A COMMUNITY OF MAKERS
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.