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, March 14, 2008

Looking Glass

Derrick Cherrie: Blind Glass
March 11 – April 5, 2008

Derrick Cherrie is highly regarded for the superb sculpture he created in the late eighties and early nineties, art that initially posed as household furniture, but actually was a hybrid between a gymnasium or indoor swimming pool and accoutrements found in a sex club. With a fastidiously detailed finish these fetish items were made long before Matthew Barney appeared in New York with his silicone devices and films. Cherrie used a domestic setting to conjure up imaginary bodies seeking physical exertion as a form of pleasure, even without any intimate interactive bodily contact of any description.

Blind Glass as a title might imply a thwarting of the voyeuristic gaze, but the mirrored discs on the floor can be straddled (or squatted over) by visitors' partners at will, as can the horizontal line of small reflective mirrors on the seemingly skin-covered box be used to furtively observe other Starkwhite ‘club’ members. One very large mirror – like those for observing oncoming traffic on winding mountain roads – is attached to a fragile massage table/bondage horse with spindly turned legs and mysterious tubes projecting out at inexplicable angles. The whole installation, with its Dali-like surrealism, seems to allude to the past history of the Starkwhite premises when they were used as a strip joint and massage parlour.

Interestingly, compared to Cherrie’s earlier projects the new work is particularly austere, lacking physically enticing padding or fabric, and with pre-constructed elements. It is oddly agricultural in its design references. Using lots of wood it is akin to a suburban swimming pool mixed with stock-sorting gates, drenching pens and foot-rot troughs. Ceramic vases on collapsible Formica tables ineptly signal ‘homeliness’ amidst the bland pre-assembled units. For the happy family, small vertical columns of golf balls on wires connote sex aids such as ben wah balls, maybe with animal partners in mind.

While Cherrie’s work is rich in subtle and not-so-subtle humour, that mirth is mostly icy and cerebral, not bodily. These minimalist works don’t beckon to you to clamber on board like the early sculptures used to - you keep your distance. You don’t want to get inside the enclosures. They may be sexual or recreational – as in swimming - but they might also be places of torture or compelled restraint. They are also scary.

Cherrie in his artist’s statement talks about these works as having a semantic absence, but despite being more ambiguous emotionally than previously these sculptures are semantically just as loaded as his work has always been. And although the artist states he is avoiding an articulated rationale, the sculpture is still deeply imbedded in discursive structures, and its responses socially constructed. As Cherrie projects go Blind Glass is quite dry and understated. There is no hint of theatricality yet it gives out a lot. It has many palpable layers that, despite his intentions of working within ‘another order’, encourage articulated thought.

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