Productive Promises – Mark Harvey


We should all be trying to find our happy work.

Robyn Harvey, 2008

In ‘Productive Promises’ local participants and visitors alike collaborated with the artist to create actions around the retail and residential districts of New Brighton testing notions of productivity and work that leads to increased business and personal confidence and happiness.

Every day, against the backdrop of campaigning in an Eastern Suburbs by-election, Harvey headed out with his open group, joined variously by artists, community members and large school groups responding to his call with their ideas. They asked local residents how they could be of help (actions included moving debris off vacant lots and writing to the local councilor), staged ‘Thank You Marches’, provided sun shields and protective circles for visiting politicians and community members, and much more.

Since the quakes in Christchurch people have worked in different creative voluntary ways to help build the city whilst their own situations have remained vulnerable. Harvey’s work playfully explores and emphasises the economic measures of worth other than income. ‘Productive Promises’ explored the potentials of group performance work as public art, playing with collective gestures, physical tasks and offering services to those around with “a productive sense of idiocy”. What was created and how it was shaped was defined not only by what the artists and participants concocted, but the exchanges with those they encountered.

“As the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland said in his election campaign some years back, ‘we promise to break all our promises’,” commented Harvey in his invitation for participation. “We promise to do this with a useful smile on our faces so that we can be the most helpful art project in our neighborhood.”

Productive Promises’ came off the back of the 2012 ‘Productive Bodies’ project curated by Letting Space as part of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts and in association with City Gallery Wellington. An essay on that work by Emma Willis can be found on the Letting Space website.

Mark Harvey’s practices are conceptually and often dialogue driven, testing out notions of endurance with constructions of idiocy, seriousness and deadpan humour. His practice draws from both his visual arts and contemporary dance background. He has recently shown in a range of international contexts such as Political Climate Wrestle in the 55th Venice Biennale in Visual Arts (2013), Working the room (Trendheim Kunstmuseum, Trendheim, 2012), Outlet (Action Attraction, Hamburg, 2013, and Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, 2012), Work! (Luleå Cultural Centre with Johaness Blomqvist, Luleå, 2012), and the Lie down series (Zagreb, and St Paul St, Auckland, 2009). He recently completed a PhD at AUT in the School of Art and Design in performance art/choreographic live art practice, and he is currently a Senior Lecturer in National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries at The University of Auckland.

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