10 Questions with Christopher Braddock


Q1: This book is dedicated to the late Jim Allen. Can you tell us about his impact and his legacy? 

Jim was a central figure in the development of conceptual and performance art in Aotearoa. His legacy as an arts educator, both here and in Australia, lives on in the generations of artists who have taken inspiration from his relentless sculptural and performance innovations, and dedication to the teaching and learning of artistic practice. 

Q2: You say in your introduction that this book contributes to an alternative history of New Zealand art. How so? 

Mainstream art history tends to prioritise static forms of art that are more commodifiable and saleable such as painting and sculpture. Anthologies often prioritise these artforms, such as Michael Dunn’s New Zealand Painting: A Concise History published in 2004. Furthermore, large-scale anthologies can cement these institutional prejudices, such as Hamish Keith’s The Big Picture: The History of New Zealand Art from 1642 (2007) which largely ignores performance art. Resetting the Coordinates asserts that performance art is a vital and distinctive part of our art history, especially so because socially embodied performances often present an alternative and socially inflected account of art practice that involves contingency between artist, audience, critic and historian. 

Q3: Any reading of the chapters about the 1970s would make it evident that from Phil Dadson and Bruce Barber to Jim Allen and Andrew Drummond, these performance artists were New Zealand’s avant-garde. Would you agree? 

Although artists contributed to avant-garde threshold moments before the 1970s in Aotearoa New Zealand and will continue to do so in the future, artists practicing in the 1970s, specifically those around the time Jim Allen was head of Sculpture at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, manifested a particular avant-garde in the history of art. Artists like Allen and students like Phil Dadson, Bruce Barber, Maree Horner and Kimberley Gray created artworks that challenged received ideas about art and their practices demonstrated growing engagement with performance, events, responses to particular sites and built environments as well as more engagement with consumer electronics and contemporary communication/information systems. 

Q4: It seemed for many decades that this was a peculiarly male practice, but this anthology brings some significant female artists out from the shadows. Tell us about Kimberley Gray. 

Kimberley Gray was one of Jim Allen’s most gifted students in the sculpture department of Elam Art School in the 1970s. She had a particular flair for making art that combined responses to site with architectural structures, performance and sculpture. Between 1971 and 1976 she exhibited 14 works of performative sculpture, installations and performances, making her one of the most active practitioners in this short but dynamic period which challenged art’s fundamental categories. Despite this, her work is largely unknown today. Her work was very ambitious in scale. Her Masters project As Good a Land . . . (1974) consisted of a line of scarecrows with enormous red hands, installed in the North Island of Aotearoa along a line that marked the shortest route on the map between Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Gray placed the scarecrows with the assistance of Allen and a white van, on a trip that took them to remote locations in the central North Island 

and enlisted participation from rural school children. She then hired a Piper aircraft to fly at low altitude down the island and, with the assistance of Bruce Barber, captured imagery of the scarecrows from the air in 16mm film and photographs Until now, Gray’s works have been little known, partially due to their ephemeral nature and partially due to the fact that she ceased practising as an artist in order to work as a teacher and support her family, a common occurrence to women art practitioners in the 1970s and beyond. 

Q5: Does one performance in particular from the 1970s impress you as remarkable? 

Bruce Barber’s 1973 Mt Eden Crater Performance is remarkable for a few reasons. It was part of an avant-garde collaborative venture with Solar Plexus, an annual winter solstice dawn-to-dusk drumming event in the crater of Maungawhau Mount Eden that Phil Dadson initiated in 1970. It included Barber’s ‘blind master’ figure experiencing forms of sensory deprivation, used in other works such as Bucket Action that same year. This aspect of the work explores the limits of communication and unstable relationships between participants and audiences that was very avant-garde at the time. Furthermore, Mt Eden Crater Performance was featured in the 1976 publication New Art: Some recent New Zealand sculpture and post-object art co-edited by Wystan Curnow and Jim Allen. Curnow’s 25 June 1973 text ‘Mt Eden Crater Performance’ was based on Barber’s performance. This was Curnow’s first attempt at in-situ experimental writing, allowing him to become immersed in the experiences of the artworks he encountered; a stream-of-consciousness account as poetic collage that enacted the performance through writing as performance: ‘Cover-cover . . . the filling with . . . pip, pip (electronic) . . . New York . . . great crater at my feet’. Barber’s Mt Eden Crater Performance therefore generates remarkable moments and insights for 1970s performance art and its reception. 

