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Essays

Andrew Clifford on Dugal McKinnon's Popular Archeology

Giovanni Tiso on Tao Wells' The Beneficiary's Office

Heather Galbraith on Kim Paton's Free Store

Richard Meros on Bronwyn Holloway Smith's Pioneer City 

Martin Pattrick on Colin Hodson's The Market Testament

Hannah Zwartz on Suburban Floral Association's Shopfront

Emma Willis on Mark Harvey's Productive Bodies

Mark Amery on Dance Art Club and radio

Cathy Aronson on Julian Priest's Free of Charge 

Sally Blundell on the Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa 2013

Kerryn Pollock on Projected Fields

Reuben Friend and others on the Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa 2015

 

there is more to parties than letting your hair down. Relaxed, together we make a precious shared space. We discover both our commonalities and our different points of view.”

ESSAY

Making a Shout Out

Mark Amery considers D.A.N.C.E Art Club’s art project D.A.N.C.E FM 106.7 and the current creative potential of radio.

 

 

We want the airwaves

“Mr. Programmer got my hammer and I'm gonna smash my, smash my radio. We want the airwaves. We want the airwaves. We want the airwaves, baby if rock is gonna stay alive.” ‘We want the airwaves’, The Ramones

 

D.A.N.C.E[1]  FM 106.7 was a mobile radio station and public address unit, meeting and broadcasting with communities around the Taupo region in May 2012. It was run by livewire Auckland artist collective D.A.N.C.E Art Club, with the assistance of Letting Space (of which I am co-curator) as part of the region’s Erupt Arts Festival.

D.A.N.C.E[2]  Art Club’s participatory artworks have always embodied the action ‘to host’ and the whole notion of hospitality. Hospitality is the generosity that allows things to happen.

D.A.N.C.E ART Club is very good at this. ‘D.A.N.C.E’ stands for Distinquished All Night Community Entertainers. Indeed they describe themselves as “celebrating the social dynamic as a creative platform”.

Hosting is a term we still use in radio - the DJ ‘hosts’ the show. The word stresses that radio is less about a DJ or presenter as individual and their prowess, and more about the social activity of bringing people together as a community. 

With D.A.N.C.E FM 106.7 there was always an exchange going on: a giving of gifts. It was an exploration of how the act of social exchange in two groups of people meeting might be re-energised outside of traditional social structures. For sure, there was a mihi at a resthome and a powhiri at a school, but there was also always the sense of having to invent new ways to exchange based around the formality of creating something together. 

The events were as collaborative and as social as possible. At each location the crew chatted with the locals as they set up and packed down. This felt as much part of the ‘performance’ as the broadcast. Little hierarchy was put up. Children roamed in and out of the van, being shown how to operate things. At Te Kura o Waitahanui school and kohanga reo there was a face painting session, but was the tamariki painting the manuhiri (us as outsiders) as much as the visitors the kids. At Wairakei School it was the kids DJing. Still and video cameras are omnipresent, but the images are fed live back to the community.

 

This casual attitude – a lack of a clear sense when we are experiencing ‘showtime’ and when we are not – might at first seem unprofessional, yet it removes barriers and turns all into participants and creators.  As with other D.A.N.C.E Art Club works it’s refreshingly down to earth. The mystique of the visitor as ‘the other’ is broken down. “Party at your place” it says, a mobile Kiwi version of the neighbourhood American block party, where the community takes over the streets. 

 

From the Burton Brothers to Ans Westra, our documentary-art history has been one of the outsider visiting Maori and other communities and taking away images for others use. Consciously or not, D.A.N.C.E Art Club responded to this. The travelling model was co-opted for better use. The radio they make is beamed straight back to the communities’ homes around them. Potentially at least they are given the power, and a short window to think about where they could go. One of the strongest decisions the group made visiting the kura at Waihatanui was to burn a CD of the images for the school and its parents before they left.

In public its social structures as well as physical structures that bond us. This is something often not well recognised in the Western art tradition. Whether it’s a kava circle in an art gallery or a contemporary house party D.A.N.C.E Art Club explore a range of social structures. Given member Chris Fitzgerald’s experience as a DJ with Fleet FM, Linda T’s (Tuafale Tanoai) reputation with radio and TV and as documentor of small communities, and Vaimaila Urale and Ahilapalapa Rands’ background in performance collective Little Mamas Club, the idea of a roving radio station and PA system for the collective now, in retrospect, seems like it was inevitable.

D.A.N.C.E Art Club’s work emphasises that there is more to parties than letting your hair down. Relaxed, together we make a precious shared space. We discover both our commonalities and our different points of view. By moving into working with communities far removed from the artworld, D.A.N.C.E FM recognised the empowerment they might provide.

