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.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Inside the calm

James Casebere
Jensen Gallery, Auckland
1 February - 16 March 2006

The idea of making photographs from models is not a new one. Ronnie van Hout became famous for it in this country, and in the UK so did Gary Perkins (with live videos), and Thomas Demand in Germany (paper replicas). With American artist James Casebere though, we have amazing clarity within large images, and a methodical investigation of a certain kind of space.

Combined with that is a manual ethos that rejects an icy industrial blemish-free finish. These photographs of carved plaster models of architectural interiors – mainly Romanesque hallways and smooth walled mosques but also earlier, prisons – have occasionally wobbly contours and detectable, chunky brush marks on the wall surfaces. And there is humour: layers of dust on the floor and disproportionately thick cables holding up chandeliers.

Casebere’s works are romantic, exuding a quietist, monastic religiosity – chiefly via a pale glowing light that comes through the windows. Their contemplation of space is related to the austere church interiors by the amazing Dutch painter Pieter Saenredam (1597–1665) with their light gently raking over curved, grey stone walls and columns.

One of these photographs contains the astounding image of torrential water flowing through a low arch-roofed church, and is made using thick, highly reflective resin with the model, not via digital means. It seems to refer to the story of Noah, notably God’s anger with the human species. It could also reference the 1949 film, ‘The Third Man', where Harry Lime (Orson Wells) the callous black marketeer of diluted penicillin, is fleeing through the sewers of Vienna.

This body of work has a particular calmness that will appeal to those seeking spiritual overtones in their art, or even those who just like peace and quiet, or private meditation. The scale impresses, as do the peculiarities of hand carved (and painted) surfaces.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unusual but pleasurable film

Nova Paul
Pink and White Terraces
Gow Langsford
20 - 29 February 2008

This ten minute film of Nova Paul’s was one of the highlights of last year’s Telecom Prospect at City Gallery, so it is fabulous Gow Langsford are now screening (and selling) it in Auckland. It is a gorgeous wee movie, a true gem that keeps on intriguing with each new viewing.

Its attraction lies in the way Paul has treated her home movies of domestic life with family and friends, and scenes around Auckland. She has colour separated the images and joined up the different films.

Usually in each portion she has a double exposure effect with two overlaid images – but not always. However with each image, she separates it into three colours - those of the optical primaries that effect light – pink, blue and green. These are usually out of register with sometimes a time delay.

Each section of film, of which there is a lot of variation, has its own mix of dissonant colour and ghost-like repeated action. Whilst there is much human activity (traffic in city streets, people crossing intersections, demonstrators with placards outside shops) my favourite shots are of natural elements, like the wind blowing washing on a clothesline, or rustling leaves on a branch, or falling water splashing in a creek. All these scenes are accompanied by a wonderful Enoesque soundtrack from Rachel Shearer that creates a sensual, aurally caressing mood.

Also for some odd reason, Paul’s contemporary images look strangely historical - because the movement sometimes seems speeded up, like in early film. You pinch yourself that these images are not actually old. That is part of Pink and White Terraces’ appeal.

The film is screened in the small Gow Langsford side gallery when visitors arrive. In the large main gallery are fifteen stills, lithographic prints under glass. These beautiful images assist your thinking about what you have been seeing in the movie, but of course they lack movement and Shearer’s delicious accompaniment, and are smaller. They provide a different sort of experience. I like them, but I’m nuts about the film. The kinetic aspects mesmerise me. I can’t get enough.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Although I'm not known for my interest in community activities

(but if you wanna talk over your back fence about New Zealand herpetology or obscure Bob Dylan bootlegs I'll come running) I do live close to Mt. Eden, and these talks look interesting, soo...thank you John Daly-Peoples

