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.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Reaction Replay

Fast Forward
Vavasour Godkin, Auckland
20 November 2007 – 9 February 2008

This group show of thirteen works from nine artists is a good mix of different generations. Geoff Thornley goes back to the seventies and Petar/James gallery, while Andrew Drummond is an important figure in the history of this country’s performance art, especially also of the seventies. Plus there is a John Panting linear ‘suspension’ sculpture as well from that time – a late addition that looks a bit cramped near the wall, but very unusual. (Here is an image from the VG archives.)

The two large Thornley abstractions look better here than they did in his recent Gus Fisher show. They need lots of wall space and the chance to draw you in close when you are ready. Their fascinating synthesis of canvas with board plays with prepositions like ‘above’ or ‘under’ in their interaction. Unlike related artists such as Kelly (shaped canvases) or Mangold (shapes on canvas), with Thornley you examine the bevelled edge of the hardboard contours or cut out holes and think about their planar surfaces and implied spatial twists.

Andrew Drummond presents a suite of four documentary images from his 1978 Ngaraunga Set of performances at the Artists Co-op in Wellington. (I think Ngauranga is the correct spelling, but both are prevalent on the web even though they would be pronounced quite differently.) Drummond has made inkjet images from slides taken of his actions in the spacious co-operative, performances that referred to the demolished Ngauranga freezing works, that spoke of a ‘conversation’ between him and the slaughtered animals. (This example below is not in the show.)

I personally don’t feel comfortable with the Beuysian shamanism here, but they are fascinating images from an ideologically innocent era. In his excellent article on Drummond in Art New Zealand Wystan Curnow talks of the images being artworks in themselves (‘the documentation is not for the record, it is the work’) but times have changed and today’s digital technology forces us to reassess all that. I think the performances have an ontology irrespective of the static photographs or the filmed video Drummond also made, and can’t be replaced by the images.

Speaking of digital technology and video, Gregory Bennett’s two small screens of moving animated figures are interesting. The lefthand LED shows two humanoids (male and female) joined at the lower chest that twist and turn as they enter each other’s torso and pull apart. They are like a cyber version of some of Marina and Ulay Abramovic’s seventies performance works where the two artist-lovers are physically joined by their breathing mouths or hair, and strain to separate before merging together again. The other righthand screen in contrast shows small figures in a circle performing ritualistic dances and creating expanding and contracting, kaleidoscopic configurations.

Back to the abstract paintings in the show, André Hemer’s work is immensely beguiling, with its pool of exactly repeatable splashes, scrawled loops and swirls – each carefully computer cut in its paint-masking process and juxtaposed with an occasional dollop of collage. And carefully controlled so the elements don’t lose their clarity and smother each other.

Matthew Dowman’s large stretchers are related to the work of Seung Yul Oh, but bigger, less intimate and less comic based. They have less allusion, and added graffiti spray - and are reliant on a dominant colour for their mood, making them more conventionally abstract and physical.

Miranda Parkes has three works here. Of these, the most intriguing is the biggest one. Its scale lets her experiment with different grids, daubs and splashes, all mixed up on the one large, crumpled, billowing canvas surface.

The last two works are slightly different from the others. There is a delicate fragility within Lianne Edwards’ grid of used penny postage stamps, for the individual stickers are pinned up like collected insects, and create through repetition a gridded version of Elizabeth Thomson's much larger metal sculptures of insects. These are stamps though and their shadows push them out so they hover in space like a suspended plane.

Monique Jansen’s framed sheet of obsessive rows of very fine pencil lines shimmers optically, and looks as if it has been drawn with a machine. The lines look like regularly undulating strata of hair-thin crêpes, or layers of large peeled off skins in cross-section. Impossible to photograph, they demand close proximity to appreciate.

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