D.A.N.C.E Art Club’s work asks us to be more generous and open in our social engagement: to look beyond stereotypes; to be prepared to be surprised. They encourage us to not lose sight of the need to create media platforms that enable all communities and individuals their voice.

The D.A.N.C.E FM project felt like just a beginning in this respect. The crew had barely arrived in one location, with only a modicum of announcement, before they were off again. It was extraordinarily temporary, and like much temporary work I found myself asking how much more powerful it could be if seeded more strongly and sustained with communities as a media platform for longer periods of time.

Resources made this difficult, and this is a challenge contemporary art in New Zealand generally needs to tackle around temporary public art. We need to have the gumption to invest far more strongly and for more sustained periods in work that is ephemeral – of the air – as well as bronze and permanent.

 

Redemption Song

 

 

 “Old pirates, yes, they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships. Minutes after they took I, from the bottomless pit. But my hand was made strong, by the hand of the almighty. We forward in this generation, triumphantly. Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?”

‘Redemption Song’, Bob Marley

Radio still enjoys some remnant of popular reputation as a free, live medium embodying independence. The individual hits the open road, as it were, turns on the radio and scans through the stations. In this moment we may feel as free as a bird, taking sounds from the air, as  a wayfarer might water from a stream as some given public right. The airwaves as some inalienable social commons.

There’s a lot of rock n roll appeal to all of this, and indeed radio was founded with a degree of idealistic socialist fervour - seen as full of social and political potential. The truth about the freedom of the airwaves however has turned out to be far more piratical.

The first song ever broadcast by pirate radio station Radio Hauraki in 1966, from international waters outside the then New Zealand three-mile limit was Matt Munro’s ‘Born Free’. Until 1962 control of the airwaves had been with the state, government department New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS), and it remained tightly regulated by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC). Pirate radio on contrast could broadcast what it wanted. 

Radio, the pirate jocks proved could be irreverent and fun. The first student station BFM began as a ‘60s capping stunt, transmitting from a boat as ‘Radio Bosom’.

The freedom of the seven seas however involves looting and plundering. What looked in the 1960s like a movement with community-based ideals turned out to be claimed by the baby boomers for their own private ends. Today Radio Hauraki is a mainstream rock radio network, peddling all sorts of other iconic souvenirs of freedom.

As academic Brent Simpson writes, when the commercial radio network in New Zealand was finally deregulated it enabled the majority of radio broadcasting in New Zealand to be developed as a financial commodity, “largely controlled by a co-operative duopoly consisting of on the one hand APN News and Media (APN) in partnership with the Australian Radio Network (ARN), and on the other MediaWorks, owned by Australian private equity corporation Ironbridge Capital.”[1]

If the story ended there it would be a sad one, yet there is today in New Zealand the growth of an on-air commons on the outer margins of the radio band.

Maori and the fifth Labour government were key to further development of the spectrum. In reaction to dissatisfaction with free market reforms Broadcasting minister Steve Maharey lobbied for more public engagement and increased access to communications technology to ensure equal access to technology. This came after a decade of government communications policy treating spectrum solely as a tradable commodity in an open marketplace. During that time however iwi had engaged in a hard-fought battle to claim spectrum – helping lead to the exponential growth of iwi radio as a platform for keeping Te Reo Maori alive and providing communities with their own broadcasting.

Scan across the frequencies on your radio – a physical analogue activity we can still enjoy the freedom of – and you’ll find a lot of varied activity. Access Community Radio, first established in the 1980s is alive and well across the country, student radio survived commercialisation, and iwi stations now abound. Lesser known however are the 100s of local low-powered FM (LPFM) ‘micro-broadcasters’ in the frequency ranges at the edges of the official FM broadcasting band. From Eketahuna Radio to Raglan Radio, they serve smaller communities, often strongest where communities have the sense of a degree of self-sufficiency[2]

These frequency ranges are called Guardband, separating the official FM broadcasting band from other spectrum users such as taxis and aeronautical operations, and operate from 88.1 to 88.7 and 106.7 to 107.7. Find a free frequency and you can transmit at a maximum power of half of a watt – enough to reach a kilometer or two in radius.  Minimal regulation of LPFM spectrum in New Zealand since a General User Radio License was established in 2002 has created what Simpson labels an ‘open spectrum commons’.  

“While commons approaches can be innovative and experimental spaces,” Simpson writes, “they are also subject to the tragedy of the commons.”

In economics, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ is “the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one's self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to their long-term best interests”[3]. Luckily there have been enough community minded individuals to ensure this has not dominated.

