Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Picture perfect

Sarah Graham Read: decoration.jpg
March 11 – April 5 2008

One finds Read's decoration.jpg upstairs at the end of the corridor: in the two rooms with windows that overlook K’ Rd.

She makes hybrid paintings - mixing rabbit images with brusherly oil paint and sprayed fluoro. These she gets painting reproduction factories to copy. Read is interested in the nature of communication across cultural/historical boundaries and how ambiguities of language affect image making: in particular the process of changing perceptions as the email interaction proceeds. Various gains and losses occur as expectations and obligations get clarified. The ideas mutate as suggestions from both parties either blossom or get compromised.

Read's installation presents her interaction with a Chinese firm in Xiamen. The lettering on the corridor walls says that the lefthand room shows the works made by the team of Chinese artists trying to follow the westerner’s instructions, and that the righthand one shows Read’s original paintings which she had photographed and emailed to China as jpgs. However this organisation is not strictly accurate, and some of the ‘Chinese paintings’ Read has repainted herself.

In fact the installation is not clear at all. The labelling is highly confusing – especially with an opening night performance included as well. The gist of Read’s project is in her book of received emails which are collected and arranged in chronological order. These make good reading. Not because of their quaintly poor English - which effectively communicates so it is actually ‘good’ - but because of the various discussions touching on subjects such as inspiration, improvisation, abstraction or interiority. This is philosophically speaking, Nelson Goodman territory: the nature of emotion, how it is represented in art, and its putative transmission via mark-making.

The replies to Read’s unseen questions (and the Chinese counter-questions) are the major item of substance in this show. The book is Read’s key artwork and the paintings (her originals and the Chinese variations) mere residue. The paintings of course can be seen as collaborations, but the Chinese artists are not listed by name, and Read would have had to pay more for the honour of employing such individuals. The show is definitely hers and she is experimenting with control and how far her brand can go formally and conceptually to be recognisable. Read doesn’t seem to overly care about aesthetics, and obviously enjoys ‘foreign’ participation in her decision making. That is why the book is so important to this show. The process is the product.

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