One could approach Public Share’s practice from many viewpoints: around the social, site-related histories or politics, sculptural form and production, the durational and collective. In amongst all of this, however, what is inseparable is the notion of exchange. As their collective title suggests, sharing lies at the heart of things.
Made up of seven artists – Monique Redmond, Harriet Stockman, Kelsey Stankovich, Kirsten Dryburgh (until end 2015), Deborah Rundle, Mark Schroder and Joe Prisk – Public Share’s first project ALLOTTED BREAK(S) was borne out of the initial idea to take part in the Engaging Publics/Public Engagement symposium held at Auckland Art Gallery in September 2014. It was in August, only six weeks beforehand that they officially came together.
Monique: The Engaging Publics organising group was interested in talking about the different types of events that could be included in the symposium. And we were interested in the idea that a group of practitioners could get together, make and bake —and to see whether that could become a ‘sharing’ event. So we set up Public Share, with people who we thought would enjoy collaborating and making together —and engaging in this kind of practice.
For Engaging Publics/Public Engagement, Public Share made enough plates for the 110 symposium attendees, and during the tea break used them to serve food and, after washing the plates at the bagging station, invited each participant to take home their chosen plate. The first part of ALLOTTED BREAK(S), A break in proceedings, is indicative of the projects that have since followed – with a clear emphasis on reciprocity and relationships.
Deborah: In some of the more formally structured days, like the symposia, one of the things that I’ve experienced and heard feedback on is that the projects have a way of shifting the umbrella of how the institution operates. If you’ve been to one conference you’ve been to them all. You know that in the break, there’s a perfunctory halt and a beverage available for self service in a polystryrene cup. The tea break can present itself as another awkward situation, not necessarily a good fit for certain people. In our events, we hope for a different kind of exchange, one that is more inclusive. By bringing people together around objects, and around a project, it changes and shifts the social aspect.
Rosa: They can be quite frightening places, during conferences you’re almost forced to network in front of a lot of strangers.
Deborah: That’s what is interesting to us, is it gives people something to say —you know like ‘oh which one did you choose?’. It’s an easy facilitator of other conversation as well.
Another significant aspect of that first project, and indeed the projects that have followed, was the clay.
Monique: At the Te Atatu Road Interchange they were widening the motorway. The works are right next to the old Auckland Brick & Tile site, which disappeared about a hundred years ago, though there’s still evidence of it there. So, as you drove past it, you could see some amazing seams of clay and so, we (actually Harriet) approached them and asked “can we have some please”.
Fulton Hogan, who were working at the site obliged, dug up and delivered the clay for Public Share to use. In response to this, as well as having a presence at the symposium, the collective staged a morning tea at the Fulton Hogan Te Atatu worksite where the clay was sourced. This second part of ALLOTTED BREAK(S) titled Irregular Allotments involved making another item, informed by feedback from the workers themselves. Fulton Hogan were one member of the circle of participants or interested parties. In this morning tea, Public Share returned to source, connecting back with the original people they had engaged with and with the site as well.
Monique: When we went back to Fulton Hogan, we asked what it was they’d like in terms of a clay object. They didn’t really want the plates, so they asked for mugs. We made roughly about the same number as we did of the plates and then staged a morning tea event for them. It was about creating parallel events at the two sites. That project, ALLOTTED BREAK(S) as a starter was a really great thing to do, because it framed up a bunch of thinking that we’ve since developed into other projects. That was really our primary negotiation, how we set up relationships —and we figured out the kind of relationships we’re interested in.
Deborah: And we love the clay don’t we? Because it does that unexpected thing where the stones burst out, like small eruptions.
Harriet: We thought we had a fairly clean clay. They didn’t pop out until the glaze firing, so they were a lovely surprise.
Shared ideals are prevalent throughout the structure of the collective as well. Where one person has particular skills, they’ll manage that aspect. Harriet and Kirsten are the most experienced with clay, expert even. “They are our core specialists” says Mon. Mark largely does the website, and also works with Joe to design the publications that go alongside the projects. For the publications they also produce text – the writing by Deborah, Monique or Mark – and Kelsey is a key organiser, designer, and maker. The arrangement seems very smooth, and the process of testing, designing, and making clearly democratic, where the objects don’t carry the same notions of ownership.
The arrangement also illustrates the benefit of art school as a way to find a group of peers, significant and shared minds that are worth staying in touch with.
Rosa: I suppose from my perspective at Artists Alliance, we really promote the idea that the people you make contact with at art school are significant and you should keep in touch with them.
Monique: Oh definitely, Kelsey, Joe, Mark, Deborah and Harriet all studied together over the last 4 or 5 years. And I lecture at AUT, so have worked with them all in Visual Arts postgraduate. And Joe, Kelsey and Deborah were in the same undergraduate year —Deborah, Harriet and Joe were members of the Best Before Dairy Cooperative, a project that was part of Transforming Topographies in The Lab for the 5th Auckland Triennial … and so on. There’s a lot of history in the group also of collectives. Harriet and Kirsten were part of Parlour —and Kelsey, Mark and Joe run Glovebox too.
Since the first project, Public Share has presented a number of works – SMOKO at Performing Mobilities 2015 in Melbourne, Carried Forward at ST PAUL St 2015 Curatorial Symposium at Auckland Art Gallery, and A Right Stirrer at the Whau Arts Festival 2015.
There was a very clear social aspect to A Right Stirrer, with an intersection of the material site that the clay was sourced from (a new cleaner seam of clay that some of the Fulton Hogan workers had spotted and decided to “call those pottery people”), and the histories of the Whau as the centre for New Zealand’s clay and pottery industry. Supplying tea and gingernuts to passers-by as well as the use and invitation to keep one of their Public Share stirrers, this project also highlighted varied social protocols.
Monique: People would come up to the tea station, stir their tea – with little miniature actions – and they might ask us a question. Because it was the Whau Arts Festival, most were from the local area —a lot of the people who came along had clay sites in their backyard or questions about clay or process or the project in general. Some were just dying for a cup of tea and some people had come specifically to see us.
Something that was also happening in parallel was Lana Lopesi and Ioana Gordon-Smith’s project, they were just along from us writing Localise. So they’d come and sit and chat too. It really was a conversation over a cup of tea. One morning, Ioana interviewed Harriet and me—and the next day Public Share appeared in Localise. Everyone folded in at the Whau Arts Festival, everything was intertwined.
I suppose this, for me, is where Public Share is so successful. Engaging with community without condescension. There’s an emphasis always on exchange, as opposed to the mugs, tumblers, or plates being gifted. From the sourcing of the clay, to the production of the works, the text, the images and publications, their dissemination and the final acknowledgement of the source, there is a consistent presence of exchange in physical form, in discussion, in time or participation. Each project with its many facets feels complete in its circularity.
Interview by Rosa Gubay. With many thanks to Public Share for their hospitality.