Wed 27 Feb: Eve Armstrong & Jeff Thomson: IN THE SCULPTURAL ZONE
Eve Armstrong is known for her sculptural installations using recycled waste materials and for her socially interactive street projects. Jeff Thomson is known for his sculptural investigation of a much loved material in New Zealand- corrugated iron.
Wed 5 Mar: Mark Olsen and Pam Blok: IN THE PAINTING ZONE
Pam Blok has been a dedicated painter at many Artists in Eden Day events and has won several awards for her work including the National Telecom Award and the North Shore Art Award.
Mark Olsen was the 2007 Auckland White Pages® Art Award Winner and the designer of the latest BMW Creation CA07 Art Car, raced in the 2007 Le Mans.
Wed 12 Mar: Edith Amituanai and Allan McDonald: IN THE PHOTOGRAPHY ZONE
Photographer Allan McDonald’s work examines aspects of our social landscape that are either unstable or on the point of change.
Edith Amituanai is the 2007 Inaugural Marti Friedlander Photographic Award Recipient, presented in partnership with the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.

An Eden Arts event leading up to Artists in Eden Day, Saturday 15 March, Essex Road Reserve, Mt Eden.
Venue: Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom Girls Grammar School, Cnr Silver Road and Gillies Ave, Epsom.
Cost: Door sales only, no bookings required, $10/$8 student conc
Times: 7pm – 9pm
Contact: Eden Arts, Sue Gardiner, ph 624 5140. Rose Browning, ph 624 0472
P O Box 67135, Mt Eden, Auckland
Phone 021 457 673 Rose Browning

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Let there be Light

Laurence Aberhart
Auckland Art Gallery, New Gallery
16 February - 11 May 2008

There is probably no photographer in this country more admired than Laurence Aberhart. His images – the early ones especially - have a particular inbuilt intimacy and intensity of emotion that makes his practice especially loved. And although sometimes his shows can be repetitive, and his obsessions occasionally tiresome, his audience keeps increasing. And rightly so. As there are still people who don’t think of photography as an art, in this country his practice is a great proselytiser for The Cause. Always was, even before the mid eighties when photography started to get purchased by institutions.

This exhibition comes from City Gallery, and I imagine it looks a lot better in Auckland than Wellington - because the New Gallery’s rooms are more intimate. The AAG space looks terrific. Lovely pale grey everywhere with light bounced off the ceiling, diffuse and deflected down. The size of the rooms in relation to Aberhart’s images is exactly right.

And the show itself: I expected some of it to be repetitive and exhausting, but it isn’t. It is perfectly judged. Instead of tedious single lines of photographs there are varied clumps of images so that the viewer can explore and compare. It is fresh for the eyes, no plodding legwork and yet a substantial helping. Not a taste but a great meal.

No dull obsession with chronology either, putting works in historical sequence. Works from different periods are mixed together. I expected a big narrative emphasis from Greg O’Brien (the curator), but although there are lots of selections based on subject matter – especially light and location - often the groupings are surprisingly formal, examining shape or nuances of colour or tone.

Enough about the presentation. Aberhart’s images. Where does their appeal lie?

Well, his early works featured lots of subtle distortion coming from the lens of his 100 year old view camera (especially when perspectival lines were coming into the centre from the sides and he was avoiding frontal compositions), but he seems less interested in that now. It is safe to say Aberhart is infatuated with the properties of light and darkness and how his camera will respond, especially when using long exposure times. Certain objects – or people - glow as if illuminated from within or with a very fine aura, and sometimes light or shadow is in a delicate mist-like form, as if in a descending haze, even inside buildings. This control of light, and occasionally distortion, imbues depicted inanimate objects with a sense of inhabiting spirit. It creates an ambience of animism as if all things – even manmade artefacts – are alive.

In the recently published ‘Contemporary New Zealand Photographers’, Francis Pound has said of this artist: (the) absence of figures …weighs Aberhart’s work with its burden of melancholy….(That there is a) stillness that solicits our absorbed contemplation.

Pound’s astute observation is based on the time needed to make each exposure, that to record a sitter requires determined effort on their part. His comment about the work having a melancholic ‘weight’ is inadvertently confirmed by Greg O’Brien’s selection, for the weakest works are those including family or friends. My theory is that people disrupt the animistic vision, clog it up with real, living individuals so that the artist’s natural tenderness towards his fellow sentient creatures gets in the way of ‘emanations’ from objects.

