Auckland artist Judy Darragh's site-specific project Arts Society explores the history of Te Tuhi itself, a community driven arts project established initially in 1975. Darragh has long held an interest in craft and folk art, feminist critique of culture, and issues around the mass produced in opposition to the handmade. Her exploration of the history of Te Tuhi is also a wider look at both the history of arts societies in New Zealand, and the way communities can effect change through collaboration.
The geometric form of Arts Society reflects the architectural structure of the Pakuranga Community and Cultural Centre, the first building to be built on the Te Tuhi site, which now functions as the building's auditorium. In its form and monumental scale the work also references the seminal feminist artwork The Dinner Party (1974 – 1979), by American artist Judy Chicago.
Darragh's construction mirrors a fund-raising craft market gone awry. Bead and needlework, painted ceramics, glass bottles and connecting, knotted woollen webs are spread across trestle tables re-creating the energy of a market zone. The giant sculptural assemblage pays homage to the Pakuranga Art Society who created arts infrastructure where there was none, generated by funds and awareness raised at art and craft festivals, fetes and market stalls.
The additional element, Mount Imagine and the Sea of Songs, presents a mountain built from bottles, surrounded by a sea created from melted LP records. This work refers more abstractly to the idea of working collectively, symbolizing the process of, as Darragh says: 'when a community comes together to creatively imagine'.
– Paula Booker
This text is an adapted excerpt from the essay Judy brings everyone to the table by Paula Booker, from the exhibition catalogue Arts Society, published by Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts and Clouds Publishing, with support from The University of Auckland at the Manukau School of Visual Arts.
Part of Interact!: a series of artists' projects in collaboration with the Te Tuhi community. The Interact! series pairs contemporary artists with members of the Te Tuhi community centre user groups, in a vital series of collaborations which draw on the unique nature of Te Tuhi—a cutting edge gallery embedded into a local community base.
‘I think about this work often around ideas of women’s work, as volunteers, fundraising and organising within their communities. Working for no wages but for service to others is an unseen economy. Artists are in a similar position, we often work unpaid, yet it is implied we are an “arts industry”: the precarity of income is always there.
In this post-Covid19 landscape it will be women and artists who will be disadvantaged as part time work disappears as the economy rolls into recession.’
– Judy Darragh ONZM, 2020
Judy Darragh: Arts Society, 2006