Interview: Coup for Ambitious Graduates

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Interview: Coup for Ambitious Graduates

Fine Arts graduates Mark O’Donnell and Daphne Simons participated in an extraordinary opportunity in Sydney, organising a group exhibition featuring “big art dogs” such as Martin Creed, Tom Marioni, Ed Ruscha, and Ronnie Van Hout. Entitled Wingman, the show was on view late June, early July and part of Alaska Projects, an artist-run initiative located in Kings Cross. Both Mark and Daphne completed their BFA Fine Arts degrees at Whitecliffe in 2013 and have been collaborating since 2012. We caught up with Mark and Daphne upon their return to Auckland:

How did the opportunity arise to show your exhibition at Alaska Projects in Sydney?

Ella Sutherland and Chloe Geoghegan from Dog Park Art Project Space in Christchurch, asked us to develop a project for an exhibition exchange they had on the cards with Alaska Projects. For this exchange, Alaska brought a group of 13 artists to show at Dog Park, including artists like Mike Hewson and Nell. Dog Park were keen to present a project-based exhibition, as they didn't see much of this kind of exhibition practice happening in the Sydney art scene. Ella and Chloe invited us to be a part of their contribution to the exchange because at the beginning of 2013, we worked on a summer residency project at Dog Park called Campaign, which was multifaceted with unexpected outcomes and involved quite a few other people.

Briefly what was the project about?

Punching above your weight or putting yourself out there/ taking risks.

Was it important to show the work in Sydney as opposed to Auckland, or did the project develop once the site was determined?

It wasn't important that the work was eventually shown in Sydney as opposed to Auckland. But it was important for the project to be made anywhere but Auckland. The central work that kicked of the project required Mark to spend time in and around art museums attempting to talk to girls he thought were pretty. He felt that this needed to take place somewhere else because if it were performed in Auckland, the potential outcome of getting a girlfriend became a little too real a possibility. This task was meant to serve as practice for talking to girls and for making an artwork (who wants to be told that the start of their relationship was part of an artwork right? That just wouldn't be fair to them). If this work had taken place at the Auckland Art Gallery, both Mark and any potential girlfriend would live in the same city and a furthering of the relationship outside of the AAG would be entirely possible (although, Mark would like to note, improbable). But if the task is performed in another country and within a short space of time (we spent three days running around Sydney to make this work), then the task can be seen purely as practice for interaction in the real world, and the sense of deceiving people is diminished.

However, although the making of this work needed to take place out of Auckland, perhaps it would have been good to display the work back in Auckland where the possibility of somebody (a potential mate) seeing the work is greater. We would (or at least Mark would) like to reprise a form of Wingman closer to home some time soon.

What was it like working with the other artists in the show? How did you decide what artists to work with?

The other artists in the show were incredibly supportive and trusting to agree to be in the show. It was a rewarding and sometimes giddy experience. But, I would like to stress the invaluable support we received and lessons taught by non-artists as well. Curators, art patrons, gallery assistants, artists not in the Wingman exhibition and friends were a big part of bringing the exhibition together.

With one of the main thrusts of the project being “punching above your weight,” naturally when we started thinking about inviting other artists, we were thinking of the big art dogs. Artists we thought would most probably turn us down. But this is a broad spectrum (there are a lot of big art dogs out there). So a technique we used to guide our selection process went like this. We had already begun to compile a list of activities or life-style choices one could engage in to improve the chances of meeting potential partners. This included things like: owning a nice car, getting a dog and walking it in public, going to pubs/clubs, or learning a new language. We then began to make connections between these sorts of things and particular works we could think of from artists we admired. These works weren't literal representations of said activities, but they simply resonated well with them. So for us, this list of things one might do to meet new people became an interesting prompt for a group show. We ended up being fortunate enough to present a rare screening of Miracle (1975), a 16mm (original print) film by Ed Ruscha, Work No. 1085 by Martin Creed, documentation from the ongoing performance work/ event The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art by Tom Marioni, and a set of metallic photographic prints and CV by Ronnie van Hout.

What was the experience like of putting together a show like this one-year out of graduating from Whitecliffe?

We were only a couple of months out of school before we starting planning this exhibition! But we had gained a little bit of exhibition experience during our time at school, so we were not starting from square one exactly. In saying that, the ambitious wish list of artists we wanted to work with was a bit daunting and absurd. To think that we were trying to contact people like Paul McCarthy via Hauser & Wirth, or Ed Ruscha via Gagosian Gallery, when we are just a couple of fresh faced kids from NZ and then having to find ways to actually pay for it! We learned a lot about the sort of practical issues that come with organizing a show of this scale; communicating effectively and professionally with a major gallery on the other side of the world, international shipping and insurance issues, the correct protocols involved with the requesting and accepting of arts patronage (not to mention the correct thanking procedure of said patronage, which is a lot more complicated then we could have imagined).

If you would like to find out more information about the exhibition, please visit the Alaska Projects website

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