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, March 16, 2010

Andrew Paul Wood calls in on The P Room













Roger Boyce and Marie-Claire Brehaut: Nature morte
The Physics Room
10 March - 11 April 2010

I have been getting in the mood to write this review. To my left is Hunter S. Thompson: The Gonzo Papers Anthology (2009), and to my right Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). The former is pretentiously unbearable and the latter is unbearably pretentious. I’ve been thinking about the art of the tableau vivant and the nature of still life, or as the French say Nature Morte – thus providing the title of Roger Boyce and Marie-Claire Brehaut’s installation at The Physics Room.

The media loves panic hypes – it sells newspapers. The latest crisis of choice du jour and cause celebre is P (a unique kiwi-ism for pure methamphetamine – highly addictive and with a tendency to make people go medieval with sharp objects). Why New Zealand has given it such a ridiculous moniker when the international ‘ice’ sounds so much harder? I don’t know, but P labs are being uncovered all over the country with tedious regularity, cold medications are a hot item smuggled in from China via the Pacific Islands, and there’s even a pretty, tragic, pretty tragic celebrity ‘victim’ in the form of Millie, daughter of ‘media personality’ Paul Holmes. Still, it gets the kids interested in chemistry, I suppose.

Nature Morte is topical then, sort of. The centrepiece is a mock-up P lab on a bedroom dresser. A P lab for the P Room. This is played for narrative and, perhaps, laughs, as much as shock value, down to the rubber gloves poking out of the table drawer. Definitely not a readymade... Maybe. This is surrounded by the paint impastoed paraphernalia of the painter – yes, I’m afraid so, a slightly obvious joke; art as addictive, mind-altering substance – yawn – studio as lab – sigh - but the cliché is intended by the artists ironically. It would appear to be the point. Paint lab, no less. The artists hammer home their jadedness – or at least Boyce does; Brehaut is a mere slip of a girl to be getting all bitter and cynical, but appears to be enjoying it. Let’s see what she can do on her own.

The two sections are divided by a large canvas on an easel, which transforms the P lab installation into a still life – or perhaps more accurately a vanitas or memento mori (perhaps even an ex voto, but I wouldn’t care to speculate) – executed in meticulous trompe l’oeil style. That puts things straight into the same basket as those smug Dutch buggers like Cornelius Gijsbrechts who in the seventeenth century painted the reverse of the canvas on the front, dear old Courbet depicting his own studio as grand realist epic, and that peculiar self portrait of the young Reubens standing before his easel – the one Simon Schama witters on about in great length in his book on the artist. Art about art. Art about art about art.

In terms of installation, I like it. Bad installation metastasises to fill all of the space available to it, trying to assimilate everything like the Borg from Star Trek. Good installation is well behaved, compact, concise and articulate – as this does – or it sprawls casually yet efficiently, undiluted and on message.

So Brehaut gets some experience – an apprenticeship with the grizzled veteran, if you will – and Boyce proves again that he is more than just an impressive Curriculum Vitae from the late afternoon of New York’s golden age. Alas, O Babylon. This is good timing; little birds inform us that Boyce has a much larger showcase of his particular brand of razzle-dazzle in the not-too-distant offing. We look forward to it with interest. Rock on.

Photographic documentation courtesy of the artists, Mark Gore, and The Physics Room.

7 comments:

Simon said...

andrew: i was in complete agreement with your 'yawn' and 'sigh' but lost my way somewhere on the trek from there to... well, i'm not even sure where or what you arrived at but i'm interested to find out? for me, the most interesting thing about this installation (admittedly unseen in person) is the possibility that there may be more to it than i can see for myself - which was, to be frank, not a lot. Having recently exhibited work of related content and contrasting form i am intrigued by our conflicting impressions. please expand...

best
s

John Hurrell said...

Glaister, please provide your surname as requested.

Andrew said...

I know that Boyce deliberately strives for trite effects to make a point - both as an insecure, paranoid Unreliable Narrator, as criticism of contemporary art and as an excuse to simply make things. My Yawn and Sigh were likewise imitating the context, playing along with the game as I understand it.
The point is that the choice of a trite media hype of something vaguely subversive - P - as a subject for art is itself a student cliche - and that's what the artists are exploiting. Perhaps it is slightly too much 'meta' but this is tempered by the visual interest and deliberate silliness of the whole work.
Perhaps if JH could acquire more images, you would see that the installation is much more complex than immediately obvious. I think it's a bit silly to make sweeping judgments if you haven't seen it in person.

Andrew Paul Wood

John Hurrell said...

Have set the wheels in motion for better images

Simon said...

andrew: thanks for your reply! there is little i can do regarding viewing nature morte myself from auckland. however, for me this work and our conversation highlights a particular character of some contemporary work that warrants further discussion...

an interesting property of cliched signs is their propensity to belie rich and challenging content. as such, the simple exposition of a cliche - wittingly or not - rarely does the obliquely referenced content real justice; becoming instead a largely empty signifier that implies the critical self awareness, insight and cleverness of the artist rather demonstrating it - or even better, provoking the development of personal yet related insights within those who encounter it.

the direct tackling of cliched material provides a critical moment or crux that, if negotiated successfully, can push out into uncharted territory or fundamentally reposition previously held perspectives. failure to do so does by no means make an artwork bad but rather indicates lost opportunities. success in these instances is typically proportional to the artist ability to wholly represent the cliche without presenting it - to find a new rout up the mountain or a different view on the same terrain. simply hamming up the contrast may look cool but its also a pretty cheep trick - a 'meta' cliche in and of itself.

perhaps you could further expand on your review in light of this polemic?

best
s

Andrew said...

I'm not sure what more I can say beyond admitting to a Romantic tendency in myself to enjoy the posturing of heroic failures.
I am sure there are lost opportunities in the work, as you suggest, but at the same time I don't think it was striving for anything new. More probably it is a cynical sacrificial lamb offered up to Christchurch and art world politics - a staliking horse that allows the artists to laugh from their maimai.

I think that the hamming up can stand alone as a thing in itself - even Julian Schnabel used to do something similar in the rapacious self-promotion that surrounded his work. But really, it is perhaps better to wait until more pictures are available for you to see before I say anything else.
Andrew Paul Wood

John Hurrell said...

Simon and Andrew, the images are now provided - thanks to the generosity of the artists, photographer and venue.

It looks fascinating.