Criptic Critic Conscience and Known for it

Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm still arguing with "Ted Bracey".

In 1992 I was elected student rep for our Photography class taught by Glenn Busch, and Catherine Shine at Canterbury University. I presented a list of concerns the class had with the course content to the Head of school, Ted Bracey. I can't remember if Bracey said anything, but for the rest of the year both Shine and Busch ignored my requests for meetings, which was very intimidating. That year I received an E for my years worth of submitted work. I wasn't ignorant of the politics at play, Canterbury ran a guild like biz under siege, I just disliked the blatant abuse of power these people enjoyed against criticism. Though some of these people are gone the culture is stronger than ever.

I'm still arguing with "Ted Bracey". 
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  • Wells Tao In a piece published in Art News last year, John Hurrell revealed that the Waikato reminded Bracey of the Hampshire Downs, where the artist had spent a happy childhood. - quote
  • Wells Tao Bracey found the Waikato idyllic, and drew comfort and sustenance from its landscape and light. How aware was he of the region's history? Did he know about the hundreds of years Tainui spent settling the area, fighting their way north from their base in Kawhia Harbour, defeating ragtag bands of maero, or wild men, planting stone mauri in the soil, to make it fertile, raising kainga and marae, and burying placenta close to the places where their children were born? Did Bracey know the names of great Tainui leaders like Hotunui and Te Whereowhero?

    Did Bracey know about the Waikato Kingdom, which arose in the middle of the nineteenth century to meet the challenge of the white settlers in Auckland, New Plymouth and other outposts of imperialism? Was he aware that the people of the Kingdom adapted the tools of the white man to produce and mill wheat, and to grow vegetables on a massive scale? Did Bracey realise that the Waikato Kingdom was the breadbasket of Auckland and a major exporter to Australia, before the British invasion of 1863, and the series of battles which broke the back of the Kingdom's army and ended with the retreat of the Tainui people across the Puniu River at the bottom of the Waikato, into the rugged country of the central North Island?

    Did Bracey care that the Waikato were punished for their 'rebellion' against the British Crown with the confiscation of most of their land? Did he know about the speculators and absentee landlords who bought up the confiscated land at bargain prices, then sold it on to struggling settlers who paid Maori a pittance to labour on fledgling dairy and sheep farms? Did Bracey suspect that the flat, symmetrical fields, hawthorn hedges, and oak groves he loved had taken the place of stands of massive kahikatea, deep swamps where millions of eels squirmed and swam, and vast kumara plantations surrounded by crooked stone walls and gravel pits? Was Bracey aware that the very Englishness of towns like Cambridge, with their white picket fences, picture postcard Anglican churches, and gridded streets named after Victorian generals, was intended to disguise the real history of the Waikato? How, I wondered, had I succumbed to Bracey's sentimental naturalisation of a wholly contrived environment? How could I have been so gullible? In an effort to answer these questions, I sneaked away from a family trip to the Sunday morning markets in central Hamilton, and once again confronted Tuatuamoana 2 and Winter Land Signal No.8. I brought my exercise book with me, because I intended to scribble some notes toward a critique of the colonialist art Ted Bracey had inflicted on the people of Hamilton. I would bring the man to account.

    What I found in the gallery's deserted exhibition room astonished me. The canvases which had yesterday shown a rich, gentle, welcoming landscape now looked coarse and claustrophic. The dark, thick brushstrokes which ran so boldly across the canvases looked like stains and cuts; the blocks of light green which had seem so lush now reminded me of gangrenous flesh. Bracey's canvases were indictments of the misuse of the rohe of Tainui, indictments of overgrazed dairy paddocks eroding into the Waikato River, of gorse and scrub clogging ancient tributaries of the great river, of urupa being over-run by blackberries... - quote
  • Claire Price I didnt realise you had had that experience. I too complained to Busch and Shine about how lame the curriculum was and politely suggested they invest in buying some photography books for the library...Glen Busch scoffed at me and told me "you're not a photographer yet Claire". Catherine Shine also scolded me for suggesting they buy a Sally Mann book, she told me Mann was a wicked woman who pimped her children and produced child porn and she wouldnt hear another word on it. Just one of many reasons I refuse to pay my student loan
    • Wells Tao Great to hear Claire, can you remember if we were in the same class or just same dept? It surprises me how something so long ago is still so present in my life.
