Friday 29 July 2011

Punishing the wrong behaviour

I love the idea of the New York Public Library's 'Read Down' programme.

Over the summer break, kids who have racked more than $15 in fines can get them expunged by logging their reading times on the Summer reading site. 15 minutes of reading equals a $1 reduction in fines.

Currently, 143,000 kids - 30% of those with NYPL cards - owe $15 or more in fines. The Library wants to get them back in the doors:

"Kids might be afraid or ashamed because they are delinquent with the library," said NYPL official Jack Martin. "The idea of this program is to bring them back in.

"We are in such hard economic times and children and teens depend on the library," he added.

I can't easily think of an alternative way to encourage people to return books apart from discouraging them for holding on to them with fines (although drop-boxes at schools might help). But stopping kids from borrowing more because they're scared of getting told off or turned away defeats libraries' bigger purpose.

Amnesties like this delight me. Libraries recognise they're unlikely to ever get the money back - but they can get the items, and - more importantly - get the readers back through the doors.

Tuesday 26 July 2011


I'm really rather taken with the Steve Carr works in the first show at the new Melbourne gallery, KALIMANRAWLINS.

I've always enjoyed his mixture of humour, high-finish and suspense - even the sculptural and photographic works have a sense of the cinematic.

And I'm also excited to see what KALIMANRAWLINS puts out there - they also represent NZ artists Simon Denny, Seraphine Pick, and Ronnie van Hout.

Steve Carr, Screen Shots, 2011. HD file transferred to Blu-Ray. Unique edition (3 screens). From the KALIMANRAWLINS website.

Steve Carr, A Shot in the Dark (The Bachelor), 2008. C-type print mounted on dibond. Christchurch Art Gallery collection.

Steve Carr, A Shot in the Dark (Bearskin rug), 2008. Kauri, stain, acrylic paint. Christchurch Art Gallery collection.


When I talk on the radio about an exhibition or an art work, I'm mindful that I pick things that I can enthuse about. Partly because that's what I see as my role on National Radio - I'm not going to waste an opportunity to get listeners positively engaged with contemporary art and the art world by behaving like a hatchet-tongued stereotype. But also because I'm aware that going on air and ripping shreds off something that people can't see will simply create a very unenjoyable ten minutes of radio.

So there have plenty of shows in the past year that I've gone to, that I've thought were lame, dull, overcooked, or uninteresting. I've avoided talking about all of them. There have been shows I've gone to that I've found somewhat flawed in a thought-provoking way (the anniversary show at the Dowse, the current show at the Adam Art Gallery) that I have tried to delve into. It's a challenge, trying to explain why you're puzzled or not satisfied by something. When you say a book is not well-written, people know what you are generally aiming at. When you try to explain why you're calling an exhibition badly curated (that is, when you're saying something other that 'the art isn't very good', although god knows there's been a few examples in recent months where that simply is the case), it's far harder to find some common ground to start from.

So I was interested to see Robert Pinsky's three rules of reviewing in Salon this week:

1. The review must tell what the book is about.
2. The review must tell what the book's author says about that thing the book is about.
3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book's author says about that thing the book is about.

I wonder if this can be successfully adapted to exhibitions?

1. The review must tell what the exhibition is about
2. The review must tell what the exhibition's organiser says about the thing the exhibition is about
3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the exhibition's organiser says about the thing the exhibition is about

The complicating factor is, of course, that with an exhibition, there's often another layer. What the curator is saying might be very different from what the artist is saying. Sometimes the tension between these two things is interesting - sometimes it's effortful, sometimes it's just daft. Maybe this is point four, and maybe this is where I need to put more thought in.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Web muster

A romance writer does some hardcore research to make sure scenes involving crinolines, corsets and heaving body parts are realistic*

Women wore blouses under their corsets—making actual bodice ripping fairly pointless. Corsets fastened in front and laced up the back and couldn't be undone in a single passionate gesture. "You'll see pictures of corsets on bare skin. That's completely historically inaccurate," Ms. Gist told her audience.

Seb Chan blogs about using the My Tours app
to create walking tours for the Powerhouse Museum, and interviews Glen Barnes, the guy behind My Tours. Wise words from Glen:

I think this is one area where organisations really have to start working with local tourism boards and businesses. If you are from a smaller area then band together and release one app covering the local heritage trail, museum and gardens. The tourism organisations tend to have more of a budget to promote the area and by working together you can help stand out amongst the sea of apps that are out there. Also make sure that you tell people about it and don’t rely on the app stores. Get links of blogs, the local newspaper and in real life (Welly Walks had a full page article in a major newspaper, two more articles and a spot in KiaOra magazine). Talk to people and make sure the local hotels and others who recommend places-to-go know about what you are doing.

