When asked about one of my favourite things I realise it is a John Coltrane moment rather than a Julie Andrews one, not that I don’t have a soft spot for that woman. But like when Coltrane takes a little song and it can span a whole album side, or more, I have more than a few favourite things in the Gallery.
I mentioned to a few people that I had been asked to do this and they jokingly suggested Cass or Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is, which I like to call Tomorrow never knows. But I said, ‘No. I have a thing which has been a secret love for a long time with a personal sonic connection. Besides A Constant Flow has better light and there are two works called Cass in the Gallery—don’t you know,’ (said the Gruffalo).
So I thought of my favourite work, Carl Sydow, Construction I, and my connections with it, and the magic of the retrospective show in 1979 when I first encountered it. The catalogue of that 1979 show is online; one of those fantastic hidden treasures that the Gallery website has.
But when I told the Gallery of my choice they came back and said, ‘Well the photo we have is a bit lacklustre, and, um, we can’t get to the work to photograph it right now’.
And here I was hoping I might be able to go in behind the scenes and pluck the springs. With white gloves on of course. I wanted to explore memories of how my relationship with the work was established and what burning sonic secrets we held. Another work by the same artist was proposed, kind of similar but there was a good image. But it didn’t do it for me. I could never have touched the springs of this work as it was enclosed in Perspex, not that I had touched the other one. But I am super keen to see if both these two works appear in the reopened Gallery.
So I went back and tried to think what else was special for me. I have blurred memories of the Gallery spaces, and the recently reconfigured permanent collection hang that had just happened before all those quivery things. And then I felt a great sense of loss. I have always enjoyed visiting the Gallery and seeing changing shows, and I had become very accustomed to some of the treasures: the McCahons, the Anguses, the Warhol, and the Lowry et al. And I admit I even miss the glimpse of The Dutch funeral and Otira and that nudie by the boat. It was a sad reminder that this work has been out of bounds for the City for five years.
Rewinding Gallery visits in my mind I remembered some great shows, and some misses, and the sheer joy of meandering through the permanent collection, mostly the contemporary bit, hoping there was a change, a new work or a new juxtaposition, a little pun that was maybe in my head only. I was looking for my madeleine moment out of all the memories. Then it hit me. That other Cass and the other Anguses. The unsung best show that the Gallery has had, To the Unknown New Zealander, an exhibition by Julian Dashper.
My first encounter with Dashper was a show at the Brooke Gifford, I don’t remember the work but I had a nice meal afterwards with art student friends, Dashper, and John Reynolds. The first work I remember was the exhibition Slide Show at the Annex in 1992. At the same time The Anguses were being shown across town in a bookshop opposite Dashper's dealer gallery, having been rejected by the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. One person’s experience with The Anguses at Smith’s Bookshop is lovingly told by Peter Vangioni in the catalogue for To The Unknown New Zealander, including an analysis of the meaning of the missing cymbals.
Fifteen years later the Gallery mounted To the Unknown New Zealander. The five drumkits of The Big Bang Theory were displayed around the Gallery, with the tour de force being The Anguses lovingly situated in front of not just Cass but a wall of works by Angus. The Anguses and The Anguses rocked!
Sadly the Gallery does not own a Dashper drum kit. But they do own a drumhead, dramatically titled Untitled. Dashper died too soon, but he left behind a charming collection of work. I hope we see more of his work at the reopened Gallery. Looking back through the catalogue for Slide Show, I see Dashper had a timely last word for Christchurch; ‘Watch the donut and not the hole’.
Paul Sutherland is one of New Zealand's pioneering sound artists having begun experimenting in the early 1980s with modified electronic noises. He performed and recorded solo and in a number of avant-garde freeform bands such as The Incidentals and Don't Make Noise. He has also made sonic sounds in the legendary Christchurch band Into The Void since its inception in 1987.