Some writers also make much of the fact that a large amount of Aberhart’s subject matter gets demolished soon after he records it, and so that creates the melancholia Pound refers to. I think though that Aberhart’s work is not really about documentation. His practice mainly is about the construction of an image to generate an emotion, about a medium and its nuances, not about the world before the lens. The process behind the lens – in most part, not totally - is what makes his images remarkable. He is a visual artist equivalent of a distinctive novelist, like say Thomas Bernhard. Almost any subject will do. It is his treatment that so fascinates.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dat dwatted wabbit

Michael Parekowhai: Jim McMurtry
Maori Hall, Auckland
19 February – 23 February 2008, 12-6 pm.

There are two versions of Jim McMurtry, Michael Parekowhai’s huge inflatable rabbit. This is the prone comatose one: the other, called ‘Cosmo’, is standing. Jim is being exhibited just around the corner from the premises of Michael Lett, Michael Parekowhai’s dealer.

The size of Maori Hall creates a moderately tight fit for this sculpture, so you can come up close or stand back, but are never squashed. It is never claustrophobic.

Tex Avery and Chuck Jones are the great innovative animators of cartoon film - especially of Warner Brothers. Their wonderful distortions of their animal characters' physiognomies make normally alarming violence palatable, if not hilarious. But Jim McMurtry (the name is a spoof on a rural inhabitant: could be a cow cockie; could be a colonial invader) is static - either dead, asleep, or daydreaming, or passed out drunk.

Actually this bunny seems pretty happy if you take the winking left eye and protruding lolling tongue seriously. This horizontal herbivore has been mischievously scheming. Taking over a Maori Hall has made this smug usurper very content indeed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Robinson unbound

Peter Robinson
Promethean Dreams
Sue Crockford Gallery
12 February – 1 March 2008

Of the last three exhibitions Peter Robinson has held in Auckland, probably Ack at ARTSPACE was the one that attracted the most public acclaim. An installation more than a collection of sculpture, it featured fat, snakelike ‘worms’ of looping glued (and cut) polystyrene blocks and blue sponge rubber. More recently he had an exhibition of ‘chain sculpture’ in Christchurch at the Brooke/Gifford, and this current Sue Crockford show is a less fiddly variation of that. Unlike the holistic ARTSPACE project, he is showing discrete polystyrene sculptures, six of them.

Of these it is easy to see why Robinson entitled the exhibition after one of the works, for ‘Promethean Dreams’ is the best one by far due to its imposing height and thickness, a sculpture that looks like a rocky outcrop covered with flattened tussock or lichen, or streaming with flowing water from a recent downpour.

The show is chains galore. Before you decide Robinson is a closet bondage freak, have a wee squiz at the Crockford website here. Look at this adjectivally dense text by Allan Smith, but don’t be fooled. In my view Smith’s speculative inventive riffing begins well but ends barking up the wrong polystyrene tree. It doesn’t really inform about the experience of this show, and though clever in a mimetically visual way (its density mimics the layering of chains in a box), in essence it is more about the word ‘chain’ and not about visiting Crockford’s.

The point it misses is that the show is an examination of the physical limitations of the design of the link. The possibility of ‘chain’ as a devised material outside of it happening to be polystyrene in substance. The show focuses on ‘chainness’ as effected by physical laws, not metaphor, or narrative ingredient or semiotic. It is not about connectivity but reflexively about itself as material and how it can be shaped.

This is no surprise. Over the last two or three years Robinson has moved away from narrative content, any overtly political, scientific or philosophical exegesis in his work, and shifted towards simply having fun with materials and exploring the poetic visual nuances of whatever associations those materials happen to create. He is letting the materials speak to him so he can reveal their possibility, not starting with a notion that he can sculpt an illustration for.

So what can be done with differently sized chains, by themselves or mixed with other elements? Because they are flexible lines you can fasten, suspend, drape, and thread them, or tie them in knots. You can lay them out in lines, crunch them up concertina style, or crumple them into balls. Because they are light and portable they can be improvised according to the characteristics of the site, with decisions made on the spot.

