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Hoist That Rag

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Don't forget these were flags in a global survey: symbolic images of which each viewer could make up their own minds, for the image origins were listed in the catalogue. Flags which Power in her excellent essay refers to as ‘silly'. Such an insight is obvious if you don't happen to buy into identity politics.



Mercy Pictures
People of Colour

16 October - 7 November 2020

Rich in saturated colour, this presentation by Mercy Pictures—with an essay from British cultural critic Nina Power—in the new multi-roomed Mercy Pictures Pitt St space, presented not only canvas ‘flags’ (on stretchers) of clashing hues but also contrasting political and ethical positions. It was wild with abrasive juxtapositions; brightly hued rectangles in vehement social opposition. Multiple toxicities (including white supremacist organisations) mingled with pockets of global pacificism or goodwill, or civic and international neutrality.

Within gridded formations on high walls that surrounded confining immersive spaces, the 430 horizontal oblong or square banners were linked to a wide range of organisations, individuals and countries. Some were disturbing and nasty, but overall—in my view—the work could be seen as an optically vibrant grid of assorted beliefs (very often extremist) that was not in itself promoting endorsements for violence.

Jostling and scrapping—Left, Right, Centrist, politically indifferent—a multitude of different malicious and kind-hearted emotions bumped and crashed: violence alongside peace; hatred with generosity; snarling aggression butted next to soothing benevolence; abusive vitriol sometimes with neighbourly concern. Banners, logos, national icons, bits of different languages, simplicity with complexity, modernist glyphs, and Victorian heraldry all abound. Lots of weapons and clenched fists. Some clasped hands, madonnas, crosses, and hammers and sickles. Multiple ideological contradictions were emphasised by jamming together all sorts of opposing religious, social, military and political groups.

For sure there was a high proportion of ‘ugly’ decals (from sinister organisations) but this reflected the world we are embedded in, what we see on the evening news. Awful groups we are told about every day.

The multi-interpretative title of the exhibition was clever, maybe provocative. Who were these ‘people of colour’? The flag-makers? Other communities they might hate? Perhaps a gallery audience who might be alarmed by the gallery’s presentation? Was it neccessarily a red rag to a bull to the ‘coloured’ or ‘rainbow’ communities? Had they no sense of humour with the absurdly jumbled juxtapositions? Was the project not a perverse joke?

Somebody obviously didn’t think so. As you probably know, the show created quite a ruckus because of its inclusion of certain repulsive alt right extremist memes. So much so that one of the directors of Mercy Pictures has publically apologised—possibly due to peer group pressure. I’m puzzled because I’ve always assumed that the Aotearoa New Zealand art community (er…art communities) consists of adults who respect other people’s opinions and accept that not everybody agrees (without resorting to enraged shouting if they don’t).

Don’t forget these were flags in a global survey: symbolic images of which each viewer could make up their own minds in terms of morality, for the image origins were listed in the catalogue. Flags which Power in her excellent essay refers to as ‘silly’. Such an insight is obvious if you don’t happen to buy into identity politics.

My personal view is that the gallery site is meant to be a place for forums that encourage bracing but respectful discussion, even if the exhibit includes calculated provocation or material that is openly obnoxious. The venue should not condone censorship, nor should it be fearful about giving offense, though it would be polite to warn incoming visitors they might find the displays disturbing. So they have the option of leaving.

But why would they? Gallery goers are not children, nor passive ‘vegetables’. A graphic symbol is obviously very different from what it represents. There is no automatic process at work of contagion being optically transmitted. Seeing the logos of hideously hateful groups might be upsetting but it isn’t going to corrupt.

Here are some links to other articles discussing this stimulating show:

John Hurrell

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This Discussion has 120 comments.


Mark Harvey, 2:41 p.m. 11 November, 2020

Art galleries are not exempt from being complicit to racism, bigotry and other hat-based belief systems. To assume otherwise is to conform to colonial modern and colonial pre-modern Western art norms, that serve to reinforce such hate-based cultural practices - which endorse the racism, bigotry and hate presented by the gallery that does this.

Besides the deep offence this gallery has caused through its juxtaposition of Māori flags and imagery (to me included, for instance the Tino Rangatiranga flag), and its employment and serving as a mouth-piece of a well-known white supremacist alt-right fanatic to write their text, including TERF perspectives to name just some, is that just close by on the same street a Jewish synagogue was attacked in the late 1960's by neo-Nazi Colin King-Ansell, and the local Jewish school has also faced threats in more recent years. ...And in the same neighbourhood the Jewish school has been threatened with violence in more recent years.

Added to this, this show presents anti-racist artist Luke Turner's text work 'He Will Not Divide Us' along side all of this - did they receive permission for this and ask Luke if he is ok with his work being presented like this? It appears they did not... just like it appears they did not appear to get permission to use the flags of Tangata Whenua in this context, when they should have.

These gallery directors really need to pull their heads in and own their mistake on this - so far they have completely failed to do this and appear to have set up a new Instagram account endorsing their actions. Might be time for them to close down the gallery, to be honest, I and many of us feel this is that bad...

I am really disappointed you have written this favourable review of this show John - in my view it upholds

 In reply

Mark Harvey, 2:45 p.m. 11 November, 2020

(continued)... in my view this review upholds the colonial Western value systems that so dominate in art galleries, turning a blind eye to the ethical problems and even endorsing the hatred being promoted by this show.

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Scott Hamilton, 10:12 p.m. 11 November, 2020

I'm also disappointed with John Hurrell's piece. He says that galleries should be places where respectful discussion takes place. But in order to get respect galleries have to give a modicum of respect.

What Mercy Pictures did to Maori is the ultimate in disrespect. They appropriated the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and other sacred banners, ignoring the fact that these flags are protected both by copyright law and tikanga, and they put these flags next to white supremacist banners. By doing so, they violated one of the most basic rules of Polynesian culture: the rule that the tapu, or sacred, is not mixed with the noa, or profane. Of course Maori activists, journalists, and artists have been outraged. As Morgan Godfery said, the show was an attack on the mauri and mana of Maori.

In many ways the stunt at Mercy can be compared to the notorious mock haka that drunken white engineering students who had written swear words on their bodies used to do at Auckland University. That desecration of Maori culture was ended by a famous riot in 1979.

I think the critics of Mercy Pictures - and there are many of them; more than a thousand people have signed an open letter - have been very restrained. They have called upon the gallery's directors to rethink their actions, and to apologise. They have not attacked the gallery; they have not called on the state to close it. It is quite unjust for John to imply that 'coercion' has been the aim of the protesters.

Maori are far from the only NZ community outraged by Mercy's show. The NZ Jewish Council today condemned Mercy Pictures. The Council correctly said that Mercy has tried to normalise Nazi and other fascist imagery. By pretending that flags are 'silly', and are nothing more than bits of cloth, Mercy occludes the vast difference between, say, the Tino Rangatiratanga banner and the flag of Nazi Germany. To understand these differences, we need to acknowledge that flags are not just bits of cloth, but are vital objects, with agency: that they move humans to action and reflection. Trying to study a flag without reference to its content is like trying to study money as illustrated paper.

The New Zealand Jewish Council argues that fascist flags need to be displayed carefully and conscientiously. We can see an example of how to do this in Auckland museum, where the swastika on display is carefully contextualised with an account of the horrors of Hitler's regime.

As Mark Harvey pointed out, the swastikas and other fascist symbols at Mercy seemed very sinister indeed to the Jewish community that has a synagogue and school a short walk from the gallery. Many members of that community are connected to the Holocaust by suffering and sorrow; many remember the way their place of worship was bombed by a neo-Nazi in 1968, and the way their schoolchildren were attacked by a knife-wielding woman in the early '90s.

What Maori and the New Zealand Jewish Council are calling for is respect.

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Paul Litterick, 11:56 p.m. 11 November, 2020

She has taught at Middlesex, Orpington College, London College of Communication, Morley College, worked as a Tutor in Critical Writing in Art and Design at the Royal College of Art, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the British Philosophical Association. She has made regular contributions to frieze, Wire, Radical Philosophy, The Guardian, Cabinet, Film Quarterly, Icon and The Philosophers' Magazine.

It is funny that the people calling her alt-right and attempting to damn her by association, also mention her the strikingly irrelevant matter of what Harvey calls her ‘TERF perspectives.’ That is their real problem with Power: she is a gender-critical feminist and the woke cannot bear that. Leftist men especially have a huge problem with women who speak up for women.

The disgusting slur campaign against Power that has arisen in the wake of this exhibition is largely the work of Scott Hamilton, who went looking for trouble and found some defamatory texts about Power written by White Pube, a pair of nasties who have a personal grudge against her. Scott gives no indication of knowing anything about Power’s writing or thought, but delights in calling her a Nazi. Scott holds to an absurd conspiracy theory about Power being the secret power behind the exhibition, directing the naive young Elam grads and filling their heads with esoteric fascism. Even when Power directly denied his allegations, he would not accept her word, because his paranoid fantasy was so important to him

Because of his work, and his influence on Tamaki Anti-Fascist Action, Radio New Zealand and the Herald have both repeated the lie that Nina Power is an alt-right transphobe. Harvey repeats it here.

In two decades of following New Zealand art, I have never before witnessed such an appalling attack on a contributor to an exhibition. Power did nothing more write a short and elegant essay about flags. Scott and the goons that follow him abused her, debased themselves and disgraced the Auckland art community.

Here is a link to the essay. Ask the goons to find the fascism in it, if they can read:

[Readers, this link is not working. Try the catalogue one I've provided at the bottom of my article. The third link down from the top. JH]

 In reply

JJ Harper, 12:36 p.m. 12 November, 2020

I do not think Nina Power herself is alt-right, there are a bunch of these sorts of commentators who are not alt-right but will engage in conversation with those types of characters. She's in that Red Scare milieu, y'know (for you oldies, it's a podcast). If you interview Steve Bannon, do you suddenly co-sign everything he's said? However, being "gender-critical" is not "woke". I don't think Power would call herself a terf, she is critical of idpol and, as Mercy Pictures said in their statement, "the dangers of political and tribal identities", which I am too, but I don't necessarily think Mercy Pictures displayed that intention to the best of their ability.

The White Pube "has a problem" with Power because behind closed doors she was nasty to a trans person in the UK art scene and participated in events run by "gender-critical" feminists, which is fair enough but I don't think it's very fair to have dragged her personal life into all of this. Lord knows we've all done terrible things. I also think that open letter against Power lacks evidence. If anything the problem with Power is that she's a feminist, and feminism is kinda cringe, no cap.

The link is not working because Index removed it and I'm not surprised Index has deleted that article on Power because it incorrectly stated she was the artist. Also they are spineless and could not possibly keep up an article approving of that exhibition (my personal thoughts on the show aside).

Chris Holdaway, 6:27 p.m. 13 November, 2020

You seem weirdly obsessed with the Nina Power aspect and don't seem to care much for the fact that emblems of extremist organisations were equated with emblems of people those extremists would literally have killed. Way to miss the woods for the trees Paul.

Even so, you say "gender-critical feminist" like it's a legitimate academic position that absolves by definition, when that is just not true. Even just a cursory investigation will reveal that it in fact functions similarly to the term "race realist" in another arena, in that its primary mechanisms are exclusionary. Perhaps that's a move of equivalence you'll understand.

