What with the Fringe Festival, the New Zealand Festival, the French Film Festival and more on at the moment, it feels like Wellington is Arts mad! But wait - there's more - The Performance Arcade is on!
This week is the start of the coolest Public Art event of the year in Wellington - The Performance Arcade. Open 13 hours a day, this event is free to the Wellington public.
Here is a quick summary if you have never stumbled upon it so far in your Wellington life. The Performance Arcade is presented over 5 days by international, local and national artists, designers and musicians, from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds. The design of the Arcade reflects the history of Wellington waterfront as a port processing shipping containers. It recognises the development of the waterfront into a public playground and audience space in the late 1980’s: now housing Te Papa, Museum of Wellington, and the NZ Festival.
I interviewed Director of the Festival, Sam Trubridge late last year. He is passionate about the Performance Arcade and what it does for the city of Wellington. “We are conscious of the event as a city within a city” said Sam Trubridge. “Our works connect these spaces, spilling out from our usual place on the waterfront to dialogue with environments across the city, transforming the city into a place of potential for arts encounters.”
One of the arcade artists this year is the charming and friendly Kane Laing. Kane and I met at the end of last year to discuss his performance piece, The Water Bar. At the time The Water Bar was being shown in 30 Upstairs Gallery as part of The Performance Series, a taster to The Performance Arcade. I was immediately struck by how Kane not only interacts artistically but also on a personal level. Some people might think of young artists as being overly precious about their art. But Kane admits that The Water Bar actually started out as a joke.
Kane and a friend were at a Wellington party some time back talking about hipster culture in Wellington. They discussed craft beer and coffee and the rituals that had come about from those experiences. The obvious next thing, Kane joked, was to have a bar that only served water. How crazy would that be? It turned out, not so crazy after all. Many months and several iterations later, Wellingtonians will get to experience The Water Bar for the first time from this Lower Hutt native.
"A Manuka Smoked Water, sir?": Welcome to The Water Bar:
The Water Bar itself is an interesting experience that left me wondering about it for days afterwards. One is invited to step up and experience trying a variety of different waters from the bar. Kane then explains the differences, the notes and the origins of the water. From Manuka Smoked Water to Sea Water Granita (served on a white china spoon like an entre) to Thickened Water (which is given to people in Hospitals that can't swallow), this is nothing like water you have ever experienced. In a world where we take it for granted that water is mostly free and comes out of a tap but equally buy bottled water all the time, Kane's piece is haunting, prophetic and fascinating all at the same time.
While everyone will take something different away from the Water Bar, I was left feeling a sense of curiosity, intimacy and somewhat perplexed about how our society has fetishised ritual in almost everything. Even, perhaps, the essence of life. "With everything, we make an art or a science on it" explains Kane. "Of course, it is a satire - but it is a real experience."
"I decided to stay in Wellington and not move to Auckland or Christchurch to Art School.”
Kane has roots in Wellington that have him remaining here as he has developed his artistic practice. “I was always going to do fine arts” explains Kane, as we sit at 30 Upstairs Gallery in the early sunny November evening. “But I decided to stay in Wellington and not move to Auckland or Christchurch to Art School.” He went to Hutt International Boys School and in 2011 he started at Victoria University of Wellington. He studied Art History, Classics and English. In his second year, be began at Massey University, having missed the cut off for the year before.
Kane is passionate about understanding the theory behind art, as much as he is passionate about the practice of making art itself. “Since I was young, I’ve always loved history. I enjoyed non-fiction books. I was always reading history books and books about Art. So it made sense - my first year of studying was like a fun year for me. It went beyond what I could do at high school. We didn’t have art history and classics.”
When Kane went to Massey University, that was all flipped. “There is theory in everything, but that very much becomes the secondary part of the education as opposed to the practical side.” he says. “You make stuff and you explore what it means to make art. The first year is the standard year where they throw you in and you do all sorts of weird stuff. They break you and then you do all kinds of things onwards from that.” Kane had thought he would do painting, which he had always loved. Since his first year at Victoria he had been going to ‘The Secret Art Academy’ which teaches classical portraiture. While studying video based art, Kane continued to visit the studio and work on that side of his practice. “Video was more active and broad than I felt like painting was” he says. “But I love painting and I would be a painter if I could.”
However, The Performance Arcade piece he has created is all about interacting with people via art. Kane sees the experience of The Water Bar as a way for audiences to experience the familiar in an unfamiliar way. "Everyone drinks water. And many people go to bar and experiences hospitality. It is a re-examination of the things we do daily. And it all came out of a bit of a joke". Kane is interested in how the audience experiences the art more than any agenda. He wants it to be engaging, interesting, fun and curious. "Someone said to me after the opening they experienced the feeling of their own mortality - people bring so much to the experience themselves. There is something in it for everyone".
Kane is well aware than in this day and age, nothing is new, least of all rituals around water. “Art history is about culture evolving, and how it feeds and loops back into that.” The creation and re-creating art is indeed a ritual itself, examining humans. Kane has also worked on a piece around meditation. “When things are ritualised, like a meditation practice, or a monastic practice or a hospitality practice or a daily ritual - when it becomes a ritual we put it into focus. We observe a ritual. We auto-pilot a ritual. The Water Bar is about re-examination of the ritual”.
More information: www.theperformancearcade.com
The Performance Arcade 2016, March 2 - 6, FREE, Wellington Waterfront, Chaffers end of Te Papa. The Performance Arcade 2016 will be presented in the same location as previous years on the Waterfront, behind Te Papa and FREE to the Wellington public.