The results we see can interpreted as crystalline or botanical forms, even ruins or hairy animals like yaks or Pekinese. They can refer to Aeschylus’ play and Shelley’s poem that feature figures in Greek myth, footnote contemporary artists like Robert Morris or Richard Serra, or writers like Deleuze and Guatarri – but these are red herrings. At heart they emphasise a process of breaking down the cultural to return it to nature, of making the cooked raw again. They can never of course totally replace cultural elements with the natural – for nature (like a gallery experience) can never be pure – but Robinson here (especially with the two main works) seems to be aiming at an elemental content, something well before the growth of human communities and culture: a bodily condition that is pre-mind and pre-narrative.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chat rooms

Crosstalk: Murray Green; Peata Larkin; Simon Morris; Jeena Shin; Elizabeth Thomson; Clinton Watkins
Two Rooms, Auckland
8 February - 8 March 2008

Crosstalk is a thematically tight show that lives up to its name. There are lots of interconnecting resonances running between the six works, making the air thick with potential conversation. Much of this conceptual chat is about perception and how closely we examine the physical details of the art: how they reflect the artist’s thinking.

Jeena Shin’s two canvas works (one black, the other white) and her large white wall painting, fastidiously present grids of interlocking tilted triangular shapes, articulated through the use of four extremely close tones. There is no regular tonal pattern and at first glance it seems she is manipulating the sheen of the paint. In fact it is the nuanced contrasting of precisely toned adjacent shapes, and the raking light catching the edges of her tape-masked paint, that gives these paintings their appeal. You have to look very closely to get their point.

Upstairs Elizabeth Thomson’s wall reliefs, in particular the huge 24 panelled ‘Lawns of Dawn’, play with subtle variations of chroma within a dominantly consistent tone. Her sparkling fibreglass and resin forms – with tiny glittering glass spheres - have indentations that make them look a little like thick egg cartons or small mattresses. They feature an overtly ‘in your face’ sensuality of undulating fields that twinkle and dazzle, quite unlike Shin's differently seductive, matt planes of angular forms.

In the Media Room Clinton Watkins’ video ‘converses’ with Thomson by virtue of its streams of prismatic light radiating from a single source. The image gradually changes as some of the criss-crossing lines disappear while others become manifest. Slowly the ‘sparkler’ darkens and then re-emerges, reshaped with added radiance

Watkins’ manipulation of shards or lines of light is vaguely connected to Simon Morris’ incredibly tight use of painted line. Morris is not interested in light but in continually connected linear grids – and the time it takes to render them. In one of these (the right-hand painting in the photo), two modular formations overlap when his blue line moves from left edge to right and then returns to the top left corner where it began, using a different structure. ‘Blue line there and back 2 hours and 24 minutes’ presents the intriguingly complicated result of a really simple process, a visual and mental treat for those prepared to eye-track the line’s trajectory.

With Peata Larkin’s ‘Tuhourangi Tapestry’, instead of thinking about the configurations of a line as it migrates across the surface of a canvas the viewer thinks about the movement of the paint through the supporting material, and the construction of painted planes in cross-section. Larkin applies her paint from behind an encrusted surface that she builds up on stretched nylon gardening mesh. Also distinctive are patterned elements referring to tukutuku panels that seem to be added from the front. The other method of applying paint from behind allows the paint to seep through small holes in the clotted surface so you get delicate, random formations of dots and globs. Their fineness of detail and use of pale tones makes them look a little like a scientific diagram, some sort of thermal, aural or chemical scan.

Murray Green’s resin paintings look like PVA, melted icing and even ejaculate running down the surface of the board panel – and so can amuse, seduce or repulse. The dribbly, translucent (usually) white resin looks sugary and viscous. It is not milky but thicker in consistency as it allows the darker secondary colours underneath to peek through.

There is a dodgy (but playful) aspect to Green’s paintings that I like. They start off looking decorous, yummy (even lickable) but if you think about them too much they turn creepy, possibly pornographic. Great conversation starters, they turn our ideas away from the effects of light on constructed surfaces in galleries to a new direction - the facts of our soft and brittle (potentially disgusting) bodies with their seemingly ubiquitous troublesome orifices: runny noses, dribbly mouths and leaking genitals. Their possible interpretations mix humour with mortification of the flesh, funny talk that is also 'cross', a peculiar mix of earthiness with puritanism.