Paul Litterick, 3:04 p.m. 14 November, 2020

It is not weirdly obsessive to defend somebody’s reputation from lies and insinuations. It is a moral duty. I find that challenging the liars and insinuators to provide evidence to back their claims is very effective: either they scuttle away or the talk in pseudo-academic gibberish. The abuse of Nina Power is my particular interest in this matter, and it is not for you to tell me I should be concentrating on something else, particularly when that something is the ridiculous claim that "that emblems of extremist organisations were equated with emblems of people those extremists would literally have killed,” as if collection implies equivalence.

Besides, Nina Power is being defamed for the purpose of creating an evil influence behind the exhibition. That was Scott Hamilton’s intention when he brought her into the discussion. His behaviour was entirely reprehensible, and he should be held to account, as should those others who have defamed her.

Your second paragraph is an example of that pseudo-academic gibberish. My response to "Perhaps that's a move of equivalence you'll understand” is no. You are not making sense.

What I do know is that gender-critical thought is expounded by many intelligent and courageous women, both inside the academy and without. They are constantly assailed by men who have recently taken an interest in gender politics, for the purpose of abusing women.

JJ Harper, 7:29 p.m. 14 November, 2020

gender critical feminists are people who advocate to lessen the rights of other human beings, who have done no harm to anyone. these women feel that their material conditions are threatened by trans people and do all that they can to harass them and strip them of their rights. see the BDMRR bill outrage, it was completely sensible legislation that terfs like Speak Up For Women did their hardest to stop and they mostly suceeded. these are not courageous or intelligent women, they are petty bourgeois liberals that cling onto their own fictional victimisation to victimise others. Paul, while i agree that some of the claims against power are exaggerated, this line of thought you are pushing is shallow and embarrassing

Paul Litterick, 1:11 a.m. 15 November, 2020

Gender critical feminists are women who argue for women’s rights, not to lessen the rights of others. They are regularly harassed by trans rights activists, who stop them meeting and force them out of their jobs.
They are mostly socialists and trade unionists, not “not petty bourgeois liberals.” Why is their class of importance to you? Are you always snobbish about women who hold other opinions?

This is not really the place to discuss such things, but the BDMRR Bill failed because the Select Committee tried to put the self-ID changes through without public consultation and because it would conflict with our human rights legislation, which allows women their rights as a sex. The Bill would have allowed any man to declare he is a woman, which would make New Zealand a predator’s paradise.

JJ Harper, 5:52 a.m. 15 November, 2020

Yes, infamously I hate women with different opinions to me, as I'm sure many people lurking on these comments can attest to. Snarky remarks aside, the idea that all exploitation and oppression comes down to “biological sex”, that this is a “material reality” wider society chooses to ignore in favour of letting trans people exist, is obnoxious and wrong-headed, and absolutely not socialist. I despise the idea that these women are fighting for women's rights at a time when "the patriarchy" has never been less relevant. Some of these women may be unionised but gender critical feminism is not socialist. Indeed radical feminists have never tended to think in terms of dialectical materialism, and actively reject that analytic method in favour of one that centers themselves, their very womanhood as the crux of all wordly oppression. As such, I think the class status of terfs is extremely important to point out. If they had any integrity in their "socialist" perspective, they would never have aligned themselves with David Seymour.

JJ Harper, 6:02 a.m. 15 November, 2020

I don't approve of call-out culture and I think campaigning to get someone fired is a particularly evil thing to do and many of the critiques I lob at terfs I would also apply to these "activists" you speak of. The bill would've simplified the process of self-identification and is not the free for all you claim. The predator rhetoric is completely disconnected from social reality and is not true in the slightest.

Paul Litterick, 12:19 p.m. 15 November, 2020

David Seymour gave Speak Up For Women a safe place to hold a public meeting, after they had been prevented from holding the meeting at Massey. Denying women the right to be called socialist because they reject 'analytic method' and centre their oppression is rather obviously misogynistic.

JJ Harper, 2:37 p.m. 15 November, 2020

I'm sorry but hating trans people is not a genuine political perspective. If you're gender critical you're by definition not interested in an emancipatory project for all. The terf take on gender is not very Marxist. Seymour's classic liberalism means his interests put the market first above all else, and if those women were really socialists they should've rejected his free market free speech absolutism, because it is sinister and in direct opposition to the tenets of socialism. I find it deeply concerning that you approve of terfs. I think it's rather snobbish to call me misogynistic over this, and is the exact sort of fictional victimisation I was talking about, but if I am misogynistic because of this view, then so be it.

Paul Litterick, 9:33 a.m. 16 November, 2020

Your concern is noted.

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Ralph Paine, 8:18 a.m. 12 November, 2020

Everybody Knows…

Everybody knows that Mercy Pictures is not an alt-right group, that is, neither publicly nor privately.

Everybody knows that the individual members of Mercy Pictures are not fascist, racist, sexist, transphobic, etc., that they are not hatemongers. Ditto Nina Power.

Everybody knows that the People of Colour exhibition has harmed no ‘community’, however imagined.

Everybody knows that said exhibition expresses a version of today’s global multitude and what we might call the negative conditions of its history.

Everybody knows that the global multitude is fecund, dialogical, swarming, polyglot, contagious, that it dwells in difference, as difference.

Everybody knows that the present is unnameable, unspeakable even.

Everybody knows that the People of Colour exhibition holds up a vast and unpolished mirror to an equally vast and unpolished world.

Everybody knows that within the spaces between the (simulacra of) flags in said exhibition it is possible to discern a beautiful fertile void, the faintest meshwork of a people to-come.

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Philip Matthews, 9:58 a.m. 12 November, 2020

First up, I'm not an artist, nor an art critic, nor a curator. I've not seen the show in question. But I do know a bit about how the white supremacist alt-right operates online and have written about that in the wake of the March 15, 2019, terror attacks in Christchurch (I'm a journalist here).

The conclusion of John's review seems to me to be naive in the extreme. Over the past five or so years, the racist alt-right has thrived by adopting a jokey and ironic tone online, daring people to be offended and then claiming it was all a stunt or a provocation. Even those who participate the most deeply in online racist discourse are often not aware if those they interact with, who they may never have met and who they may not know by their real names, actually mean what they say. Remember that the last message the Christchurch shooter sent began with the words: "Well, lads, it's time to stop s--tposting and make a real life effort." The shooter displayed the notorious neo-Nazi "black sun" image on his equipment; the same image appeared, presumably without any context, in this show, alongside swastikas and other fascist imagery.

John assumes that gallery goers are discerning and educated enough to know right from wrong. They can recognise irony and ambiguity and are able to participate in the "discussion" that those who peddle symbols like these in art and music always claim to be interested in. But galleries are not spaces sealed off from the "real world" of politics and violence, where symbols have political meaning, and the responses of most of the Mercy Pictures directors shows they have little understanding of how these symbols and ideologies are given legitimacy by such inane provocations.

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Mark Harvey, 11:07 a.m. 12 November, 2020

In response here to two of the above comments (by Paul Litterick and Ralph Pain) and one more issue:

1. Paul - Nina Power is definitely aligning herself with the alt-right, there's no doubt about that, with her aligning now with white supremacy and anti-trans discourse - the evidence is well out there in the UK makes no difference about her past academic work to this and it makes no difference over the institutional recognition she's had, more over it says more about those institutions for standing behind her if they still happen to, as endorsing bigotry. (I've heard a lot of them are distancing themselves from her due to her stance.)

Here's some sources that might be of interest:

2. Ralph - sure, the show can be justified to the end of the moon, but your respnse makes no account of the deep offence this show is still causing to many. Whether or not the directors shaped this show with these intentions, the show itself does more to celebrate alt-right views by co-opting a range of images that are inclusive and not alt-right and it renders them inert and it colonises them in an assimilative way by justifying them as belonging with alt-right/Nazi images and ideals, but they simply do not belong together in this way. Most of the groups (at least) that the non-alright images belong to such as iwi/hapu definitely would not consent to having their/our images presented this way - it's simply deeply offensive on mnay levels (I write this as Māori and Pākehā myself).

Do you two really want to support a show like this that upholds alt-right, fascist and Nazi ideologies like this?

I commend art community leaders who have openly expressed they do not support this show such as Michael Lett and AUT Visual Arts. I commend one of the gallery's directors for his apology (it seems genuine to me, and I believe people can learn and change for the better). But the rest of the Mercy gallery directorship does not and has made fun of his apology with 'fake news' added to it on social media.

Where is the galleries' patrons on this (I understand it's Jim and Mary Barr) and where is City Gallery and Robert Leonard on this? (it's going through the community that they are looking at showing this exhibition.) Do they really want to be supporting this show that upholds alt-right values?

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Roger Morales, 11:23 a.m. 12 November, 2020

Gotta say, this review is truly tone-deaf, and doesn't really substantively engage with the issues the show has raised, instead reporting on them from an apparently dispassionate stance as if it were a weather report. You allude to the "ruckus" that this show has generated without actually engaging with the specific hurt that people have expressed, mentioning the white supremacist imagery in parentheses while failing to mention the inclusion of Tino rangatiratanga.

Your "dispassionate" stance is belied by the suggestion that Jerome was pressured into an apology. This is deeply cynical and lazy, and comes off as the kind of rote "anti-SJW" arguments trotted out by Rightoid Twitter. You don't evince any understanding of the politics of the Extremely Online progenitors of this show, instead taking a position of kneejerk, anti-censorship scolding that is itself deeply political, implicitly aligned with the maintenance of the settler-colonial status quo.

In a culture with a dearth of nuanced critical art writing, the responsibility of the critic takes on an added importance. I am not suggesting that you should align yourself with the outrage that has erupted around this show, but at the very least you should make an earnest attempt to understand the problem, and critically analyse it without falling back on reactionary stances. What is this adding to the conversation? What good will it do?

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Robert Leonard, 12:31 p.m. 12 November, 2020

Like everyone else, we have been talking about the show. We have no plans to present it. We are paying close attention to the debate around it.

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Sriwhana Spong, 12:47 p.m. 12 November, 2020

"For sure there was a high proportion of ‘ugly’ decals (from sinister organisations) but this reflected the world we are embedded in, what we see on the evening news. Awful groups we are told about every day."

How lucky you are John that you have only seen these "sinister organisations" "on the evening news" or only been "told about" them.

Some of us have not been so lucky to only experience the actions of these "sinister organisations" from the comfort of our living rooms.

Perhaps you have friends or colleagues who have experienced first hand these "awful groups"?

Perhaps not.

Perhaps you are just very, very, very lucky John?

Perhaps "objectivity" is a privilege?

Reply to this thread

Mark Amery, 12:57 p.m. 12 November, 2020

This just published piece on The Spinoff by Amal Samaha is easily head and shoulders the best commentary on this:

I had nothing to do with that. My piece also published today, which alligns in sentiment if not intelligence is here:

 In reply

Roger Morales, 1:11 p.m. 12 November, 2020

Mark, the Index magazine article you cite in this review has since been quietly taken down, with no public statement from Index. I was still able to access a cached version via google.

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Paul Litterick, 1:18 p.m. 12 November, 2020

"Nina Power is definitely aligning herself with the alt-right, there's no doubt about that, with her aligning now with white supremacy and anti-trans discourse - the evidence is well out there in the UK etc.”

I suppose you left the evidence in your other jacket, Mark. It is all definitely out there but you cannot find it right now. You have heard of institutions that are distancing themselves from her, but you cannot name them.

