With apologies. I've been meaning to drop you some bits of news for
what feels like years. I guess it would be a bad feeling to have
nothing to do and to be bored, but this has been taking busy-ness to
So at last, here are some odd snippets. Feel free to use or ignore
them, anything you wish. (If some of them help you in your own
art-political fights then that's just great)
* * *
Collage Symposium in Bulgaria.
If you received an email, written in French, asking you to fly (at your
own expense) to Sofia for the 1st April, would you suspect something?
There was that sneaking thought, but then again the request was just too
wonderfully weird for me to refuse. So I answered Oui et merci.
And that was it. Find Bulgaria on the map, book tickets for 40 hours
each way of flying and hanging around in airports, hoping it's not a
joke. The Second International Symposium of Collage. At the School of
Fine Art in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Why am I still surprised it was so good?
Five foreign collage artists (one from Hungary, two from France, one
from French-speaking Canada and me) and twelve from within Bulgaria.
With two exhibitions - one of art we brought with us and another of the
collages we made during the symposium, from stuff we found in the
streets of Plovdiv. I think I was the only one of the artists who took
this literally and brought nothing with me. I earned the nickname "the
mouse of Plovdiv" for scurrying around collecting detritus before the
street-sweepers (women in clogs with twig brooms) arrived.
It could have been just an interesting holiday. Two weeks in a
relatively unknown part of Europe. Living in a medieval town on top of
Roman ruins, and making good friends among the artists in spite of
sharing no language (not even being able to read the alphabet! - the
attached image reads "Dale Copeland of New Zealand". It was on the
posters all around Plovdiv but it took me ages to decipher it.)
It has taken me a long while to realise why the experience hit me so
deeply, as not just another holiday. It was the honour and the respect
given to the artists and to their medium. I'm not used to it. Here
artists are rather disdained by the black-suited community, and collage
and assemblage are seen mostly as child's play. There? We were treated
as visiting dignitaries.
I couldn't understand much from all the
speeches .... a translator whispered from Bulgarian into French and the
French Canadian whispered some into English for me .... but every city
official, art historian, businessman, TV presenter and reporter that
Plovdiv and Sofia could muster seemed to be there at both of our
exhibition openings, making speeches, giving us awards, staring closely
at the art. It was that "staring closely" that got to me. You know how
openings go here ... people stand with their backs to the art, eat the
supper, drink the wine, talk the talk, go home. There the art really was
And the School of Fine Arts ... less equipment and supplies than we
would complain about in a Playcentre, in a building which like all the
high-rise concrete from the communist times is decrepit and would be
condemned here ... but they turn out really fine artists in painting and
sculpture and collage. A very poor country by all the usual
international measuring sticks but full of pride in its history and its
art and its artists. In its culture rather than in its profit margin. I
hope that, like Ireland, its culture will eventually carry the economy.
Lighter notes: almost everyone chainsmokes, meals seem to take about
five hours with long gaps between courses filled with a lot of smoking
and talking, and huge amounts of drinking and clashing glasses together
and shouting "Nazdraveh!" At each meal we got through bottles and
bottles of Mastika which smells like ouzo or aniseed, and Rakia which is
like a soft brandy but with a very high alcohol content and the local
red wine Mavrud (another of my names was "the lady of Mavrud").
Lodging: the three French-speaking men and I were housed in a museum! A
Renaissance house stuffed full of antique furniture. Kept closed all
year except when visiting dignitaries come. Mostly German ambassadors
judging from the guestbook.
Funding: apart from getting to and from Sofia, (and the Rakia and
Mavrud!) everything was covered.
The collage artwork: Seventeen artists, seventeen different styles. I've
put some pictures of the artists and of the collages I made on the Net
at http://outofsight.co.nz/Plovdiv and was asked to invite many of the
artists to be part of an international collage exhibition in Kansas ....
the Internet has removed so many barriers ... for a New Zealander to be
asked to invite Bulgarians to take part in an American show would have
been unthinkable only a few years ago.
And for those who have asked: yes, I'll do it again.
* * *
Fourth "Bakers Dozen" International Collage Exchange
* * *
We have a public art gallery in New Plymouth, the Govett Brewster. They
show the sort of art which demands labels to say what it all means,
essays to debate the significance, you know the type.
Anyway, read on ...
The Govett Brewster Art Gallery has their official website at
govettbrewster.org.nz but did not also register govettbrewster.co.nz
You might think they would have learned: their major source of funds,
New Plymouth District Council, hadn't registered a domain name with
newplymouth in the title and it was bought by some Koreans and flicked
through to a porn site. It proved to be very efficient blackmail, and
the council (the ratepayers) paid $8000 to rescue the name.
Years ago when the Govett Brewster became so protective of its label as
an international gallery and ended the annual Taranaki Review, seemingly
for fear of being tarred with the provincial brush, local artists used
to grumble and plan some way of regaining those white walls. Now we've
done it. On govettbrewster.co.nz there is the artwork of a few
well-known Taranaki artists: Dale Copeland, Michael Smither, Filipe
Tohi, Paul Hutchinson, Graham Kirk and Alby Carter. (Stop Press, the
gallery has just persuaded Filipe to withdraw for the sake of his
career. Isn't this fun?)
We're not interested in blackmail, or in selling the domain name. We see
it as a symbolic act, reclaiming the walls.
The gallery may not see it like this, but we've done them a favour by
protecting them from the eventual attentions of the predatory porn
sites. On their virtual walls we've hung the work of six
well-established Taranaki artists, each with a long career of national
and international exhibitions. Who could complain?
It is very unlikely that the gallery will rate our act of subversive
appropriation with the respect shown Tony de Lautour's work in their
article in the local paper, when they wrote:
"Any 'teamwork' is a compulsory collaboration, a kidnapping or hijacking
where the competitive aspects are not declared."
A simple act and totally legal. Why does it feel so good?
* * *
Hope you two are well over there Judy.
Love from dale
Virtual TART http://virtual.tart.co.nz