Richard Swainson: Hamilton gears up for celebration of arts

Fittingly, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is on the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival programme.

Fittingly, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is on the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival programme.

OPINION: What is art? A big question, one best contemplated with wine in hand, at a distinct distance from the canvas, perhaps debated with more learned friends or after consulting the immaculately produced programme.

When an invitation arrived in the mail a fortnight or so ago from the Waikato Society of Arts, complete with two tickets to the organisation's annual showcase event, my appetite was well and truly whetted.

The New Zealand Painting & Printmaking Awards might not constitute the formal opening of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival but I'm always inclined to treat them that way. The complimentary beverages are plentiful, the company excellent and the work itself consistently challenging.

Then there are the speeches, impressive pieces of oratory by senior management and/or judges, pitched at the fine art aficionados which, like the more abstract efforts of entrants, sometimes leave the casual punter scratching the cranium in confusion or disbelief.

On the whole I have a limited tolerance for art that requires wordy explanations or theoretical dissertations to prop it up or establish meaning, especially when such blurbs are penned by the artists themselves. If the painting or print is doing its job it should do so on its own merits, not require footnotes or academic context or a tortured case history of the painter's struggle.

Alas, the formal study of art often requires this kind of thing. Turgid or impenetrable, pretentious or portentous, explanations more often detract than illuminate, dating the art in the trendy theory or "ism" of the moment. So sayeth this Philistine, anyway. The fine artist would do better to take his or her lead from those filmmakers who refuse or refused to engage in debates about interpretation, surrealist masters like Luis Bunuel or David Lynch, a visionary like Stanley Kubrick or that booze-sodden poet of the mythical west, John Ford.

There are no Ford films in this year's festival but there is a western by an Italian who held him in high regard. The feelings were not reciprocated.

Sergio Leone's take on the classic American art form tended toward stylisation, a harsher brand of violence than hitherto seen and anti-heroes who differed from villains by a matter of degree only.

A Fistful of Dollars, the first Leone feature of note, screens Monday night on the Rhododendron Lawn. Taking its storyline from Akira Kurosawa's samurai epic Yojimbo and its taciturn leading man from television's Rawhide, the film both made Clint Eastwood a star and launched an entirely new sub-genre, the "spaghetti western". It's worth experiencing for the Ennio Morricone score alone.

Other films on the programme include the perennial cult offering with the Hamilton connection, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the New Zealand comic horror Housebound, that infectious combination of music and vehicular mayhem, The Blues Brothers and the charming Chocolat, a French fable in English.

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Chocoholics who might want to munch through the last or those looking to heave a piece of toast in the air in accordance with Rocky Horror audience participation rituals may well be out of luck if the venue's prohibitions on BYO food and beverage are administered literally. Any alcoholic tribute you might want to pay to the late Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers will have to be with vino bought on site, too.

If conflicts of interest can be suspended for the balance of this piece I would also like to endorse the Pecha Kucha night in the Chinoiserie Garden on Tuesday the 21st. I use the word "night" deliberately as the start time indicated in the Festival booklet is at least an hour earlier than we can feasibly begin. Cover of darkness is required so that the images which are a fundamental part of each speaker's presentation will have sufficient definition. No one will go on before 7.30pm.

It is a strong lineup. Former mayor Margaret Evans will speak on behalf of TOTI, the charitable trust which has given so much to Hamilton city in the way of public art and recognition of our historical noteworthies.

Unsuccessful mayoral candidate Chris Simpson will demonstrate that local body elections are not decided on the grounds of oratorical excellence, exhibiting a facility with language and delivery that consistently eludes the man who trumped him and others at the polls.

And Janine Swainson, a former Miss Burlesque New Zealand and runner-up last year in another national competition of significance, will tell us what compels her to remove clothing in public. I believe it has something to do with art.

  • Janine Swainson is the writer's wife.

 - Stuff

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