Erik Olssen at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery

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A talk by Emeritus Professor Erik Olssen on the effects of World War I on Dunedin

One quote of the age is “War is the health of the state”, another by John A. Lee was “The Army can do anything to a man — except make him pregnant”.

The capital for the war project came from the people.  It led to the introduction of income tax in New Zealand.  The true patriot is the one who regrets he has only one life to tax for his country.  It also introduced a new idea into the history of New Zealand: inflation, suddenly the cost of living began to rise.

New Zealand provided one Division to the allied imperial forces.  The majority of the New Zealand Division were New Zealand-born.  This was unusual.  The majority of the divisions from other British Empire dominions were British-born.  During this period colonials could have multiple identities: British, New Zealander, English, Scottish, Irish.  There was no contradiction.

Conscription was imposed on young men under the age of forty-five.  There was no one on hand in Dunedin to do the historic statistics that showed that was 16% of the population of Dunedin which was about half the number of other main centres.  Dunedin paid the sacrifice in its young people, including the living who chose not to return to the city.  Dunedin has always been an exporter of young people.  Because of its cost on its people conscription became opposed by labour interests in the city.

It was the interest of the Australian and New Zealand governments to secure the imperial hegemony over the South Pacific.  They managed this by expanding into New Guinea and Samoa, German-held territories.  After the war they held onto these mandates.

Our ancestors fought in life’s great adventure.  They fought for England, the Empire, the freedom to be citizens, or just to travel the world.  We can’t say they should have chosen the path of peace.  That would be ahistorical.  It was the age they lived in.  The age we live in has seen a revival of the ANZAC spirit.  A generation of people who embraced peace protests and anti-nuclear policy are the same people who see themselves as the inheritors of the ANZAC tradition.



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A talk by Dr Christoph Bartneck of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITLABNZ) in Christchurch, held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  It was well attended by people interested in technology, their kids, and a toy robot supplied by Dr Bartneck.

The robot was fascinating to the children.  It was programmed to understand Japanese and could converse.  I don’t think that conversation has reached a Turing Test stage.  It would be interesting to see.  Dr Bartneck admitted that conversation would be a goal that he would like to see.  The robot had the advantage over the kids that its talk function could be dialled down.

So where are robots at?  They still have to get the understanding of social space.  When is standing next to you too close and socially alarming.  Robots still have to be programmed for that receptivity.  Advances in tactile senses also have to be made.

Anthropomorphism: the idea of perfectly human robots disturb us.  It crosses over into uncanny territory, like the unnatural behaviour of mannequins.  We cannot not communicate and need the signals that assure us of humanity.

We like our robots to be toy-like.  They are unthreatening.  Perhaps we would be less disturbed by toy robot in the room than accidently leaving Skype running (and watching us).

The last image was of toy robots with glowing pink eyes performing the haka.  Keep practicing, guys!

Transforming Dunedin

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The follow-up meeting to Transforming Dunedin was held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery last night.  I made sure to attend.  I made sure Research Write NZ was going to attend.  She was.  I spotted a couple of familiar faces of people I knew and people I spoke to at the first meeting.  I won’t name them, because I remember faces better than names.

Major Themes

  1. The Dunedin City Council adopt an Art and Design model like Waitakere City for all city development.
  2. Incubation and Youth.
  3. Partnership with Maori arts — collaboration working towards an arts hui
  4. Create art space and infrastructure — the re-use of temporary and pop-up space.
  5. Co-ordinated communication and visibility creating a presence and a hub for arts
  6. Advocacy to the Dunedin City Council and the community; sustainable voice in the city that will still be here in five years time.

My notes talking with Ms. ResearchWriteNZ.  We were a greek chorus.

Art people in Dunedin need to be valued like wildlife, and by wildlife I don’t mean valued like  the Hyde Street Keg Party.

Dunedin’s closure of George Street for the Rugby World Club proved that our main street can work as a piazza.

Literature came out from underneath the radar.  It already has a literary festival, and a goal to make Dunedin recognised as a literary city.

The mayor had said that working with the arts community was like herding cats, now it is time to turn the litter trays and start herding the City Council Cats.

And make a submission to the Dunedin City Council.

Hobbit Spotting through Lent

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Whom do I like better when it comes to guitar fanfares?  Malcolm Gordon’s One Voice, orCold Chisel?  It’s a tricky choice.

