever, there are many things occurring, not to mention the massive street art festivals, that are changing the perceptions. I definitely think that graffiti has the potential to lead people into a career as an artist, but of course it depends on each person. But, equally at the same time, I believe that there is something that works against that as well, because writers are also painting illegally, you know, balaclava over the face and painting trains, that’s also perpetuating an ideology of what graffiti is and who they are, and what they represent. So, there’s that social connotation towards graffiti and once again it is tough, because it’s an art form that’s contradicting itself in many ways, it is art but I’m going to go break the law here…

Berst, Tauranga, 2017
Berst and Haser, Tauranga, 2017

Yep, but that comes back to the question of how exclusive art and legality are, whether they are mutually exclusive…

No, of course not, of course not…

That’s the thing, they don’t define each other…

It could be art and still be illegal. But yeah, I think, once again, it comes back down to the context of what that is. My fight, my advocacy for graffiti is not necessarily to make it legal, to make it mainstream, to make people accept it or appreciate or even validate it, because I know that there are things that are working against graffiti that keep it in its pure essence of how it is manifested. In some ways part of me doesn’t want it to be accepted because when it is accepted…

It loses something…

It loses something, right. It’s kind of like in some ways street art is something that is mostly created illegally, when it first began, but equally if you were to teach street art in school, you know, you can teach someone to do an intervention in a space, you can teach them practical things, you can teach what it means working outdoors, the subject matter people use…

But teaching the motivation is a different thing…

Yeah, the context is really important, because that should then shape how people perceive it. It is actually a conversation I had with Ikarus just the other day. He was saying that there was a mural somewhere, Owen Dippie’s Elephants, and recently the Council painted out the little tags and throwies in the background which were by some really prominent graffiti artists, and they were actually part of the wall that Owen Dippie wanted, and Ikarus was saying that he was pissed off about the Council painting them out. But then, when you go into an exhibition room or a gallery and people do throw ups and tags and bubble letters, then suddenly some old man will appreciate it because it’s in that context. The reality is in their minds that it’s the context, the setting. The perception of how they see it is quite different, because in this context I see some money, some value to it. But on the street, it looks like the stuff that is illegal, even though it is legal, and it’s: ‘Oh no, I don’t like that!’

Yeah, we are conditioned to accept things in different contexts…

So, there is that thing where the community doesn’t quite understand it, or value it in art, and I think the space and context is the real big factor in that…

That context becomes important when you are talking about something that doesn’t have to change form to occupy either space, which adds confusion for a public audience, because they are looking at the same thing, right?

In a different place, it will be received differently, absolutely. But equally, I asked Ikarus and Wongi, why does it piss you off? You’ve done a throw up on a legal wall while people still do it illegally, and then you put it in the gallery and they appreciate it, like that’s kind of to be expected, because that’s what they see illegally, so its kind of like there is no point being upset about it…

Berst, From the Ground Up, Sydenham, Christchurch, 2013
Berst, From the Ground Up, Sydenham, Christchurch, 2013

You are probably most notably remembered for your presence in Christchurch for Spectrum a few years ago, although you were also here for From the Ground Up and Rise as well. How often do you get down here?

Yeah, this is my fourth time, or maybe third time, coming down here. I haven’t really had the opportunity to travel around New Zealand all that much. Most of my travel has been spent overseas. But, I’m also doing my doctorate, I’m six months away from finishing, so I’m kind of in that peak period where I probably shouldn’t even be running a workshop, and I’m also working full time, so it’s hard to travel…

That must be a hectic schedule!

It’s been a bloody juggle, to work, stay focussed, do projects, balance my relationship, you know, and also do the PhD, so not too much travelling. But again, taking this idea of religion, when the doctorate is over, I plan to do this kind of tour thing, where I am painting and preaching and starting to link up with people, not just from Christchurch, but from all over New Zealand, and just spread some ideas. I still recall, there was this writer I linked up with in Rome, his name was BRUS, dope writer, very good, and he did an interview with a spray paint company who supports him, and they asked him about his best painting experience. He’s a veteran graffiti writer, he’s painted just as long as me, but he said: ‘One time this guy from NZ, Berst, he came over to Rome, that’s probably my most interesting experience because we actually collaborated together, we worked on each other’s pieces and I’ve never worked in this way.’ And that’s actually an idea of working together, not just: ‘You work here, and I’ll work there.’ That’s not a collaboration, that’s just painting together. So that’s one of the practical approaches I take to painting graffiti. People like Askew, we’ve worked together collaboratively to develop ideas, explore certain aesthetics, approaches to breaking traditional ideas of graffiti that were established over fifty years ago. I want to revamp that, to ask why do we have to do it that way? I tried to take that approach with BRUS and he was appreciative of that, and so what I take from that, was not what I created with him, but the fact that he experienced that idea of how to approach something, and I think that’s really important. If I can have that same kind of impact on the future generation of graffiti writers here in New Zealand, that’s a great thing. A lot of people I interview always talk about the people that influence them, and a common theme that emerges is: ‘Oh, the moment this person came to New Zealand, or the moment I linked up with this person, we were doing things in this way now, it’s evolving, instead of doing one piece, we were doing ten, instead of using three colours, we were using twenty colours…’ So again, it’s about ideas…

Yeah, ideas push evolution and development…

Ideas are hard to come by, because there are so many people who do graffiti now that go out to do graffiti that is just graffiti, just the standard thing that you would do if you were doing graffiti, in terms of style and the approach, for me the thinking is about how can we do that differently?

Berst, Christchurch, 2018
Berst, Christchurch, 2018

The chance to see what people are doing in different instances, that must allow that idea to be reciprocated as well. Not only are you out preaching as you say, but you are also obviously receiving a heap back from all these people…

Totally, I’m not claiming that I know it all or anything. My mind is still a sponge, which is why once again it is all kind of two-fold. For the Real Time episodes, I’m trying to preach and spread the knowledge, and create the resources, but equally I’m learning. When I interview Wongi, I learn something. That’s the motivation, because you actually have to take initiative, to want to learn, to open your eyes, to get a bigger perspective on this whole thing, because most people when they come into graffiti are very tunnel-visioned: ‘Oh I just want to tag, fuck art’, people have those kinds of attitudes. For me, the learning part is really important, which is why I make a lot of these videos, because, it got to a point, where if you go on YouTube now, ninety percent of the videos are just people painting hardcore graffiti, which is cool and it builds the ethos of what graffiti is and it maintains the roots, but you watch this three-minute clip of someone tagging the whole city or somebody painting trains for like an hour, doing really hectic stuff, but you don’t learn anything from it. I don’t get anything from that, you know what I mean? We were talking before about reality shows, and it is almost like you are living your life through someone else, you’re watching someone paint a train, so what? I don’t get anything from it…

That’s a very different experience from painting or being with someone when they are doing it as well, right?

