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

Just another whistle stop

Another Destination – a group exhibition of five emerging Canterbury artists curated by Jennifier Hay for the Christchurch Art Gallery. 16 November 2007 - 12 March 2008

At this time - approaching the beginning of the Christmas holiday season - municipal galleries are opening ‘family’ shows to try and boost their attendance figures. This one is not one of those. Nor is it bafflingly esoteric. It is a ‘moderately’ difficult exhibition for those with an empathy for the inventive but not necessarily the radical. There is no attempt to dumb anything down but it is also not confrontational.

And while Hay’s selection is not exactly cohesive, that doesn’t actually matter. The show is a nifty little sampler: a disparate grab-bag of five distinctive personalities for which the exhibition’s title has little relevance. Some of these offerings have immediate impact. Others are more subtle.

Rachel Brunton is a sculptor who makes exciting interactive digital art, using computers and a large screen. The visitor is invited to draw images by moving a cursor that is being constantly pursued by tumbling, smoky swathes of curved lines. White traces appear and then gradually dissolve into the dark field, spreading with smudgy ripples and arabesque flourishes from the wee white square.This allows the viewer to control the marks and structure fading forms that are clearly temporary. Brunton’s participatory work is a lot of fun, and similar in approach to that of the brilliant Hamilton digital artist, Dale Sattler.

Simon Lawrence presents a video installation of the space where the air conditioning vents go, up in the roof above the visitor. He has also created cardboard flues attached to the ceiling that suck up the hair of any toupee wearing visitors that get too close. They seem to be a metaphor for the circuitry of the art world as social system, using the public gallery to suck in more adherents into the international art network.

Francesca Heinz makes paintings out of soft, floppy animal hides, and hangs them protruding from the wall behind a thin red grid. She also has such work in a nearby CoCa show, but there they are individual hides hung loosely. They look a little like shammies and to me, aren’t really interesting as paintings or even as sculpture. They might be a kind of metaphor for protective garment, a symbol of tribal identification or status – a bit like Tom Kreisler’s coat paintings of the early seventies.

The amount of energy experienced in asserting one’s individual profile within the art community is satirised in James Oram’s video of a manic cyclist (presumably the artist) pedalling furiously to generate sufficient power to light up a grid of bulbs that declare ‘ME.’ Outside of artworld exhibitionism and career manoeuvring, they might also be a nose thumb at McCahon’s ‘I AM’ paintings – except that those works are (ostensibly) more about Jehovah than the artist who made them.

Zina Swanson’s cluster of different sized bell jars containing organic versions of Sarah Szelike ingredients, look like a tribute to Andrew Drummond, an artist who used such containers repeatedly in the mid-nineties. This assorted group looks like a shrine of lingams, glass fertility symbols with delicate wire configurations inside them. Like Oram’s, Swanson’s project could be satirical.

With Another Destination Hay has created a stimulating little show that has ideas which grow on you after you have left the room. A tighter show than the much larger Out of Erewhon, the interconnections and balances within the group of artists work well.

(Images of works by - top to bottom - Swanson, Lawrence, Heinz, Brunton and Oram. Courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery)

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