Urgent Moments reviewed in EyeContact


John Hurrell reviews Urgent Moments: Art and social change: The Letting Space projects 2010–2020 edited by Mark Amery, Amber Clausner and Sophie Jerram for EyeContact:

‘This surprisingly hefty and dense softcover book is designed to celebrate seven years of urban political (non-gallery) art projects curated by Letting Space (co-directors Mark Amery and Sophie Jerram) around Wellington—and occasionally Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin—during the Key/English periods of National government. Urgent Moments provides a vast range of in-depth commentaries on an immensely varied conglomeration of urban projects by artists and temporary artist organisations.

As a richly informative and attractive source of documentation, this beautifully designed complex publication that focusses in detail on 25 sets of public art projects, will inevitably spur on future such undertakings, as the need for strident political activism in Aotearoa escalates with a relatively new right wing coalition government, and many global climate, ecological and economic catastrophies continue to loom around the corner.

Urgent Moments trumpets the considerable achievements of Letting Space, and rightly so—for Jerram and Amery have worked as a formidable team with an aptitude for attracting a great many extraordinary artists. A few daffy ones are thrown in but overall the hit-rate is very high. And the book has more distanced, balanced evaluations than what one might initially anticipate. Packed with terse inserted synopses that contextualise Aotearoa’s social history year by year, it provides a focussed tool for future generations—if (from the above) there are any.

As you can tell from the title, the emphasis is on functionality and efficacy, blended with the aptness of immediate action when attempting to solve pressing practical problems; not surprisingly there’s little emphasis on nihilism or impulsive emotional gesture—though they aren’t invisible.

Published several years after the last Letting Space projects, and seen from the current extremely precipitous time nationally and globally, the events elucidated in the book are a rich and stimulating brew, with 38 writers and over 50 artists. The publication is an elegant tome that successfully blends visual appeal (lots of images) and accessible information. Its fine detail, copious footnotes and extensive interconnected lists, is remarkable, using careful organisation and surprising variation in performance/installation art types; a real pleasure to randomly dip into.

Yet curiously, for all the vast quantities of thoughtful writing that’s included, the publication’s contents section is possibly too artist project oriented (not sufficiently individual writer focussed)—a decision that hampers the book’s use if you wish to methodically quickly track down the authorial contributions. The contents pages are over brief, and should (I think) have included all the writers by name, with page numbers given. However there is an advantage in that the reader in forced to dig into the different sections and pry out those articles of immediate interest early on—before discovering other treasures. (Incidentally I’m very proud of the fact that several EyeContact reviews of Letting Space projects are given a re-airing. They hold up extremely well.)

It might at this stage be appropriate to remember the activity of a smaller-scaled precursor in South Island Art Projects (SIAP)—first director: Jude Rae—a CNZ funded organisation of the very early 90s, a non-gallery art project based in Christchurch (broader in interests, less exclusively political or relational) that eventually transmuted into The Physics Room exhibiting space. That latter (you could argue ‘compromised’) transmutation speaks of the failure of non-gallery sites to attract conventional art audiences, viewers with a consistent history of checking out art seriously—so this Letting Space publication is an impressive counterargument, showcasing a goodly number that will be remembered for having social impact.’

Read the full review here