    • Claire Price Yeah I think we were in the same class...with Rikki right? I left half way through my final year...although I was torn about not completing the degree...but it sucked so badly.. I was already starting to work as a photographer so eventually I just jumped ship
    • Wells Tao Yes Rikki, I think that was a class two years later for me after I got kicked out, when I went back to finish my degree (another shitty story). I remember you all being so much younger than me, but yeah I do remember how you "disappeared" and clearly were not being supported.
    • Wells Tao
  • Barry Thomas what lasting art did Bracey ever do??? I avoided him like the plague when I went to Ilam
    • Wells Tao the article posted above makes for a good skim, the role of art work, be it good or bad, to still be used to articulate a certain relationships perspective...
    • Wells Tao
  • Martin Rumsby As independent artists we all are faced with the appropriation of art by academics (who have the temerity to call themselves artists - when all too often they are nothing more than power hungry mediocrities). Such academics monopolize resources for themselves, speak only within institutional contexts and support an idea of an (academic) art history. (Which would be OK if it was called such). I regard these people and their attendant arts administrators as little more than art crimminals and racketeerers. This can be backed up by exapmles like the head of Te Papa (probably on the equivalent of about $240,00.00 a year appropriating $3,000.00 of Te Papa money so that her daughter could accompany her from Wellington for a weekend conference in Palmerston North.Caught but never charged and moved sideways across government departments. Arts academics and managers need to be tithed, say 15% of the salaries they make for living off artists to go into a fund managed by and for artists. (Justification: these bastards are killing art, only artists can save it).
  • Martin Rumsby Non-academics in the arts - Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Cezanne, Tony Fomison, William Blake, Andy Warhol, Michael Snow, Jack Smith and so on. (For an alternative, what became of most of the Royal Academy artists?) We need to fight back; drive them back into their institutions and keep them there, in their privileged, salaried jails. They steal from us in our name. They steal from students who go into unmanageable debt in the hope of getting an art education but all too often are subjected to a prolonged course of abuse.
  • Martin Rumsby It will be a great day indeed when arts managers and academics work for love and independent artists are paid for their work.
  • Roger Boyce I await the pitchfork and torch carrying masses here, ensconce in my Ilam Ivory Tower. I'll show you the secret underground passage to the castle-keep where you can pillage to your heart's content. I am an exhibiting (read selling) artist and a expedient academic. Bwah ha ha.
    • Ross Forbes · Friends with Barry Thomas and 9 others
      F###king academics. BURN THE CUNTS WHERE THEY LIE
    • Martin Rumsby Not advocating that, just a fairer allocation of resources. Academic production is too often tied to research out puts etc. In fact I heard recently that someone at Whitecliffe works to lobby curators to include Whitecliffe's academics in 'important' shows, to ensure the research outputs of that institution. (This is close to racketeering). Artists and curators decisions & choices need to be based on wider criteria or at least to be open and honest about the 'methodologies' they employ. An academic artist cannot help but be constrained by the institution that employs them - they could not be as open as, say, Jack Smith was at his prime. Irony is about as far as they can go.
    • Wells Tao good points Martin Rumsby, I certainly want to see academic artists work that is being used by the university as part of it's funding, to state so, that it is part of the 'democratic functioning promotion' that being a state funded institution should be up front about. For example, people with creative nz funding have to be 'upfront' about it, why don't academics whose art is funded by tax payers? I want this point made so my "critical and conscious' work is able to establish it's quality of difference (if any) and not be sucked into the vacuum surrounding these works..
    • Wells Tao Yeah good point Roger, the issues are not unique to Ilam. And there are many Academics who are sympathetic to the issues, but I imagine (I don't know really) given the nature of contract employment, are tied up in silence.
