Thursday, 15 September 2011

Should Art be Friendly? Pecha Kucha Talk

The Friendly Girls Society Talk at Pecha Kucha Auckland November 2007.

Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition & Parade

Artstation Gallery, Ponsonby, Auckland.
Interactive Exhibition: October 14th – 24th, 2009.
Parade and Picnic: October 24th, noon (outside Artstation), travelled to Western Park, finished 2pm.

The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition and Parade considered Labour Value.i  Alongside drawing attention to non-economic values (like the value of friendship, the value of sharing, or the value of music for example); FGS wanted to draw attention to capitalism’s singular valuing of paid work, even though unpaid work accounts for the bulk of work contributed to the New Zealand economy.ii This idea was underpinned by the notion voluntary and remunerated work is interdependent.
The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition and Parade was an interactive event set up to coincide with New Zealand’s Labour Day commemorations. The intention of this was two-fold: firstly, to acknowledge unpaid labour; and secondly, to cite the working class history of the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby, where Artstation Gallery is located, which is now gentrified.
Community organisations, schools and members of the public were invited (via an intensive facilitation process) to get involved in the project and the ideas sustaining it by making paper flowers and flags for an exhibition; the centrepiece of which was a float that was showcased in a parade and community picnic in the tradition of Labour Day, complimenting the Day’s customary commemoration of paid work.
Artstation’s tally of numbers revealed that at the conclusion of the project an estimated 1550 people had visited the gallery during the event, which took place over ten days. These numbers were made up of diverse organisations; including special needs programmes, schools, and small community groups. Most participants dropped by informally to take part; meanwhile others came just to look at the growing exhibition, or took part in the ensuing float parade and picnic.
The exhibition opened in an unaccustomed way as an incomplete work – just a little trellis-covered house in the middle of the gallery; some flagpoles and pennants; several tables and chairs; tissue paper and pipe-cleaners for making flowers; pre-cut blank flags and art materials for decorating them. The gallery walls were decorated to evoke a sense of a FGS ‘clubhouse’ with paraphernalia from this and past projects. A FGS tea party took place at the opening event – a gesture that has become a convention of all FGS openings. The exhibition was completed over eight days out of the community’s involvement in its making – and stood completed for its final two days as a flamboyant visual spectacle once the house was covered in paper flowers, and the flags had been attached to bias and strung throughout the gallery. Because of the emphasis on interaction and participation, FGS colleagues attended to the exhibition during all opening hours and were actively involved in welcoming people; talking through the ideas beneath the project; and providing tuition.
On deinstallation day, a perfect spring day, people gathered outside Artstation and travelled with the flower house (which had wheels attached) as it was towed along the footpath of Ponsonby Road to Western Park. Everyone pitched in to carry flags, flagpoles and cardboard trees. At the park the elements of the exhibition were reconfigured with the house as a centrepiece; deck chairs were set up; blankets spread out; and everyone shared a picnic under the flying flags and a clear blue sky. Those present were diverse in age and cultural background, and very few of knew each other on arrival.
The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition and Parade was successful on several levels. It was conceptually robust; aesthetically appealing; and it was egalitarian and engaged the community. The common sentiment expressed by participants was gratitude they had been provided with the opportunity to work collectively and contribute in a real way to an event that they could find meaning in. Many indicated they felt a sense of loss over the absence of local community gatherings in today’s society. This ratified the success of the project within FGS wider conceptual concerns: to scrutinise the role of ‘friendliness’ in a commodified culture.
i The word Value derived around the thirteenth century out of Middle English, from Old French – a feminine past participle of valoir: to be strong, be worth; originating in the Latin word val─ôre. This description lacks capitalist, fiscal connotations, which is the immediate implication of the assumption: Labour Value.

iiNew Zealanders spend more time on unpaid work than paid work. Over the course of a year, we do over 4.2 billion hours of unpaid work. If this is converted into fulltime jobs of 40 hours a week, it equates to over two million jobs. By comparison, 3.5 billion hours is spent on paid work, equating to 1.7 million full-time jobs of 40 hours a week. Of the total hours spent on unpaid work, 2.7 billion are done by women and 1.5 billion by men. The value of unpaid work in New Zealand in 1999 was $40 billion, which is equivalent to 39 percent of GDPThe results clearly demonstrate the large investment of time in unpaid work and its economic significance …”

