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, September 11, 2008

Floral Impasse

Daniel Webby: Stalemate Bloom
A Centre For Art
10 September – 4 October 2008

I’d seen Webby’s work before at R103, but that was a collaborative project, a film with an installation, and this new work took me by surprise.

The main component is a vaulting horse (the type you find in a gymnasium) made of split punga posts. It has one side removed so you can see there is a square hole cut in the floor. It obviously references the War World Two prison camp film, ‘The Great Escape’, perhaps with the artist seeing himself as Steve McQueen, but with a crack at the hermeticism of the art world and Webby wanting to tunnel his way out.

In one corner of the small ACFA room is a video loop of the Romanian Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci performing her legendary ten out of ten routine on the parallel bars. She obviously has caused her local gymnastic (artistic) rival to mentally collapse. Perhaps she is a symbol for Duchamp (the title referring to chess.) The stress of competing with perfection has made him want to flee.

The vault’s padded top consists of a couple of bags of potting mix with several sprouts of parsley growing out. From one end of the vault is a small mattress impaled by a grid of wooden pegs like the boxing laid for foundations of a building. On the other side, where normally a springboard would go, is a small pile of dirt with two basketball boots sticking out, as if the artist were buried head first. The whole thing is strikingly enigmatic and funny.

Webby probably has narrative explanations for all these elements, but you don’t need the artist’s exegesis to enjoy the work or even understand it. The whole thing is dripping with poetic paradox: a secret tunnel being dug which is open to view; removed dirt instead of being hidden is in potting mix growing parsley; a tunnel digger plonked vertically in the ground by mysterious forces.

A terrific piece of sculpture worth traipsing up to the third floor of Achilles House for.

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