That’s different, yeah, that’s the buzz, right? That’s the adrenaline…

So, what is your take on what’s happening in Christchurch at the moment? What have you seen this weekend, doing the workshop with writers of different ages and experiences, filming Ikarus and Wongi, and exploring the city, what’s your take? Especially now as we’re sitting a long time after the earthquakes created an environment where graffiti, and urban art more broadly as we’ve talked about, has really shifted into a more visible position…

One thing that I’ve heard Wongi and Ikarus say, as locals, is that the perceptions have changed post-quake, that all the dickheads have left, the real conservatives, like the ‘graffiti is tagging, and tagging is vandalism’ people, you know? I think there is less of that, which is great, and I think sometimes it’s like a cause and effect type thing, which happens. It is not a positive thing that there was an earthquake, but it does restart something, a cycle again, and you can ask: What are we going to do? How are we going to rethink things? How can we do things differently? Sometimes things need to do that, and when I think about Auckland, at one point in 2010, the Rugby World Cup eradicated all of the graffiti, it took away all of the history, years and years and years, and that really challenged a lot of writers. A lot of people gave up. A lot of people moved on. A lot of the young kids stopped doing quality things, because they were like: ‘I’m not spending this much to have it painted out in six hours, what’s the point?’ In some ways it regressed, we saw more tagging and bombing and just quicker things. But now there is graffiti again, and it’s staying up and people are trying to make quality things again, so there is a cycle…

Berst, New Brighton, Christchurch, 2018
Berst, New Brighton, Christchurch, 2018

There’s a cycle and a maturation process that runs through, like you were saying earlier…

Totally, so while I was upset that people didn’t invest in doing quality stuff, that’s just what happens. So, I think of it as the same thing happening here in Christchurch, except you guys had an earthquake. After that everything just got graffed the hell up, which personally I think is quite cool, because it’s just such a pure thing for people to take space and interact with space in its various ways. I think the beautiful thing as well is graffiti as kind of guardians of the streets. You see people painting murals, people from all sorts of artistic backgrounds, coming like a flock of birds to the space because there are opportunities and potential for things. But at the same time, kind of like we talked about, we need to be careful as artists, to make sure that we know what we are fighting for and what we value when we are making art and not losing the ethos of what we want the context of our art to be, as opposed to just wanting our art out there. We are talking about this idea of curation and a panel of council people responsible for public art that have no art background necessarily, or understanding of it, that are making decisions, like, I want a portrait, I want a landscape… So, we just have to be careful about becoming too conservative, because that is the position councils will take, they are not going to do anything offensive or that’s going to get attention. They just want something nice and pretty that’s going to fit in and not piss anybody off. There’s that part that’s also a positive, but you have to be aware of that. I think equally, when art gets involved, let’s say a mural or something, this idea of gentrification arises as well, so it could also have negative consequences. Like a real shitty derelict suburb, nobody wants to live there and suddenly you put up lots of art and then a cool café, and then suddenly an apartment block and then it’s a hip place…

And then the family who has been living there for generations can’t afford to live there…

Exactly, and then they might even get rid of the art, because it’s now a really expensive area…

That’s actually something that I’ve thought about as well…

It becomes about real estate and that previous graffiti wall, we don’t want that anymore, that’s not going to suit the area now…

In some ways, I wonder if that discussion of art gentrifying areas is actually misplaced, it is still developers and the like, they are still the agents of gentrification, right? Can you actually blame the art for the gentrification?

But the real estate agents are exploiting that art, right? Because they are aware of the cultural value it has, the human capital it has associated with it…

The cultural capital…

That’s what art is, it may not have economic, monetary value, at least at the street level, but it’s culture, it is a manifestation of culture and what it represents…

Berst, Tauranga, 2017
Berst, Tauranga, 2017

I guess that comes back to the important idea of graffiti maintaining that outsider status…

That’s what I’m talking about…

It’s still a form of culture, but because it can maintain an antipathy to mainstream, it has the ability to combat that process of capitalisation as well…

I am aware that I’m deeply rooted in graffiti and what makes it pure, but I’m also willing to step out of that frame of mind into these new spaces because I want to push the boundaries and I want to open the door while I’m still grounded here. I want to be the tester that goes into the water. If I fail at doing something, if it doesn’t work, at least I can report back to the graffiti community and say I’ve tried this, it didn’t work, or maybe it did, or maybe try it this way. But I think maintaining the purity of it is very important, and if you have it any other way it just falls into the dominant ideology of art and for me that’s what I’m thinking, how is graffiti an outsider thing? Why is it different from other fine arts? What can we do to keep it different? Why does it have to be the same? Like, if everybody did it and accepted it, would it even be cool to still do what we do?

There’s got to be that distinction…

Would it even be cool if painting freight trains were legal? I don’t know…

That’s kind of the beauty of graffiti, that question, that balancing act will continue to play out as it evolves, as new generations enter the culture and redefine it. Thanks so much for sitting down with me, it has been a blast! Any shout outs?

Shout outs to Ikarus, Wongi and Emma, my boy Alpha, for linking up with me over the weekend here in Christchurch, I really appreciate that, and shout out to GBAK and TMD, my two crews back up in Auckland!

Cheers man…

 

Check out Berst on social media:

Instagram: berst_1

YouTube channel: Bobby Hung

Berst – The Faith of Graffiti (Part One)

Without descending into exaggeration, Auckland artist Berst is perhaps the most significant figure in contemporary New Zealand graffiti. A member of two leading crews, TMD and GBAK, not only is he a formidable artist with a deep understanding of the visual potential of graffiti, Berst is also an eloquent, thoughtful and insightful voice when it comes to the underlying issues resonating in the culture, a complete advocate for the most enduring, widespread and misunderstood art movement of our time. It should not be a surprise, after all, Berst is nearing completion of his PhD in Education, an influence that allows him to delve into graffiti from a variety of vantage points, inflecting his observations with unique frameworks, seeking answers to questions about graffiti’s past, present and future. This background makes him a perfect person to pass on knowledge, something local heroes Ikarus and Wongi were quick to recognise in bringing Berst to Christchurch for a one-day graffiti workshop at the Youth Space at One Central on Manchester Street in early October. Upon hearing about his trip down south, I jumped at the chance to sit down and listen to him talk. It was quickly apparent that Berst’s passion and knowledge is both impressive and infectious, and what started as a quick chat in a brief break in his hectic schedule became an hour-long secular sermon… 

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2018

So Berst, you have spent this weekend in town, what have been doing in Christchurch?