The best you can find is White Pube, written by a couple of over-privileged brats from St Martin’s, one of whom was once Power’s friend. This is her evidence: 'It is not coincidental that biological essentialism is also at the heart of sexism, racism, and fascism, most notably in the practice of eugenics.” Fascists call women women too.

But you have an Open Letter:

"Murphy uncritically quotes G.K. Chesterton - an outspoken anti-Dreyfusard in the Dreyfus Affair - widely considered to be the first iteration of Fascism in France.”

Wah,wah, wah.

But you have Third Text:

‘This individualising and moralising tendency is manifest in, and defining of, Nina Power’s blog text ‘Cancelled’. The text accuses the ‘fragile cobweb called something like “the left” or “the artworld” or “antifa” or just “people we know and like”’ for stopping being ‘friends’ with people that they ‘don’t like, or once knew and liked and now don’t like’.

What does that mean? How does that show Nina Power to be alt-right? Answers on a postcard, please.

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Andrew Paul Wood, 1:43 p.m. 12 November, 2020

I really don't think this is it, John. Flags aren't really just formalist devices - they fly over battlegrounds and massacres. They are unavoidable synecdoches of ideas and movements pars pro toto. Art (and really I hazard to call this art, it's more like nihilistic sh*tpost in the white cube) doesn't exist in a clean and tidy modernist vacuum, it exists in a complex web of social relationships and possible audiences, and given the discourse right now and the Christchurch shooting so raw and recent (the Linwood mosque is less than 200 meters from my front door - it feels incredibly personal to me) and best it's a cruel and thoughtless act.
There may possibly be a skerrick of a concept there, but it was already a Teststrip cliche by the millennium.
This little group seem to me nothing more than edgelords trying to provoke a reaction from the "intolerant left (TM)" and they got it. The rest of the art world is under no obligation to give them a fig leaf for their blushes or participate in the performance. It doesn't feel political to me because they don't believe in anything other than their own Nietzschean cleverness. Perhaps they are just young, but they should have expected the public spanking and it's not undeserved.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 3:55 p.m. 12 November, 2020

I think Mercy Pictures are courageous artists, using their gallery to create a visually frenetic and intense optical installation that is loaded with contradictory political interpretations that here test the artworld's aptitude for it's own apparent 'kindness' (Ardern) or 'unity' (Biden).

The NZ artworld is conspicuously timid and predictable. It could be so much livelier and more honest, and for a little gallery (not an civic institution) to do this show is remarkable. And I sincerely thank all the people who've contributed to this thread, even if my writing at the top (made after the show had finished) has made them furious.

You (Andrew) accuse me of thinking of flags as 'just formalist devices' but my use of words such as 'political', 'emotions' and 'upsetting' indicates I'm fully aware of the semantic intensities involved. My point was gallery visitors know that these flags they are scrutinising are signs, and that signs don't contaminate by themselves.

Philip's (mostly) excellent comment talks of gallery visitors as thinking they are cut off from the 'real world' but that is not so. Members of the 'art cult' like you and me don't just casually wander in off the street and enter a cocoon. We make considerable (planned) sacrifices in terms of time, money and energy to visit shows regularly because we love new bodily and mental stimulations and conceptual challenges. We love looking at art, testing interpretative possibilities often sparked off by our daily experiences, and discovering new art historical lineages. And we love the only-too-rare fiery discussions (like this) that test us.

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Roger Boyce, 8:33 p.m. 12 November, 2020

I regularly rail against literalism and the literalists who promote it. Folk who mistake fictive representation of a thing for the thing itself are a social and cultural pestilence. A serial plague assailing creative-artifacts arising from - and abiding only in - human imagination.

Literalists absurdly suggest that fictively-limned characters, plotlines, visual representations, and other interdependent mechanisms of fictional depiction are to be regarded as actual character, action, and consequence. The supposed characters, actions, and consequences of real-world actors and the air-breathing events they are claimed to inspire or precipitate.

By all appearance the heterogenous aggregate of democratically-scaled flags comprising Mercy Pictures exhibition are barely, if at all, mediated by gallery context. Unless one repaired to full-first-year-art-history-Duchamp. Nor are the wee flags much mediated (except to suggest superficial, formal, equivalence) by means of their same-same mechanical reproduction and diminutively uniform scale.

By contrast, flags as truly radical artworks by artists Dread Scott, David Hammons, and Jasper Johns are noticeably mediated by exhibition-gallery context, spatial-arrangement, and by novel aesthetic manipulations which serve to - by their aesthetic, practical and cultural hybridity - editorially and temporally wrest such flags from their conventional settings, habitual uses and ‘readings’.

People of Colour’s apparent refusal to editorialize (excepting, perhaps, in Power’s airless catalogue essay) or reconfigure raw material in any formally or conceptually novel way (sotto voce-emblematic-mix-and-match notwithstanding) is – in face of the more horrific flags’ inclusion – a case of aesthetic, conceptual, and moral laziness or dereliction.

As Andrew Paul Wood noted, in an earlier comment, national and political-identity-group flags differ from other emblems/symbols in that they have been prominently arrayed over all manner of actual, literal, horror. Such flags and their accompanying ideology and mythopoesis have ginned-up historical and contemporary mass murder - murders arising from faux-academic, faux-scientific, faux-philosophical & faux-intellectual rationalizations.

There are, abiding amongst us, individuals and peoples who have vivid current and lineal memory of having been on the mortally pointy end of German National Socialism. And there are, abiding among us, individuals and people(s) who vigorously litigate for a return to the ideologically-selective mayhem represented by Nazism and its physically ruthless step-children.

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Roger Boyce, 8:33 p.m. 12 November, 2020

To blithely – and in an insufficiently mediated or novel manner - publicly mount and display ideologically-detestable Nazi, Pan-European, Nativist, and White Supremacist emblems … as if such (still)operationally militant standards should be haplessly received as nothing more than a conversation piece is a conceit of monstrous proportion. If the exhibition pretends to be nothing more than a nettlesome apology for free-speech-absolutism then it is not only repugnantly unpalatable but worse yet (given such emblems’ earnest camp followers) a call for normalization and encouragement of shared notions that end in provisionally dug pits filled with quick-lime.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 7:28 a.m. 13 November, 2020

So you disagree with Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Even if the images are jumbled up with all sorts of contrary political persuasions, and not even ‘speaking’ in that sense?

Roger Boyce, 8:58 a.m. 13 November, 2020

I am not a free speech absolutist. And having read a great deal of Voltaire, I doubt he would have been either. As I argued at length in my comment - the flags displayed at Mercy Pictures were - by any critical measure - wholly unmediated - either optically, conceptually, or foramally. Leaving them to- as they were originally designed to do- serve as ideological/political/identity-group standards and rallying emblems.

If the flags were free-speech (as you seem to be claiming) then the National Socialist swastika on display at Mercy Pictures was still saying what it has always said, and still serves as an instrument for rallying sympathetic 'listeners'to its rallying call for blood-letting action. That to my mind conjures the legally-illustrative person yelling fire in a crowded theater.

Flags, unlike other images and objects, serve as unifying rallying points for likeminded individuals, turning individuals into action-groups.

Camp-followers of Nazi, White Supremacist, Pan European, Nationalists, ideologies, all tend to agree that organized violence is a legitimate tool for dealing with real and imagined groups of people characterized as enemies of their movements. Displaying such flags without some sort of (editorial/interventional) reconfiguration leaves said flags to function as rallying flags, and calls to political violence rather than free-speech. Your freedoms end where my rights begin.

John Hurrell, 10:02 a.m. 13 November, 2020

Roger, I'm not a speech absolutist either.

This show was a bunch of jumbled-up codes--not a tightly controlled 'rally'--aimed at people to peruse in a relaxed fashion.

Here are some of the 430 that were included: Bisexual Pride; Equality; Vatican City; Black Lives Matter; Antarctic Treaty; Socialist Red, Ecology Theta; Lipstick Lesbian; American Indian Movement; Oceania; Kingdom of Humanity; Catholic League; National Bolshevik Party; Israel; Woman Suffrage; World Health Organisation; Transgender Bisexual BDSM; Christian Communism; Rubber Fetish Pride; Earth Day; Labrys Lesbian; Pro-Life; Gay (original); Free Speech; Palestine; Israeli Transgender; Nuie; Samoa (1858 - 1873); Esperanto; Animal Farm; Black Panther Party; Suffragette Colours; Greens (Australia); United Nations Children's Fund; Ecowarriors; Yippies; Tonga; Amnesty International; African-American Confederate (Nu South); Skinheads Against Racist Pregedious; New Pride; Buddhism; Veganarchism; Anti-Racist; Australian Aboriginal; Black Trans; Climate; Art is Resistance; Democracy; Abuse Survivor Unity, Pan-Asian.

The furore over this show is the art world at its most nutty.

Roger Boyce, 8:18 p.m. 13 November, 2020

"nutty' ? I feel oddly dispassionate. It's not as if this sort of thing wasn't inevitable, given the global furniture being moved about by displaced persons and cross-pollinated ideologies responding to coming horrors unimagined.

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Paul Litterick, 10:01 a.m. 13 November, 2020

'However, as protesters, including myself, point out, Power’s essay for the exhibition by art collective Mercy pictures is a front for promoting far-right ideology.'

Utter tosh, vicious and defamatory tosh at that. Here is her essay:

Here is her earlier response to the defamation and abuse she has received:

'Given how these social media things work, people have likely already moved on from the (lol) ‘Nina Power scandal’, four-letter-words safely tucked in their back pocket so the next time someone mentions me or links to something they can say ‘oh I heard she was a Nazi now, or wasn’t there that dodgy TERF stuff? Anyway, it wasn’t good and you probably should steer clear’ or ‘she used to be alright, but now I heard she’s gone a bit right-wing’ or ‘she’s a drunk and/or mad’ or a combination of these things. Just as a note for future reference for anyone reading this who’s done this – to say, faux-nobly that you’re not engaging in ‘personalised’ critiques of someone and then do exactly that by hinting at ‘bad behaviour’ that you (you who have never met me!) somehow ‘know’ or have heard about – is a bad look. You look bad. You look unkind. It looks like you are trying to manipulate people into accepting whatever line it is you want to push by going after the person who you see – evidence or no evidence! – as your enemy, or your rival.'

 In reply

Roger Boyce, 8:23 p.m. 13 November, 2020

I read Powers' essay and self-defense before you helpfully copy-pasted. And before I commented. She smells of the snark and irony one used to find on the anthropological Grand Guignol known as 4Chan/8Chan/etc ... before bulletin board users there dispensed with irony and went full sh---posting Jugend.

Reply to this thread

Mark Harvey, 12:42 p.m. 13 November, 2020

Those who defend this show and justify it as being 'all inclusive' and 'risk taking' are simply failing to listen to many of us in the local arts community, and surrounding communities - this show fails to be inclusive of all by privileging bigotry above all else. Many of us remain deeply offended and frankly hurt over this exhibition, and the gallery directors' and John's attempts to white wash over this. None of us, our whanau and fiends whose tupuna, ancestors and relatives that have suffered at the hands of colonisers and Nazis gave permission for their/our flags to be used like this along side Nazis and their kin. To me and many others this is a show celebrating white supremacy and associated fascism over all other things. Frankly put, this show and this review pisses on my own tupuna and the ancestors of my extended family and friends who were persecuted by white supremacy. This review attempts to find excuses to talk around this and minimise this. This is not ok at all. Flags are never just flags - for many of us they are tupuna - just as Zarahn reminds us on his site linked on this page.

