THE LATE ‘60s and early ‘70s saw a radical opening up and proliferation of modes of art investigation and practice in New Zealand, and particularly at this moment in Auckland. Allen recalls first instances of work by Elam sculpture students during the latter part of the ‘60s beginning to respond to increasingly open forms of inter-disciplinary teaching and manifest a growing interest in propositional forms of environmental and spatial engagement and site-specificity . Things accelerated following Allen's return from his sabbatical sojourn in Europe, the UK, and USA during 1968, both in erms of Allen's own activity and the critical and creative energy abounding in the Elam sculpture department. A full history of the determining conditions, drives, impulses, relationships, and trajectories feeding into the plethora of work emerging from Elam during this early-‘70s period is an undertaking too large and complex to undertake here, but one which needs tackling at some point if for no other reason than to discriminate myth from actuality and so ascribe agency and responsibility where it's truly due amongst some quite remarkable young artists of the time. For the time being, whilst acknowledging the undoubted importance of Allen to the early development to certain specific artists, there are three apparently simple but key quantifiable inputs we should particularly note, in part for their relation to the type of environment or context later fostered at the EAF.
First, the development of a contemporary art library at Elam that not only ensured student access to the latest in international practices but encouraged an intellectual, investigatory approach to art. Second, the visiting artist program initiated by Allen that brought people such as Steve Furlonger, Adrian Hall, Kieran Lyons, John Panting, and Ti Parks to Elam. Third, the instigation of critical response and discussion sessions between staff and students. These sessions were based in part upon similar interview sessions Allen had witnessed at British art schools in 1968, and both fostered and in turn demanded a culture of intellectual rigor, integrity, and trust. Interestingly, this in fact quite structured discourse model not only carried over to situations outside educational contexts (indicating a general emphasis upon critical reflection and discursivity built into the very motive force of much work) but resulted in a number of important published texts such as the discussion regarding Bruce Barber's ‘Bucket Action’ (1973) and the two discussions on Allen’s O-AR exhibitions (1975) . In a sense group discussion provided an early model for contemporary art writing in New Zealand.
Elam, however, was not the only important site of activity in Auckland at this time. The Barry Lett Galleries provided a crucial location for the public presentation of work, hosting important exhibitions by Allen, and Adrian Hall amongst others. The Auckland City Art Gallery hosted the Four Men in a Boat projects by Allen, Bruce Barber, Philip Dadson, and Kieran Lyons for the 1974 Auckland Festival, before John Maynard instigated the first set of solo-artist contemporary Project Programme exhibitions there in 1975. Numerous activities also took place in various public sites around the city and its environs, although none of these sites— commercial, institutional, public—were configured in primarily ideological terms, nor were they successful in fostering much of a public consciousness of this work.