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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bits of silver crystalline crayfish

James Charlton: dForm
MIC Toi Rerehiko
22 November – 20 December 2008

This work by James Charlton seems to straddle the practices of artists as diverse as Simon Ingram and Daniel Crooks, exploring programming procedures that have unpredictable results and transmuting digital treatments of ephemeral images to make three-dimensional objects.

He presents three interrelated exhibitions:

The first gallery, at the top of the stairs, with dForm, features three machines with turntables, on which are vertical cylinders of soft clay. Machines individually awaken and spasmodically start to modify their clay forms, starting to spin when sensors detect movement. As the day’s visitors negotiate the space their collective trajectories affect the prodding and goosing of the damp, earthy columns.

Theoretically the three dForm ‘artworks’ created each day are unique though I suspect only James Charlton would be able to tell them apart. Strangely they are ignominiously dumped in a pile on the floor, and occasionally broken. (In the catalogue Charlton is so process obsessed he dismisses the clay results as ‘crudely created lumps’ and seems unwilling to accept the performance residue as ‘art’ – in great contrast to the equivalent forms displayed in 16: sec.)

Around the corner from dForm (deform, 3Dform?) is plus. Here collective movements generate through web cams on the ceiling a composite image on the screen and an evolving soundtrack. The marks on the large screen change direction and the cumulative formation of shapes alter, as people enter and leave the room.

So far Charlton’s process-based show is distant, dry and icy – though perhaps that depends on your tastes. For me, it is specialist boffin material that is not wildly exciting, yet the last room is a surprise. It succeeds in taking his ideas somewhere else.

The use of accumulated movement in plus Charlton has developed further in 16: sec with sixteen looped videos made by filming rubbish being blown about on the street. Using a stereo-lithography machine he has converted the digital camera files so that they cumulatively can be rendered into 3D form (he says ‘as a computer controlled tube of toothpaste that builds up a form layer after layer’) using plaster that is then electroplated in iridescent silver.

Singly the sixteen sculptures are quite extraordinary in their own right – as bizarre crystalline growths that are like spiny crayfish parts - independent of the amazing process that lead to their creation from digital filming. Yet I can’t help but wish Charlton had put either each sculpture with its original generating film, or else placed them on a pile on the floor, as in dForm, so they become a tighter spatial entity, an alarming, highly evocative, Sci-fi construction. The installation is very good, but it could have been stunning.

16: sec is remarkable nonetheless. It is very unusual. Don’t miss it.

(Many thanks to the artist for the above images.)

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