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Free Time was an exhibition packed with many various events facilitated by Elisabeth Pointon and Lucas Donell, together known as Welcoming Party. Running from August 15 to September 2, 2016 Free Time hosted Meet and Greets, yoga sessions, speed dating and parties, in addition to many audio visual works – expanding the definition of contemporary art and how amusing it can be. Welcoming Party had their debut in 2015 hosting several events that were all associated with their work in the 2015 Performance Arcade where the pair ‘let their freak flags fly’. Each event offered the audience party poppers, special carrot cakes topped with bright yellow icing, popcorn and even a Welcoming Party anthem to sing along to. Their second event, which was held at The School of Philosophy, was highlighted by the big reveal of their two-seater quadricycle, which they later used to drive around the Performance Arcade playing their anthem throughout the Wellington waterfront.

Though Welcoming Party present quirkiness and whimsy into every element of their work, the underlying context is far more critical. Pointon and Donnell look at Wagah border ceremony, a lowering of the flags that occurs daily on the border between India and Pakistan whereby the two nations bring significance to both the rivalry and kinship that exists between them. Welcoming Party draws reference to a specific moment that occurred at this ceremony where one of their friends waved from their position on the Indian side of the border to the Pakistani citizens on the other. This singular gesture rippled throughout the crowd on both sides and resulted in groups of Indian and Pakistani gleefully waving at each other from their respective sides of the border.

The phrase ‘YOU ARE VERY WELCOME’ was consistently shown throughout this exhibition, mirroring this specific event in a passionate manner. It can almost be read as a forceful way in which to tell someone that they should have conveyed thankfulness, but it in this circumstance, Welcoming Party are genuine. They nudge their audiences into situations that are so eccentric that they are almost socially uncomfortable - like singing a Welcoming Party anthem in unison with a group of near strangers. Despite entering these situations cautiously they have always ended with audience members actively and cheerfully participating in the social event – proving that what might seem uncomfortable at first can amount to being a fruitful and enjoyable experience.

The following is my account of some of the events I was given the privilege to attend hosted by Welcoming Party at MEANWHILE:

Meet and Greet with Laura Duffy

Laura Duffy’s artwork was on the cover of the Art issue of Victoria University’s Salient magazine, and to celebrate this beautiful opportunity, The Welcoming Party invited the artist to host a Meet and Greet event in the window space of MEANWHILE. In addition to being a talented multi-media artist Duffy is a creative colleague and friend to both Welcoming Party and MEANWHILE. It was an intimate gathering where the artist signed copies of the magazine specifically for each attendee. The Meet and Greet coincided with the publishing of amniotiK! ,one of Duffy’s moving image works on Circuit Artist Film and Video Aotearoa New Zealand - which made the event an ideal platform for the artist to discuss the work. The work was screened on a laptop in the window space where the audience members sat – bleeding bright pink light into the street. Free Time’s audience of passers-by on Victoria Street were not only given the opportunity to watch the work, but also see the small community of Duffy’s supporters celebrating her recent achievements. Looking into the cramped window space with people sitting on the ground enjoying in the discussion, and each other’s company showed the kind of commitment that our small community of emerging artists have to each other.

Speed Dating with Callum Devlin

Sitting in the window of a building on the ground level of a very busy street in Wellington to go on a 5 minute speed date sounds like a nightmare of mine, as I imagine it would be for many other people. The pressure of having to present my best self in 5 minutes was enough to make my palms sweat. My apprehension seemed unnecessary since Callum is someone I know well and have many conversations with, but it was solely caused by the anticipation of being in ‘the hot seat’. The conversation went from what I might be looking for in a potential partner to analysis of my hesitant approach to slow dancing. After easing into the date and coming towards the end of it, I realised that a speed-date with anyone, but especially a friend, can be somewhat endearing. The date is the focus of a one-on-one conversation about what they long for, what they appreciate and by in large, underlying heart aches. Personal intricacies and emotional features are embraced and one is given the opportunity to feel unique, made to be a subject of interest and concern for 5 minutes out of a day that may otherwise be rooted in routine. Coming out of the situation realising that if I were to subdue the fear of potential embarrassment I could enjoy small moments of intimacy.

BYOGA with Digby Carter

I came along to the second installation of BYOGA with Digby Carter on Thursday evening after I had finished work. Digby was also coming straight from his job, clad in his office wear, but his close-fitting pants and button up shirt did not seem to hinder his flexible yoga capabilities. I, myself, once committed to 4-5 sessions of ‘yoga’ in my old flat, though I should mention it wasn’t the traditional meditative experience. I was instructed by a video I found on YouTube that was led by one of the Personal Trainers in the American edition of ‘The Biggest Loser’. Though I did find this commercial iteration rewarding in the short-term, it was my first and last self-driven attempt at approaching the traditionally Eastern form of bodily meditation. Digby, however, seemed to be someone who is experienced and committed to the practice. He easily balanced the weight of his entire body on one of his forearms and hovered over his yoga mat.

While he performed in the narrow window space, a few friends of MEANWHILE sat outside the gallery and watched him stretch and steady his body. It was an obscure spectacle to witness in the window of an office building in the middle of the CBD, but it was a pleasant distraction from the mundane everyday activity of watching people in their business attire walking home from work, and the equally as mundane activity of being one of those people.

The Welcoming Party slogan ‘YOU ARE VERY WELCOME’ was displayed on the screen above the yoga display, a phrase I thought was apt for this particular activity in the context of the CBD. It was a peaceful disruption of habitual activities – offering a moment of calm obscurity to an otherwise common day. We ended the yoga session inside the gallery space with Digby directing a group warm-down. It consisted of poses such as salute to the sun, downward dog and other phrases I had picked up from my 25 minute YouTube yoga sessions. In contrast to that interaction, BYOGA in the inviting space of MEANWHILE with the accompaniment of friends was far more welcoming. We, as audience members, were given the opportunity to engage in and escape from everything an average 9-5 job entails and the participants in response were invited to join in, which was an exchange I was happy to be a part of.

Closing Ceremony

At the closing ceremony for Free Time, Dani Terezzi presented an immersive kaleidoscope moving image work of a singular pattern repeated from one edge of the projection to the other. The dark room made the colours vibrant and almost hypnotic as the image moved smoothly and subtly. The spectrum of green tones against the wall reflected the sounds of chirping birds that made the room sound like it was located deep in the New Zealand bush. Since the work was shown in the manner of a screening the audience stayed to experience the work for its entirety until the repeat ticked over.

The structure of gallery speed-dating that Welcoming Party had constructed had proven to be so popular that additional associates of MEANWHILE and Welcoming Party were interested in going on more short dates and some even interested in being the person who would conduct the dates. For me, this meant having the opportunity to share two other dates with Louisa Beatty and Lucy Wardle. However, since these dates took place during the celebrations of the Closing Party, the originally strict scheduled 5-minute structure became obscured. The date I shared with Lucy took place outside MEANWHILE during the closing party festivities and included 4 other datees, whereas my date with Louisa ended up being a 40 minute rant about my current dating situation.

The evening continued into a casual and friendly celebration of, marking off the successful completion of their first exhibition that utilised both the MEANWHILE window and gallery spaces. Welcoming Party produced an exhibition that was constantly adapting and changing according to the audience who interacted with it. Pointon and Donnell created events that stayed true to their eccentric selves, that eased you into enjoyment from an initial position of confusion and trepidation, creating a common experience that was special in its outlandish manner.

- text by Dilohana Lekamge

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