Urgent Moments reviewed for Landfall


Andrew Paul Wood reviews Urgent Moments: Art and social change: The Letting Space projects 2010–2020 edited by Mark Amery, Amber Clausner and Sophie Jerram for Landfall:

‘I discuss Urgent Moments: Art and social change: The Letting Space projects 2010–2020 with the caveat that I have a very old essay reproduced in it. But then, so does about half of the Aotearoa cultural establishment, apparently—which is why it is an essential book.

The millennium hopes of the twenty-first century rapidly turned sour with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York in 2001, and it was all downhill from there into a toxic swamp of political cynicism (the Iraq War of 2003), rapacious capitalism (ongoing) and various environmental disasters (including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010). This was the context that spurred artists and curators into action through a series of temporary interventions documented in Urgent Moments under the auspices of the art organisation Letting Space. The first incarnation of the idea began with projects in untenanted premises in Auckland following the economic recession of the mid-1990s. After the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, curators Mark Amery, Sophie Jerram, and Amber Clausner, the editors of Urgent Moments, revived Letting Space, brokering spaces for radical art projects as social commentary outside the white cube.

For over a decade, Letting Space enabled a range of art interventions commenting on poverty, pollution, climate change, exploitation and other issues that alienate people from participating in civil society. The temporary nature of this art activism and its subtle impact on the community makes Urgent Moments an essential record. It’s a plum pudding of a book with writings by ‘over forty leading New Zealand writers and thinkers, including Pip Adam, Zara Stanhope and Chris Kraus’ (and me). This is an exuberant and engaging gathering of voices that can only happen in a small, close and relatively self-contained community like Aotearoa (although, admittedly, Chris Kraus lives in the United States). It’s also beautifully produced with appropriately appealing fonts and layout.

Urgent Moments serves as a series of powerful snapshots of a particular decade of art activism and is worth it alone for the essay by Kraus, which quotes a post-Occupy protestor Eugene Lim from 2010 who says—and I paraphrase—everything is f***ed. Chris Kraus adds, ‘Everywhere included Aotearoa, where a sense of the elegiac hovered over it all.’ Everything is still f***ed, but we’re at least paying attention now. There is some particularly good coverage of artist Tao Wells’ moment in the spotlight, and if I had the space and time I would happily go into an in-depth analysis of what happens when an irresistible, spiteful reactionary neoliberal force meets a stubbornly immovable, perhaps somewhat naive anarchist object.’


Read the full review here.