America x 10 is a selection of video works by New Zealand artists addressing our relationship to the United States. Acknowledging its freedoms, invention and complexities, several have sought to make America a place of residence, while others weigh up its impact from afar. As much as we soak up American culture, what kind of response does it engender? How do we embrace its richness and moderate its influence? What kind of exchange might be possible?
1) Sean Grattan, Carmen San Diego, Out of Work and On the Run (2011)
Somewhere in Los Angeles a group of resistance fighters(?) discuss the current state of the globalised world, and what to do next. The complexities of world politics are either a) undermined by mock-Hollywood gusto for a vague, scorched solution to contemporary issues or b) entirely correct; “The future will be determined by something unimaginable to us. Ethical life will be rewritten… Ground Zero. Endgame reboot.” Carmen... is also a condensed history of Hollywood action cinema techniques, ending with the most dryly comic 'car scene' this side of Jacques Tati. Sean Grattan is currently based in Los Angeles where he works for artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch.
2) Brydee Rood, Exercises with Kasanova (2012)
Located on former military facilities, the Headlands Centre for the Arts is “a multidisciplinary, international arts centre dedicated to supporting artists; the creative process; and the development of new, innovative ideas and artwork.” Over the past decade it has been a residency destination for NZ artists including Richard Maloy, Phil Dadson, Steve Carr, Ruth Watson and Brydee Rood, who made the video below as part of the series Waste Whisperer.
3) Martin Rumsby, American Sketchbook Part 3 (1985)
American Sketchbook may be pre-internet, but nevertheless it conjures up America as a media-saturated landscape; one where Jazz, Jesus and Popular Culture are separated by a flick of the TV dial. Rumsby originally travelled to North America in 1985 to tour a programme NZ experimental films, subsequently staying in the United States and Canada for a decade, making anumber of works including American Sketchbook and several documentaries observing American street culture. Since returning to New Zealand he has been based in Manurewa where he continues to work as a film-maker, writer and advocate. In 2016 he curated Films from the Polynesian Triangle, a screening of work by Leilani Kake, Tanya Ruka, Jeremy Leatinu'u, and Len Lye, which was presented at the Millenium Film Workshop in New York.
4) Mike Heynes, New Line Cinema (from News of the Uruguay Round) (2015)
Balancing "homage with critique", Mike Heynes’ installation News of the Uruguay Round (2015) consisted of eight re-constructed international film and television production company logos for iconic brands including 20th Century Fox, MGM and New Line Cinema. "While the re-made logos are deliberately shonky and offer critique of a sometimes overbearing presence in our cultural landscape, this is ultimately a work of fan art, as evidenced by the amount of time and material expense taken to build the sets." - Martin Patrick. The work was also inspired by law changes and trade agreements which New Zealand governments have signed since the 1980s in order to lure Hollywood production to these shores, creating employment, but also affecting workers rights and skewing concepts of "local production" versus "local content."
5) Megan Dunn, Is America a good place for genius? (1998)
By the mid-1990s video rental chains were a booming distribution system for cinema old and new, making a vast array of classics, new releases and obscurities available for watching at the discretion of the user. Take-home video also opened up the potential for artistic reuse and critical examination of the medium and its influence. "Why this particular footage from Fantasia and 91/2 Weeks works so well together I will never really know. The title is a quote from a Donald Barthelme short story called The Genius. The quote seemed to unite the American imagery with the Doors soundtrack in a meaningful way. I probably thought I was making a penetrating cultural critique with this video. Hell, maybe I was." - Megan Dunn
6) Eddie Clemens, Collectors Edition Glitch (2014)
Where Martin Rumsby re-worked television broadcasts and Megan Dunn movie footage sourced from video rental stores, Eddie Clemens' work marks a third generation of moving image distribution; digital. Drawing on DVD's and internet downloads, Clemens merrily hops from one link to another with the rabid intensity of a conspiracy theorist seeking to join the dots. One suspects that whether Clemens has been to America or not, ultimately it doesn't matter; as he acknowledges here, New Zealand is now a location for big-budget Hollywood productions including Lord of the Rings (2001-03) and Avatar (2009). Between that and YouTube, America comes to you.
7) Peter Wareing, War-fi Cowboys (2010)
“We are the dog. The dog of war.” Originally travelling to the US to study as a painter, Peter Wareing spent some 25 years in New York making a number of video works reflecting on the dawn of neo-liberalism under GW Bush (& co). War-fi Cowboys might be his best work; an absurd satire intersecting several dramatic situations into an indictment of capitalism run amok. Looking back on the work now in light of the 2016 election, Wareing says "Yes that is America, the most conflicting ideologies jamming up against each other, but War-fi is New York... when I get back to the States I want to send some time in the middle - not the edges." Made with members of experimental theatre companies La MaMa and Wooster Group.
8) Heather Hayward, Segway tour, Treme, New Orleans (2014)
If Peter Wareing was wondering what's going on in middle America, here's the answer - Segway! Let's go! But seriously... America’s love affair with automobile is well known. Yet in a world of smartphones, social media and climate change, does Hayward’s video wryly suggest that for some, the romance is fading?
9) Ronnie Van Hout, The Elvis Presley Movie (1981)
"By the beginning of 1981, anyone who was anyone had ended up being shot. First there was John Lennon, Reagan was next, and then the Pope. The Elvis Presley Movie imagines that if Elvis was still around he would have probably been added to the list, but like many of the conspiracy theories surrounding 'The King', not everything is as it seems." - RVH
10) Sam Hamilton, Apple Pie (trailer) (2016)
Over the past few years Sam Hamilton has been resident between Auckland and Portland, Oregon. In 2016 he completed the feature film Apple Pie, a sprawling survey of planetary consciousness shot in Samoa, New Zealand and a remote mountaintop astrophysics observatory in the Nevada desert. He is currently touring the film in the United States where he recently gained residency status.
BONUS: Julian Dashper, Untitled (Interviews) 2001-2002 (Disk 1 of 2)
Earlier this year CIRCUIT's curator-at-large George Clark commissioned five artists to make new works in response to the work of Julian Dashper, with particular focus on his writing on time and geographical distance. In this interview with Dunedin musician turned New Yorker Hamish Kilgour, Dashper addresses his relationship to a variety of uniquely American events, from his artist residency in Marfa, Texas to the terrorist bombings of 9/11 and the regular changing of the seasons.