In the Eye of the Beholders | Dunedin Art Reviews

In the Eye of the Beholders | Dunedin Art Reviews

Callout: This column is supported by DPAG, but they have no influence on the reviews
Every week, we send two writers to an art exhibit in Ōtepoti Dunedin. One of them will choose a specific piece, and describe it to the other without them looking. They’ll try to figure out what the piece actually is before diving into their thoughts on the entire exhibition. You can’t ascribe any one meaning to any one piece of art, so this functions a bit like a game of artistic telephone. Let’s dive in.

This Week: Kaleidoscope World: Forty Years of Flying Nun: Loving tribute to Dunedin Sound.

Esmond: The piece I’m looking at is small- to medium-sized, very related to music. It’s a humorous pop art parody that features icons from pop culture.
Maddie: I’m guessing it’s an album cover from the size, and I think I know exactly which one, because it’s hilarious. Is it Abbasalutely?
The answer: Correct! We’re looking at Alec Bathgate’s LP cover design for Abbasalutely: A Flying Nun Tribute to the Music of ABBA. 

It’s part of the Hocken Collections’ exhibition Kaleidoscope World: Forty Years of Flying Nun, a celebration of the Dunedin sound, marking forty years of the iconic Flying Nun record label and its punky, punchy, and sometimes grungy aesthetic. 
Picture this: the year is 1987. The mullet is not quite dead and your parents are the cool kids on Castle Street. Dunedin teems with live music venues, and the bands who play them (from The Chills, to The Verlaines, to Look Blue Go Purple) are churning out new tunes on the regular. Gig posters are collaged everywhere, as spontaneous and erratic as the music they advertise. And underpinning it all is Flying Nun, the label that became synonymous with the Dunedin Sound. 

Kaleidoscope World: Forty Years of Flying Nun pays homage to the art scene that thrived alongside the music, from posters to album covers. This exhibition features a huge range of memorabilia, both from the Hocken Collection as well as the private collection of those involved in the music scene at that time. From a diverse range of local artists (mostly the band members themselves and their mates) the works have the colourful and uninhibited vibe of making it all up as you go along. 
The visual language of the exhibition exudes all things punk. It’s the DIY aesthetic of a pre-digital era: collage, handwritten letters, and linocuts abound. The art is stylistically diverse, but it all has the raw, vivacious and sometimes shocking energy of a city with students at the heart of it. Particularly cool to see is the plasticine, bitsnbobs sculpture by Martin Phillipps that formed the funky cover of The Chills’ Kaleidescope World LP. 

You can feel the love and care given to this exhibition. Posters, the kind you would be so used to seeing on the side of telephone poles, ripped and pulpy from rain, framed beautifully. A dress worn for gigs, once torn off and thrown on our floor, crinkled when the wearer hopped into bed, steamed and displayed on a dressmaker mannequin. A leather jacket, an O-week poster. It’s a true slice of the scene. 
Many will recognize the familiar sights of Dunedin venues immortalised in photographs and videos, getting a glimpse of how they were back in the day. The exhibition features the mural “Where They Played”, by Robert Scott, (who played with The Clean and The Bats), a map of iconic venues. The whole exhibition has a bittersweet feel, a nostalgia for the past. It’s also a harsh reminder of what we have lost. Almost all the venues in Scott’s mural are now defunct. While Flying Nun still remains the same NZ indie staple, it’s not quite the same old Dunedin. The take-home message? Go support your local bands, make some noise about live music, and make them some art, while you’re at it. 
P.S: The exhibition closes on the 24 of September, so it's your last chance to see it if you haven’t already!
Recommended song for your visit: None - take out your headphones and enjoy the recordings playing in the exhibit. 

This column is sponsored by DPAG, but they have no influence on the reviews

This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2022.
Posted 6:50pm Sunday 11th September 2022 by Esmond Paterson and Maddie Fenn.