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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Half-hearted Hole

Maddie Leach: Andalucía 2007
Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Pakuranga, Manukau City
14 December 2007 - 28 February 2008

Andalucía is the area of Spain around its southern tip, the bottom quarter of the Iberian Peninsula. It is famous for the pronounced Muslim influence of much of its architecture, a result of its Moorish settlement for over 500 years during the Middle Ages. In the history of Art, the most famous Andalucians have been Picasso and Velasquez, and Bũnuel and Dali’s surrealist film ‘An Andalucian Dog’ is considered by film critic Roger Ebert to be the ‘most famous short film ever made.”

Maddie Leach is interested in the fact that there is an antipodal relationship between Andalucía and Auckland. In other words, if you drill a hole smack dab through the middle of the earth’s core from Pakuranga, it will come out in Andalucía. Using a website she has discovered that the exact antipodian site of Te Tuhi’s sculpture courtyard is an olive grove in Cortijo del Granadal, east of Olvera.

You would think this information would be the most exciting aspect of Leach’s project, that she would (like the Boyle family say) go to the site and either collect samples, or meet the grove owners or leasers and perhaps bring them back to Te Tuhi. Get a little communication started between the globally separated communities. Even a failed attempt would be interesting. But no, her project consists of getting a 4 metre hole dug, fencing it off with orange plastic netting for safety, and having a video loop indoors of the sun moving down across the sky, alluding to the famous Spanish heat. No social interaction at all, apart from the artist organising contractors to get the hole dug.

This is a lack-lustre project working with only half an idea: a global concept that should have been better developed and backed with trans-national resources such as satellite images or air travel. Leach is normally an impressively astute artist distinctive for her unflagging tenacity in overcoming the most technically difficult of physical and social obstacles, but this time she has been going through the motions, asleep on her feet.


Unknown said...

I have a problem with this review that, I think, stems from one of the most challenging parts of Maddie's work, that of articulating the implied, the unfilled, the desired. Your response to this challenge John, seems have been to approach notions of geo-political, social and cross-cultural exchange as an essentialised, literal moving of bodies and successful, articulated conversation (or at least the literal attempt to). In the face of these literal yardsticks, of course this work falls short. For me Andalucia, like many of Maddie's works, both attempt to compress distance at the same time as articulating a remove, an isolation between the work and the viewer and the viewer and the work.

John Hurrell said...

I'm very pleased to have your comment mjs but I want to know your name. Full identity of contributors goes with this site.

Unknown said...

Sorry John, shaking off the old blog identity was a tougher process than I anticipated.

John Hurrell said...

How does it 'compress distance', Marnie? There is barely an acknowledgement of the other site in the work. And my response is hardly 'essentialised' or 'literal' when I point out that the work just peters out. Okay even if the project is just a sketch of an idea, what is the underpinning notion exactly? Not something outrageous like Walter de Maria's 1977 Vertical Earth Kilometre at Kassel. It seems more formal, with the sun shape repeating the shape of the hole. Maybe Maddy is just a closet formalist?

Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point John – why would Maddie want to develop a relational project with the people of Andalucia?
Read my blog review for an alternative view on the work:

I think you were also a bit unfair to suggest that: “Leach is normally an impressively astute artist distinctive for her unflagging tenacity in overcoming the most technically difficult of physical and social obstacles” How many artists in NZ can continue to sustain the ambition, energy and $$ that it requires to pull off the large technical works that Maddie has realised in the past.

I see the work as a simple but intelligent intervention in a very difficult space to do anything in. I have no issue with you critiquing the work rather my gripe is with the style of your critique. With critiques there should be a constructive element otherwise your comments could have the opposite result in discouraging experimentation. You were too dismissive in this instance and in the process you missed the point.

John Hurrell said...

Thank you Bruce for your forthright comments. I have only just this day seen them - unfortunately the eyeCONTACT machinery let me down and I was not automatically notified in Jan, as I should have been.

I was not actually thinking of a specifically relational project with the Spanish (though that was a possibility) only some interaction - for there was none at all. That was what was so lacking, the total absence of connection.

Of course I think I got the point pretty accurately. On that you and I simply don't agree. After all I wasn't asking that Maddie necessarily use big technical resources. She didn't even try to interact. Not even notify them.

Your style is the same as my style, and I like its bluntness. The fact is you are upset because zeroed in on Maddie's half-arsed content. It was wishy-washy and not thought through. That aspect you haven't responded to. Only posted a few over-emotional mutterings.

Anonymous said...

why do you think the work would have been stronger if Maddie had made contact with the people of Andalucia?

I agree with some of what Marnie mentioned - that Maddie's work is not about making deep connections with people but rather exploring how art can disrupt the conventions of interaction. indeed much of maddie's work resists participation more than it invites it - think about her ice rink project that made people skate in a straight line rather than in a circle. so the lack of interaction is exactly the piont of the work as i understand it.

Also, my comments are hardly emotional - art is important but not that important.

John Hurrell said...

Maddie's practice usually has a strong formalist component - linked to a minimalist aesthetic. That is why the rink was in a straight line.(Like the stack of auctioned wood in the work in the G-Bag and Adam, or the circular hole/sun in the video.) Because as sculpture it looked good. Nothing to do with 'exploring how art can disrupt the conventions of interaction.'

To wilfully create a 'lack of interaction' is a bizarre notion. Why would she want to do that? Create an anti-climax you mean? Like reaching out to shake hands with a stranger and then pulling your hand back at the last moment?
The straight ice-rink probably encouraged socal interaction because of it being so unusual. Its novelty encouraged talking and laughter.

Anonymous said...

Its not that she creates a lack of interaction its that the hole resists easy or conventional interaction between the artwork and viewer. like any form of communication or interaction there is always give and take - negotiation and compromise - translation and miscommunication.

Do you suggest that Maddie's work is all aesthetic and no substance? Granted - her use of formalism is very contrived and beautiful but the form still follows its function - there is no cosmetic adornment. Even the spray paint on the pavement was considered. Perhaps its best to see Maddie's formalist aesthetic more as a sculptural language - and like all languages it both invites conversation but also converses on its own terms.

John Hurrell said...

You are saying that she is deliberately making work that cannot be decoded by any viewer, and that obstructive process makes it 'have a lack of interaction'. Seems to me you are actually admitting it is poor art, Bruce. It is clearly not successful.

Your logic is that because it is a failure it is a success. If there is no community that understands it, something is not working.

Olga Krause/ Leafa Janice Wilson said...

Kia ora korua,
i consider the vital quality of this particular work as the nature of a hole.
The element of avoidance is intrinsic to such an intervention. Excuse the very poor pun, the whole idea of a hole cannot help but become a signifier to any community that it is to be avoided on a practical level. The obvious aversion most people have to falling in to holes makes the work a success in that it is an automatic response to avoid it, not sure if that is part of her strategy. I agree with you John that to have some direct or even tenuous connection to the people is required in most cases, but, I guess if it only applying an idea, there could be a bit of an out clause... think that goes into another lengthy discussion which is not warranted here though so that is my fitty cents worth.