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Visual Arts - 10 Years: Peter Madden

Peter Madden
"Never before have we seen such a diversity of approaches to the question of what art is in Aotearoa."


As part of The Big Idea’s celebration of ten years online, critic Mark Amery has brought together a discussion of those years in the visual arts from five leading visual arts practitioners - in response to his own thoughts.

We’ve already heard from curator Reuben Friend and artist Judy Millar. Today we welcome artist Peter Madden.

What are some of the significant changes in the visual arts in the last ten years?

The multiplicity of different digital platforms and associated media informing the information landscape has been seismic in its growth, changing the way we access knowledge. The way we access information is a lot less hierarchical, and that’s especially the case for us living and working in Aotearoa.

Perhaps because my work is so handmade I find myself thinking deeply about issues likes the difference between the analogue (that continuously variable phenomena) and the digital (that infinitely invariable data bite). How do I best present my work to my viewing community? Indeed how do I best gather a community? How do I create a space in which the viewer can access the work any way they want?

What are some experiences you've had or exhibitions that speak to the tenor of these changes?

Having children has had a dramatic effect on how I see myself and how I view art. It’s an experience in life for which there’s no second measure: Roberto Bolano said “That his children were his homeland”, Octavio Paz “That the bones of a child exist in the forest of a woman [man]”.

My children have shown me how joy is a texture vital to life. We hide this exuberance, we run from its liberating forces. In art viewing joy can exist folded into the texture of an artistic experience. This is essential for art to have an affect. We learn nothing if we are forced to partake in an experience that is anything less than joyful. Art must exist in repose, a gentle wave of a gesture, like the smile of a child.

From this I understand how important it is to be physically present looking at art made by other NZ Artists. Like how a photograph of a child can only ever evoke nostalgia. Images of art can only ever be a poor substitute for standing in front of an actual art work.

What changes in the past ten years have made it easier and/or harder for New Zealand artists to build a? career?

It would have to be the many accredited art training institutions. When I finished my undergrad in Auckland there were two, now there are five. Every year hundreds of young minds flood the environs eager and skilled in as unusual a discipline as visual art communication. Many artists are required to lecture/teach to this burgeoning desire.

The one thing art in Aotearoa suffers from most is lack of care and participation by our fellow New Zealanders. Australia is becoming increasingly interested in the contemporary art production of New Zealand artists. We offer a rich, diverse and increasingly sophisticated art product. Now as we produce and expose more people to the idea of contemporary art , it follows that more people will be able to value it as a thing to do, visit, write about, collect, etc.

For scales of shared economy to increase and flows of production to match we need more people participating in creating, writing, viewing, collecting and curating art.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?

Never before have we seen such a diversity of approaches to the question of what art is in Aotearoa. The potential for this plurality of forms to bring new and diverse communities to art is truly staggering. How and where these multiplicities find space for their expression is a direct challenge to the many institutions that facilitate sites for arts reception.

That there are so many platforms available for the viewing of our art internationally is a given, that we are the furthest away from centres of power immovable. To reach towards an understanding of this culture and those beyond, the artist must travel. Surely it’s in our DNA.

Art never stays still in any mode; it will always be seeking to rise to the contingencies of philosophical and historical problems. The challenge is to us all: to let art be whatever it will be and to never prescribe a set of conditions. Behind such conditions may be a projection of our own insecurities.

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

The Big Idea is a multi-formated internet site showcasing things creative in New Zealand. It’s a portal for getting involved, and making contact with exuberant practice. It is a part of New Zealand’s creativity.

Further information:

Tenderly lifted from the pages of National Geographic, thumbed encyclopedias and found photographs, old images find new life in the collages of Peter Madden. In his hands they are painstakingly cut out, pinned, balanced and juxtaposed to create paper microcosms bursting with colour and form. Peter Madden completed an MFA from Elam School of Fine Arts in 2002. Recent public exhibitions include Come Together at IMA, Brisbane, 2010, and Escape From Orchid City at Wellington City Gallery, 2006. His work is in numerous public collections, including Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery and Queensland Art Gallery.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

13 Dec 2011

The Big Idea Editor