Public Nap Series 2015 – Art Review

By Matty Smith

PARK(ing) Day bills itself as an “annual open-source global event”, and aims “to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated” by allowing groups to transform metered parking spaces for one day. This was the context for Emotion Time’s Public Nap Series 2015, which took a park on Cuba Street, and invited people to take a nap in public, amidst city offices, and heavy pedestrian traffic. Personally, having worked four years in a CBD office, and having felt exhausted a lot of that time, I could not help reading it as a fun and friendly challenge to the typical New Zealand construction of “the workday” and “work ethic”. People very seldom work in the conditions that are best for them, or healthiest, but only those that return the best profit within (sometimes without of) legal boundaries. I’ve always been rather jealous of countries where a nap during the course of the work day is the norm, and I have fond memories of Tongan shopkeepers dozing casually in the midday sun.

The aesthetic of the work was dryly humorous, with the artists wearing lab coats in a form of quasi-scientific slapstick. Everything from the linen they used to their shoes was white, evoking cheesy imagery of sleeping on a cloud. The aesthetic of the work was careful, and made the bed look inviting and… …clean. Which, in a context where you’re asking lots of members of the public to climb into the same bed, seems a very important reading to give off. At one point late in the show, members of a collective from a nearby PARK(ing) Space staged a strange intervention, juxtaposing the white aesthetic against a bright, messy bed in which a Maori woman held up a tino rangatiratanga flag. The gesture was clearly meant as a humorous poke, not a scathing critique, but it fell a bit flat in that – aside from the fact that all members of Emotion Time happen to present as white – there had been no suggestion of a racialised reading in their work. Despite lab coats and white sheets, there wasn’t even an unintentional hint of KKK garments or any form of white supremacy or privilege. In fact, the gesture itself read as somewhat racist, casting Maoridom as bright and bold, and whiteness as sterile. Evenso it was an interesting intervention – interesting to see an artwork forced into a new (if tenuous) reading by another collective – and talking later with Emotion Time members I had the sense they were philosophical and good-humoured about it.

Photo: Louise Rutledge