I started my lunchtime reading this week by picking out Bonaventure because I wanted to read St Francis’ abandonment of his old family life for sainthood.  There is also a passage where Bonaventure describes John Francisco facing a crisis in the darkness of a winter’s night and creating an imaginary family out of snowmen to destroy the temptation.  It’s in there somewhere but I couldn’t find the reference.

After that I decided to read a bit of Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald in the 1980s redaction.  The danger of reading MacDonald is that he writes in diabetic levels of Scottish sentiment.

I only got to the gym once this week.  It leaves me to toss and turn at nights as the muscles in my shoulders pull into uncomfortable positions before I sleep. 

There were two lectures in the latter part of the week: an Anniversary Day lecture where a local historian from the Maniototo looked at the poetry of his grand-uncle and what his poetry tells of the context of his life, one of those single working men who drift on the margins of our society in the years before their death; and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues hosted a discussion on Religion and the Republic: the American elections.  It was a sedate discussion which said nothing new and allowed ex-patriate Americans to consider their homeland’s politics from a distance.  There were a handful of absentee voters in the audience.  They decide the direction of the Free Empire for the rest of us.

The Art Gallery is providing me with entertainment this weekend.  Saturday: Samurai 3.  Third in a series of incomprehensible Japanese films where the swordsman Musashi Miyamoto protects a mediaeval village from bandits.  I watched Samurai 2 last weekend.  It is a spiritual ancestor between the cowboy movies from the wild west and the Jedi movies.

Then on Sunday, a Dickens Talk: Health & disease in Victorian Britain.  How can I resist a subject like that ?!

Transforming Dunedin

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The Blue Oyster’s Facebook page alerted me to a symposium for Creative Arts and Culture being held in Dunedin.  It seemed a worthwhile event to attend.  If I wanted to justify it I could claim to be representing my work at the Presbyterian Archives Research Centre, or Opoho Presbyterian Church who have held three art events over the last few years.  I could learn something.  The first event was held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  Dunedin’s art community came out in force to enjoy wine and a bite-sized supper with Dunedin dignitaries.  I met a friend from Reseach Write NZ at the event and we arranged to travel together the next day to the main symposium meeting at the Dunedin School of Art.  (Did you know that there is space there for community art groups to use?)  It turned out that the Dunedin art community will turn out in bigger numbers to talk about what they want to transform Dunedin into a creative city.

My notes from the day:

  • Creativity = autonomy of thought = sustainability
  • Central Wellington has gentrified under a creative über-class with the service people coming in from the suburbs (Eloi and Morlocks?)
  • The Christchurch earthquake means that a permanent re-building may take up to 30 years.  That’s three generations.  In the meantime they are looking at making their creative centre into a circus city
  • When the city asks for submissions then make a submission.  Don’t just complain.  Tell them what they are doing right.  They love to hear that.
  • Waitakere City, now part of the Auckland Super-city established art laureates.  Maybe Dunedin should be looking to do the same.  Hearing about what Waitakere has done as to be a creative city proved to be fun and interesting.  A library is a community’s living room; public art can use history as a legacy

Biggest complaint of the weekend: using the corridor as a lunch room was not a good idea for 300 people.  It was great to see Dunedin’s creative people close up and meet with them.  Some of whom I knew.  Interestingly enough few church people came out for the event that I recognised.

The Big Picture

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Bi-culturalism works when there is an expectation between two cultures. When there is antagonism between us and them it fails.

Epiphany 6

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It is sad to report that Mae Cairn’s body was found on a bay on the Miramar peninsula in Wellington harbour where she had drowned.  Her body had been found by an elderly couple on the beach on Friday, several days after she had disappeared.  They were suitably distressed to convince the staff at a nearby cafe to phone for help.  It appears that Mae had been unwell enough that she determined to take her own life.  I can only wish now that she is at peace.

It was a better occasion to watch the screening of episodes 3 and 4 of Hamish Keith’s The Big Picture covering the history of New Zealand art in the first half of the twentieth century, as art recorded the death of the Maori people (which proved to be greatly exaggerated) and the cultural wasteland that New Zealand became for two generations when New Zealand recoiled from federation with the Australian states.  There were oases in that wasteland.  I must look out a copy of this series.

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