With raking light

Nick Austin: echoes, echoes, echoes
Gambia Castle, Auckland
2 - 3 February 2008

Nick Austin’s four paintings at Gambia Castle are made on rectangles of translucent rippled plastic sheeting, with a horizontal A4-sized piece of paper glued in the centre of each one. He uses acrylic paint that is matt, stippled on occasion, and tonally precise, and though his images flirt with abstraction, they also ‘echo’ the textures and reflected surfaces of nature and certain human-processed materials.

They reference (in paired combinations where one element is enclosed or framed within the other): mottled rippling water (in light and shade); knotty wood-grain; metal sheeting; stones and pebbles; smeared mud; shammy leather; newspaper print. The supporting plastic the painting is on provides a soft glow. Without sounding glib, it is as if Juan Gris had decided to insert his synthetic cubist textures into the format of Josef Albers’ ‘Homage to a Square’, but on the way got distracted by the evanescent properties of light. You have the textural visual signifiers placed on undulating planes so that the rendered image is mixed into light’s transient properties.

Inevitably these works will get compared with Ralph Hotere’s various corrugated iron series (black or unpainted) but Austin’s project is hugely different in mood. Its ‘framing’ is closer to Howard Hodgkins in its espousal of the daily ordinary, but incredibly restrained of course in its choice of mark and hue.

Austin’s title provides the key: echoes. The ripples or vertical corrugations could be moving first left to right, and then bounce back right to left. However these reverberations are not of sound but of light, light which besides hitting the ripples from the side also bounces off the wall behind the painting and comes out through the work’s thinly painted surface. The viewer considers the interaction of illumination, image and referent together, the blending of nature with culture, the materiality of the paint, and the way the panels are held on the wall.

some Electrical Gold donated by Peter Dornauf

Existence: Life According to Art
14 July 2007 - 13 January 2008
Solid Gold: Classic Hits from the Rutherford Trust Collection
Curated by Damian Skinner
Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton
2 February - 11 May 2008

Could this be a sudden reversal, a new trend for the Waikato Museum of Art and History, using its purpose-built facility (the top floor) for what the gallery was originally intended – art shows? It has seen two sequential art exhibitions running in an institution whose populist policies in the recent past have seen modern art shows of any note, reduced in number, in size and shoved in corners.

The first one, called Existence, was a bit of a mixed bag. The works ranged from those belonging to recognized nationally established New Zealand artists to others whose pieces dripped with mawkish sentimentality (minus any irony) and should have been lodged in the remainder bin at some local church fair. Full marks to the curator for attempting to grapple with the large questions, but the title of the show provided too much latitude and as a consequence, the exhibition lacked cohesion and force. In some cases the works themselves struggled to add anything meaningful to the issues attempting to be raised.

The second show, currently running, is Solid Gold: Classic Hits from the Rutherford Collection. These works were collected in the 90’s while the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand was still in existence. Its focus is on modern New Zealand art, the earliest piece coming from the 1950’s.

One of the works that immediately caught my attention was a striking Louise Henderson abstract, House of Dieppe, 1957, which would have seemed adventurous for the time. What was noticeable though, was the fact that the work is executed quite roughly. Lines that appear straight, should be straight, attempt straightness, on not too close an inspection, are seen for what they are; crudely delineated, wobbly, just plain poorly worked. Yet having said that, I recall seeing a Kandinsky exhibition at the Tate and being a little shocked by the same sloppiness in his later abstracts. In contrast, in the same show, is an immaculate Geoff Thornley, Tondo No. 11, 1983. The difference is palpable. I don’t mind a bit of rough, indeed enjoy a bit of rough, but…

The other surprise in such shows is the experience of viewing favourite artists whose work one has never seen before. Here are Woolaston, Clairmont, Harris, Frizzell, Bambury, Hanly, Hartigan, Mrkusich, Driver, Walters and others. There is immediate recognition but also delight in the difference. What disappoints slightly is the rather narrow range of subject matter, which is probably a commentary on the state of New Zealand art of the time, or a commentary on modernism itself.

