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.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cuddly turns voodoo

Chris Lipomi: Maa-Nupi Waikipi
Michael Lett, Auckland
5 March - 5 April 2008

Lipomi has about seven pieces in this show, but it is the eponymous installation in the main gallery that overshadows all else. He has done a small version of Mike Kelley’s famous ‘Craft Morphology Flow Chart’, a work Kelley made for the 1991 Carnegie International. The last of his ‘stuffed animal’ projects, it consisted of 32 folding tables displaying 114 used handmade (fabric or knitted) dolls, arranged according to size and iconography. On the walls were 60 ‘documentary’ photographs of the dolls positioned next to rulers, and one drawing.

Lipomi’s reduced version is fascinating. There is none of the initial sweetness that Kelley’s soft cuddly sculptures would have had. Lipomi’s are feral and deeply creepy, like tribal fetishes or magic images where ‘sympathetic’ (with indexical correlations) or ‘contagious’ (touched by the victim) processes are attempted.

Shortly after he created his original project Kelley became immensely interested in Freud’s notion of the Uncanny and wrote an extremely scholarly essay on the subject, but the Uncanny, as New Zealand artists like Gavin Hipkins often show, is an extremely subtle thing.

The dolls made by Lipomi though aren’t subtle. They are scrappy objects made of toys, bits of real animal fur, plastic, bark, cane and fibre that often disturb. They look tribal, raw and primal – even though they are fake (in the sense that they are not meant to be functional, only look it). What is subtle is the use of archaeological layering Lipomi has added, using texture rubbings. This sort of conceptual-sandwiching effect was once demonstrated by the French artist Daniel Spoerri famous for exhibiting food scraps he glued onto plates left by guests who had eaten meals he had cooked. Once he cooked a big banquet in France and re-served the same feast in Sydney using for tablecloths, blown up photographs of the dishevelled, soiled tablecloths left after the earlier meal.

So what does Lipomi do? He has large, categorising, ‘primitive’ texture rubbings lining the flat table-like vitrines onto which the fetish dolls are placed. Then from the framed photographs of those same dolls that he has on the walls, he also makes ink-transfer rubbings - by photocopying the photographs and soaking the photocopies with a spirit-based solvent. These he then rubs with a pencil to put the images on the wall. Each image is represented three times: sculpture, photo, drawing. Rubbings are under the object on one occasion, then upon the wall, over it, the next. A sort of club sandwich.

In the series of shows that used soft toys Kelley was (according to curator Mark Francis) interested in the prehistory of the objects he reused ‘so that repressed meaning are allowed to come to light.’ By the time he came to ‘Craft Morphology’ his interest had shifted. Previously he had regarded them – because of their use as gifts - to be embodied with ‘guilt hours’ or ‘emotional usury’ and objects of projection where missing details in their blobby shapes were mentally filled in by the viewer. In his 1990 series ‘Empathy Displacement: Humanoid Morphology (2nd and 3rd Remove)’ Kelley examined processes of identification, placing a painting of each doll above the actual doll hidden in a box – confusing viewer participation and encouraging empathy with the missing ‘humanoid’.

Craft Morphology’ avoided this empathy and focussed instead on the materiality of the craft production, categorising through formal properties and method.

Well what does Lipomi’s recent version achieve?

Firstly there is no hint of craft or ‘gift’ in these objects at all. They will repulse many people. You’d freak if you found one in your letterbox.

Secondly they are ‘tribal,’ and ‘natural’ unprocessed materials dominate.

Thirdly they focus attention on the producer and not the viewer. There is no identification or projection here. It is more death of the reader and birth of the author. It explores a slightly different kind of prehistory than what Kelley was interested in. More James Frazer than Sigmund Freud; an older form of structuralism.

This is a much layered exhibition, visually and conceptually rich, that invites a lot of speculation. One of the best ever shows presented at Michael Lett.

1 comment:

John Hurrell said...

After a second viewing I think I might have exaggerated the 'feral' aspects of these dolls. They are sweeter than I thought, though the ones with coyote or wolf face-parts have a heaviness the others lack. Lipomi's animal dolls however don't look used - there is no functional aura of efficacy. They look freshly made with clean paint marks, and recently assembled for a gallery. Unlike Kelley's dolls which had previous owners and assorted histories.