I was invited by GapFiller, who, from my understanding, are an organisation tasked to basically activate the town centre, and so accompanying that they have been working with Ikarus, Wongi and Emma to bring in and connect with artists from Christchurch and further afield, and they brought me down from Auckland to essentially run a workshop focussed specifically on graffiti. So, during this one-day workshop we had about ten students, so to speak, ranging in age from seventeen to thirty, and they have basically been taught the foundations of graffiti, and within that I’ve showcased to them a little bit about my work, my process, some technical skills, how to construct a piece and, importantly, some of the potential avenues where graffiti can lead. I think that is incredibly important because often a lot of workshops give the technical skills of how to do graffiti, but without really thinking about the potential contexts it can actually go into beyond just being illegal. Then over the last two days I’ve been working on my Real Time web series, which essentially documents and captures the story of New Zealand graffiti. I’ve just managed to film Wongi and Ikarus as part of episodes fifteen and sixteen.

You talk about that need for the workshop to present both practical elements and discussion about where graffiti can lead someone or how it can be re-imagined and empowered, in terms of the practicalities, what do those discussions sound like? Are you talking about aerosol techniques, or letterform development? Or all of those things? They would have to be quite organic, right? Because everybody already has their own style from which to begin those discussions…

Absolutely, for me, all the people that participated in the workshop were totally varied in expertise and skill level; from those who had only been painting for a couple of months and don’t really have an understanding of graffiti, all they know is that they are painting words or names or letters as the basis of their subject matter, to people who were very experienced and have been painting for five or ten years, they fully understand what graffiti is about and how to do it. So, in terms of my process and the technical aspects I was teaching them, it is a two-fold approach; it is essentially about style and lettering and then there is also the practical side of how to use a spray can. The practical side of lettering, that’s one of the key foundations that grounds graffiti and makes it different from everything else. Graffiti has got its own sort of ‘isms’ and visual codes and ways of doing things, of manipulating letters, which I think is quite different to other art forms. In saying that as well, there is no particular way to paint graffiti, there are many different genres within it, just like in fine art, but definitely, we start off talking about the foundations of graffiti lettering, which really derived from nineteen-sixties, nineteen-seventies, train writing in New York, and from that basis, then you can look at West Coast graffiti, which is a bit more what they call ‘wildstyle’, with more whips, it is more complicated and less legible. Then I show them my style, which is kind of a combination of many different visual aspects and genres of styles. But equally, I look at what they are already drawing and build on that. Somebody might do something really simple and bubbly as opposed to somebody, like the seventeen-year-old kid that was there, his stuff is really wildstyle; crazy, and intricate, already when he is seventeen! So, for me, it is really about trying to give them some advice around how they can strengthen their letter structure and create interesting forms. I think that’s one thing that’s nice about graffiti, it is quite organic, it doesn’t have to look any particular way, there’s a certain kind of pureness and freedom to painting it. For me it also aligns with, to some degree, typography, or abstract painting, because really it is looking at forms and shapes and how you can manipulate those shapes to create something, you know? So, there’s that aspect, but then there’s the practical aspect. Obviously, there are so many paint brands, caps and nozzles that you can put on cans, and with a spray can you can get so many different techniques, it allows you to work quite differently than if you were working in a studio with a brush. So, I explained to the workshop that when you’re using a spray can, especially when you are working in a large scale, not necessarily for this weekend, because we were just painting on the giant cans [at the Youth Space on Manchester Street], for me, working with a can is quite performative…

It’s a very physical exertion, an extension of your physical movements…

It’s quite gestural. When you’re moving your body, you are not just making small movements, when you are painting something very large, with spray paint in particular, it is very physical. So, as part of that idea, I showed them different techniques and what we call ‘can control’, and that’s really being able to control the pressure of a can. Once you can master that, you can almost do anything. For me, one of the key things is that while there are so many nozzles you can use; fat, skinny, medium, whatever, I normally just use a fat cap, which sprays the most amount of paint out as possible, but when you master that can control, you can make it come out more slowly and create more effects. It is kind of like driving a car, right? You can drive a Ferrari, but if you don’t know how to drive it, you will crash it. But if you know how to drive it…

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2018

That discussion of technical elements raises an interesting question, because historically graffiti has this amazing ‘Do-It-Yourself’ culture, right? There are stories of writers boiling their own ink and making their own marker pens, repurposing the nozzles from kitchen cleaners, that whole development, that history. Now that you can buy all these different caps, and all the choice of paint, what sort of impact does that have? When you are thinking about a workshop, are you encouraging innovation in that sense as well? Is that still central, or is it not present to the same degree because the necessity is not there?

I think obviously, everything is accessible to everyone, and to some degree it has removed that sense of discovery, of self-discovery, which is something that graffiti celebrated back in the day. But I think back to things like Style Wars, the writers in that film, they are only like fifteen, so they were not art school students…

Exactly, they were learning in different ways…

They were figuring it out, and they were potentially coming from a low socio-economic background, they were not privileged kids who had everything at their fingertips.

Which is an important and informative background for graffiti writing’s history, right?

Totally, a huge impact.

There is a need for marginalised societies to find ways to express themselves, and that is ultimately what graffiti was…

That’s what it was, I’m not sure if that is what it is now. You know, most of my friends who write now are, not wealthy, but kind of middle class, they are not struggling or anything. But they love graffiti for various reasons. But while there is less self-discovery now, there definitely was that sense for me when I first started. The internet wasn’t so prominent, so for me, I got to engage in that sort of process; ‘Oh what cap do I use?’ ‘Where can I rack cans?’ Because that was a part of the culture…

Exactly.

Because, you know, you’ve got to steal your supplies, at that time we didn’t have the fancy paint, so you were stealing hardware store paint.

Just the luxury of paint designed specifically for painting walls is a big shift from hardware store paint…

Hardware store paint would do the job to do a piece, and in some ways it would also then influence what you would paint, because you could only steal a certain colour palette of black and chrome, or this colour wasn’t actually very good or useful, so you wouldn’t use it. So, there were interesting things like that. What I always loved doing was transferring paint, I don’t know if you have seen that stuff before…

Yeah, I’ve seen videos…

Yeah, there are YouTube tutorial videos on how to do it. So basically, you put one can in the fridge or in the freezer, one in boiling water, and once one is frozen, you get like a ball point pen and the straw that holds all the ink, and put the cans cap to cap and it transfers. For me, I think that was kind of exciting, because it was kind of like mixing paint, right? That’s essentially what it is. It was exciting because there’s so much more of a process, more than just the painting and the action. But I don’t necessarily cover all that stuff in the workshop because people are probably just there because they want to get into the painting and because it is such a short period of time, we just have to get into it, you know? But, in saying that, with some of the writers back home, these are the things that I talk about with them, in the hope that they will do something great with the tools that they have, you know? What can they achieve now? This is what people achieved back then, and this is what they have done now, what about the future?

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2017

If anyone in New Zealand is having a lot of discussions with different writers, it is you. You are definitely a connecting figure in Aotearoa graffiti, what’s your take on your position?

I’m an advocate for it, a total advocate. I see the wave of street art, I see that happening. I see the wave of urban art happening, I see the murals happening, I see the post-graffiti happening, and of course, the fine art gallery space thing happening, and I ask myself, why is graffiti not happening? Why is it not moving in that way? That’s not to say, why is it not becoming mainstream? Or why is it necessarily even becoming accepted? It’s not about being legitimised as an art form, it’s not that type of conversation. For me, I feel like again, it’s actually two-fold; it is about realising that graffiti is an art form that is, in terms of generational knowledge, oral, it is passed on verbally. There is something where writers, they take pictures of their own stuff and whatever, but I know lots of writers who are not willing to share this knowledge, which is a weird one, because I see graffiti like a religion in some ways, like when I go out painting at night time or whatever, I’m practicing, and when I have a conversation with someone, when I run a workshop, I’m preaching, that’s actually what I’m doing. I’m very clear in my intentions and my actions. But some people will go out painting and really believe in graffiti, but they won’t preach, they won’t share. So, it is kind of like saying; ‘I’m Christian, but I won’t tell you the beliefs.’ I’m kind of like an extremist of graffiti when I speak to you, you know?

Spreading the gospel!

But for me, in terms of filing this role, it just kind of happened organically. I’m trying to connect with people, especially with younger writers, because I know that since graffiti is an oral history, in terms of how it is passed down; ‘we do things this way’, ‘we do this…’, ‘you pay for this spot’, blah blah blah, I feel partially responsible to create some resources. For me, doing things like workshops or doing a web series, helps to create resources which then can help other people to do or take certain trajectories, to do different things. For example, Wongi has gone down the graffiti route and now he’s gone down this sort of business route, where he is making a living doing this with the skills he got from graffiti, and there are also X amount of other people who have done that. But there are also a handful of people who have just painted graffiti hardcore, and now they are in their forties or fifties and this is still what they do. Or, alternately, I’ve gone into teaching, and you know, I connect with this and this… So, the intention with, for example, the Real Time web series is for it to be a resource and if some kid comes up to me and says: ‘Hey, I want to make a living from doing graffiti’, I can say: ‘O.K., go watch episodes nine, twelve and eighty-five; you’ve got three people there who have sort of gone down that route, each episode is about an hour, go home and watch it, have a little think, see what they’re doing’, or a kid might say: ‘I want to paint trains…’, I can say: ‘Cool, O.K., well, watch episode ninety and ninety-two…’

So, it’s not just a documentation of the scene, it’s actually a resource to be accessed…

Definitely, it’s a resource.

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2018

Importantly as well, it is something that is understanding and presenting graffiti for what it is itself, it is not trying to fit it into some other narrative or discussion. It is about empowering the culture by celebrating the culture for what it is, and too often, concessions have to made when it comes to graffiti, right?

Absolutely, and the common thing when it is portrayed in the media, is that question: is graffiti art?

That question!

You know, it is such an outdated question…

Such a binary option…

Yeah, and you know it is such an outdated dialogue, for me I think there is such a rich history of graffiti and when I think about all the art movements throughout art history: Pop Art, the Surrealists, whatever, graffiti has been around since the sixties…

That’s just graffiti as we determine it now, right? I mean the actual lineage is much longer…

Exactly, but in terms of writing, like stylised writing…

Signature-based graffiti…

Yeah, signature-based graffiti, it has been around since the sixties, so what is that now?

Over fifty years…

Exactly, what other art form has got such a strong hold on the art scene?

And has had that longevity?

It’s not like people are like: ‘Oh, yes, the Cubist movement has taken over the world…’

Those sorts of movements struggle to really exist outside of the original circles, they kind of become watered down, whereas graffiti has been handed down through generation to generation and has maintained its unique dynamics…

But how does it do that? It’s interesting…

What is that essence?

It is also interesting, because it is something that has developed within society, it’s a social thing. It hasn’t been developed in an institution, like when you think about Cubism, someone inside an art school, they are being told that’s an important art movement, whereas this is something that has operated for fifty years, it’s crazy!

Berst, Auckland, 2018
Berst, Auckland, 2018

That endurance is incredible, I am constantly telling people that we are talking about something that has not only survived for fifty, almost sixty years, but in every corner of the globe, we are not just talking about one particular place…

We’re not talking about New York, you go anywhere and there is graffiti…

 

Stay tuned for Part Two of Berst: The Faith of Graffiti

Check out Berst on social media:

Instagram: berst_1

YouTube channel: Bobby Hung

 

It’s Pronounced ‘Zeen’ – Christchurch Zinefest 2018 (Part Two)

Jumping straight back into the conversation with Christchurch Zinefest’s Alice Bush and Jane Maloney, we discuss digital and physical production methods, the presence of dissenting opinions and ideas in independent publishing, zine vending machines and the challenges of displaying the Zine Library…

We have touched on the fact that in the digital age we have this other channel to disseminate ideas, is there some convergence, between analogue methods of physically sending items, and the benefits of digital transmission? I mean you could create PDF versions that you could then transmute that people could produce and disseminate, are those tactics popular or acceptable?

Alice Bush: It’s different, like there are digital zines that people create, but I’ve always found it different, because a zine is an object, like that’s what makes it a zine, and in terms of putting PDFs up on the internet, it’s a bit different, but there’s always that thing where if you are wanting to spread your zine around the world then put it up on Instagram and people can find it…

Jane Maloney: Yeah, like a buy online option.

AB: There’s a bit of a community in Instagram and different sites where people will follow different zine makers and buy the zines, it’s like this little sub-community.

JM: Yeah, I’ve definitely bought people’s zines from following them on Instagram. Of all the social media platforms, Instagram is the one that people are attracted to for these object-based things because it’s visual-based. Of course, it’s still a business that is still trying to advertise to you and trying to control what you see.

The Longest, Wobbliest, Silliest Guitar, by Ashley Ronning, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)
The Longest, Wobbliest, Silliest Guitar, by Ashley Ronning, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)

In their most pure form zines can combat that, so there’s almost an antipathy or weariness to that, using a platform that can act against the benefits of producing a zine as well…

JM: Yeah, it’s just a case of using it to your advantage without exploiting your work or any one else, or anyone else’s work… (laughs)

AB: I guess that’s part of the reason why zines haven’t disappeared as well, because those companies all own those sites, you can’t really be free, or use your free speech…

JM: Zines are like the ultimate form of uncensored media, maybe one of the only ones….

Recently there has been an example of a sort of Alt-Right street artist, making these interventions that are pro-Trump, which is kind of unexpected, but really it just shows the open potential of such tactics. Do you see that spectrum in terms of zine making as well?

