PROVENANCE OF THE LIVING WORK OF ART

Documentation

A summary of progress from 1972 up to the present time, by the Wizard of New Zealand (formerly Ian Brackenbury Channell). Graduating in 1963 from the University of Leeds with a double honours degree in Psychology and Sociology, I was brought from the UK to Australia that same year as a lecturer in adult education responsible for the Community Arts programme of the University of Western Australia. In 1967 I joined the staff of the School of Sociology at the University of NSW in Sydney where I undertook a PhD thesis in the Sociology of Art.

During the upheavals on the campuses over the next two years I experimented with innovative playful techniques to resolve tension and achieve reforms. I called this The Fun Revolution. This culminated in 1969 when I was appointed Wizard of The University of NSW jointly by the Administration and Student Union. (1) During 1969 revitalisation of the University of NSW proceeded rapidly. (2)

Later that year I was sent to Geneva in 1969 and gained the support and approval of the World University Service HQ for a tour of Australian universities with my PhD dissertation (“The Four Ages of Man and Fool’s Paradise Regained”). (3) This had taken the form of an existential, psychoanalytical comedy, first performed before the staff and students at the University of NSW. (4)

In 1971 I was appointed Wizard (further specified as Shaman, Cosmologer and Living Work of Art) by the Union of the University of Melbourne. (5) At the AGM of the World University Service (Australasia) a resolution was passed leading to my living body being offered to the National Gallery of Victoria as a living work of art. The offer was accepted by the Director, Eric Westbrook, but only on “extended loan”, I was never part of their permanent collection. (6)

During the previous years I had prepared myself for this radical change in identity by allowing all government documents identifying me as a real (legal) person to lapse. As far as the government was concerned Ian Brackenbury Channell had disappeared.

I still have no documents identifying me as that person and my dramatic successful avoidance of the NZ Census on three occasions are good examples of the creative power of a living work of art.

At that time I was given the use of an empty lecture theatre at Melbourne University to conduct interdisciplinary lectures on interdisciplinary subjects. By 1972 I had outlined a new synthesis of science, religion and magic expressed as a set of aesthetic relationships. I had created my own universe which included all previous models as special cases. I considered this was essential as a conceptual environment for a living work of art. I was a role player in my own scenario. (7)

I moved to New Zealand in 1974 to prepare for an “imagination experiment” to test out the validity of my Post Modern Cosmology.(8) Whilst seeking the necessary support I set about establishing myself as an exhibitionist/street performer outside the Cathedral in the centre of the city. I also introduced my new cosmology in a course sponsored by the Christchurch Polytechnic.

Unfortunately the Christchurch City Council chose to ignore my letters of recommendation from Melbourne, threatened to arrest me if I spoke in Cathedral Square and refused even to discuss my offers to serve the city as unpaid wizard, cosmologer and living work of art. (9) After issuing an ultimatum I declared aesthetic war on the council (10). Through my skills as a popular performer and orator and using the fun revolutionary tactics that had worked so well in the universities I was able to make it impossible for the council to prohibit me from performing in Cathedral Square and soon became a well known tourist attraction, appearing in all the guide books. In 1989 received the Newman Award for tourism.

It was not until 1980 that I was recognised by the city council (11) and I could begin negotiations with the city’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery (12). The director, Rodney Wilson, began the process of transferring my living body from the relationship with the National Gallery of Victoria to the McDougall. When he became director of the Auckland City Gallery and was elected director of the NZ Art Gallery Directors Council, he approached the other gallery directors in NZ and, in 1983, gained their approval for a joint confirmation of my status as a “living work of art”. (13)

The new director of the McDougall, John Coley, authorised the issue of an ‘artistic license’, which I could carry and show in cases of mistaken identity. In 1984 the living work of art was packaged and despatched in a crate to the Auckland City Gallery. (14) Strenuous attempts by the NZ Minister of Immigration to arrange travel to Adelaide for the Festival of Arts were not acceptable to the Australian Government however. (15)

The matter of the ambivalent relationship between conceptual art works and art galleries still remains. With the exception of Mark Stocker, Associate Professor in Art History at Otago University and Edward Lucie-Smith, author of “Artoday”, no art critic has shown any interest in the living work of art project.(16) Other conceptual artists seem happy to display their art works in galleries, receive government grants, and to become famous as ‘artists’. This seems to me to be completely opposed to the original raison d’etre of conceptual art.

In 1995, as part of “Wizards’ Week”, celebrating 21 years of exhibiting myself in Christchurch, the City Council under the leadership of the Mayor, Vicki Buck, agreed to back an exhibition in the McDougall Gallery. This was curated by my fiancée Alice Flett, who has degrees in Classics and Art History from Melbourne University. Alice has been curator of the ‘work in progress’ of the living work of art since 1972.

The exhibition took the form of newspaper and magazine articles recording the impressions created by the exhibitionist together with a polyptich of the Wizard’s life. It opened with the Wizard hatching from a large egg whilst being blessed by other wizard colleagues and attended by a group of midwives which included the heavily pregnant Mayor, a previous Prime Minister, the previous gallery Director, and an art critic. The catalogue took the form of a newspaper with two issues. (17) Unfortunately there was a change of gallery directors at this particular time and the exhibition was poorly supervised and promoted and ran for only a few days. We were disappointed that so little enthusiasm was shown after all the years of effort.

In 1999 the City Council cancelled their agreement to put a stone plaque in Cathedral Square informing tourists of the times of my appearances and giving the address of my web site. This happened when they capitulated to the pressure of a fanatical group of fundamentalists who accused me of practising the dark arts and putting curses on people. (18)

I have continued my summer performances in Cathedral Square and my reputation has been growing on the Internet, however little progress has been made over the past few years partly owing to changes in family circumstances, an arson attack on our home, which destroyed many of our possessions and the general lack of interest increasingly shown by national and tourist authorities, the City Council and the City Art Gallery.

In 2009 I was greatly encouraged by being awarded the Queen’s Service Medal by the new National Government. This should help to dispel the belief in these institutions that my activities are undesirable and should not be supported. My grass roots popularity in New Zealand and my reputation overseas would make any properly funded and organised exhibition of the Living Work of Art a major draw card.

Provenance Photo Gallery

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