Section 5 - Notes on YES and NO
5.0 Go back to the term New Zealand poetry, or to the broader category of New Zealand art. The sphere of a country and the domain of an art are different in the world. But we can use New Zealand poetry as the name of a distinctive type of representation. The study of this poetry is the study of that which is distinctive about this representation. It involves the listing of its inventory of features.
5.1 New Zealand verbal or visual art is a complex language-game characterised by the use of New Zealand words or things, first. Sometimes it is also the representation, in vernacular language, of representation as something, which is a model of the world, and not the world itself. One could call this art-history staple, representation’s problem. Then it becomes New Zealand Poetry, a classical entity made by Curnow.
There wasn’t any track from which to hang
The black transparency that was travelling
South-away to the cold pole. It was cloud
Browed over the yellow cornea which I called
An eyeball for want of another notion,
Cloud above an ocean. It leaked. (8)
This pull towards a concern with representation’s problem is an immense commonality between Curnow and Colin McCahon, for example.
5.2 Great Blond Paddocks could be a New Zealand artwork, although it was made in Australia by an expatriate New Zealand artist. If it was not named Great blond paddocks, but instead was called, say, Untitled, it would be classified as an ikebana work or as a minimal painting, solely, with no significant lack. By this one can see that regional indices are fragile, that they can be turned off, yet the art would remain. It is only by these fragile marks that modernism, which is a shift in representation that emphasises the constitutive work of language, can be said to be regional. Regional modernism is only - modernism adopting regional vocabulary. But Gascoigne’s painting with another name would still be beautiful and meaningful.
5.3 New Zealand and Australian modernism is the crossing of pictures. The picture of a nation-state is made to be crossed by modernism’s picture.
5.4 A poem written by a New Zealand writer, stage-set on a beach, that otherwise bears no New Zealand marks, no unique New Zealand words or names, is not a New Zealand poem, but it does establish the suspicion that it might be, since beach is near-metonymic for New Zealand. A poem that prises signifier and signified apart but that does not contain or is not revealing of unique New Zealand vocabulary in some way, is likely a modernist but not a New Zealand poem.
5.5 There is nothing about the term New Zealand in New Zealand art that makes this or that work art. That which achieves aesthetic success is something else. This something else is the thing that is absent or weak in the less successful works by Allen Curnow or Colin McCahon, for example.
5.6 Is the film The Lord of the Rings a New Zealand movie? (Is the rectangle southwesterly? We grow tired of this mining for New Zealand. It is a sickness.)
5.7 All paintings by Colin McCahon can be termed New Zealand paintings. Not all of these paintings are visual art. That all paintings by McCahon or all of Curnow’s writing is New Zealand art reflects the fact that both proper names have become Zealand words. This illustrates an important “second order” form of New Zealandness, which is the way in which metonymic conventions arise within New Zealand art as a discourse.
5.8 John Reynolds’ paintings also involve the use of New Zealand words or things, directly with the use of vernacular materials and titles, or indirectly, in his particular representation of a traditional visual art language. In the latter one can see that a metaphysical art strategy (see “Country and Western” on www.jackbooks.com) is a distinctive representational feature in New Zealand art. Metaphysical art is a term for a language of the rupture of signs.
5.9 We can say John Reynolds is a New Zealand artist or a metaphysical artist. It is like the way that we can say “ I caught a groper today off North Reef”, or we can say “I caught a hapuka today off North Reef”. Only the latter is a sentence set in New Zealand.
5.10 New Zealand art is not a frozen category. It evolves. But it is not clear to me whether the evolution of signs and meaning in New Zealand art expands the category or maintains it.
5.11 Does Stephen Bambury, an Auckland geometric abstract painter make New Zealand art? Yes, and no. Yes, here and there, because in some of his work he creates an architectural rhyme, which is a clear basis of conversation, with Colin McCahon, and Colin McCahon has become a New Zealand word. To this extent Bambury positions some of his paintings as possessing an aspect of New Zealand words. But mainly no.
5.12 As a thought experiment: what would the nature of New Zealand poetry be if New Zealand poetry did not exist?