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.

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