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.