Delving into the issues

Having his first major solo show in his home town gallery is huge for Dunedin’s Matthew Galloway....
Having his first major solo show in his home town gallery is huge for Dunedin’s Matthew Galloway. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
A newspaper column spurred two years work for Dunedin artist Matthew Galloway. He tells Rebecca Fox about politics, terrorism and John Key.

The  headline ``Key's vision: Switzerland south'' caught Matthew Galloway's eye.

Drawn to Fran O'Sullivan's column in The New Zealand Herald in March 2016 which proposed then Prime Minister John Key was positioning New Zealand as an Asia-Pacific Switzerland - a ``bolt hole'' for ``high net worthers'' seeking to escape from an unstable world, Galloway began to tease out the implications of the piece.

``These words have a legacy beyond a quick hypothesis in a newspaper two years ago. No one else is going to go back and ask those questions. That is what artists can do.''

Two years later, an exhibition based on his research on the article has opened at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

``For two years this small article on a back page of the Herald stayed with me and developed into the show.''

It is a big moment for Galloway - his first major solo gallery exhibition.

``It's huge. To have it in my home town is really special as well.''

Galloway's art work is research-based and uses the tools of design in an editorial way. He finds topics to use as a ``window'' - in this case O'Sullivan's column - and then delves into the issues around it.

``From this small thing it explodes out into this sprawling research-led exhibition with multiple different threads pulled out and talked about.''

In her column, O'Sullivan spoke of Key's hypothesis that if Isis wanted to destabilise Europe it could insert a Jihadi amidst the refugees and get them to kill people in the middle of Berlin, therefore destabilising Angela Merkel's leadership and with it, Germany's leadership of Europe.

Galloway saw this as having major implications for the way New Zealand saw itself and the implications it had for free movement.

``Certainly the type of migrant and the refugee movement.

``Does it position New Zealand to benefit from terror?''

Key was not to know what would happen next, but later that year there were terrorism attacks on Berlin.

``Key's hypothesis kind of came true. Merkel got back into power, but it took five months; it was a kickback on her immigration policy.''

Of course, Key was now gone and with a new Labour-led Government, O'Sullivan was soon writing about the ``bolt hole under siege'' as restrictions on foreign ownership were proposed.

Galloway follows this journey investigating the implications of such moves by interviewing University of Otago Prof of peace studies Richard Jackson about terrorism, O'Sullivan, the editorial director of business at NZME, to get context for her work, and The Policy Observatory senior researcher David Hall about immigration policy.

He was ``amazed'' O'Sullivan was willing to engage with the project and found they had a robust discussion about the issues in her columns.

O'Sullivan's view was important as she had followed the past few prime ministers on business trips overseas.

``She has a huge amount of involvement and input into New Zealand business community and the way it positions itself overseas. She knows the broader picture of New Zealand over that period of time - how we've gone from the brain drain to contested conversations about the terrorist scenario.''

The exhibition highlighted the paradox any world leader or government faced, being responsible to the international community but also to their own people.

``These two responsibilities are often colliding with each other, opposing one another.''

His research is brought to life using graphical elements and sculpture - graphic prints of the newspaper columns adorn the walls, a deconstructed glasshouse frame provides different views, letters adorn the walls and windows, flags bearing quotes hang on stands and a pallet of newspapers containing transcripts of his interviews sit in the middle of the exhibition.

``The pile of newspapers will slowly disappear over the course of the show.''

A logo of the International Democrat Union adorns one wall of the exhibition space. John Key was at a meeting of the centre-right political party alliance prior to his ``Switzerland'' comments.

``I use found imagery quite a lot. The logo also alludes to borders.''

Inscriptions on the glasshouse frames invite the viewer to look closer to decipher them and refer to the gaps in borders people can pass through. One section is painted United Nations blue. While vertical graphic letters on walls and windows spell out the issues - terrorist, investor, politician, terror.

``Graphic and design publishing is a central part of my practice.''

Galloway, who is from Christchurch, studied fine arts at the University of Canterbury and moved to Dunedin for a job at the Otago Polytechnic, where he is a senior lecturer.

``I've been here five years now. Dunedin is my home.''

While he majored in design, it was not commonly seen as an art practice, he said.

``Contemporary art is all manner of things. This is my way of expressing myself.''

While his process might come naturally to journalists and researchers, the full project could not be shown anywhere else but a gallery.

``It's a neutral space. There is no limits to what you can do and why you do it that way. You can deal with real-world issues and politics, engage the big topics in a poetic and visual way.''

He does his typography, publishing and graphic work on the computer while he asked steel fabricators to build his ``glasshouse'' frame and Allied Press to print his newspaper.

``It's great to work locally and have people who have worked on it be able to come see it.''

His previous project, ``The Ground Swallows You'' at Blue Oyster Gallery, was a graphic investigation into the geopolitical implications of New Zealand's economic systems and trade agreements.

It traced the path of the container ship Josco Suzhou carrying a cargo of rock phosphate from the disputed territory of western Sahara to Dunedin in late 2015.

For Galloway, the project concentrated on greed and illegal occupation of a nation - in this case Morocco's occupation and use of western Sahara's resources and New Zealand's reliance on this ``disputed earth''.

Like his DPAG exhibition, it featured a newsprint publication featuring interviews with specialists such as peace and conflict studies scholar Jacob Mundy (co-author of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution), and investigative reporter for The New York Times Ian Urbina, discussing the conflict in western Sahara and international shipping practice.

Alongside that was a collection of poster works and wall drawings which grew over time.

The work so touched him that he travelled to the refugee camps on the border of Algeria to see for himself what was going on.

``They are not able to occupy their own land. They are plundering their resources. It was incredibly eye-opening.''

That show, in various forms, had gone on to exhibit in Wellington as part of the Dowse' ``This Time of Useful Consciousness'' exhibition of New Zealand artists concerned with political ecology, and in Auckland. He also showed aspects of it at the camps in Algeria. It is about to go to Argentina and tour Spain.

So, he enjoyed getting into a new project and finding out what ``deep truth the world reveals''.

``New Zealand is a peaceful nation, but it is involved in aspects of dodgy practice.''

The DPAG exhibition gave him the first chance to do a big project all in one go, which was ``cool'' given his previous one had grown as it travelled.

While the idea for the exhibition began two years ago, the issues are still relevant now, Galloway says.

``Just look at Syria.''

To see
‘‘The Freedom of the Migrant’’, Matthew Galloway, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, until August 1

 

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