Tuesday, March 24, 2009
  Earth, heat and fire are putty in his hands

From NZ herald March 21, 2009.

Pic: Kenny Rodger

When Len Castle was 10 a cousin took him to Wiri Mountain in Manukau when it was still largely intact. "I was taken down and into - it was a tight squeeze - a lava tube, a wonderful experience that stayed with me and I think it may have triggered off my interest in volcanic phenomena," says the 84-year-old potter.

The extreme combinations of heat and earth are in evidence at Lopdell House, where the travelling show Mountain to the Sea brings together stone and earthenware works from the 1980s to 2008 along with Castle's photos of geothermal activity and poems commissioned for the show by curator Tanya Wilkinson of the Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery.

Castle discovered clay growing up at Westmere. He remembers sitting on the sand under the pohutukawa trees "modelling things with my hands while looking out at the black reef."

Castle discovered clay growing up at Westmere. He remembers sitting on the sand under the pohutukawa trees "modelling things with my hands while looking out at the black reef."

That memory came back when the late James Mack invited him to be among the select group of craftspeople showing work at the New Zealand Pavilion at the Seville Expo in 1991.

"He gave each of us a motivational statement. Mine was, 'The magma cools on its way to the ocean,"' Castle says.

What's striking about many of the works in the Titirangi gallery is their sculptural nature. Many New Zealand potters have made the transition from pottery to sculpture, but for Castle it just meant getting better.

"Back in the 1960s when I started potting professionally, I needed to make tablewares and I quite enjoyed that, but if I was making 12 casseroles, they would all be different. I was more interested in getting variations of form.

"As soon as I made my quota I started modelling objects that hinted at the organic world, and I found a few people interested whenever I had an opening of the kiln, and it built up from there."

Even before then, Castle had been working out not just how to make pots but how to be a potter. He remembers seeing his first Shoji Hamada pot in the early 1950s in the Upper Hutt home of fellow schoolteacher Ray Chapman-Taylor, who had sought out the master ceramicist while stationed with J Force in Japan after World War II.

"When I first saw my Hamada piece I kind of shuddered but I was drawn to it. I thought about it that night. What was it that has drawn me to this rugose [wrinkled] piece? It took me a while to sort it out. Here is a man who had probably thought about things carefully, but then he had acted, and that intuition played an important role in what he was doing.

"At that stage I didn't know very much about materials but I could sense he obviously understood his materials, and he allowed the kiln to have its say, and so on. This struck me as something valid, and so a truth to material approach became a key thing in my work.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
  Reflections on Giovanni Intra

Pic Jennifer French
Published NZ Herald Saturday Feb 14, 2009

A young man goes to art school. He has energy, charm, an exotic name and an appetite for art theory. He proves adept at turning out ideas for theory-drenched conceptual pieces, which appeal to a certain faction of the New Zealand art world of the early 1990s.

He's even better at organising, networking, writing about the work of other artists, writing thank you notes, and all those other important things required to build an art career.

After art school he and some of his peers start an art gallery where other young artists can show their reifications of theory. (If you need to look that word up, you haven't read enough theory.)

He has a fascination for surrealist photography, particularly that of Jacques-Andre Boiffard, whose day job was medical photography. He explores medical themes in his work, always a giveaway sign of an unhealthy interest in recreational chemistry.

He gets a scholarship and enrols for postgraduate study at a good California art school, which leads to the creation of a similar artist-run space in Los Angeles' Chinatown. He becomes a prominent writer and art critic for word soup journals such as Art and Text, Semiotexte, Artforum and Flash Art. Then he dies at the age of 34, overdosing during a visit to New York in 2002, where street drugs are stronger. That's the same age as Phil Clairmont was when he died almost two decades before, but the volume of Giovanni Intra's art output was a mere fraction of the painter's - a few pieces in private and public collections. His sketchbooks, correspondence and collections of exhibition invites, posters, pamphlets and tracts are donated to various archives, including a boxload dropped off at Artspace.

The box sits under a desk until curatorial intern Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers decides it might illuminate part of the country's recent art history.

"He was a fascinating and interesting person, not only for his art practice, which was really significant at the time, but for his other modes as writer, curator and for Teststrip, which was a significant artist-run space," says Brettkelly-Chalmers. "He was a nexus of activity and discussion and in a way came to sum up a shift in contemporary New Zealand art.

"What people have said to me was when [Intra] was at Elam, there was this idea that theory sat external to the work. Intra and his contemporaries spent a long time looking for contemporary art theory that they fed back into their practice."

That's the perspective of the curator, who is trying to unpack this box of tatty fragments as cultural history. I try to unpack it as memory. I never met Intra, and never found the doorway in K Rd leading to Teststrip. When I first heard of him I thought the name was a construct, like the names his colleague Merilyn Tweedie uses to project her theory-laden contrivances.

By the time Intra got to Elam, the debate between regionalism and internationalism was well worn here. Intra chose, or was drawn to, the school of thought that art should be part of an international dialogue, so the same scattering of objects on a gallery floor could have been produced in Auckland or Amsterdam. His take on surrealism owes nothing to the curious southern Gothic strain which has infused the regional art DNA.

His story is like that of many young people who make their way to art schools, rather than study law or accounting. They learn some foundations, either practical or theoretical, shape some sense of identity, try making art for a while, then go off and do something else with their lives.

They provide an informed audience for the arts and, if they shift into more lucrative careers, support those who persevered by buying their work.

Intra stopped making art and became a critic and gallerist. Whether he would have returned to contribute to the arts in New Zealand will forever remain an unanswered question.

It's a bit like trying to do a show on Hamish Keith with a cutoff point at age 34. But as Keith's recent memoir shows, that's when he was probably just getting into his stride as a shaper of and contributor to the country's cultural life. As it was, Tweedie as Et Al got to represent this country at the Venice Biennale three years after Intra's death, marking the high point for that particular strain of strained conceptualism.

And up the road, Objectspace's annual Best in Show, which draws on the end-of-year shows at the country's craft and design schools, indicates the prominence of critical theory in the way the arts are now taught.


What: Beginning in the Archive: Giovanni Intra 1989-1996.
Where and when: Artspace, 300 Karangahape Rd, to Feb 28.
  Short courses boost degrees and polish CVs
NZ herald Wednesday Feb 11, 2009

Students looking to recession-proof their degrees are increasingly looking at taking on short courses which don't add any credits but do make them more employable.

At Auckland University's business school, that includes Microsoft and Cisco certification, and for the first time last year, certification in SAP, one of the major enterprise management software systems. Tutor David Sundaram says the school will try and run it again this year.

Don Sheridan, the head of the information systems and operations management department, says: "There has been significant interest from students in taking the related commercial courses we offer to enhance their CV."

The 12-day course, Integrated Business Processes in SAP ERP based on SAP best practices (BPERP), costs $2000.

SAP and other commercial programmes are also used in the school's enterprise systems courses, giving students hands-on experience of the technology they will encounter in the workplace. Sheridan says it is increasingly focusing on industry solutions, setting up a centre for supply chain management to make students aware of the practical aspects of what they are learning.

An online possie for Adam Gifford, a New Zealand journalist specialising in information technology, Maori news and the arts.

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