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.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dangerous mouths

I wish to thank CNZ for a grant that greatly assisted the writing of these early articles (November 2007 - May 2008).

Anne Noble’s Ruby’s Room 1998-2007 at the Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch. 27 November - 22 December 2007

I have always thought Anne Noble’s coloured inkjet prints to be the best work she has made so far, especially the images of her daughter Ruby’s mouth, chewing lollies. Noble’s previous black and white documentary photographs have never interested me at all. I find them far too ordinary, even the elegant ones.

Her ‘mouth photos’ though, are mentally intriguing as well as optically sensuous. They have a bizarre eroticism that is reminiscent of the work of French photographers like Boiffard. Noble’s shots of her daughter chomping on assorted, brightly coloured sugary substances have disturbing associations with other orifices leaking secretions, and the blotchy quality of her saturated hues look vaguely like diseased or rotting bodies.

That these images are disgusting on a certain level is part of their appeal. They tease the viewer, for they are also about innocence and youthful energy with their celebratory, exuberant colour and occasional frenzied movement. They are dubious and pure.

Noble’s display is a selection of 9 taken from a portfolio of 28 images currently being presented at the Musée du Quai Banly in Paris, the recently opened museum normally devoted to African and Pacific tribal art. Her show is part of PhotoQuai, an international biennale of contemporary photography.

Of the 9 works in Christchurch, some are a bit sweet, as in cute: using soap suds and bright red lips for example, or black lips shaped like a butterfly. A half chewed strawberry makes an interesting violent image viewed through an open mouth. This is also the case with a yellow disc – with a hole in the middle - crammed down in front of the front teeth so that the lower lip containing it is stretched as if it is going to split.

Another has yellowy-green slime running down past the mouth over the chin, and one more has patterned fabric jammed tightly between the lips. Noble here seems to be getting mannered with her props, but then, she says she always works in series. Maybe such contrived explorations are necessary for her to kick start new ideas. From them, seeds can germinate: a nourishing of processes and testing of new possibilities.

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