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, January 22, 2008

Pakuranga Soundscape

James McCarthy
Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Pakuranga, Manukau City
17 November 2007 - 10 February 2008

James McCarthy is a well known figure in the art/musical scene in Auckland, remembered for the five years he spent playing in the highly esteemed, Phil Dadson - founded group ‘From Scratch’, and widely respected as a sonic artist. For this project at Te Tuhi, McCarthy has used little projecting bolts with piano wire and guitar strings, to construct a large wall drawing depicting the Pakuranga Motorway heading towards Mount Wellington. It is a landscape drawing that can be played, with each taut line potentially explored by the attentive listener/watcher, so that the whole wall becomes a vibrating instrument.

And like the firecracker drawings of Yuk King Tan, the drawing changes through viewer participation. The cumulative effect of repeated plucking is that the wires acquire mottled lines of smudgy fingerprints on the white walls underneath. The process of musical exploration entails inevitable alterations to the visual properties of the instrument. It starts off pristine and gradually becomes worn and grimy.

The positioning of the wires and strings on the wall seems to have been done according to visual properties, not acoustic. There is no visual/aural logic so that notes within significant scales are in close proximity or harmonic chords easily accessed. Nor does the sound of the drawing materials reflect the content of the image. We don’t hear the sound of the motorway as well as see its representation - though perhaps that depends on temporal structure; it is possible McCarthy has composed such a work.

I’m not sure how well the visual and aural properties interact in this drawing but it is an entertaining, very unusual exhibition that becomes less refined and less aesthetic the more it is played. The tattier its appearance the more successful it has been as an interactive device ‘drawing out’ audience participation.

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