    • Ross Forbes · Friends with Barry Thomas and 9 others
      My main beef with art school is just the emphasis placed on academic writing......which is a craft just like any other craft like macrame or woodturning. "Academic writing" is in fact the only craft that is still taught at art school. It has all the weaknessess of craftwork where its practitioners are rewarded for the degree of technical skill they display, are rewarded for technical virtuosity. I always laughed when my art tutors would be critical of a students work due to its overt display of traditional craftmanship whilst blindly encouraging this in the craft of academic writing.The university is n fact just a craft guild of academic writers who mistake skill in the semantic manipulation of text for intelligence.
    • Ross Forbes · Friends with Barry Thomas and 9 others
      The real problem now is that the culture of academia and the culture of contemporary art are virtually indistinguishable. Artistic language is burdened with this corrupt idea of the "concept' and artists like some colonised tribe have adopted the garb and dress of academics. So thoroughly have they being colonised that many of them cannot imagine an art which is independent of academic institutions. All the courses now offered at tertiary level for curators etc just increase the hegemony of academia within contemporary art and I think someone like chomsky would analyse these courses like that. Its an unconscious grab for territory and power by one culture over another and should be the object of research by those interested in colonialism.
    • Roger Boyce I consider that "the culture of academia and the culture of contemporary art are" increasingly divergent tracks. Each with their own spaces and house organs. Academic art is, fortunately, quite mulish and cannot readily propagate itself, except under 'lab conditions' a large part of its Raison d'être consists of abhoring, excoriating, the so-called 'market'.
    • Wells Tao The point is Roger you are paid to do it, it might not be pretty but, when you do your job (exhibit) no one knows
    • Roger Boyce Sure they know.
    • Wells Tao
  • Ross Forbes · Friends with Barry Thomas and 9 others
    I think part of the problem is that education is a business just like any other and its "business reps" are your art tutors....though this viewpoint may be somewhat taboo.However i actually have no problem with people who love discussing ideas....some of these are academics but many aren't. In another life i would have been an academic as i was always the brainy kid at school but read too much Jack london and the Beat authors at school so decided that girls fell more for your blue collar type so I went and became a carpentor doing that noble manual labour thing. A fucking big mistake. i should have trained to be a lawyer and married a girl who had an art degree so i could be cool by proxy and still get to go on overaseas trips.
  • Ross Forbes · Friends with Barry Thomas and 9 others
    Did anyone hear of Ivan Illich at artschool?.... or much of Chomsky who pisses all over those French Fucks who became Celebrities and Flew ALL Expenses To America....or even that guy who wrote "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" about the uses to which education is put??? No? Nor did I. Its all Kristeva naow aint it?
    • Wells Tao french fucks? Don't buy that, post structuralism, though seemingly endorsed by the institution is pushed precisely in away that few understand, because if they did they'd hear an excellent critique of the institution.
    • Wells Tao I 've read Ivan Illich, decschooling society
    • Wells Tao At the time I remember reading and being impressed by, Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman.
    • Ross Forbes · Friends with Barry Thomas and 9 others
      I'm a great Chomsky guy as he seems to critique the powerful in simple language......theres a few video clips of him disparaging the poststructuralist guys for what he sees as their thirst for celebrity status.I agree that poststructuralism ......if taught well.....offers a great critique of the education system but for some reason education is the one business which seems to escape its critical eye at uni art schools. It never ceased to amaze me at art school with all its emphasis on "context" that the huge elephant in the room that all art students seemed to ignore was the immediate and obvious context of the art school education business. At one point when I brought this up I was told it was a "given" and so uninportant. A" given"??? Thats precisely why it should have been the subject of some debate surely?? One of my performance pieces i floated was to be me holding a domestic mirror up to the AUT buildings...perhaps not exactly subtle or even a good work but I was dissuaded from doing it by various tutors. However that said i think we all know people who plough their personal bitterness into political causes...both of the left and the right. Some people are just angry and their anger unfortunately does the cause they promulgate no favours. There are many of these on the left and my take on them is that a fascist personality does not an anti fascist make. The 60s was full of self aggrandising student radicals, mostly male, whose political agendas were impeccable but whose personal weaknesses and huge egos effectively stiffled the various causes.
