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.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Polish Conceptualism: mental gyrations

Pole Gry/ Field of Play: Works from the Polish Avant-garde 1965-75
Gambia Castle
June 20 -12 July 2008

When was the last time you saw an exhibition of Polish art? If you did, I bet it wasn’t in Aotearoa New Zealand? Gambia Castle, and its curator Daniel Malone (presently living in Poland), are doing the New Zealand art community a real service in presenting this very unusual and surprising show. It’s a sampler of conceptual art and concrete poetry, easily transportable work from nine artists, many of which are sufficiently regarded by their peers that they have had retrospective surveys in their homeland.

Also, several of these artists, particularly Kraniński, Kozlowski, Robakowski and Dróżdż, feature in recent revisionist books on conceptualism by authors like Terry Smith (Global Conceptualism), Tony Godfrey and Peter Osborne (two Phaidon accounts of Conceptual Art). However Malone in this show makes the work less earnest than is implied in those publications. Here – even though much is over 40 years old - it has a freshness, a vitality that is inseparable from an absurdist but fizzy humour.

Look above at Stanislaw Dróżdż’s Hourglass, a piece of concrete poetry that deals with time. The spatial perspective contradicts our usual experience of time where the present is closest and past and future are distant. In this image the upper triangle is made of a repeated word saying ‘it will be’ and the inverted triangle of words below saying ‘it was.’ They are in proximity to the reader. The most remote word is in the centre saying ‘it is’ and is barely readable. Perverse.

The drawing proposals by Jerzy Rosolowicz are very funny too. One describes a pyramidic shell that inside has a hollow column. A tray at the top drips a calcium solution onto a plinth a metre below. After a thousand years, a limestone stalagmite is formed, filling the space. The outer shell and column is then removed, leaving the chalk sculpture and plinth.

His other proposal is even more extreme, a mixture of James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson and Len Lye. A huge hollow ball, several stories high, has a door so many people can get in and move around inside it. It can be rolled onto a lift and positioned inside the mouth of a massive inverted cone. In this sci-fi scenario, those inside will then be able to experience mystical atmospheric effects from artificial weather conditions.

Two sequences of photographs by Edward Kraniński and Eustachy Kossakowski are pretty entertaining too. One shows a man trying to discover the end of a long entangled length of rubber tubing, and attempting to retain the end he has found by placing it in his mouth or in his pocket, but still losing it when it slips out.

The other sequence shows three people trying to release a series of square shapes suspended on a horizontal line. They look like small kites held below a wire the way a curtain is suspended from a curtain rail. As with the hose images, the sequence seems to be not strictly fixed. There is not a conclusive narrative.(see photo above)

Jaroslaw Kozlowski presents a drier and less whimsical work that seems related to Mel Bochner’s famous pebble and chalk drawings. Six planks are arranged so that they form a sequence from the first flat, facedown on the floor to the last vertically leaning against the wall. The planks are bracketed between two vinyl texts: on the left, ’more horizontal than vertical'; on the right, ‘more vertical than horizontal.’

The texts and image seem to refer to a famous poem:

we fell
and got up
we fall
(Tadeusz Rozewicz, Falling, 1963)

In this context it is humour about failure, a paean to ineptitude.

Jerzy Ludwinski’s
suite of texts and diagrams that are hung like a washing line across the gallery width, are speculations about the future of art, and seem like a hypothesis about some laws of atomic physics. These are funny but not intended to be. They amuse because the predictions haven’t occurred. They are also breathtakingly ambitious as sweeping commentaries on art as a social phenomenon.

The only video work is a transferred black and white film by Jósef Robakowski that shows speeded up film of buyers at a market where the screen gets more and more dark and crowded. Perhaps like Ludwinski, a prediction about art itself, but as an immensely desired commodity where the market is insatiable.

There is a takeaway work included too; ‘Net’ a portable sheet prepared by Jaroslaw Kozlowski and Andrezej Kostolowski was originally sent in 1972 to artists all over the world. It was an attempt to circumnavigate official gallery procedures, and was a great success as a networking tool, leading to police visits and charges of being ‘anti-communist’, but not curtailing exhibiting.

This is an admirable project from Gambia Castle. An unusual take on conceptualism, an angle that rarely gets exposed here.

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