In terms of the supposed risks that this show offers - there is nothing conceptually risky or 'leading' in any way about playing the tune of modernist Western gallery normativities that assume art is beyond reproach and should use freedom of speech as a justification for hate, and the alt-right, with the amount of offence and hurt it can cause. This show conforms with and highlights white-supremacist modernist norms that contemporary art often suffers in this country, due partly to dominant market rationalism and this is catalysed by reviews like this... This show is also the product of privileged young artists who fail to understand the implications of their work ('it's alright for them, they have connections and rich patrons'...). The claim that art is not risky enough in this country relates to all of this.

John, you have set this up here by justifying the bigotry of this show with this review. I challenge you to actually spend time to reconsider your position, to actually listen to all of us who are attempting to hold this show to account for the injustice that it is causing. And, I suggest you remove and take back your review and acknowledge your own errors here in justifying this white supremacy, fascism, Nazis and the alt-right. You may not have intended this at all of course, but this is what boils up when we do not listen to others and consider what it can mean to have manaakitanga and a care for others in the art world.

Reply to this thread

Mark Harvey, 12:45 p.m. 13 November, 2020

This site no longer appears to be a safe space until there is major change in this direction.

I ask you John to follow as I have requested above, or should you choose not to, I ask you to please remove my reviews from this site that I have written and any mentions of my own work in your site. I do not want to be associated with the bigotry and white supremacy of that show and your attempt to justify it. I am sorry to be asking this, but this is the level of what this show has generated for me. I know of other artists/writers who have expressed similarly due to this review and I am sorry to be asking this.
I invite and challenge all other artists and writers to do the same until there is some positive change here.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 2:02 p.m. 13 November, 2020

It is a tragedy to try and coerce other writers to one's own position through the use of threats, instead of by way of reasoned conversation and convivial goodwill. Galleries (like this site) have the right to present all sorts of varied viewpoints (as long as they are legal) because it is assumed the audience consists of adults who can think for themselves.

It is also a tragedy for writers to remove their old reviews, for that thwarts the research possibilities for future art historians. It is enormously damaging for the public record, and for the careers of artists, curators and art commentators. I would urge you to calm down, take some deep breaths and think again.

If you insist, I of course will do as you ask, as it is your moral right. I can't remove references others might have made to you or your practice, but I can remove your contributions (for which I am genuinely grateful) and bio.

Maybe it is not a good idea to talk about 'safe spaces' when swastikas are being sprayed on to the doors of downtown galleries, spreading malicious lies involving hideous violent ideologies. I've heard there have been very extreme written threats as well.

Come on Mark, you are a likable gentle fellow who is thoroughly decent. Think of the scoundrels you are aligning yourself with. The civility in our discourse is disappearing.

Chris Holdaway, 6:38 p.m. 13 November, 2020

Ah yes, "civility"... Like equating emblems of extremist organisations with emblems of people those extremists would literally have eradicated from the face of the earth.

It's pretty telling that your default sensibility considers that to be civil discourse, as some point of neutrality that the response has departed from. Give me a break - though not a particularly shocking blind spot.

INB4 you claim that "equivalence" is not how this show is working: your own appeal to Power's comments on the idea of flags as trivia don't offer that leg to stand on.

Reply to this thread

Cushla Donaldson, 1:12 a.m. 14 November, 2020

Dear John,

The fact that you even reviewed this show, let alone argue for it, is unacceptable to me, my peers and operates against the world coming to being that my work aims to contribute to.

You have never reviewed a show of mine because I believe you know that the work was not for you and your cohort. However, along with the people who have previously requested, whom I greatly respect, I am asking that you take the mentions of my work and images off your website as soon as possible.

Cushla Donaldson

 In reply

John Hurrell, 8:32 a.m. 14 November, 2020

Hi Cushla,

I'm sorry that we disagree, but as creative, thinking, and articulate adults we live in a vibrant often conflictual world. These things happen.

Your artworks are in the public domain so any discussion of them by a reviewer will remain. However you do have control over images of your art, so I will remove those, as you wish.

Best wishes,


Cushla Donaldson, 8:52 a.m. 14 November, 2020

Dear John,

I will be looking at options and speaking to the contributing writers involved to have my name fully removed from this website. I will be in touch via email.

Your position is fundamentally flawed and to saw it is irresponsible is an understatement. Might I suggest some time off to read and educate yourself on the issues brought to your attention? If you would like resources to do this get in touch. I will take on the responsibility to provide them.

I will not be engaging with this platform again.


John Hurrell, 9:12 a.m. 14 November, 2020

How fascinating, Cushla. I think I'm the only person who has written on you.

Reviews are labour-intensive hard work that take a lot of time, knowledge and skill to prepare. Writers don't normally want to rip them up and throw them out the window.

Mark Harvey, 9:55 p.m. 14 November, 2020

John - By the way - Caushla has had a number of reviews. Mark Amery has for instance written great reviews about her work.

John Hurrell, 12:14 a.m. 15 November, 2020

Not according to my records, Mark, but admittedly in some years I've had technical issues. If you are correct, and Mark agrees, I'll be happy to remove them.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 10:57 a.m. 14 November, 2020

THE FOUR DANGERS or Notes from the Final Six Paragraphs of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, ‘1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity,’ in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

First Danger: FEAR
“We are always afraid of losing. Our security, the great molar organisation that sustains us, the arborescences we cling to, the binary machines that give us a well-defined status, the resonances we enter into, the system of overcoding that dominates us—we desire all that. ‘The values, morals, fatherlands, religions and private certitudes our vanity and self-complacency generously grant us are so many abodes the world furnishes for those who think on account that they stand and rest amid stable things; they know nothing of the enormous rout they are heading for… in flight from flight’ (Blanchot). We flee from flight, rigidify our segments, give ourselves over to binary logic; the harder they have been to us on one segment, the harder we will be on another; we reterritorialize on anything available… Everything is involved: modes of perception, kinds of actions, ways of moving, life-styles, semiotic regimes.”

Second Danger: CLARITY
Clarity is molecular. “Everything has the clarity of the microscope. We think we have understood everything, and draw conclusions. We are the new knights; we even have a mission. A microphysics of the migrant has replaced the macrogeometry of the sedentary. But this suppleness and clarity do not only present dangers, they are themselves a danger… As we have seen, microfascisms have a specificity of their own that can crystallise into a macrofascism, but may also float along the supple line on their own account and suffuse every little cell. A multitude of black holes may very well not become centralised, and acts instead as a viruses adapting to the most varied situations, sinking voids in molecular perceptions and semiotics… we are trapped in a thousand little monomanias, self-evident truths, and clarities that gush forth from every black hole and no longer form a system, but are only a rumble and buzz, blinding lights giving any and everybody the mission of self-appointed judge, dispenser of justice, policeman, neighbourhood SS woman.”

 In reply

Roger Boyce, 11:25 p.m. 14 November, 2020

Like Moses coming down the mount with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's stone tablets. I've never seen anything like this cabalistic citing of post-structuralist dogma as if it were the unassaiable final word. I'm embarrassed for you.

Ralph Paine, 8:57 a.m. 15 November, 2020

No, not the “unassailable final word,” not “post structuralist dogma,” and certainly not “like Moses coming down the mount” carrying a set of moral laws carved in stone.

What I’ve posted here are some notes taken from Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, the second volume of their two-volume magnum opus Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the first volume being Anti-Oedipus.

Capitalism and Schizophrenia is a manual of ethics, a guide to everyday life, an introduction on how to live a non-fascist live.
My notes come from a section of A Thousand Plateaus where D&G discuss what they name the Four Dangers, that is to say, the dangers that they believe will almost certainly arise when attempting to live a non-fascist life.

Let’s note that the section is written in an inclusive manner i.e. they are speaking of collective desire as much as they are of group or individual desire.
I posted the notes because I thought they might be useful.

Roger Boyce, 5:45 p.m. 16 November, 2020

"a guide to everyday life, an introduction on how to live a non-fascist live."


Having a life-long habit of scrupulously avoiding self-help sections of bookstores I'm not about to begin living my life according to Little Pierre & Little Lacan's 12 Rules for Life. Are you serious - or just having me on?

Ralph Paine, 8:09 a.m. 17 November, 2020

“When considered a modality of a demonic distribution it becomes evident that art can have no proper place, no patrimony, no fixed institution or identity. In this sense, what “acts” in art is a “plastic, anarchic, nomadic principle” that precedes actual artworks. Spurred by this principle, artworks leap. They leap over barriers and walls. Over borders and boundaries, limits and termini—and this even when seemingly crouched in profound stillness and silence: a watercolour, a novel … “

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 10:58 a.m. 14 November, 2020

Third Danger: POWER
“Every man or woman of power jumps from one line to the other, alternating between a petty and a lofty style, the rogues style and the grandiloquent style, drugstore demagoguery and the imperialism of the high-ranking government woman. But this whole chain and web of power is immersed in a world of mutant flows that eludes them. It is precisely its impotence that makes power so dangerous. The person of power will always want to stop the lines of flight, and to this end trap and stabilise the mutation machine in the overcoding machine.”

Fourth Danger: DISGUST
“Disgust is the longing to kill and to die, the Passion for obliteration… It concerns the lines of flight themselves… but it would be oversimplifying to believe that the only risk they fear and confront is allowing themselves to be recaptured in the end, letting themselves be sealed in, tied up, reknotted, reterritorialized. They themselves [i.e. the lines of flight] emanate a strange despair, like an odour of death and immolation, a state of war from which one returns broken… Why is the line of flight a war one risks coming back from defeated, destroyed, after having destroyed everything one could? This, precisely, is the fourth danger: the line of flight crossing the wall, getting out of the black holes, but instead of connecting with other lines and each time augmenting its valence, TURNING TO DESTRUCTION, ABOLITION PURE AND SIMPLE, THE PASSION OF ABOLITION… [L]ike suicide, double suicide, a way out that turns the line of flight into a line of death… All the dangers of the other lines pale by comparison.”

 In reply

Mark Harvey, 9:48 p.m. 14 November, 2020

Is it true Ralph that you have been invited to present a show at Mercy Pictures? Do you really want to endorse the trauma that their show has caused?

Reply to this thread

Chris Holdaway, 11:14 a.m. 14 November, 2020

OK John so you're pulling a version of the classic jibe that people must decide for themselves, the show only presents, and that juxtaposition is always the great leveller without any inherent ideology (lol). That is to say, all the emblems begin from the same footing; they are, in the first instance, equivalent. This seems to be the reading of your own text as well as a significant part of your reading of NP's text. You mention in a comment to Roger Boyce a number of the emblems that I guess you think demonstrating the show's even-handedness.

Ignoring the teenage-level invocation of juxtaposition, it's a pretty startling position to take, for the truth is that the stakes are just not the same for all the emblems on these walls.

What is held in common by a set as varied as Black Panther, Israeli Transgender, and Samoa, is that all the represented white supremacist organisations would eradicate those people from the face of the earth, and in many real cases still actively seek to do so. This has nothing to do with "identity politics": it's material fact. There is simply no critical distance we can reach prior to that real world context, and your vague appeal to "jumbling" (in a reply to Roger) does not avoid this.