JM: Alt-Right zines? I mean, I don’t specifically know of any off-hand because I don’t particularly choose to find them, but of course there are going to be various voices making zines. I watched a Vice documentary about a white supremacist group and that’s how they share information within their community, by making zines, or more like fliers, but that’s still a form of a zine, but, you know, that’s underground publishing, because how else would they spread their information?

Just the existence of that spectrum, that diversity, importantly creates a dynamic to respond to, everything is not contained in its own neatly defined bubble…

JM: Yeah, I mean it’s like everyone, you just hope that there is a greater number of zines produced for the good, wholesome reasons…

Well, they don’t have to be wholesome right? (laughs)

JM: No, but not dabbling in racism and homophobia, and all those things. You can’t stop anyone making a zine, just like you can’t stop anyone believing in something you don’t necessarily agree with. Heaps of people make educational zines, around like transphobia and why it is bad, homophobia and why it’s bad, and they are important because a lot of people just don’t know, when you have a privileged background in terms of education, you don’t realise how little some people know about things, they only know what they knew growing up. So, creating the counter to that in a zine is a good way to create a discussion.

Prick, by Caitlin Shearer, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)
Prick, by Caitlin Shearer, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)

It comes back to dissemination and how the information gets out, which brings us back to Zinefest and what the goals are for the event. Obviously, it allows zine makers to come together, but it also allows people to find other channels of information and objects of interest, so what events are going on for Zinefest 2018 to engage that wider audience?

AB: We’ve got a few workshops, which is something that we are trying to do a lot more, to reach people…

JM: We have to start from somewhere and making workshops are more accessible and suitable for the resources we have, obviously we would love to have more writing workshops and content-based stuff in the future.

AB: But at the moment we mostly have visual artists who are great, and the workshops we are having this year are coming from that. We’ve got a printmaking workshop, a collage workshop and Jane’s Riso(graph) workshop. In the past we have done poetry workshops and different things like that, but you know, it’s important to get people in and making, and I think when people think of visual objects, especially when you have something like ‘magazine’ attached to it, people think they can’t do it because that’s not something that people usually do just by themselves, usually. It’s seen as inaccessible. But I feel like it’s just getting people in and getting them to make something, so they realise it’s an object and they can actually do it.

That there are fewer rules than one might expect, there’s no word count…

AB: There’s no word count, there’s no number of pages you have to have…

JM: There can be literally one bit of paper folded up and that can be a zine.

With regards to public engagement, and this often comes up when I’m talking about urban art, how you talk about the important transgressive element of rebellious practices? We’ve talked about how zines don’t have the need to break laws to exist, but there is still an important acknowledgment of their subversive potential, so is that something you build in to the workshops, or is that a little bit difficult when you are working with institutions like the Christchurch Art Gallery?

AB: It’s hard to tell people what to make things about, and I feel like if someone’s going to make something that does talk about serious issues, about activism, that kind of thing, they will do it, because if they are thinking about it already, they will do it. It is hard to get people to realise that’s what this vehicle could be though…

JM: I do get trapped, especially with my printing method and it being purely aesthetic, people just working with collage images or just figuring out the printing method, so we try to make it more about zines and about the content in a way that these are just ways you can produce it.

So, how do you inform people about actually getting their work out, how they make a zine the social object? How do you encourage them in that respect?

JM: We made a zine about zines, which includes that sort of information that we can give away now which is really good…

AB: I feel like people see Zinefest and go this is something that I can do, like we have open stand holder applications every year, we try to keep it free. We put it on our Facebook page and make sure it’s accessible and out there to as many people as we possibly can. It’s advertising that these workshops can be a first step to being introduced to the zine world, the zine community and people already making zines in Christchurch.

JM: They might have a burning opinion on something and by going to the Zinefest market they will see that people are making things about their opinions or about personal standpoints on different issues, and then they realise that it is ok. I feel like sharing your own opinion is really frowned upon a lot of the time, which is stupid…

Um... what's a zine?, produced by MK Press for the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library's exhibition at CoCA's Lux Espresso gallery, 3rd August - 16th September 2018
Um… what’s a zine?, produced by MK Press for the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library’s exhibition at CoCA’s Lux Espresso gallery, 3rd August – 16th September 2018

Well, in this digital era, people are so opinionated and empowered by the anonymous platform and will shoot down dissenting voices so quickly. But you can still believe in something and not have that aggressive, opinionated approach…

JM: Yeah, the internet warrior thing has changed the whole idea of free speech and discussion, but I think people who make zines are legitimately interested in what they are making them about, you can’t just feign interest…

The other great thing with a zine is that you can make your argument, you can present your opinion and idea, but it isn’t in a way that says: ‘Hey, your comment sucks!’ It is encapsulated in its own form, rather than in response…

JM: It’s not just a snap decision or opinion.

AB: It’s to do with the care you actually put into the object. It takes time to make it, so you want your thoughts to be succinct and you want what you are writing down to be…

JM: Well-informed.

AB: Yeah, well-informed, because of the care that’s put into the object.

JM: It’s not bang, bang, bang on the keyboard and you are done.

This is a typical interview question, but outside of your own work, which local zines are notable or interesting?

JM: I think it is always worth trying to find ones that University groups still make, like the FemSoc zine, because that’s always been part of the culture of the University and it should continue to be part of that culture. University is changing so much, it costs so much more to go to University now, and it’s not as academic anymore. Engineering and stuff, they were trades and Science was from a research point of view. With all these changes, it is important to support these groups that make these things that engage in independent critical discourses.

AB: In a broader New Zealand sense, Bryce Galloway produces the longest running zine in New Zealand, called Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People.

JM: It’s a personal zine, it’s specifically about his life, or just small parts of it.

AB: And it’s a great introduction to zine culture in New Zealand, because it’s been running for so long and you can literally find it anywhere, it’s in a lot of places…

JM: He’s really nailed down his distribution channels.

AB: And then there’s a zine maker who travels around and makes zines out of old book covers and stuff and it is sort of a more poetry and literature-based zine. There’s lots of different things happening.

JM: We also run the Christchurch Zine Library, and that is a good resource if people want to see more zines.

How is the Zine Library built as a collection? Is it trying to document the history of the culture?

JM: At the moment, it’s just from personal collections of both Alice and I, so they do cover quite different areas. There are also ones that have been sent to us. I’m part of different publishing and printing groups on Facebook and online, so I get sent quite a few things that people have just made themselves. Those ones are generally aesthetically focussed, because they might be exploring a printing option or production method. But yeah, we’ve got quite a range.

Will it be part of the Christchurch Library when it re-opens?

