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, 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.

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