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It’s Pointless – That’s the Whole Point

It’s Pointless – That’s the Whole Point

Letter From Elsewhere

This year my favourites, the ones that glow in the dark, were all blue. But I don’t think this meant anything. It suddenly occurred to me that this is the wonderful thing about the World of Wearable Arts show – it’s all so superbly pointless, as pointfulness is usually understood. It exists solely because it’s wonderful to do and to see. Once the awards are over, there are no words, just colour, sound, shape and light.

It’s got nothing to do with any worthy or unworthy cause. No one is trying to change your mind about anything, or enlist you on their side, or get your vote. They’re not even trying to sell you anything, except a ticket and something to eat. Even that can be more silly than sensible - last year I made it happily through the show on a bottle of water and a giant chunk of home-made chocolate.

After saying for years we must go, we finally made it, and it was one of the highlights of my life. This year I had to make do with the telly, where for some parsimonious programming reason we got to see only a fraction of the entries – including, of course, the winners.

That’s sad, because every amazing creation that makes it into the finals is already a winner. It was great that the supreme award went to a young woman of eighteen, a local who’s been entering since she was eight. But even winning isn’t really the point. People enter for the sheer joy of it, spending incredible amounts of time and effort and yes, even money (though more and more seem to be recycling stuff – the slightly deflated rugby ball crinoline was my favourite) coming up with something which has no useful function whatsoever.

No wonder Don Brash was looking completely bemused. Helen Clark is a regular – she modelled one entry herself in 2002 and did it again in Australia last year, much to the amazement of her top-drawer audience. But I’ll bet Don has never been before. He looked as if he’d never seen anything like it in his life.

I hope he got the point – that there is no point. If there’s one message we got beaten about the head with in the 1980s and 1990s, it was that everything had to have a purpose. Human beings, we were told, were above all rational self-interested calculators. They responded predictably to carrots and sticks. So if they got free hospital care, for example, they’d stop taking care of their health and happily get sick or injured, because they wouldn’t have to pay for treatment. User pays became the watchword and homo economicus ruled supreme.

There were some strange gaps in the theory. Voluntary work was hard to fathom. And in one memorable passage, Treasury had to admit that it could not discern any benefit to mothers which would offset the immense resource costs involved in having and raising children. It had to conclude that this was simply an irrational thing to do.

I expect it’s possible to come up with an explanation for wearable arts based on rational self-interest. Obviously, Nelson businesses have benefited financially from it, and will be very sorry indeed to see it move to Wellington next year – while Wellington businesses are delighted.

I’m selfishly pleased, simply because it’ll be much easier to afford when it’s on my doorstep. With a lot more seats, many more people can go and there’ll be less pressure on the performers. But I’m glad I saw it in its original home. It was noticeable that locally owned businesses were far more likely than branches or franchises of big concerns to get into the spirit of it all.

I hope Wellington takes WOW to its heart, because it’s unique. I can’t think of anything else that’s totally homegrown, unique, world-class – and so absolutely, positively, gloriously pointless that it leaves everyone who sees it with the face of a happy child.

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