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 16, 2008

Pleasures of the Bodily and Binary







Richard Frater: So Long The Difficulties of Being Single
Newcall
11 November – 29 November 2008

When does a collection of seemingly disparate sculptures become an installation so that an overall coherence is apparent where all the parts interconnect? Where there is a sense of only one work engaging the visitor? I’m not sure if that happens in this show, but it is certainly close, though the separate components retain a strong individuality.

Into the T-shaped Newcall space Frater has carefully positioned ten varied sculptures. These heighten a viewer’s (self) awareness of bodily dynamics between Newcall’s walls, window, door gaps, floor and ceiling - and the light (or lack of) on those surfaces. Despite his droll exhibition title about ‘being single’ – a bachelor or single artwork perhaps - the show seems really about binary combinations, the tension between pairs, and movement around, over, under and through them.

This is a meticulously deceptive and extremely subtle show that needs time to absorb because the links are not at first obvious. From two calls to Newcall, here’s some of what I spotted:

(1.) The title seems to be about getting married, but is nothing of the kind. Other appearances deceive too. Frater has a video loop which seems initially to be of walls of ice bricks slowly dissolving in a large tank of water. These on reflection probably are plastic or polystyrene sheets collapsing in a mineral solvent. Their behaviour is subtly different from dissolving ice.

(2.) There are two fabric rectangles on which Frater has printed large photographs. One is folded, the other spread out. The folded one by the window is grey and mottled like the gallery’s concrete floor. The other spread image is silvery and of rumpled sheets on a bed. It is itself creased and rumpled.

(3.) An isolated freestanding door is placed in the centre of the entrance to the stem of the gallery’s T-shape, coming from a nearby wall at the base. Its chrome doorknob sparkles in the light from two panels in the ceiling, as does a similarly sized, silver-plated, mirror egg standing on the floor.

(4.) There is a glowing fluorescent tube on the floor with one end raised by a vertical strip of plastic packaging tape going to the ceiling. The tube’s length seems to be the same length as a projecting wooden shelf on the opposite wall.

(5.) That shelf has been planed to strip off its topmost weathered surface. On it are scattered nearly thirty tags, thin plastic strips that seem to have come from the sticky sides of band-aids which they used to protect. On the adjacent wall in large letters is the name Andrei, possibly referring to the great Russian film director, Tarkovsky – famous for his use of natural elements and long pans. The letters have been shaped by cutting out and peeling off the skin of the gib surface.

As Matt Harris warns in an excellent accompanying essay that advises against interpreting Frater’s exhibition, these works need to be moved through and experienced, not thought about as semaphores or codes that require translation. To do that though means being aware of connections like those I’ve mentioned. They provide a pleasurable tension and keep the mind active. The show has not been built for robotic blockheads with legs on ‘automatic pilot’ but viewers willing to engage with, analyse, and compare the carefully placed ingredients.

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