As for the actual display, punters might be well advised to bring a torch. I know low lighting is a requirement, but this is ridiculous. The pieces themselves might be individually adequately lit, but don’t fall over.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Woolly Bully

Gavin Hipkins; Natural HistoryStarkwhite, Auckland
1 February - 1 March 2008

Upstairs in one of the small Starkwhite ‘boudoirs’, Gavin Hipkins has an exhibition of nine of his latest photographs, using a Victorian salon hang on one wall with a pale green backdrop. His photos are digitally mixed hybrids that blend images from a natural history book of wildlife engravings with fabric patches of written verbal phrases, designed to be sewn on to clothing.

The merging is very clever indeed. The engraved illustrations, printed off metal plates, have been made ‘negative’ so that darks become light again, and lights dark. The result makes the images look like woven material, so when the photographed patches are superimposed over the pictures they look natural. It is not a forced pairing but a very smooth transition.

Not only do the images have a fabric-like quality but Hipkins’ colour choices are beautifully understated and subtle. The chroma is really knocked back so that it is delicate and nicely mixed into a range of similarly toned greys.

As for the aphorisms, when placed alongside the animal imagery they become very droll: a flock of pelicans in the branches of trees above the heads of menacing crocodiles / stay disconnected; a moorhen gingerly striding through a marsh / experience uncertainty; a nest of rattlesnakes / worse than ever; three owls in a tree / think ordinary; vultures picking at a carcass / lower standard.

This is a very good show from Hipkins, one of his best. Sensual, witty and innovative, make sure you catch it.


Alicia Frankovich: Counter/action
Starkwhite, Auckland
1 February - 1 March 2008

Frankovich’s show is a suite of (mostly) framed photographs and an inverted screened map of the world, positioned around another photo - on its side - leaning against some metal trestles. The show seems a sort of rebus: a combination of Simon Denny meets John Baldessari. It could be a spoof on those artists.

The ‘floor sculpture’ features a photo - in a damaged folder - of a thin metalic Armani purse with a cord handle. Close to it, draped over the trestles on one corner, is what seems to be a section of basketball-hoop netting. One of the photos is a bunch of ripening tomatoes and a rope ladder into which has been jammed a piece of woven plastic, and around the corner is an image of a foot sticking out of a top floor window of an old brick barn.

What does this all add up to as a statement? It seems to examine suspension, the effects of gravity on certain substances, and how weight behaves when spread out through soft versus inflexible materials. Formally, the angle of projection for the foot relates to the trestles and the highlight of the room, the pink map.

The screened map shows - using zigzaggy lines reminiscent of eye movement diagrams – the routes between Christchurch and Auckland and the UK, Central Europe and Japan. As discrete items the map and the ‘rope ladder’ photograph make a fine pair – linked by diagonal trajectories.

The inverted map in particular, is an intriguing image that works well with the accompanying twitchy, fine, black line. It implies the trips to Europe and Asia are a process involving natural laws, as inevitable as a tomato falling off a stalk and landing on the ground.

Squishy and Squelchy

Seung Yul Oh: Daradaradarada
Starkwhite, Auckland
1 February - 1 March 2008

Seung Yul Oh’s last show at Starkwhite was a stimulating mixture of painting, sculpture, and installation and this one is the same but less packed – and now with video. Again he uses the central columns in Starkwhite’s large downstairs space to good effect. This time instead of wrapping a band of polythene around the two of them and putting a fan inside he has imagined they are limestone outcrops in an underground cave, and turned them into stalactites or whopper candles. He has covered them with descending dribbles of pale yellow wax. And covered the windows with wax, diffusing the light from the street.

The real stars of this show though are his paintings. Oh is a consummate draughtsperson who knows how to entertain his audience and create giggles. Maybe he overdoes it. Some of the varied group of paintings in the large space seem as if he has got tired and changed his mind: the early ‘abstract’ stages of underpainting are left without the fine lined ‘hairy’ drawing he uses to create contours. Others are large horizontal rectangles that look like double-page spreads in magazines or comics. They show lumpy asteroids covered top and underneath with vegetation-coated rocky outcrops and lots of cute little wiggling goldfish, winking woodpeckers and popping bubbles.

