Public Share is a New Zealand–based collective of seven artists (Monique Redmond, Harriet Stockman, Kelsey Stankovich, Deborah Rundle, Mark Schroder, Joe Prisk and, until recently, Kirsten Dryburgh) founded in 2014. Their work involves nuanced conversations embedded in acts of making and sharing. With a keen interest in participatory happenings, Public Share’s work has occupied allotted break times in different contexts where they play the role of host. This usually includes an object (cup, mug, stirrer, plate) made by hand from clay to accompany some kind of beverage or meal.
It’s hard to find Public Share’s work unless you are privy to an arts symposium or festival. I enjoyed it twice last year during the ST PAUL St Curatorial Symposium and again at the Whau Arts Festival 2015. At the ST PAUL St event they provided hospitality during scheduled breaks throughout the day. I saw their work Carried Forward
on the schedule and wasn’t too sure what to think. I was slightly reluctant, yet the work functioned differently to what I imagined. Participatory art practices require a degree of co-creation with their audience. There’s a sense that to engage you have to ‘do’ something. Public Share needed me to participate, and at 9am with a day of symposia to brace myself for, I didn’t feel like becoming an artwork. But the clay ‘mugs’ Public Share had on offer on this particular morning were beautiful! I wanted the glazed beige cup with brown speckles and large dark slightly sharp obtrusions, so I obliged in a tea. To my surprise they actually didn’t expect any more from their co-creators (aka audience) than to slow down, drink a tea and keep their cup. Their work consciously forced symposium participants to slow down as a means to reinstate formalised breaks and encouraging the discussion and networking that occurs in these spaces. Public Share utilised the space of given breaks within this environment to talk about those who don’t receive the same privileges. I didn’t get the sense there was anything political in this encounter with Public Share. And, actually, I assumed it entered into a very tired dialogue of social practice — with the likes of Rirkrit Tiravanija — of generating social interactions within isolated art spaces.
I encountered Public Share again, a month later, at the Whau Arts Festival, still ignorant of the depth of their practice. For this work, A Right Stirrer
, they were removed from their usual allocation of fixed break times. Instead, they occupied an open shipping container for four days with tea constantly on offer, as well as gingernut biscuits and a clay stirrer emblazoned in gold with the collective’s logo. This participatory artwork was an endurance performance that required the artists to constantly engage in passing conversations. Through the change in format from temporary to permanent, they became a constant fixture among a diverse multi-day festival line up. Amongst an immense flurry of activity, they once again offered space for people to slow down and gather.
As I engaged in more conversation with Public Share, I came to learn that there was more than conviviality driving their practice. There are an unbelievable amount of co-workers in Public Share. Beyond the collective’s core members, their collaborators extend to the audience and symposium convenors, and most interestingly to employees of the large infrastructure construction company, Fulton Hogan.
The clay Public Share use to craft their objects connects their work to site. Originally Public Share contacted Fulton Hogan to explore the possibility of using their excess clay, which would usually end up in landfill, and they obliged. Members of the collective then went out to visit the collection site for their first haul of clay, which was used to make plates for A break in proceedings
at the Engaging Publics/Public Engagement Symposium at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2014. For part two of Allotted Break(s)
, Public Share hosted a morning tea called Irregular Allotments
at Fulton Hogan with 60 or so of their staff members.
alludes to the changes in the break time regulation, highlighting the shift from fixed to irregular break times. In 2015 workplace rituals in New Zealand were threatened when the law around the ten-minute break, or ‘smoko’, changed. Previously the government enforced regulated break times, but today the employer regulates them. This puts the employee in a vulnerable position.
The collective asked Fulton Hogan what clay object would be most beneficial to their employees during their break and soon Public Share organised a morning tea at Fulton Hogan with mugs crafted from their own clay. It was a moment of reciprocity. Fulton Hogan’s staff saw another use for their otherwise wasted clay and Public Share were able to acknowledge and thank them as collaborators in the artistic process. This simple, shared moment strengthened an unlikely relationship between the artists of Public Share and Fulton Hogan’s construction workers. The clay used for their latest project, A Right Stirrer
, was gifted to the collective after Construction Supervisor Scott McDonald got in contact to say that a new seam of clay had been found that they might be interested in.
Public Share moves within public and private space freely. However both spaces call on very different intentions and strategies from the collective. Within the symposiums their work is publicly accessible and sets up conversations of social practice, participation and object making while inviting us to slow down, share and converse. As David Hall writes ‘art can function as an active political intervention, as a magnet for surges of political sovereignty…. But it will more than occasionally be disadvantaged by precisely those qualities that make it art…’. He goes on to discuss how art is constantly hostage to theory, and the symposium space that Public Share often occupies encourages this kind of discussion. The work is suspended from reality and the ideas around labour reform aren’t as prominent, in complete contrast with the work in the context of Fulton Hogan.
Public Share have a strong relationship with Fulton Hogan, who undoubtedly influence the practice of the collective both in their relationship to worksite and clay site. It would be easy to vilify this big corporation for reasons relating to economy and ecology. But their close relationship allows Public Share to highlight them as collaborators and individuals with a bond over shared production. The strength of this bond further emphasises Public Share’s need for Fulton Hogan to provide clay but also to provide context. However the key to the relationship is not with Fulton Hogan Head Office but with the individual workers they encounter.
On the other end is the third co-worker, the audience — the artwork-finisher. Integral to the collective’s participatory interests, the only thing the audience is made implicit in is concluding the work. In their own words Public Share say they are interested in,
…the workplace ritual of the ‘break’ and the implied relations, social and political, that pausing for a 10-minute ‘cuppa’ brings. Our projects embrace the ‘everyday’ as a means through which to engage in making and sharing. Site, place and production are interrelated and culminate through a series of exchanges — discussion, negotiation, collection, testing, making, sharing — to form, in essence, a small revolt: a free offering and an invitation to stop work.
Perhaps the reason why I felt no obligations to Public Share was because the artwork didn’t actually ‘need’ me to do anything except to briefly stop work. Public Share build relationships with integrity and exciting dialogues about social norms and workplace practices that many of us overlook — the need for a break. Their subtle engagement with labour reforms has led them to create some of the more genuine social practice interventions in New Zealand today. Their work is informed by a respect for collaboration, the process of production and act of sharing. ‘The easiest route is to simply refuse any ontological separation, to take the artistic and the political as instances of the very same thing.…’ One day soon, Fulton Hogan’s motorway will be complete and these clay sites will be buried. Public Share will no longer have access to this precise and poignant context. Yet workers, artists and the public alike will still be yearning for a ten-minute break.
Lana Lopesi is a writer, designer and social practitioner working out of Auckland, New Zealand.
[^4]: David Hall, op. cit.