The Performance Arcade has been running for seven years. Over that time we are proud to have developed relationships with artists who return every year to present new works a second, third, fourth time… Practices are nurtured, and relationships are developed over repeated presentations. Some artists have presented in almost every Arcade - like Meg Rollandi and Andrew Simpson, whose work with Arcade newcomer Nick Zwart produced the very popular ‘a machine: discourse, dialogue, and performance generator’ this year. Found at the heart of our architecture, next to the bar and Food For the People, the work was a large home-made printing-press made from recycled machinery, timber, and various cranks and pulleys.
This creaking, groaning contraption performed all day for the seven days of our event, as a kind of constructivist dadaist mechanical poet… slowly winding its way through a giant ream of newsprint with its endless sequence of art-words. Pitched as an automated art critic, the machine’s vocabulary was made up entirely of words most commonly associated with art discourse. Words like ‘form’, ‘concept’, ‘iterative’, and ‘attempt’ repeated in blocky font and smudgy black ink. At regular intervals in the day a performer arrived to read words aloud from its growing entrails of crumpled paper that spilled onto the waterfront from the endless industry of such an unlikely essayist. This first mechanised art critic joins the driverless car, the robotic factory arm, and the computer guided router in a growing list of inventions that replace human labour with machines. It was an incredibly successful work. Despite a few tweaks with the spanner now and then, and a few short stops - it managed to continue its diatribe unchecked for seven days through various changes in humidity, through storm and sunshine, to malfunction only a few minutes from our closing on the last Sunday night. Although fallibility was a part of the design, ‘a machine’ functioned a lot longer and lot more efficiently than its makers had ever imagined. So its last shuddering diatribe of ‘work/work/work/wor—‘ was wonderful denouement. Now, ‘a machine’ is a finalist in the prestigious Designer’s Institute of NZ Best Awards, in the Spatial Design ‘Exhibitions, Events, and Temporary Structures’ categories. Temporary to its very last words, perhaps this unlikely spokesperson for the digital age is a portent of words to come, of new robotic languages, and of new artists and critics that may be produced by the non-human hands of technology and mechanics.