It was a guardband frequency that D.A.N.C.E Art Club borrowed from an individual for a week of mobile broadcasting in May 2012 as D.A.N.CE FM 106.7. The loan was arranged by fellow station Timeless Taupo 106.4, which operates from an old state house in Taupo. From the street it would appear to be a house no different than any other – an apt symbol for the public persuasiveness yet mainstream invisibility of community radio. The equipment and truck D.A.N.C.E used meanwhile was owned by former inner city Auckland guardband station, Fleet FM 88.3.

Their first stop was Rifle Range Retirement Village, near the centre of Taupo town. When I asked two of the elderly residents there what they listened to, Timeless Taupo was their answer. Other communities aren’t so lucky.

As well as several Taupo town locations, D.A.N.C.E FM  [3] set up for a few hours party in communities that don’t have their own radio stations, like Tokaanu, Waitahanui, Mangakino and Wairakei Vilage. For me this was where the project was at its best.

As the internet becomes increasingly, inevitably commercialized the guardband range of the radio spectrum, like a vacant inner city block, still offers significant creative freedoms. Freedoms that too few artists have exploited. There is a thriving radio art network in New Zealand and internationally[4] but what distinguished D.A.N.C.E Art Club was its focus on the bandwidth and the physical, collaborative nature of what radio does for communities.

As the popularity of podcasts attests radio remains an important media in a visually saturated world. It’s a social medium where talk can occur more freely, not limited to shorter visual attention spans. It remains a space with potential for freer discussion and genuine dialogue.  “Radio,” affirms artist run organisation Okno “has the potential to be a completely liberated, mobile and inhabited mass media.”[5]

This is what as an experiment D.A.N.C.E Art Club capitalized on, recognising as temporary public work that radio offers the ability to freely move to different locations. What the work lacks in bronze-clad permanence it makes up for in its potential reach into people’s homes via their radios. Locals get to hear each other share their stories, shout outs and music.

Such mobility is not a new thing. Back in 1939 the then government-owned National Commercial Broadcasting Service temporarily added a mobile station 5ZB to the dial, touring the North Island in a refitted mobile railway carriage for three months. This wasn’t just about transmitting content to the masses from one national node - it was also about gathering community stories and performances. Then, between 1946 and 1947 a Mobile Recording Unit was created to travel parts of the country without easy access to a radio  station[4] . Performers in the areas were recorded on the spot and broadcast from central stations. The idea was inspired by the success of recording units overseas during the war, and intended to “assist cultural development and national pride in post-war New Zealand”[6]

More recently, in post-earthquake Christchurch student station RDU has been broadcasting from a truck. “We’re embracing a new technological model,” writes Morgan Williams on their website, “re-evaluating what it means to be a local station, tackling local issues and engaging with the community, and driving round in our sweet mobile broadcasting truck.”[7]

 D.A.N.C.E FM touched on a technological divide that already exists and remains far too hidden from the eyes of those in power. Increasingly, the well-digitally connected assume that all are as connected to as they are. That audio and video is streaming, news through our web feeds constantly breaking. It is easy [5] to forget that information is power, and when you don’t have it you literally do feel behind the times.

Rifle Range Retirement Village residents visited the town library to read the newspaper and surf the net. What will happen when more and more internet content falls behind a pay wall? With radio, we still have the power to take things into our own hands.

 

Ghost Town


“Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town? We danced and sang, and the music played inna de boomtown. This town, is coming like a ghost town. Why must the youth fight against themselves? Government leaving the youth on the shelf. This place, is coming like a ghost town.”Ghost Town, The Specials

A contemporary equivalent to D.A.N.C.E FM’s party shack on wheels is to be found smack in the middle of the dial: the mobile broadcast units of mainstream radio – 91ZMs’s Black Thunder: a snazzy, sleek black truck blasting out the latest rock sounds and giving away freebies.

And yet visually D.A.N.C.E FM was nothing like it at all. The truck is decidedly second hand, the station’s signage on the side reflective tape slap and stick. The whole enterprise, when the Club arrive and set up is remarkably casual - the kind of party you throw for friends at home. At Rifle Range the Club bring scones rather than McDonalds vouchers, whipped up earlier that morning, their preparation filmed to be later presented to the residents as a tongue-in-cheek cooking show.

Other than the odd kia ora koutou to Erupt Festival, Letting Space and any one else on the ground who’s helped make it happen, there are no commercial brands or products D.A.N.C.E Art Club are peddling. From the toasted sammies to their ‘Volcanic Sparkle’ fizzy punch (using a cola syrup made by artist friends in Auckland) everything is homestyle, handmade.

Where this radio station goes is also of course different. You’re unlikely to see the Black Thunder in the streets of the small communities of Mangakino, Waihatanui or Tokaanu – there’s little commercial imperative. These small distinct communities are off the media map.

