Scoop Review of Books

Archive for February, 2017

Excerpt: Ice Bear

Excerpt / Release
Ice Bear: The cultural history of an arctic icon
by Michael Engelhard (University of Washington Press, paper, $US29.95)


ice_bear_cover_600If art’s mission is to change public perceptions or to transcend established practices, it can no longer be apolitical, unaware of social or economic currents. The creators of an exhibit that examines the “cultural afterlife” of taxidermised polar bears (nanoq: flat out and bluesome, by Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson) sum up a rather recent shift in our attitudes toward their subject: “During the last decade the image of the polar bear has moved in the public imagination from being an icon of strength, independence and survival in one of the most climatically extreme of world environments, to that of fragility, vulnerability and more generally of a global environmental crisis.”

Donald Gialanella’s 'Spirit of the North,' concept for a sixty-foot sculpture welded from scrap automobiles for a downtown park in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Donald Gialanella)

Donald Gialanella’s ‘Spirit of the North,’ concept for a sixty-foot sculpture welded from scrap automobiles for a downtown park in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Donald Gialanella)

Their latest project, Matrix, focuses on the bears’ maternity dens in Svalbard, “perfectly adapted model[s] for habitat in the arctic environment.” Since the Rodin pupil Francois Pompon’s L’Ours Blanc (1922), the language of polar bear art has changed, as have its approaches. Read more »

The Typewriter Factory

Book Review
Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Emma Johnson, Giovanni Tiso, Sarah Illingworth and Barnaby Bennet (Freerange Press, $40)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch


dont_dream_coverI finished reading Don’t Dream It’s Over not long after it came out last August. I even started writing a review, which took something of an ‘I’m sorry people, but it’s already over’ approach. I’ve been pretty negative about journalism as it’s practiced in the mainstream (or MSM, or corporate media or liberal media or whatever terminology you prefer) for quite some time (see for example Stop the Press), and I believe the current capitalist media model is destructive and can’t be reformed.

But then came the U.S. election campaign. If I’d been a media skeptic before that, by the time it was over, I was an absolute nonbeliever. Back in my more innocent trusting days, say eight months ago, I thought I could read between the lines of a news story, look past the ‘angle’ or ‘spin’ and, as if I had x-ray news vision, focus in on the raw facts, at least some of which were usually buried in there somewhere. Plus, I knew the codes and the rules about how the news sausage was made. Easy peasy.

At some point after Donald Trump won the Republican primary, I realised that was no longer the case. That I had no idea what the facts of the matter were, couldn’t read between the lines, and couldn’t find anyone in MSM asking and trying to answer the questions I wanted asked and answered.

At this point I ought to disabuse readers that mine was the standard liberal shock and outrage over the apparently Hitlerian Trump candidacy. It wasn’t. This crisis of confidence was not about Trump at all, but about what the mainstream media did — and continues to do — after apparently deciding that he could not, would not, must not be elected president. Read more »

Release: Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Ann Shelton (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, $90)

Ann Shelton: Dark Matter traces the 20-year career of a leading New Zealand photographer. Ann Shelton’s evolution as a camera artist with a unique, penetrating vision into the culture and history of New Zealand is beautifully illustrated in this book, which includes multiple examples from all her important bodies of work.

Also in exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki:






Looking Back

Book Review
Portholes to the Past: Reflections on the early 20th Century
by Lloyd Geering (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, $25)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

portholes-coverWriting a memoir that appeals to a broad readership is a difficult undertaking. As an experienced communicator, Lloyd Geering keeps the reader’s interest alive through ten chapters (or portholes) giving views of different aspects of his life in 20th-century New Zealand.

Now in his 99th year, Geering is able to look back clearly, and remind us of how much has changed over his lifetime. Although only a modest volume, it is an excellent illustration of the adage, “Less is more”. Carefully crafted, it covers a wide range of experiences, and is often thought provoking.

Born in 1918, Geering was the ‘autumn leaf’ in his family of three brothers, who progressively left home while he was still at primary school. The first 15 years of his life were unsettled as his father regularly moved while seeking work. He attended six different primary schools and two secondary schools, although this did not seem to affect his subsequent outstanding academic career at Otago Boys’ High School and Otago University. For most of his teenage years, the Geering family lived on an isolated farm outside Mosgiel. As a farm boy, his daily routine included getting the coal range going and cooking the breakfast for his parents, who were doing the milking, before leaving at 7.45am to walk for 30 minutes to the station to catch the train. Arriving home about 5pm, he then had to round up the cows for the evening milking before settling down to homework by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Read more »

Purple (and Violet) Prose

Greta Von Gerbil & Her Really Large Lexicon
by Blair Reeve (words) and Chris Stapp (pictures) (Anapest Press, Hong Kong)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

greta-von-gerbilweb2This is the second recent conjoint publication by Reeve and Stapp; all to do with esoteric, arcane and obscure vocabulary – sesquipedalian, anyone – and so much more besides. Before I write further, I must stress that the book is an equal partnership between words and images and that one cannot thrive without the other.

This slim tome is a cogent symbiosis of the two: Stapp’s colourful, exaggerated designs well complement Reeve’s colourful, exaggerated lexicon, as purveyed via the voice of Greta; who incidentally dresses as lavishly as her harlequin declarations. Thus, she

took pleasure in garments of violet and purple.

Once again, as with the initial publication of Hogart the Hedgehog Turns Nink (2015), Reeve and Stapp are deliberately crafting something rather more than a kid’s pictorial storybook. For not only is the vocabulary deliberately too abstruse for most young children to be able to pronounce, let alone comprehend, but the ironies within the text may also pass them by somewhat: Greta Von Gerbil is a kid’s tale built more for adults. The authors are confronting reader prejudices that dictate that big bright pictures, cartoon and caricature-like, must mean a ‘children’s book’: this is far from the case in this publication.

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