AB: No. The thing about the Christchurch Library is they have their own collection, that, I think, they are going to put on show when the library re-opens, although I’m not totally sure about that yet, so whenever someone says they are a librarian I ask: ‘Are you going to put the zine library in?’

JM: we talked to someone at the Word Festival, it was obviously an idea to join it all together, but I don’t know…

So, how do you display the library currently?

JM: So, it was recently at CoCA, in the Lux Espresso gallery space, which was really just to get it out to a wider audience. There was no specific reason to choose CoCA or anything, it was just an opportunity. We would probably prefer it to be further away from institutions.

AB: Because as soon as you get it into an institution, they try and say: ‘no you can’t put this in or that in…’

JM: We’ve never really thought about a permanent public display, it’s more something we bring out for events or when we are invited to places. It would be nice to have it publicly accessible, but we haven’t really thought about the work that goes in to that yet.

AB: It is hard to find space.

JM: And supervision, because while you want people picking them up and reading them, we don’t want them to literally be picked up and walked off!

The Zine Library at CoCA’s Lux Espresso gallery, August 2018 (Photo credit: Bayley Corfield)

It would be cool to have a zine version of a book fridge, not so much for the Library, but for people to drop off and take away zines, a sort of distribution fridge!

JM: It would be great to have something, there is a zine vending machine in Auckland…

AB: Yeah, that’s so cool, it’s in the Auckland Library, I think.

JM: It’s not run by the Library, it got funding. But as long as your zine fits under a certain size, you can send multiples to put in, although because of the funding, the organiser is working just with local Auckland artists and zine makers.

AB: There is one in Toronto, which has been running for a few years, they are just so cool!

JM: It would be cool to have something like that connected with the Zine Library, where people can just take copies. We made the zine about zines so that people could just take that.

AB: It would be nice if the Zine Library was more accessible for people to come and take things…

JM: …and drop things off as well.

AB: Zinefest only happens once a year and that’s the main event for zines in Christchurch, so it would be nice to have something ongoing.

JM: Zines being a relatively organic object, the Zine Library doesn’t have to be super structured, and if things go missing out of the Zine Library, it’s not the end of the world. I document them all, I take photos of everything we end up with. In CoCA, people were taking in and clipping their own ones into the display, and that’s cool too…

That is awesome, that must be a desirable outcome, right?

JM: Yeah, it’s for other people, it’s not for us.

AB: I just don’t want the whole thing to disappear!

JM: We don’t want people to raid it! Because that’s how things collapse obviously. More stuff going on throughout the year, on top of Zinefest, would be cool, because the thing about Christchurch is that events and organised things don’t seem to last.

AB: People forget about stuff very easily.

JM: People just assume everything is temporary, everyone assumes something new is temporary because of a placement issue or something like that, so everything takes a while to solidify.

It takes a real commitment to keep doing it. So, I think I asked this question at the start of this conversation and we went off on another direction (laughs), but what specific events are taking place in Zinefest 2018?

JM: We have a few workshops in the build up to the market, I ran a zine making workshop with risograph printing at the Christchurch Art Gallery…

AB: We also had a workshop at The Corner Store, where people could make little woodblock plates to use for a zine cover or in a zine. And then on the 25th of September, we have a cut paper workshop with Sarah Lund, in the Pūmanawa space at the Arts Centre, which is also where the Zinefest Market is happening on the 30th of September, which is like the final hurrah of the fest.

JM: We are going to have the Zine Library on display at Fiksate Gallery, at 165 Gloucester Street, from the 19th until the 29th of September. The best place to go for finding out when things are happening is on Facebook, that’s the only constant social media we use, which is @zinefestchristchurch. You can also find information on the Zine Library on Facebook, which is @chchzinelibrary.

The Zine Library on display at Fiksate Gallery, 165 Gloucester Street
The Zine Library on display at Fiksate Gallery, 165 Gloucester Street

Follow Zinefest and the Christchurch/Ōtautahi Zine Library on Facebook to keep up with their activities, visit the Library at Fiksate Gallery (165 Gloucester Street) and get along to the Zinefest Market on the 30th September at the Pūmanawa Room in the Arts Centre, 10am – 4pm.

Feature Image credit: Bayley Corfield

Zine Library graphic credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press

It’s Pronounced ‘Zeen’ – Christchurch Zinefest 2018 (Part One)

I have always thought of zines in relation to urban art – subversive, rebellious intrusions into publishing, sent out into the world to disrupt more commercial networks of production. Yet, of course, there is so much more to zine culture. When I think back, I didn’t consider the potential in the homemade comics I drew as a  child, possibly because I was mimicking the comics I couldn’t afford to buy. But the reality is that zines, much like my bootleg comics, are the realisation of the power in independent action, a signifier of the way we can create alternatives to the dominant cultures and productions and in small ways re-shape our world. With the 2018 incarnation of Christchurch Zinefest being staged over September, it provided an opportune moment to talk about zines and independent publishing with people who know a lot more than me: Zinefest organisers Alice Bush and Jane Maloney. Both Alice and Jane are zine makers, as well as champions of the forms and culture, understanding both the practicalities of producing as well as the significance of the objects conceptually. We sat down at the newly relocated Fiksate Gallery on Gloucester Street to talk about Christchurch Zinefest, the Christchurch/Ōtautahi Zine Library, the history of zines, the tactics of getting zines out in the world, and the impact of the digital age on zine making…

Fill me in a little bit about the history of Zinefest. Alice, have you been involved with Zinefest since its inception?

Alice Bush: No, I picked it up in 2015, I think. But Jane did it with me the first year… No, it was 2016 the first year that I did it, but I’d been going two years before that. I think it’s been running since like 2011…

Jane Maloney: I think it’s been running since my last year at University, so it would’ve been around 2011 or 2012.

Which seems really recent…

JM: Yeah, it is.

Being that zine culture, I assume, goes right back into any form of independent publishing. Was punk an important starting point for zines as we know them today?

AB: No, before that. Science fiction was sort of the first iteration of like fanzine culture, in the early 1930s. But even before that you see people printing independently published literature and that sort of thing, you know it can go right back to the start of printing. The first ‘zines’ were printed in the 1950s, or 1940s, when science fiction started to take off. It was mostly male-dominated as well, which is very interesting with where it has gone later on, with the Riot grrrl movement and stuff, and women reclaiming that sort of thing. But yeah, zines have been around a long time…

When did the specific term develop? Etymologically it’s a shortened version of ‘magazine’, right?

JM: I think it was when magazines were more popular, and the publishing of magazines was more mainstream, so the word kind of developed from that obviously. I feel like that was more when it was a punk kind of culture, because it was such a direct and important way to differentiate between mainstream publishing and underground publishing…

AB: Actually, I’d say no. I think it was zines, like fanzines, science fiction fanzines. At first, they weren’t calling them that. I did like a big research project on the history of zines and got really into what happened around that time, and I think it was like the early fifties that they started using the term…

Chloro Forms, by Elliot Ferguson, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)
Chloro Forms, by Elliot Ferguson, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)

But fanzine was developed from magazine to signify an independent approach?

