Friday 29 November 2013

High rotate

The past couple of weeks, I've been listening to a lot of Streets of Laredo (a thoroughly Brooklynised ex-Auckland band).

Kindly, you can listen to both their EPs through Spotify and Soundcloud, and download them from their website. You can also - shock, horror - pay for it on iTunes ot Bandcamp. Good people.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Thank you

Recently at work I blogged about a problem we're seeing at The Dowse; schools who can't afford the transport costs to come and use the LEOTC programmes we run, funded by the Ministry of Education. It's a widespread issue, affecting most LEOTC providers I've talked to.

The blog post was prompted by an article in the DomPost about the issue, and a conversation I had on Twitter after I tweeted it. On Twitter, I was asked how much it would cost to get a class to The Dowse. In the blog post, I gave the figures (depending on distance and length of visit, the charges for the subsidised bus we have available to us come in between roughly $55 and $100).

I wrote in the post that we're about to start fundraising so we can offer that bus for free. And amazingly, kindly, amazingly kindly, Pauline Dawson - a dedicated art supporter - spontaneously gave us a donation to help out.

Pauline's written a blog post about why she did this, reminding us how galleries and museums can provide those 'wow, it's a big world out there' moments so important in a kid's life.  In turn, her gesture is a reminder that sometimes, when you ask, good things happen. So from me and my team Pauline - thank you so much.

Wednesday 20 November 2013


Every so often, I get a bee in my bonnet about visualisations. Sometimes I even do wanky pie charts making fun of my own frustrations.

But then occasionally, I see something that really works for me. Like this investigation of the Tate collections by Florian Kräutli. Kräutli uses fairly simple graphs to get a feel for the shapes of the collections, and then to drill down into the shapes that strike him as strange (why the bump in 1814? why 'one big balloon and a lot of awful tiny dots'?).

It's a lovely bit of writing and best of all, I learnt things about the Tate collections by the time I got to the end of it, things that I wouldn't have absorbed so markedly if it had just been s short essay. Love it. More, please.

(It's worth noting as well that these visualisations are made using data released by Tate on GitHub.)

Monday 18 November 2013


Via a friend at the Alexander Turnbull Library, the Auckland War Memorial Museum's Unsolicited Donations page. It impossible to look at this little array without being moved, in that very specific way that abandoned miscellaneous objects seem to move you.

If you hover over the images, you get a brief decription. This one cannot be beaten: Deep ocean rock. Green coloured silicious rock; believed to be deep ocean. Found by depositor and dropped off because she believed it to be cursed. Received 2008-09.

Sunday 17 November 2013

On the radio

This week just gone: the death of art philosopher Arthur C Danto and the revelation of a stash of Nazi-looted art in Germany.

Friday 15 November 2013

High rotate

Another week with more writing and more wordless music. This time, it's been Jon Hopkins' soundtrack for the movie adaptation of How I Live Now. Full of foreboding throughout, the final track does capture some of the tenderness, sadness, anger and commitment of the book's conclusion.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The architecture of reassurance

Last week I woke up to an energetic flurry of tweets back and forth between Seb Chan and a bunch of other overseas folks I follow over his blog post "Completion", participation and purpose. In it, he asks whether we care enough about - or have any way of measuring, "completion" of the experiences (be they online or physical) museums make for visitors.

Amid that flurry, Fiona Romeo got called in on the basis of a talk she'd recently given at the Pratt Institute on storytelling and exhibition design. Romeo promised to write up and publish her talk, and she duly has.

I find her observation reassuring pragmatic. Romeo covers the claims museums make for storytelling and the issues that get in the way. Firstly, we assume visitors will follow our story in order, and they usually do not. Here's where Romeo's background as a designer of digital experiences for Disney parks gives her a fascinating perspective. Quoting from Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The architecture of reassurance she notes that "Each Disney ride was designed as if it was a film, with establishing shots and jump cuts" and exratcs this quote
Vehicles swivel as they move forward, putting the passenger in the position of a moving camera that looks first in one direction and then another.
Second, visiting shows is tiring and we get sick of standing up and reading. And thirdly, the ternal struggle to use language that conveys concepts and an artist's or curator's intentions, while being (a) extremely broadly accessible and (b) compelling and/or entertaining.

Romeo then describes two exhibitions she worked on that tried hard to deliver on a narrative structure. These were complex, highly interactive, large-scale shows and her write-up makes for good reading. The puncline? Both exhibitions resulted in books being written to make the most of the narrative that was developed. Highly recommended reading.