    • Wells Tao I would try to halt a too hasty jump between leaders of social criticism and blaming their own inadequacies for their joint demise. Being 'critical' of the system, in my experience automatically determines that you will do twice the work of those "who aint", just to stand against the flow and under such pressure. it's a lot of work with little reward. To punish those who try it with the myth stigma of egotistical martyrs is like calling the wheel that runs down hill, lazy or opportunistic.
    • Wells Tao
  • Martin Rumsby I actually saw/heard Ivan Illich when he visited/spoke/performed at the University of Auckland way back, possibly in the late 1970s. He certainly was quite critical of academia and suggested several ways of subverting it.
    • Martin Rumsby Tertiary art education in NZ is nowadays premised around the idea of art as a 'creative industry', in the way that tourism, cheese production, furniture factories are industries (and art). I think that many independent artists live outside this framework and speak from somewhere else. The pity is that the academics are not listening. It would be interesting for a curator to put together a show (and catalogue) of NZ artists who developed their work while living on the dole. And then another show of working class artists. In this way we may begin to extend the idea of art and artists rather than, as we are presently doing, narrowing it down to academia and 'creative industrials.' Essays in this catalogue could concentrate on art within a social dimension as well as working class and unemployed approaches to art.
    • Martin Rumsby A case could be made that the unemployment, sickness & domestic purposes benefit have spawned, or supported, the proliferation of widespread artistic practices in NZ since around 1980. (The Student Community Services Programme, PEP Scheme and other community minded/funded schemes also played a part in this which could be seen as a 'peoples' variation' on the American Federal Art Project.
    • Wells Tao Absolutely, a point I have been alluding to for a long time.
    • Martin Rumsby Who would be the curator to undertake such a task? What art gallery or institution would get behind it? The best possibility for such a thing happening is if it was tied into an academic Doctoral research project around this subject.
    • Wells Tao In broad strokes, welfare aimed at guilting "working class" back to work, at the same time didn't know what to do with middle class art types so let them be.. we all wrote our novels on the dole, novels that became NZ culture. A list could be made of exactly who those people were... who's first? !
    • Wells Tao Good to put it out there in a more formal condense way, see if there is any one out there? Maybe put a not on 'the big idea" etc..
    • Martin Rumsby It is actually probably up to us to get such a project underway. Would be quite a good project. The people may enjoy it though one imagines the art institutional types looking the other way.
    • Wells Tao My practice has been be good enough so that they who ever they are cannot possibly pretend you don't exist
    • Martin Rumsby I have certainly written about a great deal of moving image work which otherwise would have been sidelined. After much reflection I would contend that our strongest and most independent films have been made by characters who were subsequently sidelined: George Rose and Brent Hayward. (George is a working man, a cabinet maker); Hayward is now a lifeguard, spent many years working in a factory, lived on the dole for a long period and when he could not get funding support for his films became a sex worker on K Road to meet his production costs.
    • Martin Rumsby Yet, the 'official' view of our independent & experimental film history would have it coming out of the University of Auckland by persons who since went on to work in advertising, television and other arts related areas.
    • Martin Rumsby I guess a related question, worthy of consideration, would be the idea of 'professionalism' in the arts.
    • Amanda Dixon Brent Hayward is a painter now. And a very good one at that. Can find him on here at Fats White.
    • Wells Tao
  • Wells Tao I think my point about the above post is that I was surprised at the existence of a radical working democracy within a art school that was so brutally hierarchical... this of course turned out to be an illusion, but one I still pursue today, to enact or expose as illusion.
  • Martin Rumsby Universities are actually, in my opinion, medieval hierarchical institutions, no matter how they may try to dress themselves up as something else.
  • Tony Chuah · Friends with Barry Thomas and 6 others
    Ilam did work very closely with artist models, I even remember Philip Trustums visit that Ted had arranged for the school. My takeout was that Philip had a prodigious output in order to make a living from what he did. Now maybe the courses were not structured for industry, but there were always examples that were shown. We just had to be attentive to the examples shown before us. I'm not sure there were that many of us who were mature enough to absorb those lessons at the time.
