A COM­MU­NITY OF MAK­ERS

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Emma Bug­den – former di­rec­tor of Artspace, former se­nior cu­ra­tor at the Dowse Mu­seum and 2016 Wal­ter Prize judge – sees a lot of po­ten­tial in Whanganui. She re­cently moved there from Welling­ton and is writ­ing her PhD. Bug­den says that, as well as pho­tog­ra­phy, Whanganui has al­ways had a strong craft scene, par­tic­u­larly in ce­ram­ics, jew­ellery and glass­mak­ing. These all over­lap with con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture and that’s cre­ated a great com­mu­nity of mak­ers. Lau­ren Lysaght and An­drea du Chate­nier are there. The ce­ram­i­cist Ross Mitchell-Anyon is a key fig­ure, and his son Jack runs Ar­ti­cle, a week­end cafe that acts as a bit of a meet-up spot for the local scene. One of the most in­trigu­ing mak­ers to have moved to Whanganui in re­cent years is Glen Hay­ward, who grew up in nearby Aramoho. After many years away (a doc­tor­ate at Elam and al­most a decade in the Hokianga), the Tylee Cot­tage Res­i­dency brought him back. Hay­ward re­cently bought a bike and lawn­mower work­shop that he’s slowly do­ing up. When I ar­rive, a carved copy of an up­turned Toy­ota Corolla roof sits on the floor. Hay­ward is known for his highly de­tailed copies of real-world ob­jects and this one is par­tic­u­larly am­bi­tious. It’s based on a child­hood mem­ory of play­ing in a wrecked, up­side-down Corolla. Made en­tirely from sal­vaged wood, the pro­ject en­cap­su­lates how re­spected artists like Hay­ward can now make their ca­reers work from a small town. The piece has been shown at the Syd­ney Con­tem­po­rary art fair and at Auck­land’s Ob­jectspace. Other work has shown re­cently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and is headed to New York. And there’s a ma­jor new com­mis­sion from the Welling­ton Sculp­ture Trust. De­spite not be­ing in Auck­land or Welling­ton, things keep rolling on for him.

The move to Whanganui has given Hay­ward time. His work is in­cred­i­bly labour-in­ten­sive. He has think­ing time to be with his work and un­der­stand where it’s headed, instead of be­ing pulled in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions to make ends meet. There’s eco­nomic prag­ma­tism in mov­ing to Whanganui, but no one I speak to pre­tends it’s going to be­come the heart of the New Zealand art scene. They all con­cede it’s a town with prob­lems. That whiff of con­ser­vatism still hangs over the river. The Air New Zealand pull­out is a lim­i­ta­tion. There are gangs and drugs. Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion isn’t ob­vi­ous: the main drag still looks pretty beaten up in places. But, as I spend time with Thorn­ley’s quiet, considered por­traits of Mil­lie, the se­ri­ous girl, I won­der if this is actually its strength, too. Whanganui is on a slow burn rather than a new boom. Col­lier would prob­a­bly be hor­ri­fied to know so many young, am­bi­tious artists are mov­ing there. But she’d prob­a­bly also be de­lighted that it’s now a town ready to sup­port a grow­ing number of creative peo­ple who just want to do what they do best: make chal­leng­ing art the rest of us, wher­ever we are, want to see.

14. Emma Bug­den and her daugh­ter Peggy Stark. 15. Glen Hay­ward bought a former bike and lawn­mower work­shop as his stu­dio. 16. A still taken from a per­for­mance by Ali­cia Frankovich while Bug­den was di­rec­tor at Artspace.

17. Weeds grow in the gut­ter on a street in the town centre. 18. Hay­ward in his stu­dio.

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