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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Legitimate derision?

Brett Graham: Campaign Rooms
Two Rooms
27 November – 20 December 2008

Sometimes righteous anger is a great catalyst in stimulating the creation of interesting art that otherwise might never eventuate. This Brett Graham show is a sarcastic response to last year’s police ‘terrorist’ raids on the Tuhoe and Ruatoki communities. Most art lovers in Aotearoa probably feel Police Commissioner Howard Broad misjudged the situation appallingly, that most of the accused picked up in those raids are harmless - though we’ll know soon enough when the courts decide (the terrorism charges were dropped but not the arms ones). Anyway, in a gallery situation Graham seems to be preaching to the converted.

Though this is heavy-handed art without nuance, many of the seven works here shrewdly blend Maaori, Pasifika and Moorish motifs (or attire) to make an exciting hybrid. Through screenprints of weapons, a video installation, a stealth bomber covered with carved spirals, and Pasifika–based bomb casings, they ridicule global generalisations where the word ‘terror’ is used irresponsibly as a blanket condemnatory term, and unconnected groups are suddenly lumped together.

The most striking work is a video that refers to Joshua Reynolds’ painting of Omai, the Tahitian captured by Cook who was presented to George III and his court. The image is projected into a large cast bronze bowl of oil on the floor and shows him dressed in flowing Arabian garments seemingly from a pantomime (as was Reynolds’ intention), and wielding a tewhatewha is if issuing a challenge. The oil though is a rather clumsy attempt to contemporise the image, fit it into a modern global narrative. It’s not needed.

One work which doesn’t fit into the main theme at all is a sarcophagus of marble with a 3D image of the South Island carved into its lid. It seems to an act of mourning, implying perhaps that that under populated area is dying of neglect. Maybe it is a Tainui (Graham’s iwi) salutation to – or even dig at - Ngai Tahu?

In the mid-nineties Graham made a lot of elegant wooden sculpture, based on plant forms and coloured with pigment in the manner of Anish Kapoor. Now his work is more akin to Robert Jahnke in that is it is symbolic, not coloured, and openly political. It is also less formal, more figurative, and less poetic.

In this show it is the Omai video that stands out as a clever elaboration of Reynold’s painting and the extraordinary story that goes with it. With the sculpture, the tomb and the plane seem underdeveloped, as if they are the start of much more significant projects to come later. They seem too small, and like the beginnings of something yet to be explored.


maps said...

Hi John,

I defer to your art historical knowledge, but I don't quite agree with your assessment of this exhibition of Brett Graham's work.
I think you might be in danger of over-emphasising the material shortcomings of the pieces, and ignoring their conceptual richness.
In any case, I wrote my own response, which probably shows my biases:

John Hurrell said...

Readers,just paste in the url at the top and search, to read this blog.

Good to have a response.Thank you.