A Land of Starving Artists

A Land of Starving Artist

When we came to these shores of overly advanced civilization about a year and a half ago, we had our hopes high. We were convinced that here in the proudly nuclear free land of Hobbits, sheep, high-tech sailors a government program for the reconstitution of indigenous lands we would be able to fill Aluna’s ever starving cruising kitty by doing what we do best: Contribute to the societies we visit along our winding routes of travel with our experience as well-seasoned performing artists. We envisioned holding exciting workshops in community centers where the citizens of these lands could not only learn about themselves and discover who they truly are, but also renew their social contract and assume responsibility for the community in which they live. We were designing classes for the local schools where the citizens of the future could understand in a very practical and hands-on way that logic is not only a realm of reason but also of intuition and premonition. Theater, dance and music, or any other art form for that matter, are but elaborate systems of pretext. What they aspire to accomplish is provide stimulating activities to those of us who never tire of learning. Those activities are designed to enrich and expand our mind. They want to connect us firmly with the body that is carrying it through the world. They can heal the traumas of all our problematic childhoods. If done with a certain amount of discipline they will bring us back down to Earth!

Two seasons into exploring the complicated layers of this multicultural society at the fringes of the Western world with its obsession for all things countable and measurable, we find ourselves further away from that dream than ever. The little we have been able to extract from the abundant material wealth of this land has been mainly from providing unskilled labor. A miniscule percentage of our income has come from the Latin dance classes Beatriz teaches, which seem to attract a fair bunch of people eager to move their bodies in a different way than what their own culture have impregnated on them. From the very start our inquiries through friends and professionals of the various art forms focused on what we needed to do here on the marketing level to provide a platform for our activities. Our questioning quite persistently was met with one notorious verdict: New Zealand, with its barely over four million people constitutes too small a market to allow more than a handful of select artists to make a decent living from their trade. You, we were told over and over again, just like everybody else, need to get a job, and once you have your basic needs covered, then you can do your art in your spare time. Art in your spare time? we asked. How can that be? Art is something you live and breath all day long, how can you delegate that to your spare time? It’s like saying art is a hobby. What kind of a culture is this, where art is considered a hobby?

The other day I ran into my good friend Rua Paul up on the little stretch of lawn between the Cruising Club and outrageously expensive Burnsco chandlery. He was pacing in big steps diagonally across the grass, then stood still and stared up in the air. A couple days earlier he had confessed to me that he had landed a commission from the Northland Regional Council for an open-air sculpture on Opua’s impressive town square. There seems to be a good chunk of money attached to the contract and he was decidedly upbeat when he explained to me the vision for his latest oeuvre. A six meter high tripod made from an opened pair of chart dividers resting against the talking stick of a Maori chief would be standing above me in the sky with a loosely draped traditional Maori rain cloak wrapped around it fluttering in the wind. He describes the rain cloak to me in more details. It is customary woven from a countless number of whole flax leaves with their highly pointed ends towards the outside and gives whoever wears it the distinctive air of some noble porcupine. Giant statues are a great way to drive home an important point and I can’t wait to see this dream materialized into our common space-time experience. The different cultures have learned to live together and leaning on each other’s pillars of strength support the framework of a new society born from the fruitful furnace of fusion. I’m happy for my friend Rua, and the support he receives from the mighty decision makers in New Zealand’s not always very efficient government will certainly be well spent.

But Rua is one of the fortunate few and even he is venturing into all kinds of extra business left and right to make ends meet. Peter Yates, ceramic artist of the superior kind, now lives off a humble allowance, since he is sliding into the grey area of the seventies and complaining about stabbing pains in the knees. He’s a straight forward kind of guy, can be refreshingly abrasive and knows a cat in a bag when he sees one and distinguishes apples from oranges, so in the art market, which mostly lives off exaggerations, pretensions and extortions, he hasn’t made it up the rungs of solvency. He has learned to live with that and doesn’t mind the simple life of a vagabond. Wandering leisurely but persistently from his cozy cabin up on a wooded hill overlooking the Waikare Inlet, his little folk boat with the scandalously loud diesel outboard of ancient Chinese manufacturing, and the couches of his numerous friends he continues to investigate the many mysteries of life with an enthusiasm that puts most any modern youngster to shame. A little support from the community at large to thank him for the many years of cultural activism under his belt would allow him to expand his radius of curious investigations.

Like unfortunately with many other things the Kiwis are seriously convinced that they are a nation of superior creators, splendid artists and not in lack of singular talent at all. Not much will therefore change within the foreseeable future in these sparsely populated lands. The first step towards solving any problem is to realize that one exists, and as it happens this peculiar virtue has not been seen much among the most promoted items on the local gastronomical menus.

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