JM: Yeah, I guess so. It’s still like more of a subculture obviously. It always was a subculture, but it was smaller, because it was just fanzines, that’s what zines were…

AB: But I mean, so were punk zines. They were just fanzines. But zines have just been a thing people pick up and use, that different subcultures pick up and use when they can.

JM: It’s a vehicle.

A tactic for disseminating ideas…

AB: Yeah.

As you say, any subculture can utilise it as a tactic, so the beauty is how the independence and flexibility can be adopted to any cause or idea…

JM: Yeah.

What was the stimulus for the Christchurch Zinefest? Christchurch has these interesting bubbling underground histories, like the music cultures that were influenced by the US Military presence with Operation Deep Freeze, that meant types of music were arriving here before places like Auckland. Is there a similar story around the emergence of zines in Christchurch?

JM: Yeah, music has been really important in the development of Christchurch’s cultural identity, and obviously zines are a big part of music as well…

So, has that lineage been explored? Did it take a while for zines to really emerge from those cultures locally?

JM: Well, the University (of Canterbury) was obviously important, because student-published political activist zines were coming out of there, I mean that’s a thing for universities everywhere I suppose. Canterbury University is such an important part of Christchurch, well it was, especially when it was in town. I’m not sure it is now (laughs).

AB: At UC, especially in the Fine Arts departments, they have always had a very strong connection with music, there are old event and gig posters in the archives that date way back that have been produced by Fine Arts…

JM: Christchurch has always had that alternative presence, alternate music, even alternate fashion has been a big thing. Christchurch is always seen as having a bigger distinction between this alternative universe of everything against this very white, British, super conservative city…

Banana Soy Milkshake, by Inky Palms, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)
Banana Soy Milkshake, by Inky Palms, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)

That polarity, that distinction, is because of the strength of that conservative reputation, right? It has provided something to react to, but it has also provided a cover which means a lot of that subversive presence is under the surface, it’s strong, but it isn’t as visible. So, what was the driving factor in Zinefest getting underway by the time we reach 2011?

AB: I feel like you can’t ignore the fact that around 2011, the earthquakes are happening, it’s an obvious thing and maybe that was a part of it, I don’t know. I feel like zines have started to skyrocket in popularity because of the internet and because of digital media, like self-publishing itself has started to grow as a thing…

Fandom is a really big thing now as well, like it’s long been a thing, but it’s really grown as an industry or culture, a subcultural thing. You see Fests and Cons (Conventions) going on everywhere, do you think that explosion has contributed to a growth in zine culture post-Millennium?

AB: It’s interesting with fandom, because I feel like in the seventies and eighties, there was Star Wars, Star Trek, stuff like that, and zines were being made around those things, and that’s the kind of fandom that still exists today, and I feel like when the nineties and the early 2000s came around, there weren’t as many fanzines being produced because of the internet. The only reason that a subculture was using zines was to communicate with each other and inform people and they didn’t need it anymore. But recently I’ve been seeing more and more zines that are ‘art’ zines, fan-works and stuff like that, and that’s really interesting, it’s something I wouldn’t think would come off the internet, I wouldn’t have thought that they would need to do that again but it has happened and its quite interesting…

JM: Zinefests had started in other cities around New Zealand well before the Christchurch one…

AB: I think Wellington’s is the oldest. It’s been around a long time.

JM: Like 2008 maybe?

Even when you are talking about 2008, it still seems quite youthful, because we’re talking about something with roots in the 1930s and something that would need support networks due to its independence. Is it more a reflection of the idea that fests have been a more recent phenomenon?

JM: I think that, it’s not just for zine makers, because if you do make zines religiously and you are trading them with people, you find those connections anyway, through the internet or whatever channels you are going through, or you’ve already got them, you don’t need a fest for a zine maker, it’s for the popularity and public interest in them, what they are and what they are about. That might have come through the popular culture getting hold of zines, like Kanye West is making zines about his work now…

AB: They’re not really zines though!

JM: No, but it is now associated with people like that, so people are like: ‘what is this?’ It might just be fleeting, but more people are interested…

AB: Zinefests weren’t a very big thing before the 2010s, and I feel like there has been a shift towards them, whereas there was previously more of a focus on distribution centres, or ‘distros’, and mailing lists where you just sign up for a zine and you receive it, and I think that shift is to do with an alternate people coming in, there’s a lot more artists, there’s a lot more like writers who do one-offs rather than a whole series…

JM: The people collecting zines were usually zine makers as well, now people with no previous interest, they might come to a fest and have a look around and be like, ‘oh, ok this is what it is’, and then leave, or they might find like an artist-made zine and be like this is really nice, pretty looking thing and get into it, which is great…

AB: We talked before about zines being a vehicle, and there’s been a shift in the 2010s where instead of it being a vehicle for something, the zine itself is a thing, it’s the thing you are wanting to collect…

JM: Zines are not necessarily as content driven anymore.

AB: Yeah, it’s come out of the subcultures and become a thing of its own.

Which is interesting because the two of you have slightly different approaches to zines, right?  Jane, would it be fair to say that your interest is more focussed on the design and object-making process?

JM: Yeah, that’s definitely how I came about, because I’ve always been interested in publishing from being a graphic designer and being into print or working predominantly in print, so it’s like an aesthetic thing. I can make something and distribute it myself, or help other people do that. I enjoy helping people make them and distribute them as well. But I’ve never had a specific social or cultural focus. Maybe because when I got into fanzines and stuff like that, getting information, I was really into live journal, I was a big internet user for that, I’d never even thought of zines. I was always super into The X-Files, and there were online platforms and things and I didn’t know there were fanzines necessarily. I mean I’ve always had a background in art, but I never thought about making them, so from a publishing point of view, and being interested in that, that’s where I came into it and that’s where I really hope that I can help people just figure out how to do it. I don’t necessarily think anytime soon I’ll start making my own about any specific topic other than about zine making, zine publishing and zine printing…

So, you are interested in a self-referential content?

JM: That’s it, at the moment, yeah.

The Journal of Uncle Harold (Literally) - Volume 1, by Uncle Harold, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)
The Journal of Uncle Harold (Literally) – Volume 1, by Uncle Harold, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)

Alice, would you say that your interests are slightly different, or do they echo that?