Per Scott Hamilton, how can you or the gallery hope for respectful discussion when the emblems of people are equated with the emblems of those who would exterminate them? If it's about stimulating bracing discussion, what exactly are we supposed to be discussing?

Are we supposed to consider which emblems constitute a way of being a which are defined by extermination? Are you saying that this show courageously asks whether or not it's at least possible that the flag of Ngāi Tūhoe is the same as the black sun flag?

Are we asking the people who hold those emblems of being dear to prove in a public forum that they are not the same as the emblems of those who would exterminate them? What kind of sick game is that?

The exhibition is an inherently disrespectful and not some neutral starting point from which the response has departed. You merely hide behind appeals to vague juxtaposition and dispassionately representing "what we see on the evening news." But even the evening news makes choices about what it represents, such as choosing not to name the Christchurch shooter.

Nothing forced MP to display the emblems of killing machines on the walls of a space open to the public. Nothing made them to encourage members of the public to come and see the display. It was not inevitable; they chose to do it. They could just as easily have woken up that day and chosen to do something else, but they didn't. Just as you could have chosen to write about something else.

This is a case of what edgy meme-lords like to call: Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

tl;dr - your analysis is facile and has (literally) no place in this world.

Reply to this thread

Mark Harvey, 10:04 p.m. 14 November, 2020

Art should no longer be the likes of Greenburg's Western colonial intellectual wet dream, it should no longer be a place of privileging the voice of the privileged above all others, especially through bigotry and minimising the voice of others and those that are vulnerable/and or less powerful/and/or the colonised. But instead the colonial modernist intellectualism that you limit it to here John and Ralph is not only out of date but you are attempting to use it here to trample over the views and feelings of others. Art is also part of our wider, cultural, social, political, psychological and spiritual ecology and we have a duty to each other. People have feelings, by the way, even us in the art world. You attempt to justify the hate, fascism, Nazism and alt-right ideologies that this show is underpinned by with the right to free speech… (Unless I’m mistaken I wouldn’t expect Deleuze and Guattari to support your use of their writing towards supporting these ideologies in this show Ralph.)

And as Moana Jackson has stated, “The much touted ‘right to offend’ ” that you are upholding over this show “that is regarded as part of free speech, is often just a mask which obscures a desire to hurt and damage the most vulnerable in society. It’s the kind of spoken violence which can lead to fascism posing as freedom” (2018) – which this show does, your review and your comments do. (I include Paul Litterick with your ‘Wah wah wah’ comment above and your devout loyalty to Nina Power and denial of her recent support of the alt-right. She is widely regarded by many of my UK artist and academic colleagues as Alt-right-sympathising and a TERF hence their distancing from her you fail above to address our concerns around this in your defence of her.)

 In reply

Mark Harvey, 10:05 p.m. 14 November, 2020

I will re-summarise here just in case you missed some of this the first time above, as it’s clear this is not getting through…This show does the following (and this review upholds this):
- It appears to be in breach Te Tiriti o Waitangi by subsuming the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and the Tuhoe flag, without permission in highly offensive ways by displaying it alongside Nazi flags, related alt-right and white supremacy material with the gallery attempting to gloss over it with the mantra of free speech. This is highly offensive to us Māori, not to mention racist.
- It includes other indigenous flags in highly offensive ways not unrelated to this.
- It’s use of Nazi imagery is completely offensive and abhorrent due to the Holocaust and the trauma these images have to the local Jewish community (including my own nuclear and extended family). Like all other groups affected here, their trauma is very real for them.
- It takes an anti-alt-right artist’s work out of context to justify its racism and bigotry.
- Much of our local LTBQI are deeply offended with this show for related reasons and its association with anti-Trans discourse, among other reasons they can speak to better than I.
- The remaining gallery directors fail to own their mistakes, apologise meaningfully, while mocking and making fun of many of us for objecting to this show on Instagram, often through alt-right code and language.
- The exhibition attempts to present all the flags as equal, but due to the traumatic impact and associations of extreme violence the Nazi and alt-right ones these flags hold more power and override the other flags.

John, you are still failing to actually listen to what I and others who find fault with this show and your review are saying here. You are also failing John in particular to actually listen to me and the feelings I have expressed here. I am seriously concerned about this and I actually find you’re your lack of empathy and sensitivity racist and bigoted to be honest (not unlike Ralph and Paul L here too). You attempt above to align me with people who apparently have threatened violence towards this gallery – this is not only fake news (as I have nothing to do with whoever this may be if it is even true at all nor do I condone violence), and it is also a threat in the way you have expressed it towards me (as though it may tarnish my own reputation or something like that), and it is a form of gaslighting from you John - a strategy that alt-right and neo-Nazis and the likes of Trump use regularly. Any perceived victimhood here from the gallery, you or any other defenders of this show that you mention here is showing that you are each failing to own and take responsibility for the harm that you are all causing over it.

Mark Harvey, 10:05 p.m. 14 November, 2020

Based on your lack of empathy here and this review that upholds fascism, Nazism and the alt-right, I therefore request here that you please remove all reviews by me on Eye Contact, and all mention of my artwork on it. I invite other artists and reviewers to do the same. (Sure this may be tragic to some, but I cannot be associated with Eye Contact any longer. I believe in affirmative peaceful and legal action in order to make a stand against bigotry, racism and hate.)

I have hoped you might listen but I am no longer convinced that you will listen to those of us who object to this show and your review. I cannot be associated with this vial coded hate-speak – even if you don’t intend this. White supremacy and racism, just as Robin DiAngelo (2019) notes is not always something that it’s proponents intend.

Paul Litterick, 1:33 a.m. 15 November, 2020

"She is widely regarded by many of my UK artist and academic colleagues as Alt-right-sympathising and a TERF hence their distancing from her you fail above to address our concerns around this in your defence of her.”

What are you concerns? Where is your evidence that she is alt-right-sympathising? Why does being a gender-critical feminist matter to you, especially since most GCs are on the left politically? Why is that always mentioned by men who hate her? Could that be the reason why she is demonised?

Perhaps your British chums could help. The claims against her I have seen are frankly ridiculous.

Accusing me of racism and bigotry for lacking empathy for you is petulant and childlike.

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 1:09 a.m. 15 November, 2020

Who would have thought that in this 'Age of Adern'--when kindness is touted as a desirable civic duty--that part of Aotearoa New Zealand's artworld would be advocating McCarthyismlike suppression of democracy, where a gallery and a magazine advocating independence of thought and responsible freedom of speech are demonised and undermined.

Looking at these pages (where it should be assumed that lively debate sparked off by galleries is a good thing) I'm rubbing my eyes in astonishment.

 In reply

zarahn southon, 9 a.m. 15 November, 2020

John since my post was deleted for reasons unclear to me I am reposting. I posted my essay hoping that readers of this thread might get an indigenous and historical perspective about the placement of Māori flags alongside white supremacist ones and why this is offensive to Māori and anti-racists.

In the spirit of fair and robust debate I ask that you give readers to this site a chance to read an indigenous perspective and raise any issue that they know to be factually incorrect in my criticism. Thus far ‘utter tosh, vicious and defamatory tosh at that’ is not a viable argument.

Thanks to Mark Harvey for replying to my previous post.

John Hurrell, 9:50 a.m. 15 November, 2020

I didn't delete your post Zarahn. I would never do that. That would be defeating the point of the whole project of this site. So I'm puzzled.

I did remove someone who did not register properly by providing their first and second names. The linked thread might have sabotaged it, because one of their posts was after yours.

So while we are talking, I do not believe for a minute Mercy Pictures were deliberately trying to offend Māori or anti-racists, though they certainly bungled protocol bigtime. The installation had 430 images of assorted politics and varying emotional intensities--as I've pointed out. You have to consider the overall (holistic) picture of an event in a semi-private space, which was seen only by a coterie of (mostly invited) art world enthusiasts. Artists all round the world have often on occasion included swastikas for all sorts of reasons. It is not a new thing.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 12:49 p.m. 15 November, 2020

I am a friend of Mercy Pictures and remain a friend of Mercy Pictures.

I attended the opening of People of Colour and at the time regarded the installation 100% favourably. My regard has not changed.

A few days after the opening, Mercy Pictures got in touch to suggest that I exhibit a suite of drawings with them as part of their next event. I was delighted and agreed immediately. Subsequently, Teghan and Jerome came to my house for a studio visit and we chose a body of work, a series of 17 pencil and gouache sketches on paper named Tiepolo in America. Meanwhile, Teghan, Jerome, Jonny and I were working on a graphic for my part of the coming event.

Now everything that seemed solid has melted into air.

A storm is raging out of some artworld hell.

A show trial has been conducted.

A witch hunt is underway.

Death threats have been made.

A fascist war machine has been unleashed intent on nothing but pure obliteration.

Reply to this thread

zarahn southon, 11:16 p.m. 15 November, 2020

"..they certainly bungled protocol.."

I disagree. Directors making a decision to title the show 'People of Colour' a term with a racist history beginning with slavery and then curating white supremacist symbols throughout the show is blatant and intentional racism.

"Artists all round the world have often on occasion included swastikas for all sorts of reasons. It is not a new thing."

That swastikas have been used in different contexts is irrelevant you're trying to deflect from people rightfully labeling the show racist.

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 9:50 a.m. 17 November, 2020

This debate is about representation and the difference between signifier and signified. Hence the importance of, for example, the performance of Tame Iti in shooting the New Zealand flag as a symbolic act. The flag itself is only cloth, dye and images, but it also represents colonial oppression. Pepper it with gunshot pellets doesn't hurt the New Zealand populace physically, but it communicates a message.

Swastikas in flags by repugnant organisations do not march viewers into camps, though they might regenerate memories of that. Just as viewers have the option of viewing the video of Tame Iti's performance and thinking about its political ramifications, so gallery goers had the choice of attending Mercy Pictures' installation and morally evaluating it for themselves.

 In reply

Philip Matthews, 12:40 p.m. 17 November, 2020

Your comment that "swastikas in flags by repugnant organisations do not march viewers into camps, though they might regenerate memories of that" shows that you don't have a very well-developed sense of how people are radicalised online. Jeff Sparrow's book "Fascists Among Us" is a good, short account of how this happened to the Christchurch gunman.

Ralph Paine, 3:50 p.m. 17 November, 2020

OK, by your account one day the ChCh shooter saw a symbol on-line and the next day he’s attacking the mosques.

Meanwhile, a whole lotta art world people (and so-called antifa people, et al.) saw the same symbol on-line and next thing they’re shredding Mercy Pictures and EyeContact,


The shooter spent years radicalising himself, just as a whole lotta art world people (and so-called antifa people, et al.) have been radicalising themselves with the doctrines of fundamentalist identity politics for years.

Philip Matthews, 4:19 p.m. 17 November, 2020

No, Ralph, I might not have been clear enough. I took John's comment to mean that he thinks the only power the Nazi symbols might have is to provoke painful memories in those who suffered under the regimes. My point is that the symbols and ideas, sometimes in more disguised forms such as replacement theory or concerns about "western civilisation", still have the power to radicalise.

Ralph Paine, 5:05 p.m. 17 November, 2020

John's example of "painful memories" is simply one example of many possible effects. Given everything that's going on, I'm guessing he chose it for the sake of a little brevity. I'm certain he's aware of many other examples. No need then to argue yr nit-picky and mutating points ad nauseum: I note that you've added the word "ideas" to the word "symbols".

