BY Max Delany in Reviews | 16 JUN 09
Featured in
Issue 124

One Day Sculpture

Various locations, New Zealand

BY Max Delany in Reviews | 16 JUN 09

Paola Pivi, I Wish I Am Fish, 2009, performance documentation

‘One Day Only’ is a familiar refrain to pitch an event or spectacle, with its promise of rarity, the privilege of being there, and the threat of missing out. Posters for the ‘One Day Sculpture’ series carried the subtitle ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’, as if to emphasize the ephemeral nature of the programme, but the scope and critical ambition of ‘One Day Sculpture’ has been altogether more enduring.

Billed as a ‘nationwide commissioning series of temporary, place-based public art works’ – over ‘1 Year, 5 Cities, 25 artists, 24 hours’ – ‘One Day Sculpture’ issued from the academic context of Massey University College of Creative Arts’ School of Fine Arts, as research into the status of public sculpture, its conventions and definitions. Allied to an ambitious international curatorial agenda, twenty-one public commissions would occur, one at a time, over the course of one year, each with its own 24-hour timeframe, place and public context throughout New Zealand.

Developed by David Cross, Director of the Litmus Research Initiative, Wellington, and Claire Doherty (of UK-based organization Situations) as Curatorial Director, the continuing series explores contemporary art’s changing relationship to questions of time, space and place; spectacle and event; performativity and duration; and the logic and unfixing of monuments and public memory – terms that were explored in the related symposium ‘On Art, Time and Place’ in March.

As an alternative to the event status and collected works format of the biennial ‘One Day Sculpture’ is structured according to a dispersed, collaborative model, featuring projects and events across urban and regional contexts. The series established a framework – not unrelated to the idea of franchise and outsourcing – to implicate host and visitor, local and global, professional and passer-by, in a complex ecology of institutional and independent collaboration.

Employing long-range weather forecasting, Maddie Leach’s Perigree #11 (2008) summoned a community to gather in a boatshed in Wellington’s Breaker Bay, refashioned as a lookout, in anticipation of a predicted storm that never came. Leach’s work encompassed a number of motifs that have characterized the series: the consideration of place, and the inauguration of temporary, participatory communities; the sculptural transformation of existing situations, and the provocation of what might be.

Heather and Ivan Morison’s Journée des barricades (Day of the Barricades, 2008) involved the overnight assembly of a blockade, made from urban detritus, and closing off one of Wellington’s principal city streets. Emblematic of the curators’ interest to challenge ‘conventional associations of public sculpture (permanently sited, monumental and commemorative) to propose new definitions (critical, spatial, performative, interventionist)’, it restaged a remnant form of political action, almost as a freak act of nature more closely aligned with dystopian ecological crisis than civil disobedience – more J.G. Ballard than Alain Badiou.

Subsequent projects have operated as a form of call and response, connecting art and social space, memory and forward thinking. Projects ranged from the epic and spectacular, such as Paola Pivi’s extravagant I Wish I Am Fish, (2009), a chartered flight across the Tasman sea for 80 goldfish, each in a bowl on its own seat; to more modest propositions such as Roman Ondák’s Camouflaged Building (2009), which involved the discreet and resolutely unspectacular placing of sawdust piles at the foundations of Wellington’s Old Government Building (the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere), suggesting institutional collapse and the dismantling of monuments more generally.

It seems highly unlikely that any one individual will witness or experience all 21 of the ‘One Day Sculpture’ projects – other than the curatorial team and the documentary photographer – which is perhaps the point. The constituencies invoked by these works are not singular or prescribed by professional interests. Rather, through a suite of provisional interventions, performances and unintentional encounters, new communities are brought into being. Such is the case with Thomas Hirschhorn’s public display of an outlandishly customised car, Poor Racer (2009), or Liz Allan’s Came a Hot Sundae: A Ronald Hugh Morrieson Festival (2008), a community festival to commemorate a contentious author of popular gothic fiction, in the town in which he once lived, where the meeting of unlikely people becomes the truth of the work.

Some found the visual branding of the ‘One Day Sculpture’ series overly deterministic in framing the conditions of experience for each work. But frames are frames, after all, to be resisted and transformed, as was the case with Santiago Sierra’s unsanctioned guerrilla intervention, Person Showing his Penis (2009), which staged the highly choreographed conditions of spectatorship according to the idea of the peep show and money shot.

Carl Andre once suggested that ‘art is a direct experience with something in the world, and photography is just a rumour, a kind of pornography of art’. Today, the idea of documentation is inherent to the work – the experience of which is extended in the present tense through the circulation of photography and text, allegory and anecdote, rumour and myth. This was the case for Javier Téllez’ Intermission (2009), involving a captive audience in a cinema in Taranaki, an imperial anthem, two live lions, the MGM logo, an intermission and an octogenarian usherette.

The disarmingly simple yet daring curatorial gesture of ‘One Day Sculpture’ established an open brief to support forms of art which provoke new conceptions of public and place, and new modes of engagement and reception. Questioning the tenets of site-specificity, in preference for more transient interventions, the series also sought to elide the pitfalls of spectacular, event-based culture with urban renewal models favoured by city burghers and cultural planners. Strongly theorized through the symposium, website and a forthcoming publication, but with relatively little mediation governing the realization of the events, works were left to vibrate and stir on their own terms, in their own time and place.