Te Uru Contemporary Gallery, Titirangi, Auckland

12/02/2016 - 13/02/2016

They Come From Far Away

Production Details

They come from far away is a live performance series featuring a mixture of visiting artists from Finland, Germany, the UK, across Aotearoa and other places. The series will explore notions of the familiar/unfamiliar, being alien/belonging, being foreign/local and being seen/unseen.

Co-curated by Leena Kela (Finland), Christopher Hewitt (Germany) and Titirangi’s Mark Harvey, the series will be situated in locations around the surrounding environment, in addition to the main gallery. Live performances will be accompanied by video screenings and public talks.

All events are free. You can download a schedule of performances here.

A full programme can be downloaded here.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates.

Artists include Antti Laitinen, Eero Yli-Vakkuri, Pilvi Porkola in collaboration with Claire O’Neil, Matthew Cowan, Leena Kela, val smith, Stephen Bain and Nisha Madhan, Joshua Sofaer, Oblivia, Mark Harvey and Sean Curham.

Kindly supported by the Chartwell Trust, FRAME, Arts Promotion Center Finland and TINFO.

Antti Laitinen, Eero Yli-Vakkuri, Pilvi Porkola in collaboration with Claire O'Neil, Matthew Cowan, Leena Kela, val smith, Stephen Bain and Nisha Madhan, Joshua Sofaer, Oblivia, Mark Harvey and Sean Curham.

Solo , Site-specific/site-sympathetic , Performance installation , Performance Art , Theatre ,

2 days


Review by Christina Houghton 17th Feb 2016

They came from far away but now they have gone, leaving residual affects of collaboration and conversation that may or may not last for more than a moment. The live performance series They Come from Far Away at Te Uru gallery in Titirangi this weekend created inspiring activations of public space through acts of generosity, settling into new locations of art and performance within the hearts and eyes of locals. The three-day experience of Live Art revealed participatory art practices that de-authorised the artist through conversation, intimacy and sharing. Such work can be credited with creating social bonds and social change. However, these artists also considered both the human and the non-human, highlighting the strange and usual through disruption, encouraging active participation that required both collective action and critical reflection.

Many of the performances revealed intense investigations of success and failure as a subversive critique of the institutions, capitalism and the art world. Highlighting the unobtainable and the difficult brings attention to failure in production, labour and economies and can become a rich subversive creative undoing of representation, loosening the hold on what we take for granted in everyday life. The witnessing of some of these investigations is a thought provoking activity that encourages participants to engage with the issues addressed in each work.

Thursday – Day 1

There is a lot of movement in and out of the gallery as well as back and forth along the street as I head in to meet Nisha Madhan of Future Hotel for my booked spot at the Arts Advice Bureau. To enter the gallery I must engage once again with Welcome Mat as Mark Harvey lies across the door greeting me. Today he has measured my Mum’s carbon footprint before me, which he assures me ‘wasn’t too bad’. I place my foot on his back and my carbon measurement is sensed by Harvey, as we both close our eyes and talk about the weight of carbon emissions. I feel the destabilizing nature of facing my carbon footprint assessment and we discuss the hypocrisy of ecological efforts in our everyday lives that at times seem futile. I see Harvey’s position on the floor as a subversion of the eco-preacher pointing out the failure of these efforts. In asking for help, he puts the participant in a position of agency, encouraging an act of kindness in contributing to the work and the themes that are raised. The duration of Welcome Mat over three hours means that there is an accumulation of people who will engage with the work, and as my mum says, he makes a good ‘ice breaker’.

For the Arts Advice Bureau there are only a few encounters to be had over three hours with mine lasting one hour. The premise that is offered is advice or conversation around any misgivings or issues you might have as an artist. Nisha mentions that this work is really not a performance but a one-to-one engagement. Previously a two-to-one with both Stephen Bain and Nisha, this conversation (one-to-one) is more of an exchange of ideas in an intimate encounter on two chairs under a bush. Within the gallery walls earlier it had been difficult to find a place of privacy away from the observing eyes of the gallery goers. But now we sit outside the back of the gallery looking into the stairwell structure through some foliage.  My immediate expectations of performance and consultancy services are dissolved through conversation that unfolds over the period of the session. The open exchange is more like two friends having a chat about what performance is or is not and our misgivings about that from both sides. I appreciate the openness about the work from the artist’s perspective that allows for my investment as also sharing advice. On reflection, I realise that this work holds many layers of the exchange of services, such as professional and psychological counseling and one-to-one to experiences and I wonder about the strategies that make this experience productive, open yet seemingly simple. I see that bordering on this line of what can be considered successful or not is what gives it a sense of risk and uncertainty, such that I become invested in the work and part of it. This type of work is really at the forefront of contemporary performance in that it can’t easily be critiqued on its aesthetic. It becomes more about the ethics of the artist in sharing a space that is generous and enjoyable.

Antti’s Laitinen’s Reconstructed Tree has already been reconstructed, he is a fast worker and I am surprised that he hasn’t taken the full three days to undertake this job. However, I appreciate that this reveals his genuine approach to his work is about the ‘actual’ labour rather than a drawn out concept. The tree is beautiful in its new Frankenstein embodiment and makes me think of the difference between living and constructed objects and natural and manmade environments. His efforts have a sense of care to them that brings a sense of hope for the environment in a state of constant re-construction.

Stephen Bain’s This Means You is a gentle intervention into public space. A recent trip to Taiwan (that he describes as a failed trip researching bamboo construction) inspired his investigation into Tarpaulin architecture. Stephen covers objects during the day with blue tarps, starting with the Bush Markers in the Roundabout, a car, a power box and Atkinson’s Statue at the top end of Lopdell Gallery. The work draws together at 3:15pm, the peak of school pick-up traffic which congests the small village thoroughfare, when he rides a blue paper folded boat/bike sculpture back and forth across traffic. The atmosphere is heightened as every parent has ‘health and safety fears’ showing in their eyes, however the people in cars and trucks are generous as he wobbles all over the road and eventually rides around the roundabout. Kids in buses and cars are joining in and enjoying the disruption to a usually mundane part of the day. Everyone seems to be having a good time. This gesture is one of environmental kindness and offering a nice time amongst the car-bound city we live in.

In the evening the festival moves into the new location of New Lynn Night Markets, a monthly community event with food stalls and regular activities. This event brings together performance in context of everyday that merges into the market activities in a subtle way. Mark Harvey and Leena Kela’s Material Discussion is a table set out with small brown paper bags full of various items and instructions for use that transforms them into crazy performative actions. The enthusiasm of children for these activities opens the possibilities for participation in an accelerated manner particularly after someone has to fill their mouth with lollies and spray them in a fountain. At the other end of the market Sean Curham’s Gentle Lying on the Bonnet of a Popular Car offers public participants 10 mins relaxation with blankets and bolsters on a car bonnet, resting in a contemporary accelerated way (which actually works). Described as effortless and requiring no skill, this one-to-one experience becomes an art piece which othrs observe. It doesn’t seem out of place at all in the comings and goings of cars and people relaxing in the sunshine of a summer’s evening, where there is so much to look at but no pressure of feeling like you are being watched in any particular way.

Friday – Day 2

The inclusion of artist talks and workshops as well as performances was something that I questioned initially, as it can create an exhausting program. However, on reflection the mix allows for further inclusion into the festival of audience members-as-participants as well as giving a greater understanding of the complexities of some of the artists’ practices and performances.

On Friday, I attend UK Artist Joshua Sofaer’s Workshop Fantasy Self for two hours. Suggesting that being one’s self can be exhausting, the promo says “Take time out being someone else as – a change is as good as a rest”.  This workshop uses theatre techniques for exploring identity and intention such as one where we change clothes with our partner and take photos. The underlying potential is exploring how perceptions of our own identity create imagined restrictions in our artistic practice. It is a great taster into the world of a practicing artist someone who, foer example, has collected 452 noses and photographed himself in each one as part of The Nose 2013. It was less a rest and more a challenging experience, revealing that performance is more complex than it can sometimes appear.

I catch Gentle lying on a Bonnet of a Popular Car again in the basement of the gallery car park, a secluded private location that adds to the exclusivity of the one to one experience. This time there is the option to be gently driven around in a circle at 1 km p/hr while resting on the bonnet. It is a somewhat risky experience but one that is part of the point of accelerated resting I expect. Sean’s work has a rock and roll feel to it and makes a strong comment about our technological world, its desirability and its failures.

Up stairs in the main gallery space Curham’s How to Be takes center location as Margaret Blay directs audience/participants to help assemble a bleacher, hand crafted by the artist himself. Subsequently sitting with everyone on the mini grandstand, Margaret translates an essay ‘How To Be’ by Amita Kirpalani that is playing in the head phones she wears. It is a critique of institutionalism and  ‘How not to be an asshole’ in the art world. This encounter performs many layers of show (off) and tell (off). The act of listening and being watched is exciting, as is the rupture between being in an art institution and criticising it, as well as it being quite funny, we laugh politely.

After this there is an artist conversation on the back stairwell,an informal discussion between artists and participants where further concepts around performance arise and this sets us up for the evening performances after a rooftop BBQ.

