images: ‘We Are All Transistors’, Aratoi Museum of Art and History, Masterton, NEW ZEALAND – November 2011
(images from top to bottom: 1 Jake Walker; 2 Jake Walker/Scott Donovan; 3-4 Scott Donovan; 5-6 ‘Dresden Lounge’ Scott Donovan, Alex Gawronski, Carla Cescon (I.C.A.N.); 7 Carla Cescon; 8 ‘We Are All Transistors’, Scott Donovan, Alex Gawronski, Carla Cescon (I.C.A.N.) detail (+ Jake Walker paintings) 9 Scott Donovan; 10 ‘We Are All Transistors’, Scott Donovan, Alex Gawronski, Carla Cescon (I.C.A.N.) installation view)
‘We are all Transistors’ is a collaborative exhibition curated by the Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N.) in Sydney, Australia. The show, featuring I.C.A.N.s co-founding directors Carla Cescon, Scott Donovan and Alex Gawronski, broadly considers the role Modernism played in New Zealand and more specifically, how it eventually appeared in the localised context of Masterton.
As a quintessentially European phenomenon, 20thC Modernism was notable for the sheer extent of its global penetration into the cultures of what would then have seemed far-flung lands, countries like Australia and New Zealand. In the 1960s and 70s, Modernism’s inherent utopianism was reinvigorated in various ways. The period was marked by crises but also by a mood of great optimism that was mirrored in various social and cultural experiments. Modernism’s revitalisation at this time was further reflected in contemporary architectural styles. These effectively updated the pioneering efforts of early internationalist movements like the Bauhaus in Germany and de Stijl in Holland. More importantly, such trends were adjusted to the demands of specific local situations. In New Zealand for example, the buildings of Roger Walker represented something of this new architectural flowering and its enmeshing with a forward-looking socio-political outlook.
I.C.A.N.’s exhibition at the Aratoi-Wairarapa Museum of Art and History references the positive spirit of 60s and 70s experimentalism but also considers alternative reactions to it. As far as new architecture is concerned, and in the very particular context of Masterton, one could consider the subsequent fate of Roger Walker’s seminal ‘Centrepoint’ building: the extent of controversy surrounding its unorthodox ‘avant-garde’ appearance lead to its practical demolition.
Overall, ‘We are all Transistors’ conjures the wider panorama of 60s and 70s experimentalism, using the significant achievement of a local New Zealand architect as a touchstone. The show ponders what prior utopian moments continue to communicate to us today. It also wonders what went wrong with Modernism’s collective dream of a free and enlightened society embracing change and innovation.