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 8, 2008

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.

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