(Plus, Romeo name-checks The Phantom Museum, which I really love.)

Monday 11 November 2013


Over on The Dowse blog I wrote up a few notes from the Curator's Hui held at Te Manawa in October. While I only made it to one of the two days, I'm still processing what I heard. The presentations were a lovely mixture - often within the same talk - of the very abstract and the very concrete, and I asked a lot of questions. (I always ask a lot of questions.)

We put up our hand to host the next hui in 2015. We're currently looking at a date in the second half of October. More information as it comes to hand.

Friday 8 November 2013

High rotate

Three songs unconnected by much except the fact I played them a lot this week

Streets of Laredo - 'Hey Rose'

Rökkurró - Killing Time

Ella Eyre - Deeper

Thursday 7 November 2013

Being grateful

If you know me well, you'll know it's been an up and down 18 months or so in my life. I try not to be sanctimonious and over-sharing online about this (in person, I'm probably quite often both) but I have learnt a lot about the importance - and occasional difficulty - of understanding and accepting what makes you happy, and then working with great intent to live your life according to that knowledge.*

I'm such a lucky person. I have my dream job. It demands a great deal from me. I never stop feeling like there is more I need to know, need to understand, need to do. I never stop having ideas, and I never feel like I'll be able to deliver on half of them. I get tired, cranky and emotional, and I work really hard to stop that flowing over. But every speck of energy I put into this job I get back from it, and pretty much every week there's a moment when I walk into the galleries and something small yet amazing moves me close to tears.

That doesn't mean I don't often feel like I'm drowning in expectations and obligations and duties. And often when I sit down with someone and they ask "How's it all going?", the first response I give is an exhausted sigh, before I gather up my enthusiasm and try to recount some of the good stuff.

So yesterday morning at work I did something so sensible that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner. I gave myself three hours off answering the hard emails and writing the hard documents and returning the phone calls and I just let myself do the things that make me happy. I trailed a school group around, and I checked out what our after school programme has been up to, and I researched a couple of leads for a show we're developing for next year, and I did a bunch of tickling on a little project I'm running that I'm excited about, and I tweeted vociferously on my own and the work account on different topics, and I relentessly promoted the job I've currently got open, and I remembered why this is all so great. I would highly recommend it. In fact, one of the things I did was send an email to a couple of special people about what I was doing, and suggest they do the same.

As an example of what I got up to, here's a series of tweets from The Dowse account:

It's only when I sat down to write this that I realised how unintentionally pat this all is. Making the decision when I walked in the door to divert from my office to the creative workshop and see those kids' work, which is all about being grateful, changed my whole morning and my whole mindset. So I'm going to risk being all sanctimonious and over-sharey here, because seriously - this is the most powerful thing I've done in a long time, and I don't care how cheesy or nutty it sounds. The joy was worth it.

*That sentence makes me cringe but I've learned the really hard way that it's true for me.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Two verbs

I often get this swirling sensation in my head as I try to boil a set of ideas down into a form that is concise, precise, and easily grasped by others.

Every so often during this struggle, someone else puts a framework out there that just goes bang!, and everything you were trying to say suddenly sits nicely. That was my experience the other week with Nina Simon's piece on attendance and impact, and her use of the two verbs 'igniting' and 'sustaining'. Go read it.

Monday 4 November 2013

Speak up

Along with "wherefore libraries in the digital age?", one of the most well-worn tropes in articles about the internet and our wider cultural sector is "criticism in the age of the internet".

This recent article by an Australian dance critic can be read as a stand-in for most of these articles; even just the title ("Everyone's a critic in the digital age ...") sums up the whole genre, though it ends unusually positively ("but the perspectives augur well"). I read it on the same day as I spotted this article about a project to review museum and gallery shows on Yelp by art critic Brian Droitcour, which has now been turned into an online exhibition by the New Museum. I had not previously thought of Yelp as a museum reviewing vehicle - the facilities, yes, the content, no. But I bet American museums are watching their Yelp reviews closely to improve their visitor services, and I wonder if we will be soon too.

Friday 1 November 2013

High rotate

I have given in and started listening to the Drake album, and it is an immaculate, if not exciting, bit of work. So for today, a couple of covers:

Holy Ghost! bring the synth glitter-pop to 'Hold On, We're Going Home'

So nerdy but the flow wordy ... Childish Gambino raps over Drake's 'Pound Cake' on a Sydney radio show a wee while ago

And because months and months on, I am still listening to it - Drake remixes Beyonce