issue#37 was first published for the week 24-30th July 2013. Ronnie Coco-Muse calls attention to the GCSB and TICS bills currently forcing their way through parliament in a reflection on seismology and sanity whilst Sally Ann McIntyre reviews Saskia Leek's DESK COLLECTION and Jimmy Currin listens to Donald McPherson.

Ronnie Coco-Muse

Giles has moved into an abandoned warehouse. He didn’t make the grade for the new WINZ Job Seekers regime – they’re processing all us marginals at the moment – so he’s run out of coins. He tells me it’s not too damp or draughty but he’s a little worried he’s dying of asbestos related disorders. Thinks it may be painful. I told him he was being paranoid; it won’t be painful at all. There’s a bit of paranoia rocking and rolling around Wellington at the moment. Some of it seismic (another small one just jellied in), and some of it politic. Actually, some of it – both seismic and politic – is paranoia, but much of it is simply justified fear. I’m going to forget about earthquakes for now (I’m still processing last weekend’s field trip to Christchurch) and ask a simple question: Is it sane to fear the proposed changes to the GCSB Bill? You know, the one that makes it legal (even in its latest Dunned down version) for us to be spied upon.

My big brother Reggie, now that he’s allowed back after his stern rebuking and stand downing following my impersonation attempt, works in one of those gigantic golf balls high on Poacher’s Hill, para-crunching and meta-sifting data. He lent me a suit the other day so I could do my jump-through-the-hoop routine for WINZ. I fared better than Giles – I still have coins. Reggie whispered to me as we parted company ‘I see that Point Offices now has a Faceborg page’. Nothing else was said. He has a particular look he dons when he’s spilling state secrets, and as he doesn’t do social media himself (or social anything much at all for that matter), I surmised that the authorities have become both aware and watchful of this publication. I do hope they read it. But it would be unfortunate to say the least if they, for example, had access to our internal business plans and strategies to take over the fashion world with bright red, class levelling suiteralls.

Seriously, wake the fuck up before it’s too late to wake the fuck up! You can ignore these proposed amendments and slide onward into a post-secret world where neurospies dictate not only what you are allowed to do and say but also what you are allowed to think; a world where sanity is about being obedient lock-step geese. Or you can resist. Protest on Saturday and give voice, or even silent expression, to real concerns and fears. Opt for a world where sanity is actually something that belongs to you. Where do you think this is heading? Toward a time when organising such a protest cannot be done under the radar, ‘off-seismograph’ as it were, and when such a protest is seen as an act that constitutes a threat to the existing economic and political structures and flows. And later, to a time when those who threaten, or are of no use to, those structures and flows are surplus to requirement. Good god, people, why do you think they want this law? It’s not about your safety, it’s about their money; about security of the structures and flows. Is it reasonable to be concerned about all this? It’s your call. These are the kinds of moments where one is necessarily part of deciding who controls the means of production of sanity. This ain’t rock n roll….


Sally Ann McIntyre

 For a while I’ve been intrigued by the way that despite their small size, the paintings of Saskia Leek seem to open backwards within time, embedding visible duration within the a-temporality of the painterly surface. Such temporal shifts become amply evident in the sparse delicacies of the mid-career survey show Desk Collection, within whose chronologies the artist’s earlier works’ ambiguous confessionals morph into a distinctly conceptual grasp of surface. The paintings reach for “a distancing effect.” via the evocation of a layer of light or dust, a point of fading - the effect of time embedded in materials not supposed to last that long in the first place.

Certain paintings of the mid 2000s preserve houses as subjects, like wasps trapped in the amber of a hermetic, waxy airlessness. The atmospheric tone, like pickling fluid, is archived within the fading of its objects, like a 1970s kodachrome photograph recording within its scene an inaudible conversation, a refrain of music. The tone comes through, as not so much a golden light as a patina marred with age, a distinctly maudlin emptiness. The localisation of the depicted places sometimes swims though the haze, the “distancing” Leek describes as her part-intent.

Saskia Leek Animal Home (2007)

Maybe I like them because they recall the kinds of fifth-generation cubist and surrealist images that haunt the back-brains of those who grew up in the 1970s. The visual paradigms of the historic avant garde filtered down to popular illustration culture: compulsively nightmarish faux Odilon Redons illustrating post-hippie folk tales, read while sitting under surfeits of discoloured Degas ballerinas set against the regulation florals of Laura Ashley bedroom wallpaper. Something of the power of these works is their ability to communicate in ambiguous manner the potential talismanic nature of any thing, the way an object can be imbued with significance merely through being looked at for a long time, through being lived with in a room, the fleeting fantasy worlds that cohere and then dissipate, their sunbleached fading beyond usefulness and memory an evocation of the stories told and then forgotten within their presence.

