Thursday, December 15, 2016

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles

After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past.

I’ve just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable three week visit to the North Island of New Zealand. Despite landing only two days after a major 7.8 magnitude earthquake that produced long-lasting damage and thousands of aftershocks for several weeks afterwards, it was a country I felt very much at home in.

Ironically, there was to be a forum of arts and cultural organisations from Canberra and Wellington the day after I arrived, to talk about what could be gained from the new sister city relationship between the two capitals, but it was cancelled due to the earthquake. The visit provided much food for thought and so I will be publishing a number of articles over the next six months which draw on that experience.

Larger than life - hyper-real massive figures place personal stories in your face.

It confirmed a comment I made in one of my articles last year, ‘Australians used to joke that travelling to New Zealand was like going back to the 1950s. That may be true in some respects, but in other ways it’s like visiting a country that Australia might want to become sometime in the future’.

The article, ‘My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world’ concerned Weta, the company that produced ‘Lord of the Rings’ and many other well know blockbuster movies. It was about how the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible.

While I was in New Zealand I visited the location of the sprawling Weta operations on the Miramar Peninsula, just outside the capital, Wellington. Instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town and its imagination, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta.

‘Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support.’

I also saw an exhibition about the role of New Zealand troops in the Gallipoli Campaign in the national flagship museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, which had Weta's hands all over it. Weta Workshop co-operated closely with Te Papa on this exhibition, applying the skills and techniques of the digital film world to the artefacts and records featured in the exhibition. The use of these contemporary film-making approaches, techniques and technology to enliven and underline the personal stories underpinning the exhibition made the exhibition very punchy. It was clearly attracting plenty of interest from visitors.

Weta Workshop: One of a cluster of buildings that are part of the sprawling and unprepossessing Weta empire on the Miramar Peninsula, Wellington, New Zealand.

It was a very dense exhibition, with lots of information but conveyed through an extremely diverse array of media. It also featured a series of massive hyper-real figures, reminiscent of Ron Mueck sculptures. It meant that there was a high level of engagement and also that almost any part of a diverse audience could find something in the exhibition that resonated.

‘Instead of the traditional industries that often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta.’

With the growing interest in Australia in the long ignored ‘black diggers’, it was fascinating to see the coverage of the Māori contingent in the Gallipoli landings. From the perspective of a visiting Australian, the much more formalised and entrenched recognition of Māori heritage and language in New Zealand was noticeably different to Australia.

Newspaper coverage a few days after the earthquake.

New Zealand comes across as much more like Canada, with a constant awareness of bilingualism, for example in public signage and captions. That gives it a philosophical head start into a complex contemporary world of intersecting cultures and languages.

In the same way, Australia benefits from its dense cultural diversity. However, in uncertain political times it is at increasing risk of being undermined and denied, whereas much more could be made of it and gained from it, especially in our expanding relationships in the Asia Pacific.

‘New Zealand comes across as much more like Canada, with a constant awareness of bilingualism, for example in public signage and captions. That gives it a philosophical head start into a complex contemporary world of intersecting cultures and languages.’

Travelling in New Zealand is disconcerting because it is clearly another country with another culture, but at times you have to pinch yourself to be reminded that you are not in Australia - or Canada. Traditionally migrants leaving Britain (and Europe) were offered choices of countries to which they could commit their future. Often it came down to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. How easily that choice could translate into very different life histories.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum
‘With its extensive collection of design of all kinds, from engineering to fashion to ceramics and jewellery, and with its links to industry, I always had high hopes for the Powerhouse Museum. Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context. In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. That the Powerhouse failed to realise its potential is a measure of the lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it’, The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum.

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

Indigenous cultural jobs – real jobs in an unreal world
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

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