Yes: symbols + ideas + ... + ... + ...

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 5:54 p.m. 17 November, 2020

Readers might be interested in how, within the Progressive Left, identity politics is starting to fragment...

 In reply
Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 4:57 p.m. 18 November, 2020

100% RESPECT for this article by James Robb at A Communist at Large

Reply to this thread

Roger Boyce, 4:58 p.m. 18 November, 2020

Again, I must take issue with the characterization of the Mercy Pictures exhibition in question as being, somehow, little more than a play on "-the difference between signifier and signified."

The inclusion of the fly-in-the-buttermilk swastika into the flag-mix is a significant game-changer. I will again strongly suggest that the historically dark proprietorship of the Hakenkreuz and continued, international, fealty to it - by a number of violent, far-right, nationalist movements - makes it much more than a simple signifier. Although you suggest as much - in defense of the show - there is no enlightened bright line between 'speech' and action, when it comes to the reversed swastika.

The display of a swastika, in any case, is 'speech' as exhortation ... symbol as murderous rallying point. And the glib free-speech absolutism articulated in defense of its display (and sophist contention that it is nothing more than an essentially impotent symbol) is as intellectually stubborn and sterile as a mule.

The idea that objection to exhibition of a swastika is just another example of cancel culture is an extremist view of what tolerance should look like. And the notion that the disallowance of the swastika's exhibition is a slippery slope toward totalitarianism is ludicrous given Germany's ban of the symbol and its vigorous, open, and freewheeling intellectual society.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 5:40 p.m. 18 November, 2020

Sorry Roger, you are talking twaddle. The historical contexts are enormously different between Germany and Aotearoa. Art galleries are semi-public spaces anyway, and copied logos visible within a sea of glyphs doesn't make them 'speech.' Funny how it is assumed that gallery goers are incapable of thinking clearly for themselves, that optical contagion will set in, induce a murderous disposition, and have them running for the gun shops.

Ralph Paine, 11:28 a.m. 19 November, 2020

Happy that you’ve used the all-inclusive term “gallery goers” here John.

During the opening of People of Colour I’d thought that here was a great show for kids to visit (the encyclopaedic vibe, the amazing array of colours, shapes, symbols, the beautiful light-filled rooms, etc.) and so was planning to take my grandchildren along: a bus ride, Saturday morning on K Rd, brunch in a cafe, a gallery visit.

Then everything started falling apart and so I abandoned my plan. A horrible dread was coming on, a premonition of what was coming: Mercy Pictures now seemed a rather unsafe place for young kids to be at. Not of course because of any of the flags in the exhibition. No, Mercy Pictures had become unsafe because of the actions of certain radicalised and violent groups and individuals (now sanctioned by various institutions, galleries, media platforms, an MP, etc.).

It is always real interesting to listen to what children say, but the opportunity for me to listen to what my grandchildren had to say about People of Colour was taken from me.

I’ve been hanging in the Aotearoa art scene since the early-70s, making and exhibiting, collaborating, teaching, designing, writing…. I’ve partaken in so many gatherings big and small that it’s all become somewhat of a blur.

No big deal though. As my friend Gavin Chilcott used to say, “It’s simply A life”

Yeah, but never have I experienced anything even remotely like what’s going down right now.

Sad times.

Reply to this thread

Martin Rumsby, 7:45 p.m. 19 November, 2020

Dear John,

It would be good if you acknowledged the hurt this show has caused, particularly among minority and indigenous communities. I urge you to rethink, or better still think more deeply about the concerns that raised here, their context (or lack thereof), gallery and curatorial presentation strategies, criticality and non-criticality and indeed the class and race biases of our arts scene. (Please see the video I posted on your facebook timeline and share generously). As I am not in NZ at the moment I have not been able to see the show in question but, from afar, it does sound quite hairy.
In solidarity with Maori, Polynesian, working class and minority artists I request that you remove my bio from the Eye Contact web page until such time as this matter can be resolved in favour of the offended parties. As you are well aware I have recently been the victim of aristocratic art world sleaze and corruption perpetuated by aristocratically minded art world insiders. Let this be the first blow in smashing the hierarchical and closed NZ arts aristocracy and creating instead a place for a people's art - an art of our culture. Regards, Martin Rumsby

 In reply

Martin Rumsby, 9:34 p.m. 19 November, 2020

To clarify,

In instances of abuse of artists and cultures in NZ the perpetrators need to be called and stomped. Get this cancer early and cut it out. In the course of my career I have been subject to numerous abuses by NZ arts administrators. If this gallery is allowed to get away with this and its owners/curators/whatever climb further up the career ladder then they will be enabled to commit further abuses. They will be welcomed into the club of whatever can be gotten away with on a fat salary and infinite perks. Artists, cultural activists and citizens need to be made aware of the abuses perpetuated by arts professionals. Their culture, which is aristocratic in nature and pretension, needs to be called out and stamped out. It will not end with this one issue. Stop the maintenance of silence that pervades out arts aristocracy. Artists and our culture will be best served by artist-run organizations. No more power from above, top down (trickle down), power from the bottom up. Creative New Zealand can enable this. Policies need to be put in place which enshrine and protect the rights and interests of artists, along with payment for their work. It is said that we are on the verge of a new normal - what will this new normal be for arts and artists? Let the artists decide. Dilute and divert the power coming from above. Make it new. Make it healthy. Make it honest.

John Hurrell, 7:35 a.m. 20 November, 2020

Martin, nobody at EyeContact or Mercy Pictures disputes the horrific pain endured by indigenous peoples in the face of colonialism, but that is not the issue here. This debate is about the agency of gallery visitors, their right to analyse independentally the content of an exhibition held in a semi-private space, and to resist censorship by certain sanctimonious progressives.

Martin Rumsby, 10:22 a.m. 20 November, 2020


It appears to me that people have been deeply hurt and offended by this exhibition. This needs to be addressed.
What are the critical standards at play here? Or are we just witnessing the shallow careerist manoeuverings of badly educated recent art school graduates? Are these people offering anything more than empty neo-Duchampian gestures? (And so we begin to get to the source of the problem).
Highly likely they will be thrown to the wall soon enough. But that will not change or solve anything. The whole system needs to be overhauled. We don't need ambition or careerism - which only create corruptions. And corruptions there are. No more privilege nor entitlement. Why do art scene office holders enjoy a much higher standard of living than artists? Artists who they often treat with contempt. Why don't they work for love just as so many artists do?
We need a new starting point.
I would like to suggest humility as that starting point.

Reply to this thread

Craig HILTON, 3:22 p.m. 21 November, 2020

 In reply

Craig HILTON, 4:14 p.m. 21 November, 2020

The Paradox of Tolerance (Popper)

John Hurrell, 8:59 a.m. 22 November, 2020

Thanks Craig. Many readers will find this aspect interesting.

Ralph Paine, 11:22 a.m. 22 November, 2020

Of course here in Aotearoa/NZ there exist laws designed to prosecute against intolerance.

Given the absolute intolerance of those attacking Mercy Pictures and EyeContact, let’s note two areas of law that are likely to be in play right now: Actionable Defamation and Harmful Digital Communication

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 8:33 a.m. 23 November, 2020

There is an amazing hierarchy and competitiveness within contemporary art, an intense and often vicious athleticism that can be traced back to ancient myth. In Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of the goddess Minerva’s jealousy for the astonishing weaving skills of a young woman named Arachne, a jealousy which leads Minerva to challenge Arachne to a competition.

But when Arachne does indeed weave what is agreed by all those present to be the better tapestry, this sends the goddess into a rage and she destroys Arachne’s work and viciously beats her about the head with a weaving shuttle.

Thus wounded, dishonoured, and shamed, Arachne fastens a noose around her neck and attempts to hang herself. But suddenly Minerva takes pity, now deciding to let Arachne live, and so leaving her suspended in mid-air like that for all time, Minerva transformed Arachne into the first spider.

In Ovid’s story, pride, skill, humiliation, destructiveness, and pity combine to create—not a moral tale—but rather a relaying of the virtual ground necessary for the emergence of new forms of being, new species.

And so it is today that if those who constitute and construct the field of art sometimes become overly competitive strangers to each other, perhaps even terrible enemies, then the solitude and loneliness thus created should be understood as vital components in that strange and sometimes cruel mix of things and conditions required for the creation of something new.

Reply to this thread

Roger Boyce, 9:03 p.m. 23 November, 2020

"-two areas of law that are likely to be in play right now: Actionable Defamation and Harmful Digital Communication-"
Ralph, with that farcical reversal you have surpassed Henry Winkler's shark-jumping athleticism. You've surpassed even your own breathtaking levels of absurdity. Congratulations ... I guess.

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 10:19 a.m. 24 November, 2020

Paraphrasing Stendhal...

Sir, an artwork is a mirror carried along a high road. At one moment it reflects to one’s vision the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at one’s feet. And the persons who carry this mirror are being accused by you and so many others of being immoral! The mirror shows the mire, and you all blame the mirror!

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 12:50 a.m. 25 November, 2020

I wonder if many readers remember the 'Virgin in a Condom' controversy from 1997, when Te Papa exhibited Tania Kovats' sculpture of a miniature Madonna standing in a prophylactic as part of 'Pictura Britannica', the touring group show of British art. For almost 5 months the Roman Catholic community protested outside the front doors of Te Papa--trying to get it closed--but the heads of Te Papa wisely did not back down, and a public forum about images eventuated.

 In reply

Mark Amery, 9:57 p.m. 25 November, 2020

Sorry, you are really making that comparison? I remembered that early in this, as ;';m sure many did, and was struck by how different a scenario this was.

John Hurrell, 7:10 a.m. 26 November, 2020

It would be good to hear more on this. Methodical disruption is a salient similarity.

John Hurrell, 10:29 a.m. 26 November, 2020

The claim by protesting communities that being offended or experiencing 'pain' presents an answerable case is another similarity. As if such emotional states sweep over the validity of reason. Even when the entering of forum spaces is voluntary.

Mark Amery, 10:44 p.m. 28 November, 2020

Hi John, My feeling is that there is a very big difference between being offensive and being abusive. Offensivenss of itself is common.

JJ Harper, 12:56 a.m. 29 November, 2020

Oh my God Mark, move on.

John Hurrell, 9:52 a.m. 29 November, 2020

Yes I agree Mark. Being 'offensive' can be impersonal or innocent, or unknowing. 'Abusive' is directed, aimed with intent.

The point is though if people enter a gallery knowing what is waiting, or look at documentation, knowing what it will be of, then those are voluntary acts that they made decisions about. The option of avoidance was available.

Reply to this thread

Scott Hamilton, 12:30 p.m. 30 November, 2020

I have just been catching up with this debate and wanted to make a couple of points against the arguments John Hurrell has been making. I also wanted to criticise the tone that John has used.

1 A fake quote

John has quoted Voltaire as saying that 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it'. Voltaire never used these words. They were coined at the beginning of the twentieth century, by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

I think that this fake quote points to a larger problem with the way the Enlightenment is often used in debates today. The Enlightenment is invoked as an unimpeachable authority by people defending what they see as their right to free speech. Even members of the alt-right like Milo Yiannopolous cite the Enlightenment as an excuse for their racist and violence-inciting rhetoric.

But the Enlightenment is a term that refers to very diverse thinkers. Some, like Voltaire and Rousseau, had some views that we would today see as progressive; others, like Kant, were ardent racists and defenders of colonialism as well as brilliant thinkers. We need to talk about the Enlightenment in a nuanced way, rather than appealing to it as a pseudo-Biblical authority.