The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Parade and Picnic  


FGS Remembrance & Rest Clubhouse

A project for Auckland City Council’s Living Room programme 2008 (and jointly part of Auckland Art Gallery’s public programmes), Khartoum Place, Auckland
21st to 24th April, 2008 (10am to 2pm daily)
The FGS Remembrance & Rest Clubhouse project was convened to intersect with ANZAC commemorations.  These have become a renaissance event for many people.  There is an awareness of the futility of war within a post-modern world that is conscious of many current wars, and at the same time a desire to honour in a real way the men who fought, died and were traumatised within the wars that ANZAC Day acknowledges. 
 The Friendly Girls Society spent four days in the week running up to ANZAC Day camped out in temporary clubrooms in Khartoum Place (in Auckland City’s central business district).  The endeavour was to compliment the master narratives related to the context of ANZAC commemorations with other smaller ones interwoven with them, which delved into the histories of women that carried out important deeds for the city and the country during historic war times.  A magazine was produced especially for the event; meanwhile the serving of tea and homemade Anzac biscuits, and activities and conversation offered within the clubrooms provided a respite and an alternative environ and experience alongside the everyday hubbub of the inner city.  An official Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA) poppy stall was also run alongside Clubhouse activities – extending the project’s goodwill.

 The location of the clubrooms, Khartoum Place, was chosen because it was named after Lord Kitchener of Khartoum – the figure on the war recruitment posters who became commander in chief of the Boer War in 1900 and fought ruthlessly – weakening resistance by razing farms, and bundling women and children into filthy concentration camps – for his side’s victory.

 The tent structure of the clubrooms had a dual purpose: referring on one hand to war history and the role of caring within it – the Red Cross tents where soldiers were healed or cared for as they died – and on the other hand it presented a refuge from the routine of everyday CBD activity, offering a place to consider alternative histories relevant to time and place; and at the same time an interaction through which one could gain a transient encounter with community, something often missed in busy city centres.
 Approximately 300 people actively engaged in the FGS Remembrance & Rest Clubhouse during its four-day existence, and around this many again stopped to donate money for RSA poppies.

See also:


Artstation Gallery, Ponsonby, Auckland
February 21 – March 7, 2007

This project started with a discussion about how art can be alienating depending on how you are positioned in relation to it.  It was decided to directly engage people in the making of a show in order to connect them to the work and provide an opportunity for them to consider the ideas underpinning the work - about the role of benevolence in a society that worships commodities and the spectacle, and deifies celebrity.  The aim, as with all FGS projects, was not to create ‘community’, which is utopic, but to activate conversation via participation.   

Funding for Birdhouse was gained through Creative Communities.  Then an intensive facilitation and publicity process followed inviting people to be part of the project.

The exhibition opened with another tea party.  It began in an unaccustomed way as an incomplete work – just a little blue house in the middle of the gallery, some ghostly blue trees painted on the walls, several tables and chairs, hundreds of pre-cut undecorated silk-screened birds and some art materials.

Birdhouse was an egalitarian exercise and brought together many different people.  Primary, intermediate, secondary and special schools took part; along with diverse clubs and societies; and the organisations affiliated with the Artstation community.  Many people dropped by informally as well.

People could choose a bird and then decorate it as they wished with the art materials provided.  The birds were then installed on the house and gallery walls.  The final show grew over the two week period – and stood completed for its final three days as a colourful sight once all the birds were made and had been installed.  At the conclusion of Birdhouse almost 800 people had taken part.
The show worked on many different levels.  It engaged people in a real way; it was visually brilliant; and had many interesting conceptual layers.  Meanwhile, the birds became an allegory for the ideas that arose through discussion prompted by the project. 

Birdhouse was tied off with two benevolent gestures.  Firstly, the birds were taken down and either returned to their makers, or posted on as gifts to nominated persons or organisations.  Secondly, honesty box donations were collected to assist the work of Sylvia Durrant, better known as the ‘Bird Lady’ of Brown’s Bay, who has voluntarily rescued and nurtured sick and injured birds at her home for many years – a vociferation for the individuals who quietly and selflessly make generous apolitical contributions to a community.

FGS was invited to repeat Birdhouse at the Christchurch Art Gallery at the end of 2007.  There were about 700 birds to pre-cut at short notice, so friends and family gave up their time for a special ‘cutting bee’ in support of the event.  

Bird Rescue Volunteer Sylvia Durrant and Max
Christchurch Art Gallery - Birdhouse Installation

Tea and Sympathy

Canary Gallery, Karangahape Road, Auckland 
23 November - 3 December, 2005

The Friendly Girls Society was inaugurated with a tea party at the artist run space, Canary Gallery.  Value was given to the notion of ‘friendliness’ by placing it squarely in a gallery context.  On offer was tea, scones, music, kindness and most importantly time.  A conscious effort was made to equally privilege all visitors and to include everyone. 

With this project FGS was exploring the notion of a club.  Elements that identify different groups were borrowed to render a clubroom: including a coat of arms, banners, paintings of honorary members, and inaugural gang patches and tea towels.  The aesthetic was kept deliberately ambiguous to avoid tendering a space onto which people could project fantasies and linear narratives.