The evening performances begin with Leena Lela’s Alphabets of Performance Art  a work that she has developed, during her research in Helsinki, into the language of performance art. It draws on all the cliches of performance art entwining dirt and objects and even peeing on stage. This work is such a great way to reveal how these acts and objects can be used and re-used and remind us that every performance draws on a previous one. Leena is also an extremely captivating performer and the kids once again find it suprising and amusing speaking all their experiences out loud. After, we move into the Titirangi Theatre below Lopdell House for Until We Come Together where all the expectations of theatre are laid out with a stage and red seats only to find that artist Pilvi  Porkola is not yet ready for us. She chats to the audience while dyeing her hair and baking cup cakes. Claire O’Neil, her accomplice, assists and summarises in movement around the stage as well as Before we know it we are asked to participate and we are now on stage sitting on couches eating nibbles and drinking. The lights go down the music is on and we realize that the performance is now a party. This subtle transformation is surprising and brilliant and we all have a chance to dance, chat, and then head home when we want.

Saturday – Day 3

This morning begins with Oblivia MOPHA 4 The Rave where four performers dance to rave music in a white space gallery in Helsinki, Finland streamed live to the basement room in Te Uru. I catch the last hour in which the dancers are seen stomping it out to music we can’t hear, projected on the wall. We do however have a beat clicking of one track, which is mesmerising. The energy of the dancers undulates as the music changes and they communicate through Skype messages. This performance is part of The Museum of Post Modern Art MORPHA created by Oblivia where they ask what is the performance of the future exploring different ways of connecting with each other. This experience is interesting in that temporal way where they are at the end of their day as we start ours. We clap as they bow upon finishing there is a great feeling of having supported them through some kind of durational endurance. It’s a great global community feel.

The investigation into becoming each other is explored by valvalval smithsmithsmith and Krstn Lrsn as KAL (the name that emerges throughout the performance) during Gutter Odes and Other Utterences. Beginning in the marginal space of the public toilets this performance leads on from Val Smith’s previous performance project Gutter Matters that explores ideas of gay shame and ecological degradation. Between 12-4pm the pair move in and out of the gallery, to the café next door where they share a smoothie, to the car park out the back, into the back stairwell,  and into hidden spaces around the exhibits. This is a task that is challenging and somewhat impossible yet the determination and somatic intention behind the experience brings up many concepts of being seen, seeing each other, body as object, gender, success and failure. As a participant you come across them and engage in presence and or conversation depending on where you catch them. Drawing on different techniques and methods they explore a range of techniques such as somatic imagery and contact as tactics towards their goal. I see them sharing the experience of Gentle Lying on a Bonnet in the car park, which is a fantastic collision of performances, each holding their intention for full relaxation and becoming each other. Later they begin to recap on where they were at the beginning of the investigation and it is obvious they have discovered a lot through the durational aspect of the exercise. A major discovery is that it may in fact be impossible to fully become someone else yet in this failure they discover much about the nature of performance in a gallery and the act of doing nothing.

I also participate in Eero Yli-Vakkuri’s Trans-Horse project: An Introduction to Horselogical thinking at the Huia Road Horse Club. This event follows his research into horses for HKI-TKU-HKI (2014) in the New Performance Festival in Turku where as a learner rider he rode a horse (with Blacksmith Jesse Sipola and Hanna Karppinen) at walking pace between Helsinki and Turku (100 km). Todays’ event is a working bee providing labour to complete an unfinished horse shelter that Eero had been working on with the club members. This is a social art project one that gets people together in new places working in ways that may be considered impossible in today’s busy worlds. I paint, others weed, and the kids groom the horses. A sign is placed on the shelter ‘Te Uru Shelter’ and we are collectively satisfied. There is an underlying message in this experience in that the horse might represent post-human possibilities. In the artist talk back at the gallery Eero suggests that what he is offering is a single act of kindness at a one-to-one scale. He also explains how this is the first time in history that we do not need the horse for labour in contemporary society, therefore there can be an equal meeting point between human and animal. Horselogical thinking can perhaps remind us of how we used to live, after all travel by horse’s pace will be all we have when the oil runs out and this work asks us why not embrace this ideology now.

This live performance series reflects on recent shifts of art and performance towards the social through participatory practices that desire to re-configure the capitalist consumption of aesthetic experiences. This type of work might be considered the most relevant in times of a refugee crisis and other concerns with the economy and the environment. The festival brought to light those tactics that might be considered important in our everyday lives when dealing with the distance between issues that are so large scale that they are hard to come to terms with. Highlighting small futile actions towards making the world a better place, ideas of getting together, being generous and prioritizing well being through resting, give space to contemplate what could be considered sustainable practices in art and everyday life. Indeed a collaboration with artists from Finland a country with a long legacy in social progressivism might be a step in the right direction.


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