AB: Yeah, I’d say it’s slightly different. I mean I still went through the art school system, and did graphic design, but I do have more of a focus on getting ideas out there and using it as a vehicle for something, I think. I make feminist zines, and I make some fanzines. But I also feel like I do have an interest in some of what Jane was saying, I am interested in publishing and I am interested in graphic design…

JM: That also comes from our background, from where we studied…

AB: Yeah, we studied at the same place, at UC, but I also have a big interest in actually getting my ideas out and creating something that’s going to inform people…

So, in terms of the approach to content, as an idea as well as a form, do you have any influences that have sort of conflated the two? I mean, design is all about how to present information in a visual form, but were you influenced by an ideology and an aesthetic approach separately, or are they inherently intertwined?

AB: You mean like zine influences?

More than just zines, because I guess when you are dealing with specific content, you must be taking from wider sources, necessarily…

AB: I get a lot of influence from the internet, because there is so much to access, but speaking of zine influences, Riot grrrl is a big thing, I think every feminist zine made anytime after the 1990s was influenced by Riot grrrl, so that’s a big one. It’s quite interesting because before I started making zines, I didn’t really have knowledge of anything else that was really going on. I mean, there was stuff to read, at University there was FemSoc (Feminist Society), they put out a zine and have done so for however many years they’ve existed, so that was interesting to read and gave me ideas. It’s sort of something that happens with people making these things, it’s not necessarily coming from anywhere, it’s just that you want to make a thing…

JM: It’s quite introspective.

Is there a visual lineage in zines that people perhaps feel obligated to maintain, a certain edginess or rough quality, or is that changing?

JM: An aesthetic? People still do make really ‘rough and ready’ zines, like they’ve just written it down and photocopied it. If you are truly just content driven and you are specifically talking about an idea or an issue or something personal to you, then nothing’s unacceptable. But because zines are getting more popular and more designers are making them, and designers can’t do something without making it look good (laughs), there is a real aesthetic change apparent in zine making…

AB: There are still purists out there, there are people who think that there is one way to make zines and that’s the punk rock, Sharpie and typewriter approach…

JM: Cut and paste…

AB: Which is one way to make a zine.

JM: And that’s an aesthetic, you know, that’s something people strive to make their zines look like now, as well as actually being a form of zine making itself.

AB: Definitely.

JM: But there are also people who only want to make zines if they look a certain way, or you know, because artists make a lot of zines now as well, their zines are going look a lot like their practice. So, you can get those purists, who make their zines free, and they are distributed widely, and mass produced, but then there will be artist-made zines that are runs of five and handmade and might cost you $50 or $100 or whatever, which is obviously quite a new thing, but it’s still fine.

AB: It’s like a divide between two different ways of thinking, I guess, there is that newer artist-made approach, and it’s great because it’s a way of artists getting their work out there and being able to sell work…

JM: Totally, and communicating ideas that they might not have been able to with their existing practice…

AB: But there’s still the shitty stuff as well!

And you mean that in the best possible way! That also raises the idea of dissemination, you know from the idea of trading or selling, but there must also be tactical approaches to disseminating works though more subversive means. I’m thinking obviously about the tactics of urban art here and its ability to disrupt the flow of official communication. Is there a danger sometimes with zine making, particularly if you are expressing ideas that might be contra to mainstream thinking, that it can become too internalised in terms of circulation? What tactics do people employ to get zines where they might not normally be found?

JM: Across the road when I was driving here actually, there was this anti animal cruelty organisation in Victoria Square, and they make zines and put them in supermarkets around the meat section, and leave them in cafés that don’t have any vegan food or still promote animal products, so from an activist point of view of course, they are going to leave them in places that they are unwanted, and that’s a huge part of it, because when it comes to an activism, you can’t just operate in your own circle, like they already know what you are talking about…

AB: It’s the same with FemSoc, they leave their zines in the Undercroft (a communal student space) and all over the place, and that’s one of the reasons they produce the zine, because it’s going to be landing in someone’s lap that might not necessarily be exposed to those ideas.

Which is the benefit of the independent publishing, right? You are getting an idea out that you don’t necessarily have other avenues to get a fair chance of expressing…

JM: Yeah, exactly.

That element has always been attractive to me in zine culture, because it relates to that idea of an uninvited presence.

JM: Unlike graffiti and stuff, it’s not illegal or vandalism, so the only danger is that someone is going to throw it out, that someone is going to find a whole pile of them and chuck them in the bin.

Even then, someone can come along and see them in the bin and take them from there, so the life cycle lasts as long as the physical object exists and can have multiple transactions of circulation.

JM: Yeah, there’s literally no losing I guess, unless you are putting so much money into it for some reason that you need to sell them. But when it comes to activism or any political reason why you might be making zines, it is, I feel, the best underground way to express ideas, because you can’t get prosecuted for defacing something. It’s like people deface political billboards around town and stuff like that, I’m all for that, but you know, it’s more risky…

Zines are another option to disrupt those discourses. They can be more in depth in many ways too, right? Sometimes a message can get lost in a discussion about legality or vandalism, or the idea might not be as in-depth because it has to be a more singular statement, but with a zine you get to present a manifesto, and often across multiple editions, so content can evolve over time…

JM: You get to tell people why you are doing this, which is good, I mean no one has to say why they are doing anything, but it is good to have a format that allows you to…

Flesh World, by Dirk Peterson, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)
Flesh World, by Dirk Peterson, collection of the Christchurch/Otautahi Zine Library (Photo credit: Jane Maloney/MK Press)

What about the local interaction between makers and the various publics, we touched on trading in a global sense, so how does zine distribution work in a place like Christchurch, which is relatively small? Do a lot of the zines produced here end up outside of Christchurch, or do a lot stay in the city?

AB: A lot stay in the city.

JM: Yeah, I think that’s the same everywhere though.

AB: With distribution studios, there aren’t as many around as there used to be, but there are still ones in Melbourne, New York and London, like the big cities all have them, and they all accept zines if you send them to them. It’s the amount of effort the zine makers want to put in. A lot of zine makers travel for fests, mostly around New Zealand, but I’ve heard of people going over to Melbourne for the big one they have there…

JM: Yeah, Melbourne’s a really accessible fest for New Zealand zine makers.

AB: It’s a big fest, it’s probably the biggest one in Oceania.

JM: It’s massive and obviously it’s reasonably close, I mean it costs almost the same for me to fly to Auckland than to Melbourne. It’s huge and they are trying to make it a two-day event now as well. The non-profit organisation that runs it, Sticky Institute, are a distribution centre and they have been running for a long time…

AB: If you send Sticky your zine, I think they accept ten at a time and they will just put them on their shelves…

But, again to draw parallels with urban art, often the more urgent expression needs to be local, right?

AB: Yeah, absolutely. Definitely.

JM: I think as the content is something you have personally thought about, it’s generally quite local. I’m not as passionate about politics in another country as I would be here, because I live here, and it affects me, it’s just natural.

Check out Part Two here…

Feature Image Credit: Bayley Corfield