His best paintings though are smaller, without wildlife, and intestinal. They play off the edges of vertical stretchers so that lines and circles of translucent viscera accentuate the painting shape. He seems to be taking the mickey out of Clement Greenberg who being anti –illusionist, emphasised maintaining the stretcher shape. The squirming, crawling shapes are subtly matched with tonally related colours that bring out the beautifully squishy gut forms. Oddly these gems are in the Starkwhite office, on the right, behind John McCormack’s desk. These works are the show’s highlights so don’t miss them.

The other exhibits up to a point are interesting too, like the plasma screens of rice, lollies and sand going backwards and forwards in and out of a funnel, or the big lightbox illuminating vinyl shapes, or the marble-like floor sculptures, but you soon tire of them. The best of the paintings however will hold your attention a long time. They’re brilliant.

An Exciting Physicality

Jacqueline Fraser
Michael Lett, Auckland
15 January - 9 February 2008

The recent use of deep trays in the very large collages of Jacqueline Fraser allow her to explore a very physical kind of wit, the same kind of precise humour found in say Christian Marclay’s famous combinations of record cover sleeves. Like him she uses exact scale to match contrasting materials to create an exciting new variety of hybrid image. In her case it is used in an exploration of drawing that interacts bodily with her audience. She sets her images in a large dark rectangle that can be visually explored and almost physically entered.

The size of these recent works and the fluidity of Fraser’s images is much more compelling than those seen in her earlier Venice or Walters' Prize projects. She uses clothing, drapes, wigs and decorative materials - such as braid, gold foil and diamantes - to overlay supplementary ornamental detail on to an enlarged image from Vogue of a reclining model with a dog. The resulting creases, hanging folds, ruffles and pleats trumpet fetish items with a sumptuous presence that dominates over the base image. Their drooping three dimensionality adds an unexpected humour that complicates the loaded sexual aura of the undergarments. It exacerbates as well as undermines it. It wavers with an on/off ambivalence.

Fraser’s titles are repeated as part of her imagery, to be mixed with each photographed model and her accoutrements. Her love of language though brings an emotional shrillness that interferes with and not complements the image. Maybe these titles would work better as texts alone: as single composed sentences or written poetic stacks of horizontal lines – anything but components in these trays. Their piercing tone (like fingernails on a blackboard) eats into the work’s touting of its own construction and sensual rhythms, a quality that might be valuable if separated and expanded in isolation – as written language or sound, but not as image.

Stalling Obsolescence

Eve Armstrong
Michael Lett, Auckland
15 January - 9 February 2008

Eve Armstrong is quite a colourist and inventive manipulator of 3D form. Examining ‘Shake Up’, her piece of Tony Cragg\David Mach style floor sculpture at Michael Lett - with its references to Tomoko Takahashi - is immensely pleasurable. Shiny steel shelving brackets, propped up display stands and floppy rubber sealing strips in one part play off against deliciously translucent, green plastic clip boards and folders in another, while floor mats, rolls of layered linoleum and carpet underlay spread on the floor act as foils for vertical beams of plastic shelving and rectangular rubbish bins. The work is about an assortment of binary contrasts. It is also about placement (in several meanings of that term) and juxtaposition: not about physically or permanently modifying the ingredients. No paint brushes, hammering or welding here.

Yet most of us know Armstrong has two parallel practices that deliberately overlap – but just how successfully they connect I’m not sure. Her Trading Tables promote an ethos of recycling and finding appreciative owners for items normally destined for the dump, and her gallery displays espouse visual sensuality with spatial organisation, while focussing on obsolescence of (in this case) office fittings and equipment.

But it is only when art is sold so its ingredients get a new home that a gallery sculpture can recycle its contents. I don’t think Armstrong keeps the unsold items -unlike say Pauline Rhodes, who recontextualises and reuses the installation materials she stores. The unsold packing or office products from Armstrong’s shows go back to the source – which means their fate is ultimately the tip. The function-driven economy behind the Trading Table is different by virtue of Armstrong’s charismatic personal skills as a negotiator and her ability to think on her feet. The material there therefore has a better chance of surviving than the aesthetic-driven counterpart.

