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.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Open Plan Bordello

The brothel without walls: Kevin Capon, Conor Clarke, Paul Hartigan, Geoffrey Heath
City Art Rooms
27 May - 21 June 2008

Despite the show’s title, taken from Jean Genet, nothing too exhausting is happening in these photographs. Hardly an orgy is depicted or implied – for voyeurs, fantasists or otherwise. But there are two sorts of photographer presented, open to analysis in other ways; two that use digital technology to construct images, and two that don’t.

Paul Hartigan is the most well known artist here. He uses old documentary Polaroids he created in the eighties of street signage in New Zealand cities. He has scanned and enlarged these and altered some details. When he has printed the results onto canvas they become a sort of hybrid artwork, a combination of print, painting and photograph. They become a fascinating surrogate for the original weather-beaten and sun bleached signs he recorded. Once ubiquitous (but now gone) outdoor advertising is replaced by refined and aestheticised gallery art which, as historical artefacts, mourn the signs’ passing.

Conor Clarke’s ‘full frontals’ feature the ornate entrances of Victorian villas, examining the decorative configurations of veranda fences and porch screens. Her images don’t seem that excessive unless you cotton on to their strange hybridity. They look authentic at first, even though their original colours have been replaced by suburban picket-fence white, but then their peculiar arabesques start to distract and you realise that these are wildly curvaceous extrapolations. Because of their frontality they could almost be decorative paintings like those of Valerie Jaudon. They are subtle images that tease you into believing and doubting things you shouldn’t.

Kevin Capon has been exhibiting photographs for well over thirty years, exploring all sorts of subject matter. Here he mixes conventional photographs with appropriated family photographs from his childhood. Some of the recent images examine light pouring into store front-window displays. Both have an uncanny quality, a subtle and disturbing strangeness that seems inexplicable.

There are two suites of work from Geoffrey Heath: smaller, more subtle portraits of friends taken (I think) in their homes, and larger broader shots of objects in domestic or outdoor settings. Of the latter, the headless self portrait of the artist reclining on a couch in his underwear is the most startling. It showcases the vertiginous whirling lines of the furniture’s fabric pattern as it whirls around the sexual blue triangle at the image’s centre. Another large image of a clown standing near a pine forest has an ominous John Wayne Gacy creepiness.

Yet it is with the smaller, intimate ‘Spare Room’ portraits that Heath really excels. Their very considered backgrounds combine with the body language of each sitter to enable a clarity of form and nuanced edge. The sitters are relaxed but precisely positioned, dressed and made up. The resulting suite of five images is more cohesive and convincing than the other larger works.

This is an excellent group show at City Art Rooms, with valuable detailed information on the take-away catalogue sheet about the title’s concept and each artist. It is an excellent contribution to the photography festival currently on in Auckland.

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