Book tracks Gothic influence on New Zealand arts

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The fascination with the dark side held by New Zealand film makers, writers and artists has long been evident on screens and book shelves, but has now been documented in a new book of essays published by the University of Otago Press.

The book, Gothic NZ – the Darker Side of Kiwi Culture, features Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Vincent Ward, Bill Manhire, Maurice Gee and popular artist and fashion designer Misery, Massey News reported this month.

Massey University English lecturers Jenny Lawn and Mary Paul co-edited the book, with Auckland media lecturer Misha Kavka.

Describing gothic as “normality with a twist”, Dr Lawn said its influence was not an easily definable, tangible quality.

“One cannot say what gothic is, in the sense of a positive entity, a definitive catalogue of artists and texts, or finite set of scenes and effects,” she said.

“Gothic works in a manner more akin to a shifting warp of the familiar.”

Dr Lawn pointed to a raft of settings and characters which revealed a gothic influence, including the farm shack, with Allen Curnow’s dog dragging his chain and the evacuated land stripped of native bush (and people); the suburban bungalow with the manicured front lawn; the Scarfie flat; the beach, the bach, the gravel pit; abandoned freezing works and rotting meat; the roadside crosses looming in the headlights, and the child; the sacrificial child, the mute child, the beaten child and the God boy.

While the term “gothic” – as applied to modern life in New Zealand – had its own specific characteristics and expressions, it sprung from identifiable gothic traditions of 12th century art and architecture in Europe’s medieval period.

Gothic influence pervaded much of New Zealand art, film and fashion, from Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures, Vincent Ward’s Vigil and Jane Campion’s The Piano.

“Gothic infuses everyday habitats, from tattoos to television advertisements,” said Dr Lawn, adding it could also be whimsical and “teetering on the hilarious”.

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Dec. 5, 2006
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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014