The gallery projects seem in comparison a futile stop-gap measure to delay the inevitable. The items that aren’t included within a successful (ie sold) sculpture face the fate that their owners had decided before the artist came along. They don’t have the good fortune to ‘sink back into the world’ (as Armstrong’s artist statement puts it) but face damnation as unrecycled waste products in landfill.

You are where?

You Are Here: Fiona Connor, Finn Ferrier, Kah Bee Chow, Alex Monteith, John Ward Knox – curated by Ariane Craig-Smith

ARTSPACE, Auckland
2 February - 1 March 2008

I must be confusing it with another street name?... It happens rather often this way, that we believe in things that are quite false: it is enough that some fragment of a memory, come from elsewhere, enters into some coherent pattern open to it, or else that we unconsciously fuse two disparate halves, or still that we reverse the order of the elements in some causal system, to fashion in our minds chimerical objects, having for us all the appearances of reality.
Alain Robbe-Grillet (Djinn)

ARTSPACE’s current curatorial intern, Ariane Craig-Smith has taken an innovative approach to this ‘art mapping’ exhibition, for although it is entitled ‘You are here’ it has very little obviously in common with those city maps that feature that locating phrase, nor has it much in common with the book of that title by Kitty Harmon that deals with images made by artists incorporating maps or alluding to them.

There are no maps at all in this show, save a floor plan of ARTSPACE that shows you where the eleven works are positioned. The exhibition is more about bodily sensations of movement, movement’s traces, those speculative processes that assist us in finding a direction, and certain correlations we use to determine location. The focus is really the thinking behind maps rather than maps themselves, in particular the correlation of the indexical where connections are matched up and parallels found linking the artefact with the outside world. In other words, the nature of those representations that help us move through space and understand it.

The artworks take several approaches. Some record traces of their audience’s movement as they explore the exhibition. Kah Bee Chow and Finn Ferrier have created a raked sand garden at the bottom of the stairs that gallery–goers step into and disturb when they go to examine Fiona Connor’s replica of the ARTSPACE circular noticeboard. Finn Ferrier has also created a fake parquet surface by stencilling a zigzag motif with varnish onto ARTSPACE’s concrete floor. Pehaps this layer will wear out as people walk over it so a path becomes detectable.

Other works, like John Ward Knox’s small biro drawings, are textured rubbings taken off embossed wallpaper. Two of these ‘correlations’ tease the audience because the top halves are identical but their bottom halves differ. They are remote cousins of Fiona Connor’s replicas of an imagined ‘ripped up’ ARTSPACE foyer staircase, mysteriously dumped in the main gallery.

Filmed records of artist movements are seen in John Ward Knox’s video of himself in Aotea Square performing like a ‘dancing bee’ various stepping movements modelled on three small drawings pinned to the wall. Similar are parts of Kah Bee Chow’s video spoof on Irma Vep and The Phantom of the Opera, especially when the catwoman-like protagonist is self consciously moving over the ARTSPACE roof. The viewer thinks of the building they are standing – or sitting – in, the movie referents for the satire, and puzzles over some Photoshopped scenes of Chow’s parents and their garden (see above) which incongruously appear as if transported from another location.

The motion of a racing motorcyclist’s body circumnavigating the Taupo Racetrack is recorded by Alex Monteith in her project that uses cameras facing both forward and backward. The resulting looped projections screened in a corner, cause a particularly physical response from the viewer, especially when the rider leans over while turning into bends. Viewers also have the opportunity to move their own vertical bodies through normally unreachable sections of the main gallery if they use a specially raised, large platform provided by Fiona Connor, Kah Bee Chow and Finn Ferrier. Its height allows the audience to look through temporarily installed clear glass panes in the horizontal windows at the top of the walls, and study Auckland’s urban landscape afresh.

This unique chance to explore the geographical and social meanings behind ARTSPACE’s municipal location is a special self-reflexive opportunity unique to this exhibition, a declaration that subtly announces to the show’s continually changing audience that they are there – these chances are rare - so make the most of it.