  • Martin Rumsby Something I have observed in the course of exhibiting independent films in NZ, something that really disturbs me, is this. Around 1980 it was possible to independently show work in a cafe or such and get an audience. Similarly in Toronto or Chicago I could roll into town do an independent type show and get an audience. Since arriving back in NZ this has changed for me. I have programmed some great contemporary international work but if I show it in a cafe or some other independent space then very few people attend and the programming is not regarded 'seriously'. Audiences now seem to prefer institutional viewing contexts for independent films. 'Success' seems, to some extent, to depend on the quality of one's institutional allegiances and the support that such institutions offer for whatever strategic or tactical reasons that they may do so.
    • Wells Tao Yes and I think this is a description of the "vertical integration" between social spaces and the corporate art market, that are public funded universities are underwriting for the perks.
    • Mike Nixon I can verify that for sure, it was made quite clear to me to succeed, I had better toe the line, not challenge the institution , get on with my work, but the real "work" like Wells Tao ? stated was understanding institutional power structures and how they enforce control.My feelings of unease and anger at the way I saw people bullied and marginalized was just "because I was an artist" , like passionate ,sensitive , right ? wrong. not in my experience of untenable and hostile environments . Polytechnic governance was taken over by the government in 2009 , and universities will follow this year unless its stopped somehow .Given what I have read here, does it matter ? . Theres a new age ? theory that artists can be the best saboteurs of other artists, especially unsuccessful in the sense of not recognised artists . I dont like undermining people myself but hey, whats my opinion worth ?
    • Wells Tao A lot! Challenging the marketed myth of university art schools and its 24 years of art star silence, is a good start. At the very least , to try against the flow of denials to make conscious, the arguments. and to potentially offer a conscious choice to "consumers' - support anti democratic institutions or go some where else. (ahh somewhere else, where I wana be, too idealistic or what!)
    • Wells Tao
  • Amanda Newall Why did you chaps go to art school? - no one forced you-! Is it so you can continue to complain about other chaps? Get a grip Ted was just another person- he was not against antagonism - in fact he often laughed with me about the fact staff meetings were interrupted by me swearing at Andrew Drummond as we passed beneath the staff room. I mostly remember him emerging from cigarette smoking bushes as he tried to avoid the institution. You can't generalise about artists based on the jobs they take that is closed minded- the interesting aspect about art is it can open peoples minds to new possibilities - !!! As soon as a person attempts to find ways to share knowledge in an art school doesn't mean they become academic institutionalised. Btw Tao - I wouldn't take the E as a reaction half the time the teachers were throwing darts to decide marks. My issue with Ilam is it was too small !- it was never institutional as you claim ( more like an insular competitive family).students also have a responsibility to institutions - if you felt isolated in your complaints you should relied support from the rest of us - you are clearly happy with who you are as an artist now - so enjoy ! - no need to expect all people to be operating the same way / that wouldn't be very open minded - RIP Ted- ..xA
    • Wells Tao Great to hear your perspective Amanda Newall, and experience. Precisely because it was/is a "insular competitive family" is probably why I am interested in the gap between how it saw it self in terms of the rules and forms of teaching, how its varied personalities formally manifest those meetings. How do individuals represent the authority of bestowing standards of creativity is interesting to me. I think it must be said that the Daring to be a fuck wit, the arguments the unruly abuse of authority that was my experience at Ilam, was also a wonderful experience, for the energy that spilled over then is in some way still fueling me now, twenty years later.
    • Roger Boyce Swearing and smoking is now discouraged. As is vigorous disagreement, debate, or for that matter, intellectual exchange, amongst staff, of any kind. The airing of differing ideas is seen as antagonism. If one insists there be discussion then one is labeled difficult.
    • Wells Tao
      Music video by Hole performing Malibu. (C) 1998 UMG Recordings, Inc.
    • Wells Tao
  • Erica Duthie I remember talking to a visiting tutor Stuart Brisley (when at Ilam) saying I was concerned as all my energy at artschool seemed to be tied up in fighting and (loosing) and understanding institutional politics not making art - He commented that being able to unpick and traverse multiple systems was going to be the most useful skill I took out of the artschool... I now see how true that comment was. All that I valued in art was not taught or understood but I got a great trial by fire as to if I had enough conviction to deal with regular opposition and still want to make stuff. The best thing about artschool was meeting like minds!! Was a tough run tho fur sure