Mangakino is 40 minutes drive from Taupo. There’s a small local resident community, but the town is also full of richer visiting fisherman’s baches. Lake Maraetiei is also a place where powerboat enthusiasts gather and where tourists can take a paddle steamboat ride.

On an evening in May it has a little of the air of a ghost town. When D.A.N.C.E Art Club played The Specials track of the same name I was worried it might be a little close to the bone. The young people we speak to express a wish to leave the town as soon as they can. But, for one evening outside the Bus Stop Café (a converted bus down by the lake, just past the local marae) they get to do shout outs to their friends and family’s back tucked up at home, and “do the bus stop” (an old disco track with moves) to the D.A.N.C.E Art Club’s instruction[8].

Doing the Bus Stop Dance at the Bus Stop Cage, Mangakino from Mark Amery on Vimeo.

 

‘Ghost Town’ was about Thatcher’s London. None of the locales D.A.N.C.E Art Club chose were seeing boom times. When the truck turns up at Rifle Range Retirement Village residents are worried that the group are from the local council, and have gathered them together to inform them that their village is being closed.

 

The group arrived in Turangi a few months after what the NZ Herald sensationalized as “a crime that shocked the country” (“Sexual abuse, gangs, drugs and alcohol marked the upbringing of a Turangi teenager yesterday jailed for raping a 5-year-old tourist girl” ran the newspaper’s March story). This wasn’t the spirit D.A.N.C.E Art Club found on the ground. The community were far more open and generous in their interaction than in the streets of Taupo township. If ever there was a need for an alternative media to counter the mainstream it was here.
[6] 

[7] The Taupo region is a powerhouse for the rest of the country. D.A.N.C.E Art Club claimed the airwaves against the background of heated national debate about who could claim our water (and by proxy the geothermal resource), with the imminent sell of state owned asset Mighty River Power. With this as a backdrop the project tells the story of those who have looked after and lived with this resource for many years. 

D.A.N.C.E FM visited three towns developed between the 1940s and 1960s as part of public work schemes to house workers on hydroelectric power schemes.

Mangakino in particular has a curious transitional history. It was constructed in 1947-8 as a temporary township, its centre designed by public planner Ernst Plishke. “It was, until recently,” wrote Larry Finn in Te Ao Hou in 1952 “just taken for granted that the bulk of the population would be moved elsewhere when the present project was completed.”[9]

Previously in 1896, after 40 years of resistance[10] the Crown had acquired the Wairarapa Lakes in the lower North Island from Ngati Kahungunu and in 1915, given this land in the middle North Island in return (known as part of the Pouakani Block). At that time the land these people moved to was described as native bush and pumice wastelands, barren, unoccupied and unfarmed.

With their sturdy state houses and large public areas Wairakei village and Turangi also bear the hand of government planners. Turangi town centre however particularly still feels like an ill-fitting civil servant’s suit.

On the last day of D.A.N.C.E FM’s broadcast a party was set up in the middle of the Turangi town centre. Tim Barlow’s work The Public Fountain provided a dancefloor and water feature, and D.A.N.C.E Art Club the tunes and public address system. On air in the square Barlow discussed the issues surrounding control of nearby Tokaanu’s geothermal resource with a staff member of D.O.C and a representative of Tokaanu hapu Ngati Kurauia, watched by the locals gathered and hopefully listened to by some further afield.  Together in Turangi these two art projects temporarily extended the existing public space, physically and in the air, whilst simultaneously discussing issues surrounding control and ownership of local resources.

In a time of constant exchange over the internet, and a flood of reality and talent shows on television you would be forgiven for thinking radio or alternative documentary works like D.A.N.C.E FM 106.7 unnecessary. Yet the more these formats become standardized and franchised, the more the specific contexts for individual’s voices become stripped away and homogenised. Such work has never been more necessary as communities struggle with their isolation in the slipstream and access to the mainstream.

ENDS

 


[1] Brent Simpson, ‘Low Power FM in New Zealand: A Survey of an Open Spectrum Commons’, Radio and Society: New Thinking for an Old Medium Editor: Matt Mollgaard, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012

[2] A database of such stations can be found at http://www.low-power-fm-radio.spacejunk.co.nz/lpfm-radio-station-list.asp. It is reliant on operators updating it so can’t be considered complete or up to date.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

[4] Memorably microcasting legend Tetsuo Kogawa visited New Zealand in 2006 demonstrating how to build your own microtransmitter.

[5] http://www.memoir.okno.be/?id=964

[6] http://www.oldradio.com/archives/international/nzp.html

[7] http://www.rdu.org.nz/about-rdu

[8] http://www.lettingspace.org.nz/film-dance-fm/

[9] Larry Finn, ‘The Future of Mangakino’ Te Aro Hou No.2 (Spring 1952)

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangakino