Tim Gentles

PBPR’s 100% Pure You video – completed as part of the artist duo’s Blue Oyster Summer Residency in 2013 – bears a striking resemblance to the vernacular of New Zealand advertising. Playing on the undercurrents of nationalism that such advertising is rife with, the video depicts a young blonde woman running through a lush, mountainous Otago landscape, set to a soundtrack of rolling, pulsating drum & bass. New Zealand specific cultural references abound – our runner is wearing a Kathmandu puffer jacket and Canterbury running shorts, and along the way eats a muesli bar, has manuka honey drip onto her finger, and periodically stops to chug a can of Southern Gold Lager. The video itself features spectacular wide, sweeping shots of Southern landscapes that look like they were taken straight from a Tourism New Zealand ad, or Lord of the Rings for that matter. And if none of this was direct enough, the video ends with its actor standing on the beach, holding a piece of tarp up into wind, which then pans to a shot of what appears to be a digitally rendered New Zealand flag rippling in the wind.

PBPR were a “fictional public relations firm” founded in 2012 by the then Auckland-based artists Zhoe Granger and Ashlin Raymond.1 Through a handful of exhibitions in 2012-13, including an appearance at the 2013 Auckland Art Fair, the pair explored the ascendent corporate aesthetics that were dominating Contemporary Art Daily at the time, interjecting into its flat, faceless tropes a hyper-specific locality that pointed to a desire, shared by artists and advertisers alike, to assert New Zealand’s place within a global image economy. If the international post-internet mafia formed a scene that took its placelessness as a given – but which in fact was located somewhere between New York, London and Berlin – PBPR created a body of work that is inescapably from Auckland. It can be harder to forget you are on an actually existing mass of land when that place is colloquially known as the end of the earth.

Their 2013 video Vanitas, featured as part of the University of Auckland’s Window Gallery series of online exhibitions, crowd-sourced cellphone footage from friends, with the proviso that it respond to one of the following key words:





DOC (Bar)













The result is something of a paean to the lives of young artists trying to make it in Auckland, in which ‘making it’ ultimately means leaving. The inevitability of this departure is alluded to in the exhibition’s press release, which reminisces about 2009 – “Trying to remember what was said in class that day… The floor caving in at an artist run space. Moving to Grey Lynn” – before looking forward to the future, 2014, when both Granger and Raymond would leave New Zealand. The video marks the endpoint of PBPR as an artistic and collaborative project, at the same time as it marks the culmination of a coming-of-age narrative for the aspiring antipodean career artist: Bon Voyage Auckland.

The longish video is full of clips that self-consciously signify ‘Auckland’ – which for the young artist attains a nearly mythical status, embroiled in a love-hate conflict as the place that both nurtures and holds you back from achieving your potential – such as footage of driving on motorways, ascending the Sky Tower, Westhaven. There is also plenty of footage taken in social situations, the ubiquitous Auckland ‘small gathering’ as well as raves, of natural beauty and weird, banal domesticity. There is very little that overtly relates to art, or even alludes to a social scene that is organized around art in any legible way. Instead, these clips are a marker of mundane experiences that were nonetheless deeply formative, signifying the futility of aspiring to art professionalism in a context that lacks the social infrastructure to support it. But Vanitas‘ best moments are when it’s aware of its own smallness, the insularity and pettiness of depicting a particular group of friends from a particular time as if that makes some sort of statement about the vexed nature of art careers. It all amounts to a feeling that will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has spent any time involved in the city’s art scene – that Auckland belongs to no-one, but for a short time, usually the first couple of years out of art school, it can at least be what you and your friends make of it.

1 Press release. PBPR, Vanitas, Window Gallery online, 2013. http://windowgallery.co.nz/pbpr/