In NZ, even the best aspects of Enlightenment thinking were sometimes turned to very dark ends. Alfred Dommet, who was the Premier who presided over the invasion of the Waikato, was an atheist and a devotee of Darwin. He felt that Darwin legitimated his view of life as a struggle between more and less advanced races; his atheism made him contemptuous of missionaries arguing for more humane policies towards Maori.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 12:48 p.m. 30 November, 2020

Interesting comments, Scott. Genuinely helpful, except I would never present a quote as such if I knew it was fake.

In this case, I believe in responsible free speech, as my original review explains. The art gallery is a special (semi-public) place where adults can ponder the significance of all sorts of images, even if they are disturbing. They enter that space voluntarily, and if potentially traumatising content awaits, they should be warned.

Reply to this thread

Scott Hamilton, 12:49 p.m. 30 November, 2020

2 Parallels with Germany

Roger Boyce argued that Germany has had a thriving art scene, even though the use of swastikas is forbidden there. John Hurrell responded by calling Roger's argument 'twaddle'. John thinks that the histories of Germany and NZ are too different for the sort of analogy Roger made to be sensible.

I think John misses the symbiotic relationship between settler colonialism in the 'New World' and fascism in Europe, and also underestimates the popularity of fascism in 1930s NZ. Hitler was inspired by, and several times paid tribute to, the extermination or marginalisation of indigenous peoples in New World societies like America. In his great book 'Exterminate All the Brutes!', Sven Lindqvist argues very convincingly that Hitler brought the policies that European powers had used in their colonies into the heart of Europe. Mark Mazower makes a similar point in his book Hitler's Empire. Hitler's conquest and colonisation of Eastern Europe was modelled on the conquest and colonisation of African, Asian, American, and Pacific societies by the European powers.

Hitler drew inspiration from the New World, and in time his own influence spread to societies like the US, Australia, and NZ. I have researched the history of fascism in NZ in the '30s, and wrote an article about it earlier this year for The Spinoff:

In the '30s we had a mass proto-fascist movement, in the form of the NZ Legion, thriving pro-Nazi German clubs, a network of Mussolini-worshipping blackshirts clubs, and a Labour government that made a free trade deal with Hitler and sent a minister to tour Germany and hobnob with high-ranking Nazis. Reuel Lochore, who played a key role in shaping our racist immigration policies in the '40s and '50s, was a convinced Nazi, who had attended stormtroopers' camps during his time in Germany in the early '30s. Our hardline on Jewish migration led to the death of thousands of Jews in the Holocaust. And even after the war, when the horrors of the Holocaust should have been clear, the RSA produced a resolution, at its 1945 national conference, for the deportation of Jewish refugees from NZ, prompting protests from the Jewish community and anger from Prime Minister Fraser.

I think it is fair to say that NZ and other white settler-colonies played an integral part in the development of fascist ideology. I don't think Roger is at all mistaken when he tries to make an analogy between NZ and Germany, though I don't necessarily agree with a state ban on the use of the swastika here.

 In reply

John Hurrell, 1:14 p.m. 30 November, 2020

I agree about the insidious and pervasive nature of racism, and there are obviously good arguments that it is ubiquitous here as a aftermath of colonialism. However in terms of implemented constitutions there is no comparison between the government of Aotearoa and that of the Third Reich. The open conversations we are now having here during the current reign of Ardern's 'kind' government can never be seriously compared to the cruel and hideous repression of Adolf Hitler.

Scott Hamilton, 1:29 p.m. 30 November, 2020

That argument doesn't quite hold, John, because Germany also currently has a liberal democratic system. Germans who support the ban on the swastika look back to the past and fear a recrudescence of fascism and racism. Here in NZ, we can certainly look back to the past and find episodes of violent state racism - the invasion and confiscation of the Waikato, the destruction of Parihaka, the banning of Maori religion in 1907, the destruction of the Maori kainga at Okahu Bay in 1951, and so on. So I think it is fair for Roger Boyce to suggest that both Germany and NZ are haunted by a murderous racist history.

John Hurrell, 12:44 a.m. 1 December, 2020

The big difference is state sanctioned violence, Scott. Violence was actively promoted by the Nazi state. Our Prime Minister speaks of kindness.

Reply to this thread

Scott Hamilton, 1:07 p.m. 30 November, 2020

3 The question of identity politics

John Hurrell has characterised the protests against Mercy Pictures' exhibition as a case of 'identity politics'. The term 'identity politics' is used often, and almost always in a derogatory way, by the political right. I think that, in a white settler colony like NZ, the use of the term disguises a deep unease amongst Pakeha. For many decades, when they dominated the country's politics, media, and culture, Pakeha were able to define themselves as 'New Zealanders' and 'Kiwis'. But the supposedly universal culture of 'New Zealanders' was really a projection of the fantasies of the Pakeha majority; it often wasn't shared by Maori, or Chinese, or Pacific Islanders, or many other groups.

In recent decades minority groups have vigorously asserted their own cultural identities. We now speak of Tuhoe NZers, Samoan NZers, Indian NZers, and so on. As the notion of a common NZ culture has fallen away, Pakeha have been confronted by the dilemma of defining their own identity. It seems untenable for them to identify as Britons, marooned as they are in the South Pacific; but what alternative identity makes sense? It seems to me that, when they condemn 'identity politics', conservative Pakeha are often condemning the collapse of the old false notion of a universal New Zealand culture, and avoiding dealing with their own identity. I think that when John evokes the supposedly neutral space of the gallery, and laments the decline of the open debate that supposedly marked the gallery of old, he is really echoing the complaints of disgruntled conservative Pakeha. What the initiators of the protest against Mercy Pictures - young artists of colour like Quishille Charan and Lana Lopesi - are saying is that the gallery is not and has never been a neutral space, and that debate has never been free. Mark Harvey makes much the same point at the top of this thread.

The sort of protest that we have seen against Mercy Pictures is not new. When they smashed engineers for performing a derogatory haka at the end of the 1970s, the He Taua group was setting a precedent for the Mercy protests. When the Jewish community complained about the use of swastikas as advertising devices by NZ businesses in 1933, they were engaging in the same sort of protest that we have seen in recent weeks. When Auckland's wharfies refused to load scrap iron onto a Japanese ship in 1937, on the grounds that Japan had a fascist government, they were also acting against fascism. I see the protests against Mercy as part of a venerable and honourable tradition.

Reply to this thread

Scott Hamilton, 1:25 p.m. 30 November, 2020

4 Comparisons with the Virgin in a Condom protests

John Hurrell has compared the protests against Mercy Pictures with the campaign by Catholics against the exhibition of the Virgin in a Condom sculpture at Te Papa in 1998. There are some similarities between the two cases, but there are also three profound differences.

The first difference concerns the demands of the protesters. The Catholics protesting in 1998 wanted a state ban on the offensive artwork; they demanded its removal from a state-owned art space. By contrast, the protesters against Mercy have sought to mobilise the arts community and sympathetic groups to boycott and pressure the people associated with Mercy Pictures. They are not calling, so far as I am aware, for state repression, but are instead running a grassroots campaign in which people exercise their free choice by not dealing with Mercy Pictures. There is a profound difference between the bottom-up approach of the protesters against Mercy and the Catholics' call for state repression.

The second difference relates to the nature of the work being protested. The Virgin in a Condom was the statement of a liberal, who believed that the Catholic church's stances on contraception and priests were misogynistic and socially harmful. By contrast, the dozens of fascist and alt-right banners in Mercy Pictures' exhibition represent groups that want to exterminate huge numbers of human beings - people with dark skins, gays, Jews, liberals, and so on. It was relatively easy for even conservative Catholics to dialogue with liberal supporters of the Virgin in a Condom; it would be unthinkable for Maori or Jews or gays to debate their right to exist with the Nazis who produced the banners that Mercy Pictures flourished.

The third difference concerns the social status of the groups protesting the two exhibitions. Although Catholics were marginalised and at times persecuted in 19th and early 20th century NZ, by the late '90s they had been well and truly integrated into the mainstream of society. Catholic Jim Bolger had just finished a long spell as NZ's Prime Minister. The days of arson attacks against nunneries and the bullying of Catholic schoolkids were long over. By contrast, Maori remain marginalised and oppressed today. The Tuhoe flag, which Mercy Pictures appropriated and desecrated, will remind many people of the 'terror' raids on Te Urewera in 2007, and the toll they took on communities there. It was not reasonable for Catholics to feel besieged in 1998; it is very reasonable for Tuhoe and other indigenous peoples to feel under attack in the 21st century.

 In reply

Andrew Paul Wood, 12:33 p.m. 1 December, 2020

The power dynamic is important here. An art work like the Virgin in a Condom or Serrano's Piss Christ are not signifiers of existential threats to the Catholic Church - quoth Macaulay:

“And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul’s.”

In this case you're dealing with a particular political climate, horrific recent events, growing concerns about the resurgence in far right politics, and demographics for whom the violence is experienced and visceral, and then providing virtually no curatorial mediation and little context, while expecting the audience to just work it out for themselves. I'm not saying a show like that couldn't be done, but this certainly wasn't it. I know the people who wear those symbols want to kill me thanks.

Reply to this thread

Scott Hamilton, 1:42 p.m. 30 November, 2020

5 Tone

For me, the most disappointing aspect of John Hurrell's comments has not been his arguments, but the tone in which he has wrapped them. Many of his critics - Roger Boyce, Andrew Paul Wood, Mark Harvey, me - are long-time contributors to EyeContact. We have never been paid much for our pieces, and sometimes we have written pro bono. I have contributed 32 essays to this site since 2013.

I feel that we are entitled to a measure of respect when we express our disgust at John's review of the Mercy Pictures show. But John has too often sneered at and insulted his interlocutors - he's accused us of 'twaddle', compared us to Maoist Red Guards, and said that we represent the 'art world at its nuttiest'. The protesters against Mercy Pictures include some of NZ's best art critics, artists, and curators. John ought to have stopped and wondered whether all these people might have some valid reason for their feelings.

Because of John's tone, I don't feel any enthusiasm for EyeContact, and won't be writing again for the site. I note that at least 30 writers have asked for their work to be withdrawn from EyeContact. John's attitude and lack of engagement with his critics has gone a long way toward destroying the site he worked so hard to build up. What a pity.

 In reply

Ralph Paine, 8:38 p.m. 30 November, 2020

Would this be the same Roger Boyce who has done nothing but mock and insult me on this thread..... The same Andrew Paul Wood who on his Twitter acc. (and in cahoots with Peter Madden) has slandered Teghan Burt.... The same Mark Harvey who on Daniel Satele's @sunny_biwl Instagram acc. has publicly named me a racist, a bigot, and a white supremacist?

JJ Harper, 9:22 p.m. 30 November, 2020

Andrew has done nothing of the sort. Teghan's career (at least in NZ) is toast, that's not slander, it's an unfortunate fact. Mercy were aware of the consequences of this (though I doubt they anticipated the scale it would happen on). I hope they can find a way out of this mess but it's not slander to point out they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Daniel may have implied those labels but he never said it explicitly, by essentialising his words you repeat the same behaviour of the people you are criticising.

Ralph Paine, 8:08 a.m. 1 December, 2020

The cruel and ill-founded certitudes that you express are beyond my comprehension.

