For a long time, the newspaper has been an icon of mass culture, a patriotic symbol of the mighty modern world and what it is capable of achieving. Today, that is the job of the Internet. Where does this leave the humble local edition? What can be seen today on the cover of my own local edition, The Press Christchurch, is a series of improvised headlines attending to both politics and commerce, which create a tiresome broadsheet of infotainment. The Press, like most newspapers of the world, is one small part of a multi-national conglomerate that has taken ownership of almost all New Zealand newspapers and magazines, seeking to commodify information through a ‘more market’ approach.1 In a small country like New Zealand this has led to competitive corporate control over short-term sales and ratings figures that ultimately threaten the ideal ‘trickle down’ of global information, contributing to a potential localised dumbing down.2 With this in mind, the latest DDMMYY project, Local Edition by Louise Menzies at The Physics Room, revealed the converse side of news culture, where information is no longer the focus, allowing perhaps the original ideals of having a local edition to surface.
Clipped up on either side of two hired fencing panels are sixteen empty broadsheets of varying sizes, each simply displaying one unique masthead derived from familiar papers such as The Times, The Age and The Press, as well as a selection from further afield including la Repubblica, Hamshahri, Radikal, Die Welt and Fakt. Resembling an enlarged, temporary newsstand, the installation was situated within the street-facing window of The Physics Room. Local Edition displayed these news icons as artefact: reducing and abstracting their existing presence by presenting small symbols of our shared culture and history. Newspaper content has always functioned within the context of its own broadsheet; content is led by its masthead and shape, locating a definitive identity and often, viewpoint.
When viewing Local Edition from the outside in, these mastheads contextualise Christchurch as a dystopian backdrop for a wider discussion of what was here before the earthquake, within the fabric of the city. Memories of this locale featured various unobtrusive newsstands that populated quiet arcades in the centre of town, selling news from elsewhere. Today, the CBD is the centre of a different kind of public address in the form of notices and warnings tacked and pasted upon a multitude of surfaces. In this way, Menzies’ fenced mastheads gesture towards the idea that Christchurch has subconsciously become an insular wash of news and information, forgetting the rest of the world because, perhaps, it seems like the rest of the world has forgotten about Christchurch.
Much like only reading the front page of the newspaper, this is simply one perspective from the outside looking in. It is the secondary, inside out approach to Menzies’ installation that presents an enticing investigation into various collective histories through the use of a conceptualised design practice. Within a gallery context, the format of this exhibition is a designed presentation, guiding the artist’s narrative through a complex survey of how news culture can affect the way a city is seen through the very information it produces.
Though the installation tends to place an emphasis upon spatial, political and even sculptural relationships between newspapers and their place in society, Menzies’ accompanying Local Edition publication — consisting of the same sixteen broadsheets stacked inside a cling-wrapped backing board — presents a concisely formatted, complementary interpretation of how the larger displayed version could perhaps become a commodity in itself when seen on or within an exhibited format.3 Menzies offers the viewer a chance to take the installation away, perhaps landing on walls or kitchen tables in the same way an ordinary local edition or piece of signage would. This concept, combined with the idea that the objects displayed in fact represent real, profitable yet expendable items, neatly stitches up context with perspective in terms of how newspapers today are neutrally viewed as entirely consumable, yet culturally significant social-historical artefacts.
Chloe Geoghegan is the co-founder of Dog Park Art Project Space in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Roger Horrocks, ‘A Short History of “The New Zealand Intellectual”’ in Laurence Simmons (ed.), Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2007, p. 40. ↩
Ibid., p. 41. ↩
Boris Groys, ‘The Politics of Display’, in e-flux, #2, January, 2009, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/politics-of-installation/, accessed 6 October 2012. ↩