The repetition within the show of the title ‘Untitled’ replaces the Modernist forestalling of the figurative with an evocation of the unknown histories of the found, the nameless mystery of the stray, the objects that cannot speak biographically for themselves but retain a mute materiality. To call an artwork ‘Untitled’ in this context seems a place-holder, a hope that one day this namelessness might find some archival logic. The works themselves stand in place of this inarticulation and extend its pathos.
The longing for another place, the nostalgia evident in these works is a throughline to romanticism. Perhaps Novalis’s statement, in a 1798 fragment, that “any beloved object is the centre point of a paradise”, might be usefully amended by Leek’s explanation of the drive behind her most recent works: “they search for a point of pictorial rightness but without an expectation of what that might be”. Fittingly, the hermeticism of this style becomes its own dead end, requiring a break, and escape, a rupture. Maybe this is why the breathing space afforded by the erased house (another Untitled) in the show’s concluding group is so satisfying, retaining the trace of these earlier works, but introducing an open gestural painterliness, alongside the blocky formalism of the represented object, spilling visibly out onto the frame as a smoky emanation.

Originally published in POINT issue#37, 24-30th July 2013.

Donald McPherson and the new obscurity
Jimmy Currin

Consider these lyrics from Donald McPherson’s 1994 debut album, Some Songs, one of the ten releases that the great recluse of Dunedin music recently made available on Bandcamp under “name your price” conditions.
Someday cats will chase the dogs & mice will grow to fuck the cats
Helpful hands will open doors, & ships will welcome back the rats…
Prophetic? Not for McPherson; yet. It seems hardly a week can go by without the international underground railroad coughing up some new lost gem; sometimes as re-releases but most assiduously via the internet. Some Songs ought to have been among them by now, but as it was released in an edition of 20 lathe-cut copies, you’ll be forgiven for never knowing it existed – though it easily stands alongside its near contemporaries, Alastair Galbraith’s Talisman and Crude’s Inner City Guitar Perspectives as a document of rugged individualist Dunedin splendour.

Why didn’t hundreds of people here and overseas find out about him, correspond with him, release his albums around the world, as has happened to so many others? The succinct answer is that he didn’t want them to. Forget the arch, faux-feyness presented as a signifier of sensitivity - Wes Anderson, etc - McPherson is the real, awkward deal. An artist of consummate skill, a lyricist who consistently ekes poetic magic out of his obsessions, and one of the most extraordinary improvising guitarists you will ever hear, who just wants to be left alone to get on with it. A candidate, perhaps, for bagging and shipping as “outsider art”, he is in reality just a clever, quiet guy who cannot and will not, as his song title has it, disown his own mind.

It’s often seemed, to this writer, a terrible shame, though. There is simply so much - so much care, craft, inspired looseness, mad whimsy, invention, sheer beauty - in his music sometimes, it feels ridiculous to not be part of some wider community who’ve been touched by it as well. It is not, by any means, about small or obscure ideas. But the obscurity of its presentation dogs it; and this deluge of material, starting a few months ago, prompts the question of whether it constitutes a true tide-turning, or a new obscurity.
Back when records were records, so to speak, there was time and proportion involved in how you became acquainted with an artists’ work. With the sheer glut of material available online, one wonders how on earth anyone has the time to work out what’s good. Where once dedicated fans created brilliant contexts for all sorts of scenes in fan/magazines, the blogosphere suffers from the same glut conditions, as well as often feeling simply less engaged - less individual. Then, McPherson has filled these collections with all sorts of nubbins and byways, interesting (sometimes) as process, but a lot to process. Breakups & Breakdowns, at two and a half hours long, is maddening. But, since it begins with 15 of his most stunning written songs – his voice and guitar playing showing massive maturation and depth - one senses that he knew what he had; if not when to stop. For improv, Mirrors & Windows and Variety Show are good places to start – filled with the fibrous melodic invention that no-one else ever quite manages – but Anomalies’ swag of tentative trials might drive one seriously batty.

But whether or not anyone bothers to listen and work it all out, it’s just so good it’s there. Like the peasant in his eponymous song,

he’s brought disease with his rats and fleas
& some chimpanzees from the Seychelles
but you’re happy just to find him again.

 see and tune in to Avantgardening on Radio 1 91fm, 10.30pm, this Sunday evening for more.

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