Candlesticks strike a heated debate

Candlesticks strike a heated debate

Iíll tell you where to put your candlesticks, young artists

Zane Pocock

In the most stunning lack of individual style the art world has ever seen, we are currently witnessing a huge proliferation of contemporary New Zealand artists turning their craft towards $1,000 candlesticks.

The thought first crossed my mind when visiting a special Christmas show at Hamish McKay Gallery in Wellington last year. To be fair, that particular exhibition was interesting. McKay had asked a large number of the artists he represents, including the likes of Rohan Wealleans and Ronnie van Hout, to make candles for a show which was simultaneously a commentary on special edition art and what I have now come to see as either a pre-emptive strike against, or the only good example of, artists making candlesticks. But this was only the start.

Soon Richard Orjis, a well-established photographic artist, was making phallic-shaped candlestick sets. Oh yes, humble art enthusiast, these werenít just candlesticks. They were painted clay candle-holders that came with a matching candle-sized phallus. For sure, you could read infinite meanings into this: the clay that comes from the earth to form something else, the impregnating power of art no matter how lame, or even the candle/phallus which heats and lights up your love life. But what I saw was a clichť of art history, that stale phallic imagery that historians love oh-so-much to psychoanalyse.

Even Dunedinís own Venice Biennale participant Scott Eady has descended this slippery slope. A recent exhibition in Auckland included several nearly-identical blobs with electric candles jutting out of them. I was looking into buying his work at the time and completely lost interest.

I fear these are just the beginning. Sort it out, artists. The heat has gone out of your flame.

Candlesticks make great pleasure-giving devices

Loulou Callister-Baker

While some people may view a bunch of artists making candlesticks as a purely commercial endeavour, it does no good to be so cynical. Purchasing an artwork by an emerging or established artist will typically involve spending a lot of money, but the best way to collect and show support for an artist is to purchase his or her work. Alternative art projects, like candlestick-making, create an access point into the art world Ė itís a first step. Although admittedly a more capitalist scheme, these projects create revenue for the artist and spread their reach, resulting in positive commercialisation of the art world.

These discussed candlesticks are a product made directly by the artistís hands Ė they are practical and they can light up any room (so to speak). What candles and their necessary candlesticks represent is also charming. A candlestick holder has potential for an environmentally friendly candlelit dinner with fabulous friends or a dinner date at home (tip: everyone is more attractive by candlelight). This type of artwork both creates conversations and sits among them. A candlestick with a personality is a welcome dinner guest.

However, as Zane and I write this piece, we are sitting in different parts of the University campus debating on a shared Google Doc. It feels like I am on a niche internet forum in the midst of a passive-aggressive argument about candlesticks. Despite my positivity about this project, it is hard not to see the humour in it all. Thatís art for you.
This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2013.
Posted 3:14pm Sunday 28th April 2013 by Zane Pocock and Loulou Callister-Baker.