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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Untangling art

Denis O’Connor: The Tangler, Chapter 1
Two Rooms
23 October - 22 November 2008

I don’t know about narrative art. Though my modernist training as a student, I usually don’t relate to anything that smacks of magazine or book illustration or obsession with craft for its own sake - though I am a sucker for a good story, and Denis O’Connor has plenty of those. But these works irk me, just as works by Elizabeth Thomson, Fiona Hall, Gavin Hurley (but not Peter Stichbury) do likewise.

For me most interesting art is about trope, and getting away from conventional methods of representational coding - such as symbolism or ‘realism’. Story telling in static visual art is somehow missing the point of art’s innovative potential, just as art that is too word reliant in its contextual envelope misses the point about its own visuality - and inadvertently becomes literature or philosophy or history.

Good art invents new sorts of trope through playing with materials and meanings (not necessarily their meanings, any meanings) to discover new combinations, new forms of juxtaposition. It grabs the world and shoves it under our nose. We are forced to scrutinise it in a new way through the new signals it is emitting, structures that the artist has discovered.

So when O’Connor builds this car that is a bit like a child’s go-kart (a vintage version), it celebrates his skill by mixing it with whimsy and 30s nostalgia, and tying it in with autobiography and his love of Irish culture, but he is not really pushing art itself in any new direction. The car (like his slate symbols) is a conventional illustration - an emblematic image functioning in a manner that is almost mediaeval. Like heraldry. There is no new logic being tested, like what you might discover with say Ceal Floyer, Pip Culbert, Bertrand Lavier or some Gambia Castle shows. It is about manual dexterity, some poetic resonances, and not much more.

No comments: