Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Architects' cleverness needs to be accessible

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The Architecture + Women show at Silo Park was almost invisible.
The Architecture + Women show at Silo Park was almost invisible.

Architects in outreach mode. I find them frustrating. They build beautiful models and draw intricate layouts, but their spatial knowledge doesn't stretch to luring laypeople through exhibitions.

Their shows look pretty but there are never any introductory blurbs saying how their detailed exhibits are organised. There are no plans to their plans. No suggested "in" to their cleverness. No labels, no explanations.

Is this manufactured mystique? Are they intriguing only because I don't know any better?

Exhibit A: the Triennial "lab" at Auckland Art Gallery over winter - there was work displayed, students milling around, but no welcome, no way of finding out what they were doing, unless the gallery visitor was gung-ho enough to initiate a potentially awkward conversation.

Exhibit B: Last week's Architecture + Women exhibition at Silo Park's Six Pack on the waterfront. The confusion started with the show website, which had two advertised addresses.

I clicked through seven misleadingly titled pages before I found a list of events. I chose one to attend. Success. Phew. I needed a lie-down.

The exhibition itself looked like it was probably a magnificent achievement - and I'm being unfair, using a volunteer effort as Exhibit B. But the sheer amount of unlabelled incredible-looking, interesting stuff was overwhelmingly befuddling. Ditto the programme: minimal signposting for maximum information. Clearly marked gallery assistants were non-existent.

And, as with most Silo Six Pack shows, there wasn't enough signage outside. The silos are prominent but isolated. Put signs along the Wynyard Quarter restaurant promenade or a three-storey banner on the structure itself. Otherwise consider your exhibition invisible.

Inside the Six Pack, a handwritten sign promised: "Architecture and Feminism talk 12.30pm." Nothing happened. People milled around and talked about how their dads knew each other. At 12.40pm I asked a random stranger about the talk. "Oh, that happened yesterday," she said. "The postcards had the wrong information." Postcards? I never saw a postcard. (I checked later: the website was wrong. The correct details were a long way underneath the wrong details.)

"But the sign says there's a talk at 12.30," I said.

"Yes, we kept that up deliberately," came the answer, "in case people who'd seen the postcards came today. The lecturer's here and can re-do the talk."

But there was no announcement. The repeat talk was only because, yet again, I was bold enough to start an awkward conversation.

I was assumed to be an architect. Was it because they modestly thought only architects would be interested? Or snootily assumed people at the show must be in their cool clique? Or did they mistake my coloured tights - the current blue-stocking uniform - as architect-only wear?

The lecture, by historian Hera Cook, was great. It was nice of her to honour the organisers' advertising and put it on again.

But the dicking around is in the detail. Architects: either you keep your guild rituals completely secret and stop pretending we, the public, are welcome, or you break your silos. Don't keep us on the threshold, coyly fluttering the inner-sanctum curtain.

- NZ Herald

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