culture | 6 april 2018
when we first saw the exhibit featuring a broken glass window, and a mashup of a werner herzog movie, we thought; what the fuck is this? what's going on with contemporary art? Why would anyone engage with this? But then we realised that is kind of the point. 'heart of glass' is the latest exhibition by artists isabella dampney & theo macdonald at enjoy gallery in Wellington.
interview: mitch alison
photographs: xander dixon
Isabella Dampney and Theo Macdonald are originally from Welly, but moved to Auckland for uni. They work together as artists, and in the bands PISS CANNONN (with Daphne Simons and Li-Ming Hu) and Apple Music (with Jackson Crampin).
Tell us what's going on with 'Heart of Glass'? Honestly, we're a little confused.
Heart Of Glass is our fourth exhibition collaborating together as artists, and our first in Wellington. Our past exhibitions in Auckland have been particularly labour intensive, and have exhusted our resources. When writing our proposal for this exhibition at Enjoy, we were thinking about distilling the key components of our shared artmaking interests into a gesture more immediate than our previous collaborations.
What's with the window breaking?
We thought the idea of solely breaking a window in the gallery space effectively evoked our belief that a minimal gesture can be as impactful as a markedly labour intensive exhibition. The exhibition riffs off the Werner Herzog film and Blondie’s hit single, both title “Heart of Glass”.
"We thought the idea of solely breaking a window in the gallery space effectively evoked our belief that a minimal gesture can be as impactful as a markedly labour intensive exhibition."
What kind of process is involved in making work like this?
A hammer, a ladder, two people (one to spot the ladder), gloves, and protective eyewear. Also months of emails and Skype calls, finessing every detail. Someone called Louise, and someone called Sophie.
The work is described as a 'play between pop culture, present day media discourse and the contemporary art history of Aotearoa'. In exploring those ideas, what discussion do you hope the show will generate?
In the few years we've been out of art school, a recurring question amongst our peers has been how we value art. Some young artists want to enter the dealer gallery model, and produce object work with commodity value. Others have moved towards music venues, where a performance fee model already exists. In the past five years we've seen a decline in Auckland artist-run spaces, due to high rent and low wages. It's hard to get an exhibition, so now that we've got this opportunity, we want to take advantage of it to generate discussion. We respect others’ choices to work within the dealer model, but we’re more interested in producing work that can't be sold, and by necessity must be destroyed at the conclusion of an exhibition.
“the art world is scam”
When contemporary art enters public discourse, that question of value is emphasised. Phrases like “wasting tax-payer money,” “it's just a bunch of garbage,” and “the art world is scam,” get re-iterated over and again, and ground public discourse in questions of value. We're interested in foregrounding redundancy in our project, using it as a starting point for dialogue rather than a conclusion.
What do you think about Herzog’s film and how have you used the famous film maker’s work?
Off the bat, we should admit that Bella hasn't seen the movie, though she does like Herzog’s other work. Heart Of Glass is probably one of Herzog’s lesser known movies. It's also one of his slowest, which is saying something. The majority of the cast was hypnotised during the filming process. They move through the gothic horror in a way that is dopey, but somehow deliberate. Incorporating the language of Herzog into an exhibition appeals because the language of Herzog is one of curiosity. He's romantic in his outlook towards history and humanity, and drawing a link between our work and his ties our minimal work, for us, into a more grandiose lineage.
Watch the video for 'Heart Of Glass'
Tell us more about Enjoy, the gallery that is hosting the exhibtion.
Enjoy is Wellington’s longest running independent art space, with a long history of exhibiting engaging and challanging contemporary art. Midway through the planning process of Heart of Glass, one of the Enjoy staff memebers drew our attention to the one of the galleries earliest exhibitions, in which the windows at Enjoy’s original location were systematically removed, allowing detritus to enter the gallery space.
Working with a gallery that has such a long history means we have many opportunities to tap into and respond to a specific continuum of art in Aotearoa.
We visit Wellington regularly, and Enjoy exhibitions are always on our radar.
What you think of Wellington and the city’s creative scene?
From the outside, Wellington seems to be thriving at the moment. Play_station, Meanwhile, Enjoy, and the Adam Art Gallery are all doing exciting work, and revitalising what felt like quite an empty city for a long time.
When we were down for the opening of Heart of Glass, we went to the City Gallery and saw Michael Stevenson’s work. It seems like the major public funded spaces are doing a good job of showing historicised work to younger audiences.
On the other hand, Wellington’s creative capital vibe is a highly constructed image, and with the loss of a number of music venues it seems like the city is moving closer to a hollow tech design chic. Growing up here, it often felt like there wasn't much going on.
"Wellington’s creative capital vibe is a highly constructed image, and with the loss of a number of music venues it seems like the city is moving closer to a hollow tech design chic."
Who are some of your biggest influences and favourite artists?
Joni Mitchell (Bella), Kanye, John Baldessari, Julian Dashper, Alice Cooper (Theo), Twin Peaks: The Return
"One visitor asked if a pigeon had flown through the window."
Who do you think will be interested in this exhibition and a gallery like Enjoy?
One of the great things about Enjoy is that it is located centrally, which means it gets a lot of foot traffic from visitors to the city. We'd like to think that the show has an intrigue that draws people in who stumble across it by accident.
Of course, a lot of the reference points we’re using are connected to very specific internal artworld concerns, but we hope the enduring appeal of broken windows can help us reach a wider audience. One visitor asked if a pigeon had flown through the window.
McDonald is a BFA (Hons) graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts. He co-hosts the weekly radio show Artbank, on 95bFM, and co-founded the art-punk band ‘PISS CANNONN’ with Isabella Dampney.
Dampney is also a BFA (Hons) graduate, from the University of Auckland. Some of her previous exhibitions include: Bella and Theory IDEATE!, I Think We Should Put Some Mountains Here, and Avoiding Climax: Bella and Theo Understand it Better but the Frog Dies.
Listen to 'Heart Of Glass"
Enjoy Gallery: Website
Bella & Theo: Bandcamp
Piss Cannonn: Soundcloud
Enjoy Gallery: @enjoypublicartgallery
Theo Macdonald: @theodorecracy
Isabella Dampney: @home_drinker
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