And finally, creating a history of smells:

It seems far-fetched to think we could actually start to smell the past - or somehow preserve a whiff of our daily lives. But increasingly, technology is making it possible, and historians, scientists, and perfumers are now taking the idea of smells as historical artifacts more seriously. They argue that it’s time to delve into our olfactory past, trying harder to understand how people experienced the world with their noses - and even save scents for posterity.

*No, not that kind of hardcore. This is a family show.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

King of paintings

Hamish McKay is currently showing Julian Dashper's masterful Regent (on resale) alongside a little group of smaller velvet paintings selected from private collections.

It is an utterly fantastic painting. Energetic, almost greedy, it latches on to your eyes and propels them around it surface, over clownishly thick lines and sublime golden dribbles and scaley white patches and turquoise lakes.

Dashper famously observed of these works that

they were all made by holding the tube and squeezing it. So I never touched or embraced the painting. I could have made them wearing three piece suits. They were like lies in terms of artistic expression or angst.

As such, they're often taken as conceptual paintings. Dashper disowned the word 'conceptual' as it was applied to him - all art, he argued, was conceptual. And you can't help but feel, as your eye travels over Regent, that there's a joy in colour and texture and gesture, and that while Dashper might have been faking it, he was feeling it too.

I've always loved Dashper's words as much as his works. The show at Hamish McKay's coincides with the publication of Julian Dashper: This is not writing, a collection of essays, interviews, artists statements and other texts. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

NB: For those of you who tune in, I'll be talking about Dashper's work, with a focus on Regent, on Radio New Zealand national at about 11.45am today.

Julian Dashper, Regent, 1986. Oil on velvet 1370 mm x 2140 mm. Image from the Hamish McKay Gallery website

Monday 18 July 2011

Over here

About a month ago, I blogged about this Atlantic article by Alexis Madrigal on the New York Public Library, and especially this extract.

I'm going to give you the conclusion to this article here to solve the tl;dr problem. There are two things the library has done to create such cool projects. First, I'm convinced the NYPL is succeeding online because of desire. The library's employees give a shit about the digital aspects of their institution, and they are supported in that shit giving. I mean this in the most fundamental way possible and as a damning critique for media companies. Second, the library sees its users as collaborators in improving the collections the library already has. While serving them online costs the library some money, they are creating value, too, by opening up conduits into the library for superusers.

So you can imagine I'm super-excited to say that Michael Lascerides, Senior Manager for Web Initiatives at NYPL, has just been announced as the second keynote speaker for this year's National Digital Forum conference in Wellington.

Michael joins Mitchell Whitelaw, whose work I've also blogged about. I'm know I'm being partisan as hell right now, but I can't wait for November.

Friday 15 July 2011

You had me at 'polar bears'

This image in a Salon slideshow of abandoned towns and buildings made my brain dart straight to Michael Stevenson.

The caption sealed the deal:
At 79 degrees north, Pyramiden was once an ideal Soviet community of 1,000 settlers: self-reliant, with free food and 50,000 books in the library. In 1998, mining was no longer sustainable and the settlers were given a few hours to pack. Melancholic remnants of their hasty departure are everywhere: dried-up plants on windowsills, Tolstoy on dusty shelves. We carry guns; a necessary precaution as Pyramiden now belongs to polar bears and cackling seagulls, nesting in windows and on rusted playground swings.
I have my fingers firmly crossed for a Michael Stevenson Soviet utopia with bonus polar bears.

Then again, perhaps we have a Michael Parekowhai on our hands? According to Wikipedia:
The world's northernmost grand piano is located at Pyramiden; a "Red October" (Красный октябрь) grand piano is located in the auditorium of the cultural centre.

Wednesday 13 July 2011


The thing I most admire about NZ On Screen - aside from their evident skills in copyright wrangling and content creation - is the way they work hard to group and promote the films on the site.

Recently they've asked Mark Amery to collect together documentaries and films on New Zealand artists, and he's aggregated about a dozen titles, including the full version of the 2009 documentary on Peter McLeavey.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Two lovely things from Lapham's

I wish I had reading room in my life for a print subscription to Lapham's Quarterly, but I'd knee-deep in unread New Yorkers as it is.

Thankfully, Lapham's are very generous with their online sharing. With each issue they make a mix of the historical and contemporary content available straightaway; so for the latest food-themed edition you can get Deborah Blum's Death and the Pot (2011) alongside a c. 29BC Roman piece.

In a new venture, Lapham's are sharing a bibliography of the books that were used to pull together each issue; so the food-themed issue list includes The Kitchen Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl.

Alongside that, the blog this week features one of the best job titles I've seen in a while: Culinary Collections Librarian and Electronic Resources Coordinator. It belongs to Rebecca Federman, who holds that august position at the New York Public Library, and she's guest blogged for Lapham's on The Fried Chicken War. The post draw on the NYPL's awesome programme to crowdsource the transcription of their menu collection, What's on the menu?