Q6: Is there some sort of inverse relationship between ferment in performance art and tough times in the economy or politically? 

Some of the chapters do show a direct relationship between the notion of ferment in performance art and a particular ‘tough time’ that might be relevant culturally, economically and/or politically. Others demonstrate that the relationship is not exclusive to those moments and instead reflects an ongoing customary artistic practice where ‘performance’ is integral to the artwork and not necessarily dependant on the current economic or political conditions. 

Q7: Although there is a clearly evident New Zealand inflexion, one could argue that until Māori and Pacific artists became active in this space, local performance art could not be said to be especially from this place. What has their impact been? 

Two-fold, I think: to draw attention to a long history of body movement and performance within Indigenous cultures, and a specific response to and perspective on the politics of site, context and intersubjectivity, informed by experiences of being Māori and Pacific. The body and the body’s relationship to site is not a universalised experience and I think Māori and Pacific performance art draws attention to how bodies are codified in and respond differently to space. 

Q8: To repeat a question but move it through time: Does one performance from the 2000s impress you as remarkable? 

Artist Jeremy Leatinu‘u (Tainui, Samoan) uses his body in remarkable ways to resist or depart peacefully from social conventions expected in public spaces. For Queen Victoria (2013), Leatinu‘u travelled to four major cities in Aotearoa — Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, Ōtautahi Christchurch and Ōtepoti Dunedin — to sit astride the top of a tall ladder in a face-to-face meeting with Queen Victoria. His performances were gestures of silently waiting that forced a meeting between statue and artist on more equal terms. These were forms of waiting as protest against colonisation. Leatinu‘u’s performance art is notable for its ability to consider time differently. We encounter the performances on a grid of four flat-screen monitors, with distant traffic noise interrupting the simple gesture of waiting. This performance seems to encapsulate how Māori and Pacific bodies are differently codified in response to time and space. It is also typical of many performance artworks in this period that utilise performance-to-video and other technologies as a mediation of performance practices. 

Q9: Are young artists just as keen to work within a performance practice? 

Performance art practices are often explored by younger artists who demonstrate technological and social confidence and have something to say. Their performance platform is sometimes social media (TikTok, Instagram and YouTube). Furthermore, quite a few artists of the 1970s and 1980s began their art careers by delving into performance and later using lessons learned from performance in sculpture, photography and moving image, together with a return to exhibitable and saleable objects. These artists include Di ffrench, Mary-Louise Browne, Peter Roche and Andrew Drummond. 

Q10: What do you hope readers will take from this book? 

A sense of the longevity and diversity of performance art practice in Aotearoa. The book discusses many well-known performance artists as well as some less well-known. Readers will be struck by the diversity of chapters: some give substantial accounts of unacknowledged artists such as Kimberley Gray, Peter Roche and Linda Buis; others offer useful surveys of a particular decade; while others contextualise a theme such as Mātauranga Māori, urban Pasifika, queerness, sound and technology, curating performance, endurance, secrecy, post-quake Ōtautahi Christchurch, post-internet performance or ecology. Furthermore, the book asserts that performance art in Aotearoa is globally unique. This is due to Māori communities that embody histories of performance (kapa haka, waiata-ā-ringa etc.) that engage cosmological worldviews, Pacific migrant and diaspora experiences embodying their own Indigenous Pacific knowledge systems and Pākehā performance art practices with complex relationality with these Indigenous values. Resetting the Coordinates embodies and reflects our identity by capturing the voices of home. It will be a gift and taonga back to local communities as well as informing international readers. Overall, the breadth and depth of this anthology makes it a landmark publication that will be extremely useful for researchers and general readers of performance art.