BTW I did not say that Daniel Satele publicly named me a racist, a bigot, and a white supremacist. What I said was that MARK HARVEY publicly named me a racist, a bigot, and a white supremacist on Daniel Satele's Instagram acc. (emphasis added).

JJ Harper, 8:56 a.m. 1 December, 2020

Apologies, Ralph. I misread that. I don't remember seeing Mark make any type of comment like that and can't see them now but feel free to me point in the direction of the specific post. I do, however, think that the general sentiment of my comment still applies and I meant no cruelness by it.

Andrew Paul Wood, 12:15 p.m. 1 December, 2020

Who is slandering who, Ralph?

Ralph Paine, 1 p.m. 1 December, 2020

This in reply to JJ Harper above:

Like Alexander the Great’s old war horse Bucephalus, I study the law but do not practise it (see Kafka’s short parable ‘The New Advocate’). Of late my studies have focused on actionable defamation and harmful digital communication.

In my estimation, Mark Harvey has defamed me, this precisely because he has made a public statement that asserts a false fact about me. I cannot point you towards Mark Harvey’s comment on Daniel Satele’s Instagram account because it has been deleted. I do, however, possess a screenshot of said comment.

Ralph Paine, 1:44 p.m. 1 December, 2020

In reply to Andrew Paul Wood above:

In its legal sense slander is the act of harming a person's reputation by telling one or more other people something that is untrue and damaging about that person. In my estimation, you and Peter Madden slandered Teghan Burt.

By making my claim, am I thereby slandering you both? In other words, am I acting slanderously by publicly stating that I believe you and Peter Madden slandered Teghan Burt, that is, made untrue and damaging comments about her.

There seems to be an infinite regress problem embedded within what you are implying.

Andrew Paul Wood, 6:36 p.m. 1 December, 2020

Neither genuine opinion nor objective fact qualify as slander.

JJ Harper, 7:37 p.m. 1 December, 2020

send it to me on insta if u want to ralph. lol

Reply to this thread

Ralph Paine, 4:35 p.m. 30 November, 2020


 In reply

Andrew Paul Wood, 12:17 p.m. 1 December, 2020

"Thanks to implementing a zero tolerance health dictatorship including mandatory indefinite detention camps for anybody testing positive for a virus with an average age of death of 82, offline social life has been permitted to continue in the interior of the remote country."
Really? *eyeroll emoji*

Scott Hamilton, 1:38 p.m. 1 December, 2020

I don't doubt that you are not a white supremacist, Ralph, and I can understand how it would be distressing to be described as such. But I don't think you help your case by commending a turgid article by DC Miller, a self-confessed devotee of occult Nazi Julius Evola, especially when said article includes a plug for Mencius Moldbug, an alt-right/dark enlightenment celebrity who has argued that blacks have lower IQ than whites, that Hitler fought World War Two in self-defence, and that slavery is an acceptable social system.

On the other hand James Robb, whose article you cited earlier, is a thoughtful and principled writer, and his points definitely deserve to be considered carefully. I'm hoping to discuss Robb's piece with him over a kava soon.

Ralph Paine, 2:02 p.m. 1 December, 2020

I regard both articles as interesting texts.

By providing the link to DC Miller's text I have neither condoned it nor stated my agreement with it. My intention was to add it to a growing list of reference material.

However, I do condone and (mostly) agree with James Robb's text, and stated this at the time of my post: 100% respect.

Ralph Paine, 10:15 a.m. 7 December, 2020

Here's a link to a very interesting podcast featuring a 2019 interview with DC Miller.

I believe Scott Hamilton is falsifying him in the most grotesque manner, and so I'm hoping this interview will help readers come to their own conclusions.

Sadly, the close similarities between what has happened to DC Miller, Nina Power, Mercy Pictures, and EyeContact are fascinating, as are what Miller says about artworld(s) and cancel culture.

Reply to this thread

John Hurrell, 1:02 a.m. 1 December, 2020

Scott, I consider my use of 'Twaddle' as amicable. Mocking, a bit of a sting, but not too poisonous. Roger has known me a long time, and we often disagree. I went to his exhibition opening last week and didn't cause a riot. He was very cordial, even though we had just exchanged vehemently different opinions. That is what professionals do.

I also sincerely appreciate your personal contributions to the site, but my gratitude does not prevent me from giving honest opinions if we are arguing. The site was never meant to be for an army of writers who all march to the same tune. A range of differing opinions was always encouraged, and any banter or rough and tumble between individuals is all part of it.

 In reply

Scott Hamilton, 12:57 p.m. 1 December, 2020

EyeContact may not be an army, John, especially since the decimation of the last fortnight, but I think you tend to act like a general. I asked if I could write a piece about Mercy Pictures' show; you turned me down, saying you were doing one. To your credit, you've allowed your article to be debated in this comments thread.

But there's a contradiction between your talk of open debate and your repression of a review that disagreed with your strongly held opinion. To be fair, a lot of publications are edited by an individual, and editorial decisions aren't always easy to make by committee. Democracy and good writing, let alone art, don't always go together. But there's a power imbalance that complicates your claim that EyeContact is a zone for the free exchange of ideas.

Your apparent blindness to this imbalance echoes your blindness to the imbalance of power inside galleries. As Martin Rumsby said, NZ galleries tend to be run autocratically, and tend to favour certain voices over others. This is one of the reasons we are seeing a revolt by young artists from minority communities over this issue. Talking about the sanctity of the gallery and free speech doesn't cut the ice with these young artists, because they're aware that galleries have never really been free speech zones, and feel that their voices have long been excluded.

The basic problem that you have, I think, is that, in the absence of funding from CNZ, you're effectively asking writers to provide their work pro bono, in a spirit of solidarity with EyeContact, and yet not allowing them meaningful control over EyeContact. And when you run a piece that conflicts with the opinions of many contributors, the contradiction naturally explodes.

John Hurrell, 8:04 p.m. 1 December, 2020

Your argument might succeed if there were a single art world, but it doesn't exist. There are many art worlds, many communities--some overlapping, some not. That fragmentation means there isn't an over-aching consensus agreed upon throughout; there is no such beast. Only multiple agreements in isolation, rubbing and butting up against each other.

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JJ Harper, 10:41 p.m. 8 December, 2020

Here's my MP take: is my new little art writing website/blog. if anybody feels like submitting work I'd be more than happy to publish it :)

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John Hurrell, 9:10 a.m. 10 January, 2021

Here is a letter I wrote privately to a local artist who asked me directly for a personal response. She was considering (but hesitating) removing her images. I wrote it in early December. I want it here for the record.

Dear Artist X,

Thank you for your thoughtful, carefully crafted and blessedly temperate letter. I have been writing art reviews for almost forty years now, and at times often received dissenting opinions, but your letter is by far the longest, most articulate, and complex of them all. As you might imagine, over the last two weeks I’ve had a lot of poisonous and delirious stuff directed my way. I’m grateful for your moderate tone and participatory energy.

When People of Colour opened –before the controversy ‘exploded’—it was not considered ‘cavalier’ or ‘a deliberate provocation’ at all, but a legitimate artworld project. Another critic wrote a review very similar to my own but that was rejected by his publisher for political reasons; a high profile curator was seriously thinking of taking the show for his municipal institution but was later alarmed by the furore; and several collectors were lining up to buy groups of works from the installation. The exhibition was widely admired for its ideation, sensuality and edge. At the time, as an event, it was a slightly unusual artwold occurrence.

It initially didn’t draw much attention because it was understood that these images, from a huge range of sources, were representations or signifiers. The ‘nasty’ ones were not, in themselves, seen as advocacies of ‘hate speech’ as was later claimed by some. Only (disturbing by association) symbols. They couldn’t corrupt by themselves, though they were very upsetting.

Of the offensive imagery, it is well known that Nazi swastikas can be seen on the top floor of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and in the privately owned work of several New Zealand artists, and humour lampooning the Third Reich is widely available in the films of directors Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino and Taika Waititi. To some extent, the public–rightly or wrongly—have grown used to them. The Second World War finished 75 years ago. I say that fully aware of the Nazi horror. I myself personally visited Dachau in 1991, when passing through Munich. (I felt I was ethically obliged to, being born in 1950, the middle of the twentieth century.)

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John Hurrell, 9:11 a.m. 10 January, 2021

Of course it is true things have changed significantly globally since the contaminating ascendency of Trump and, in Aotearoa, the occurrence of the Tarrant massacre. Which is why on EyeContact I pointed out the properties of the gallery as a forum space, a semi-public environment for adults to use for debate—a notion I got from conversations with Billy Apple in the early eighties when discussing his architectural interventions--and to even use offensive (but legal) material provided visitors are warned so they don’t get traumatised. These ideas are not new, and I regard the members of the art community as capable of evaluating any potential issues for themselves, that they have that agency as of right.

The difference between signified and signifiers is the primary point of the show, and the wide political/ethical spectrum of signifiers available globally; not the unfortunate coincidental juxtapositions often pointed out as inflammatory. These I don’t believe were intended to offend, for the installation was more holistic than compositional in design. The debate about those spatial ‘links’ has considerably muddied the water, and moved the discussion away from the main intended thrust of the exhibition. The confusing mix was further compounded by a fake Mercy Pictures instagram site (Mercy Pintellectuals by anonymous persons) sending out threats of violence to Mercy Pictures opponents. Squirting oil onto the flames of anger.

With that anger, I’m not denying the impact of pain or offense to certain communities through their inclusion in the flag survey, but these emotional states, in themselves, do not present an argument for censorship. To have clout, such an argument needs to be more concisely articulated using rational processes, so its organised premises can counter the wider structure of advocated ‘free speech.’

In case you missed them in my EC comments, the range of organisations present in the show was wider than I think you realise. Some 430 were included, among them: Bisexual Pride; Equality; Vatican City; Black Lives Matter; Antarctic Treaty; Socialist Red, Ecology Theta; Lipstick Lesbian; American Indian Movement; Oceania; Kingdom of Humanity; Catholic League; National Bolshevik Party; Israel; Woman Suffrage; World Health Organisation; Transgender Bisexual BDSM; Rubber Fetish Pride; Earth Day; Labrys Lesbian; Pro-Life; Gay (original); Free Speech; Palestine; Israeli Transgender; Nuie; Esperanto; Animal Farm; Black Panther Party; Suffragette Colours; Greens (Australia); Catholic Leaque; Ecowarriors; Yippies; Tonga; Amnesty International; African-American Confederate (Nu South); Skinheads Against Racist Pregedious; New Pride; Buddhism; Veganarchism; Anti-Racist; Australian Aboriginal; Black Trans; Climate; Art is Resistance; Democracy; Abuse Survivor Unity, Pan-Asian. It was seen as showcasing of diversity in all its pleasant (as well as unpleasant) forms.

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John Hurrell, 9:13 a.m. 10 January, 2021

In my discussion of the show’s title I ruminate on possible interpretations and, as you notice, mention Power’s use of the word ’silly’. With its holistic presentation and Power’s essay, the show can be understood as an attack on identity politics, something I reinforce with my title—a steal from a Tom Waits song. It’s a position that might be irritating, but it is not offensive, only an intriguing catalyst for further debate; some points later taken up in the excellent essay by Terrence Handscomb.

Even though they will be missed, if you wish me to remove your images I will of course do so.

Thanks again for your articulate and very frank feedback,



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