Friday 8 July 2011


On a recent trip to Melbourne I got to catch up with all my favourite jewellery galleries/shops - Studio Ingot, eg etal, Gallery Funaki (a whole damn tray of Karl Fritsch rings) and the wonderful new Pieces of Eight gallery.

I saw some great work, but nothing that hit me as viscerally as these hair necklaces by Kerry Howley that a friend tipped me off to this week

I'm intrigued by what wearing these pieces would feel like. Howley calls the series attraction/aversion, and my first reaction on that basis was not about the taboo nature of hair, a la Vivian Lynn, but the physical sensation. To look at, you'd think they'd feel itchy and scratchy - there's something about those curves that suggests tickly ickiness. But then I recalled that I have long hair, and when it hits my throat and shoulders its almost imperceptible, and any tickle is quite pleasant. So my curiosity moved on to pondering how people would react if you were wearing a work like this - how outspoken they might be in their own attraction or aversion.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Read all about it

Seb Chan over at the Powerhouse Museum has been blogging up a storm as a bunch of new sites and apps roll off the production line ...

First up, there's the Sydney Design 2011 site, mobile site and app (built by Mob Labs, based on an idea by Toko, and produced by the Powerhouse), which Seb describes as the most decentralised web presence for the event yet; partners use an instance of the Powerhouse's helpdesk tool to submit events for editorial review. At the end of the post Seb observes

Mob Labs did a great job on the mobile site which has some nifty swipe interface action and geo-location in mobile browsers – give it a go on an iPhone, Android or Blackberry and see. And once the native App goes live we’ll be able to see how many iOS users choose the App over the Mobile Web version of the site.

Maybe this year will be the last time we feel we need both a mobile website and an App.

Next, there's Go Play, a site and mobile app that pulls together kids holiday events across multiple agencies. Here the Powerhouse seems to be working as a R&D lab for the NSW government, selected to solve a problem on the basis of their well demonstrated digital acuity. Seb's post outlines the need and audience for the site, as well as the development process.

Then there's the online exhibition catalogue and app for 'Love Lace', a new Powerhouse exhibition. I found Seb's post about this piece of work particularly interesting, as they've found ways to solve previous issues they had with QR codes:

To solve one of the big problems with QR codes – that people just can’t be bothered downloading a QR code reading application (or firing it up if they do have one), our internal developer Carlos Arroyo has built the exhibition iPhone and Android App with the QR code scanner built in! This means anyone who downloads the exhibition App – itself a full catalogue of the exhibition designed for in-gallery supplementary browsing now also has their QR scanner at their finger tips.

If you're not subscribed to Fresh + Newer, you really should be. Seb never posts filler or fluff; it's always useful, usable information, which often makes you think not just 'why didn't I think of that?' but 'what if we couyld do things like that?'.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Take me out to the ball game

Things are still crazy busy round here. If you've got a spare quarter of an hour though, you could do much worse than to give it over to this blow-by-blow account of an India vs Pakistan match from the 2011 Cricket World Cup by Nate DiMeo and Michael Schur.

Sure, lengthy pieces in which American writers try to unravel the complexities of cricket (really - is it that complex? and that hard to tell the difference between wickets, stumps and bails?) are hardly rare. But this one has a particular charm that doesn't all come down to the fact that one of the writers is high as a kite on Vicodin.

Tendulkar is out!

No he isn't. He escapes again — this after a line drive is dropped by a fielder. Tendulkar is charmed. He's the Derek Jeter of cricket, right down to the fact that he is 37 and hates A-Rod (we assume). We are currently awaiting crowd-shot confirmation that he also dates the Indian Minka Kelly. Eagerly.

The dropped ball has infuriated the emerging man-crush, Afridi. The commentators are tearing into the fielder for dropping a rocket line drive that he was trying to field, 15 yards away, with his bare hands. Dunno. Seems understandable to us. But we feel for Afridi.

How many chances can they give Tendulkar?

That is not rhetorical. We do not know if there is a limit to how many chances they can give Tendulkar.

Another wicket for Pakistan (from Ajmal, not Gul), another confounding "Billie Jean" interlude. Riaz is back in, and they show his stat line, which has like 50 categories, only three of which are recognizable. This stat line graphic is crazy. Without rewinding and actually checking, here's what it looked like, in our minds' eyes:

Wickets: 4
Dot balls: 29
Glimmers: 14
Fleemers: 2.21
PaPkk: 100
Posterior? Y/N/V777
Powdermilk: Zap
Snerkles: Portishead
Cricket? Yes.

The conclusion I come to at times like this - there are few things as satisfying as insider language, and one's smugness over understanding said language is best complemented by someone else's utter bamboozlement.